I’m a Running Researcher: Sarah Ackland

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

Who are you?

I’m Sarah, I’m a designer, feminist and practising architect. I am currently undertaking my PhD at Newcastle University and was awarded the Forshaw fund. I am working under the supervision of Katie Lloyd Thomas, Juliet Odgers and Claire Harper.

I am also a Design Tutor at the Welsh School of Architecture in the first year of the Master’s course and a Seminar Leader at Newcastle University. I guest lecture across the UK and Europe. I received the RIBA Research Fund in 2019 to study how meaningful change for women in architecture can occur.

What is your background?

I studied my architecture undergraduate (BSc and Masters) at the Welsh School of Architecture before moving to London. I completed my RIBA Part 3 diploma at the University of Greenwich and since have been working as an architect at muf architecture/art.

I am interested in feminist studio practice, female-led design and how public space can be more progressive for women. My thesis questions transformative spaces for women. My methods traverse through embodied, feminist and auto-ethnographic practices.

How long have you been researching running?

Since 2020, when I started my PhD.

How did you get into researching running?

I was starting my PhD and studying women in the built environment whilst training for a marathon. It was only when I was fretting one day that I hadn’t made any progress that the director of muf said to me ‘write about running Sarah, it’s all you do’ and that was that. I sent it to my supervisor that week and she text me ‘Feminist running- love it’ and here we are.

What running research have you done?

I recently exhibited some of my installations at the Newcastle Contemporary Art Gallery alongside the How We Live Now exhibition which is on tour from the Barbican. The installations questioned how much space women can really take up?

My PhD is currently in progress … watch this space

How do you research running?

My method is the running itself, I use myself as a device to explore my experiences as a woman runner. Through a series of installations and performances, I investigate the expansive and contractive spaces women pass through and the process of running renders the experience visible and tangible. The work derives from Consciousness Raising activism, the sharing of experiences, to raise awareness and generate change. The pieces allow the viewer to step into a woman’s space, some pieces are bodily, others more representative and some are performances. Through each, the viewer is situated to understand the constraints confronted by women.

The series of installations draws on questions surrounding the female flaneur, visibility, safety, accepted bodies, comfortable and accessible space, and finally who is welcome in cities.

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

My study shares the experience of a woman runner’s body in space, unveiling how even the most ‘able’ of bodies can be marginalised and how access is a privilege. Women still face exclusion from the holistic experience of spaces. 

I think the most interesting revelation, is that by moving two feet, women can transform not just their bodies or physical space, but their economic and psychological conditions also.

Do you run?

Yes- most days if I can and on track once a week. I am part of a few run crews and clubs in London including Run Dem Crew, Track East and Your Friendly Runners, who keep me motivated.

I started running due to the stress of Architecture School when I was around twenty-one, so a fairly late starter, but I have found that there is very little you cannot process with a good run. The bilateral stimulation works well for PTSD sufferers. I owe most of my mental health to running.

Where can I find out more?


Twitter: sarah_ackland

Instagram: saraheackland



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