Running and Jogging

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From the earliest times, running has been a natural part of humans' existence, whether to pursue food or to escape enemies. However, for centuries people also ran for pleasure, and competed against one another over set distances. This eventually led to the desire in many to improve their speed and their ability to run longer—the basic premise of running and jogging in the twenty-first century.

Modern Running

In 1850, the first rules to govern running, racing, and record keeping were established in London. Here, set distances such as the half mile, mile, and three mile were established as the core events of the sport. The first official modern track-and-field contest was held in 1860 between the university teams of Oxford and Cambridge. In 1894, the first modern international track meet was staged between Oxford and Yale.

In the United States, the development of running as an official sport followed the English, with the formation of the Amateur Athletic Union of America in 1876. Shortly thereafter, in 1896, the first modern Olympics were held in Athens, thanks to the dedicated efforts of Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin. From this point onward, running became an accepted and highly popular sport.

The Science of Running

At the beginning of the twentieth century, those who took part in competitive running races were generally fit and strong due to the demands of their vigorous lifestyles—farming, forestry, labor. Specific training, therefore, was rarely undertaken. Any training that did take place consisted of two to three moderate sessions per week, never totalling more than four to five miles. But with the growth of international competition, particularly following World War II, running became more serious. Paavo Nurmi of Finland, who won nine Olympic gold medals in the 1920s, was one of the earliest runners to train full time. Following, Nurmi, the German coach Werner Gerschler devised a system of conditioning athletes known as interval training that was still widely used as of the early 2000s.

Interval training consists of mixing hard bursts of running over short distances with a prescribed period of rest. As the distance and frequency of these bursts increases over the course of a season, the recovery period should decrease. Using this method, the athlete's fitness improves greatly.

The Running Revolution

With the publication of his acclaimed text Aerobics (1968), the Texas physician Kenneth Cooper popularized health and fitness, and soon Americans everywhere were concerned with their diet and daily exercise. Capitalizing on this fitness trend, and people's growing awareness of the importance of exercise, a number of lifetime runners wrote easy-to-read training manuals and charismatic personalities that captured the public's attention, and running become an everyday routine for millions of Americans. Bill Bowerman, the long-time University of Oregon track coach, along with Jim Fixx, released books titled Jogging (1967) and The Complete Book of Running (1977), respectively, which provided Americans with a clear route to an improved quality of life. Also adding inspiration to the running boom sweeping America was Frank Shorter's gold medal–winning performance in the marathon at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

Along with the growth in the number of runners across the United States came specialty running magazines such as The Runner and Runner's World. In addition, there was an increase in the number of annual road races that ranged anywhere in distance from three miles to the full marathon of 26.2 miles. Road running also became fun and fashionable as numerous cottage industries around footwear and running clothes burst onto the scene. Runners came in all shapes, sizes, and ages. It was a sport considered to have no limits or barriers to entry as exercise soon became part of many people's everyday routine.

A survey conducted by the United States Track and Field association showed that in 2002, 450,000 Americans ran a marathon (60 percent men, 40 percent women), and 40 percent of those were first-timers. Furthermore, according to American Sports Data, 10.5 million Americans ran 100 days or more in 2002, and spent a record $2.7 billion on running shoes. Such a large number of runners also contributed to the ongoing establishment of safe and well-designed running surfaces such as tracks and forest and park paths across the country, not to mention the increasing affordability and availability of running equipment, such as shoes and apparel.

Running and Racing in the Early Twenty-First Century

Running's popularity, at both the participation and spectator levels, showed no sign of decreasing. In fact, big-city marathons in New York and Chicago regularly attracted more than 30,000 contestants, including an elite section where prize money in the hundreds of thousands of dollars was available to both men and women. Runners from northern and eastern Africa dominated the sport, holding almost every men's and women's world record, from 800 meters up to the marathon. In addition, while the act of running remained simple, various new technologies—doping, genetic engineering, altitude houses—raised debates within the sport over the naturalness of running. While largely an ethical debate, it did shed light on the increasing growth of the sport of running as a full-time occupation for many athletes that could bring prestige and wealth both to the individual athlete and his or her nation.

See also: Marathons; Triathlons


Bresnahan, George, and William Tuttle. Track and Field Athletics. London: Henry Kimpton, 1948.

Encyclopedia of Athletics. Twickenham, U.K.: Hamlyn, 1985.

Henderson, Joe. The Complete Runner. Mountain View, Calif.: World Publications, 1974.

Newsholme, Eric, Tony Leech, and Glenda Duester. Keep on Running. Chichester, U.K.: John Wiley and Sons, 1994.

Noakes, Tim. Lore of Running. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, 1991.

Jim Denison