I’m a Running Researcher: Tim Gorichanaz

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

Who are you?

My name’s Tim Gorichanaz, and my work has to do with human experience and information technology. I am a teaching professor in Information Science at Drexel University, where I teach a range of classes in digital interface design, human–computer interaction, and the ethics of information technology. While my main responsibility is teaching, I have time for some research, and I have the freedom to follow my interests.

What is your background?

I originally planned on going into advertising, so my undergraduate degree was in advertising and Spanish. After working at a digital advertising agency for a couple years, I decided to switch to a career in academia. I did a master’s in Spanish linguistics, where I got interested in the intersection of language and digital technology. That led me to information science, the field I did my Ph.D. in, which helped me ask questions about human experience and changing technologies. In my doctoral work, I studied human information behavior and practices. A big part of my research was on the role of the human body in interacting with information, as well as non-textual forms of information (such as art).

How long have you been researching running?

My very first journal article was actually a study of information in running, and that was in 2015. So running research has been part of my research career since the beginning!

How did you get into researching running?

If I can be a little uncharitable to myself, it may have stemmed from the impulse to “get something productive” out of more of my activities. Running has been a big part of my life for over a decade now, and as I started out my career in research, I soon enough saw connections between the two. In my first year as a Ph.D. student, I took a class on qualitative methodology, and I decided to do a term paper on a friend’s experience running his first 50-mile race. I hadn’t pursued the ethics clearance to publish that work, but it was a proof-of-concept for me to do some “official” research on running in the future. I was training to run a 100-mile race that summer, and I decided to turn the race into a research project inspired by autoethnographic methods. That project ended up being my first research paper.

What running research have you done?

I’ve published a handful of papers related to running over the years. I primarily look at ultra-distance running in my work, and this research comes from two directions: first, empirical work looking at the information people engage with as part of their running; and second, philosophical work reflecting on ultrarunning culture.

My main empirical running research project so far has been a study of people’s experiences with information as part of running a 100-mile race—before, during and after. I was trying to understand what information was useful to people, how they found it (or didn’t), and so on. In terms of my philosophical work, it seems to always ultimately go back to the question: why do we run? Particularly for ultrarunning, which is my sport, you can’t answer that question in terms of health or fitness—there’s got to be something deeper going on.

How do you research running?

Most of my work is rooted in the philosophical school of phenomenology, which looks at what different kinds of experiences are like. This philosophy has informed my empirical research, which has mostly taken the form of qualitative interviewing; and of course it’s also informed my philosophical work. As far as what methods I use in philosophy, running is probably my main one. 

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

One thing that really surprised me was the multifaceted roles that race reports play in the ultrarunning community. After a race, it’s typical for an ultrarunner to write up a “race report,” which is an account of how the race went, usually including preparations, challenges, gear used, etc., and these reports are generally shared online on a blog or social media. First, writing the race report gives the athlete a chance to reflect, grow and learn from the experience. And once the report is out there, other athletes can use it to help decide what races to run in the future, help inform their training/gear decisions, build community, and much more.

In my philosophical work, maybe my favorite paper so far has been on failure. In running, we have this term “DNF” for Did Not Finish, which is every runner’s worst nightmare. In the broader culture, we’re ambivalent toward failure: on one hand, we’re afraid of failing, but we also have this idea that failure brings us one step closer to success, so it’s actually a good thing. In this paper I used DNFing as a lens to make sense of how failure can simultaneously be devastating and also a learning experience. 

Do you run?

Indeed! I run nearly every day, accumulating 70 miles a week or so, though in 2022 I’m aiming to get up to 100-mile weeks on a regular basis. I run one or two 100-mile races a year, plus some shorter ones. I live in the city, so most of my running is on a paved path, but I really cherish getting out on the trails when I can.

Where can I find out more?

My website is http://timgorichanaz.com, where you can learn more about me. I blog about my running (though, admittedly very rarely!) at https://niketoldmeto.blogspot.com. And I’m on Twitter @timgorichanaz.


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