How ‘social’ is recreational running? Findings from a qualitative study in London and implications for public health promotion

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Abstract

Recreational running is increasingly widespread and could therefore be seen as the obvious target for those hoping to encourage greater public health through exercise. Existing qualitative research on this topic has, however, tended to focus on groups of highly committed runners. It is accordingly unclear whether their findings can be extrapolated to the much larger population of comparatively casual runners. This existing work has also tended to emphasise the social nature of the activity in particular ways. Whilst much recreational running happens alone, most commonly these studies have centred on the establishment of shared identities and group subcultures. Drawing on a study involving accompanied runs and interviews with recreational runners who do not belong to running clubs in London, this paper presents an alternative account. These respondents were relatively uninterested in the idea of proper running technique, ambivalent about the presence of others when running, and reticent about being pulled into a more committed collective practice. In view of how these more casual runners may be of particular interest to public health promoters, this finding suggests future campaigns might do well not to focus too greatly on the potential enjoyments of running community membership and start instead with a different set of social dynamics.

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