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One of the most fundamental of human sporting practices, running has appealed to participants and spectators for its combination of speed and endurance in performance, the visibly dramatic element of competition, and its health-promoting qualities. Regardless of advances in training and equipment, the essential simplicity of the sport—first past the post or to the finishing line—continues to place running at the core of sporting traditions and events. Sprinting generates interest in the fastest man or woman on earth; the marathon rewards endurance and toughness. This elemental dimension of running has kept running events at the heart of the athletics and track-and-field agenda, a major draw in the core location of the stadium at the Olympics. Running has also been a pivotal activity in the expansion of leisure sports, linked to fitness and fashion but also to health-promotion drives by policy-makers and providers. On the more individual, experiential level running also offers a source of aesthetic experience, what English runner Roger Bannister recalled as a ‘unity with nature…a new source of power and beauty’, as well as ‘a joy, freedom and challenge which cannot be found elsewhere’ (First Four Minutes, 1955). The widespread appeal of running—or ‘foot-racing’—was recognized by Joseph Strutt (Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, 1801): ‘There is no kind of exercise that has more uniformly met the approbation of authors than running. In the middle ages, foot-racing was considered as an essential part of a young man's education, especially if he was the son of a man of rank, and brought up to a military profession.’ The development of different and specialized forms of running—middle-distance, long-distance—has fed the hunger for records in modern professional sports, as well as the attraction of the ‘personal best’ to runners at all levels of achievement. See also cross-country running; jogging; Loues, Spiridon; Olympic Games, ancient; Phidippides; race-walking; sprinting.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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