I’m a Running Researcher: Assaf Lev

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

Who are you?

Hi everyone, my name is Dr. Assaf Lev. I am a sports and exercise anthropologist, Senior Lecturer and Head of Research at the Department of Sports Therapy, Ono Academic College, Israel. I also lecture at Reichman University in the Sammy Ofer School of Communications.

What is your background?

I began my academic career working as an anatomy instructor in the physiotherapy department of Tel Aviv University. After years teaching at the dissection laboratory, I started asking questions regarding the body beyond the biomedical field that led me to begin my B.A. in social anthropology. Immediately following the completion of my degree, I embarked on the journey of my Master’s in the Department of Social Anthropology at Haifa University. As a former professional basketball player and sports therapist, I was naturally drawn to my personal background and thus wrote my thesis on the experiences of professional basketball players upon retirement. Following this, I started my Ph.D. at the same department, writing my dissertation on the flourishing phenomenon of middle-aged, long-distance runners in Tel Aviv, Israel. Here, I focused mostly on the body in pain and the transitions of identities. Today, my research interests focus on embodied experiences of pain and suffering, exercise and physical activity, gender and aging.

How long have you been researching running?

I have been a runner since the age of 10, but my academic research into running began 11 years ago.

How did you get into researching running?

Running has always been an integral part of my life, but around 15 years ago, there began in Israel a boom in middle-aged people joining long distance running groups hoping to complete their first marathon. As a person who has always preferred to run alone, I was intrigued by this phenomenon. I was mainly curious to know what brings middle-aged people, who previously had led relatively physically inactive lives, to want to be marathoners despite the time-consuming nature, risks of long-term injury and financial price of the recreational activity. On another note, throughout my life, due to running and playing professional basketball, I have experienced a variety of physical injuries. Unfortunately, I have broken bones, torn ligaments and dislocated joints. At one point, I asked myself, why not utilize my own pain for research purposes.

What running research have you done?

This is quite the question, I am tempted to drone on and on, but I will try to be succinct. All in all, my projects deal with pain and running identity. More specifically, I have undertaken an ethnographic study regarding the way distance runners derive pleasure and contentment in times of physical pain. My studies in this regard emphasize the linkage between pain and socialization in the context of running groups. I have also focused on the way distance runners manage and instrumentalize their pain in order to gain social recognition. A recent study handles the complexity and challenges of embracing a running identity in running groups. This study highlights the phase of liminality in the process of becoming a distance runner.

How do you research running?

As an anthropologist, ethnographic study/research is where I feel most comfortable. Given this, I conduct participant observation using fieldnotes, semi-structured interviews, mobile interviews and analyse online/offline texts.

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

This is a very tricky question, as many things have surprised me along the road. However, probably the most fascinating finding revealed to me is the crucial, constructive element that pain has in the distance running community. In my studies, I was intrigued by the way runners capitalize on and even magnify their pain in order to consolidate their running identity. In the field, it was true serendipity to me to find out how runners constantly showcase their pain both on social networks and in everyday life and their success in overcoming it.

Do you run?

As mentioned, I have been running since I was a child, and for my entire adult life I have run outdoors multiple days a week. It is during these long, solo runs that I do the most distilled thinking about my work. I have literally analysed data in my head during my runs and then returned home and written my thoughts down. Hands down, during running, I am the most focused, analytical and creative version of myself.

Where can I find out more?

You can follow and find out more about my research on ResearchGate Assaf Lev , as well as on ORCID.


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