I’m a Running Researcher: Sara MacBride-Stewart

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

Who are you?

I am an academic, a trail runner and an environmental sociologist in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University, Wales, UK (where my title is Reader in Health Medicine and Society).

What is your background?

I come from a diverse science and social science background. My early academic training and lecturing was in New Zealand as a feminist scholar.

How long have you been researching running?

I have been researching running for over 5 years. However I am a veteran runner!

How did you get into researching running?  

I research running for three reasons.

Firstly, I was concerned about the gendered split in running research where women/girls are largely assigned as social runners and men/boys are labelled as runners or athletes. This divide continues to exist even as women are win ultra and trail running events and break records ahead of all other runners. I wanted to research running in all its diversity, recognising that middle of the pack runners may be considerably diverse, and to change our view of what makes a successful runner.

Secondly, I wanted to develop/adapt new in-place methodologies to be able to learn from the experiences of mundane or everyday runners. I have developed vox pop and go-along methods that are useful for event-based research and multisensory, embodied interviews.

Finally, I am passionate about sustainability and recreational uses of and impacts on protected spaces as well as how urban wastelands shape running. My running research regards trail runners as elite users of greenspace in that they will choose and use the outdoors to gain additional benefits, but I am also conscious about how running aligns with neoliberal understandings of the healthy/well and fit body.   

What running research have you done?

I have published work on trail running, sustainability and wellbeing in UK and NZ here:

MacBride-Stewart, S (2019) Discourses of wellbeing and environmental impact of trail runners in protected areas in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, GeoForum, 107, 134-142. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2019.09.015 

MacBride-Stewart, S (2019). Atmospheres, landscapes and nature: Off-road runners’ experiences of well-being.Health,23(2), 139–157.https://doi.org/10.1177/1363459318785675 

I have carried out an engagement project on ‘runnability’ with Cardiff Half Marathon and Run for Wales. Here is a sample of my work here:

How do you research running?

As I mentioned above, I have developed/adapted new in-place methodologies to qualitatively research running. I have developed ‘vox pop’ interviews and ‘go-along’ methods that are useful for event-based research and multisensory, embodied interviews.

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

My most interesting findings are 1. that women runners are much more likely than men to lose their recreational time when their workload and household demands increase 2. trail runners have less understanding of the environmental impacts of running than they think (but this is true of all recreational groups and ecotourists).

Do you run?

I run daily, on trails. I prefer long, slower-paced runs. I was once asked by an editor of a journal how it was possible to interview while running. It made me realise that the editor may have had a very different experience of running than myself. When I run, it is sociable, I stop to take photos, to take in the view. I am surrounded by the gossip and laugher of other runners; their camaraderie and support; and encouraged by the regular compliments given by walkers. I have run marathons and ultras, and had running holidays lasting several days. My ultimate goal is to remain fit enough to be running well into my 80s. 

Where can I find out more?

My university webpage is here Dr Sara MacBride-Stewart – People – Cardiff University

And links to running things I have been involved with are below:


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