I’m a Running Researcher: Jesse Couture

This post is part of the I’m a Running Researcher series. See all profiles in this series here.

Who are you?

My name is Jesse Couture, and I’m a PhD Candidate in the School of Kinesiology (Socio-Cultural Research Group) at the University of British Columbia.

What is your background?

My academic journey began a bit later than some (mid-twenties). After a number of years in the hospitality industry, I enrolled in a two-year Diploma program in Exercise Science, at Lethbridge College (admittedly, in part, because it ‘sounded healthy’). I then went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences (a triple-disciplinary stream of Kinesiology, Sociology, and Psychology) and a Master of Arts in Kinesiology (Sociology of Sport) at the University of Lethbridge, prior to relocating to Vancouver to begin my doctoral studies.

Beginning in college, I started to train for short (sprint-distance) triathlon events and eventually completed a number of 70.3 (‘half-iron’ distance) events. My involvement with triathlon inspired my first research project, a textual analysis of Triathlon Magazine Canada, focused on bodies and embodiment. In many ways I came to running through triathlon.

How long have you been researching running?

Since 2017 – I arrived at UBC with (what I felt was) a worthwhile PhD project in mind, but midway into my second semester I had one of those (in)famous ‘aha moments’, sparked by a particular reading that was assigned in a great seminar on qualitative research methods. The rest is history, I suppose. From that moment on, I began to reimagine what my dissertation could (and eventually would) look like.

How did you get into researching running?

As above, I got into running-related research rather abruptly, but I’m convinced it was the work I really needed to do. I’ve been highly involved in the local running community for a number of years and was inspired to take the plunge into learning more about it.

What running research have you done?

My doctoral dissertation is an ethnographic study of the ‘run crew’ scene in Vancouver, Canada. Among other things, I was interested in learning more about how and why people participate in these groups and, importantly, whether or how they differ from other types of recreational running groups. Another important piece of this project examined the role(s) of digital technologies in running cultures and, specifically, the rise in social self-tracking. A manuscript focused on runners’ use and perceptions of Strava, an immensely popular social fitness platform, was published earlier this year in Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise, and Health.

How do you research running?

I’m a qualitative researcher through and through, and I’m fascinated by the stories we tell about our experiences in sport and physical culture more broadly. My dissertation research involved extensive time in the field as an observant participant; I spent a lot of time running, racing, and otherwise fully immersing myself into the running community. I also spent a great deal of time online, observing and interacting with runners in digital milieus including (but not limited to) Strava. Semi-structured interviews with runners, run crew organizers, and other members of the running industry were also an important component of this project.

What is the most significant, important, surprising, interesting, unusual, or favourite finding emerging from your research?

That’s tough. I’m hard-pressed to land on just one, but I will say that I’m deeply fascinated with how runners think about and use digital technologies. I was struck by some of the insightful things that some runners shared with me about their use of Strava, and how they describe feelings of connectedness, in part, through digital connectivity.

Do you run?

I do. I guess it’s been a little over a decade that I’ve been running consistently, though I’m admittedly running a bit less these days than I have in the past. Over the years, I’ve raced distances ranging from 5 to 50k, but these days I run near-exclusively in the trails. Road running is fun but, for me, there’s nothing quite like playing in the forest or grinding up a mountain with my partner and my dogs.

Where can I find out more?

You can follow me on Twitter @jcouture83 and Research Gate. I suppose you could also follow me on Strava, but you won’t learn much about my research.

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