I’m a Running Researcher: Jonas Larsen

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

Who are you?

I’m professor of mobility and urban studies at Roskilde University, Denmark where I mainly teach geography, ethnography, urban design and urban studies stuff. I have written a fair lot about different topics such as tourist photography, tourism, cycling and mobility more broadly. These days I mainly focus on running, and more, recently walking.

What is your background?

I have a mixed educational background in geography, sociology and cultural studies from Roskilde University and Lancaster university, respectively.  I have worked briefly in sociology departments in Aalborg University, Denmark and Lancaster University, UK but been based at Roskilde University, Denmark in the good company of geographers and urban planners for many years now.

How long have you been researching running?

I’m relatively new to field. While I have written about different forms for mobility for many years, my first piece on running was published in 2018. While I have focused on other research fields too, I have devoted much of my research time on running for last three or four years.

How did you get into researching running?

A combination of things. Having studied urban cycling for several years, I began to look for a new research focus and running seemed to be an exciting new field where I could both learn something new and draw on my previous insights. At that time, I had been running again for a few years. Moreover, with a few exceptions, running was not much discussed by mobilities scholars and there was a disregard of sport within the mobilities paradigm despite that much sport – just think of cycling and running – is movement per se. This motivated me to research and theorize running from an embodied and urban mobilities perspective and to create more dialogue between sport and mobilities scholars. Moreover, given my interest in tourism, I have also tried to think of running in relation to events and ‘sports tourism’.

What running research have you done?

I have done a couple of projects. First, I would like to highlight my publications on specific running events such as Etape Bornhom and Berlin Marathon where I have discussed how such events are designed and experienced by different runners. Here I have drawn on and developed the running literature through practice theory, theories about social capital, weather-worlds and rhythmanalysis and non-representational approaches to ethnography. I have been lucky enough to do some of this research with great mobilities scholars such Tim Edensor and Ole B Jensen.

Second, my latest project is the monograph Urban Marathons: Rhythms, Places, Mobilities (2021) that are just published with Routledge. This book “approaches marathon running as an everyday practice and a designed event, to draw upon and contribute to the literature on practice theory, urban events, rhythmanalysis and mobility. It bridges sport studies and discussions within sociology and geography about practice, movement and the city”

How do you research running?

I draw on various ethnographic approaches such as non-representational and carnal ethnographies. Most of my work is based on interviews with and observations of runners, sometimes combined with my own participation as a fully engaged and passionate runner – what I term an energetic rhythm analyst.  

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

I would like to highlight my rhythmanalysis approaches to understanding and researching running that I have developed and nuanced over the last years, especially in relation to urban marathons and the notion of ‘drama of rhythms’. I argue and demonstrate that marathons constitute a fascinating ‘drama of rhythms’. Marathons are designed to be smooth and ordered events and runners train to become competent rhythm-makers. While these scripts are sometimes enacted according to plan, poor planning, adverse weather, individual injuries or exhaustion often ruin anticipated rhythms and turn marathons into embodied dramas of pain and failure.

Do you run?

Yes, quite a lot these days. I took up running in my early forties and. I now run with a running community and between 80–110 km at week and participate in races, including marathons. Despite turning 50 in a couple of months, I still yearn for another PR. I have become one of those typical time-obsessed runners. The ability to run fast, set personal records and train on an equal footing with younger runners in part makes marathon running interesting and funny to me. But I also appreciate the social side of running, being immersed in the weather-world and what running does to my mental health.

Where can I find out more?

You can find out more about my work on my university profile, academia.edu profile and the links below.

Larsen, J. (2021). Urban Marathons: Rhythms, Places, Mobilities. London: Routledge.

Larsen, Jonas, and Ole B. Jensen. “Running with the weather: The case of marathon.” In Weather: Spaces, Mobilities and Affects, pp. 67-80. Routledge, 2020.

Larsen, J., & Bærenholdt, J. O. (2019). Running together: The social capitals of a tourism running eventAnnals of Tourism Research79, 102788.

Larsen, J. (2019). ‘Running on sandcastles’: energising the rhythmanalyst through non-representational ethnography of a running eventMobilities14(5), 561-577.


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