Everyone a runner?

Sunday 21 October, 9.30am until 10.15am, Fountain Room

Once considered the preserve of sadistic PE teachers and fitness fanatics, long-distance running now seems deeply fashionable. In recent years the likes of comedians John Bishop and Eddie Izzard have grabbed the headlines by taking part in high-profile, multiple marathon challenges. It is not a trend confined to celebrities either, with barely a day going by without a request from a friend to sponsor their charity run, and training schedules now a staple of dinner party conversation. It has even become a firm part of the cultural landscape: cult Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami dedicated a book to his passion for the subject, while revered dance act LCD Soundystem teamed up with iTunes and Nike to produce a song, 45:33, designed to perfectly sync with hipster joggers.

Yet while events such as the London Marathon and Great North Run continue to grow in size and stature, few recall the names of recent winners, with Haile Gebrselassie and Paula Radcliffe among the sport’s few household names. Modern running is a much-talked about subject, but one focused on individual achievements – obstacles overcome, money raised and personal bests beaten – with little concern for competition, winning races or medals. In schools, the cross-country run is a relic from a bygone era, lacking the inclusivity of team sports and presenting a bureaucratic nightmare for health-and-safety-conscious teachers.

Is the growing popularity of an activity which requires so many admirable virtues – dedication, concentration and self-improvement – a cause for celebration? Or does the highly individualistic and non-competitive character of today’s runners suggest this is merely jogging with a fashionable twist? Is doing the ‘sponsored fun run’ simply an extension of wearing a charity wristband to show off your caring side, or a noble attempt to demonstrate commitment to a cause? Are we all searching out the loneliness of the long-distance runner, or is it simply a more sociable alternative to the gym?


Professor Richard Bailey
leading international authority on role of sport; research consultant for Nike, International Red Cross and previously International Olympic Committee

Alexandra Heminsley
writer; broadcaster; runner; author, Running Like a Girl (forthcoming)

Henry Rudd
senior manager, Investor Relations, SABMiller; charity runner

Dan Travis
director, Brighton Salon; tennis coach; author How to teach Young Children Tennis and In Defence of Competitive Sport.

Hilary Salt
actuary; founder, First Actuarial

Produced by
Geoff Kidder director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
Dan Travis director, Brighton Salon; tennis coach; author How to teach Young Children Tennis and In Defence of Competitive Sport.
Recommended readings
Run for my life!

Some 2,500 years after the jog that launched a million shin splints, marathoning has gone from heroic journey to commonplace event.

Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon, 20 June 2012

Session partners