The Anthropology of Running Spring Tune Up Research Project

Why we run (and why some of us run faster)

In Spring 2014, 23 Emory University students enrolled in the course, The Anthropology of Running. The course aimed to explore the evolutionary history of running among Homo sapiens, running predictors in non-human species, cultural variation in running as sport, how the mind and the body interact during endurance sports to produce performance, and how running shapes and is shaped by culture and biology.  Along the way students learned about basic aspects of human biology, human culture, the evolution of the human species, and core concepts, methods, and arguments in anthropology. Finally, as part of our overall course goals, we undertook a community research project that aimed to explore why people run, why some people are able to run faster than others, and what predicts injury rates among runners. Towards this goal students undertook undertook a survey with measures of weight and height; a qualitative study of runner’s mental strategies; and a project using high speed film to capture foot strike variation among a large sample of racers. Students divided into research teams, came up with a research question, and then worked together to analyze the data and give a presentation on their research results.

The student presentations are available through the following links:

1.sports participation and running performance

2. Runners mental strategies

3. Foot strike and running performance

4. Injury Group Presentation

5. Correlates of running performance

Please note that because the students had limited time (and in some cases limited background in statistical methods), the analyses focus on simple relationships. For those who are interested in our results, you can find a bit more here where I use the survey data to explore in more detail predictors of running performance, injury prevalence, and briefly explore why people run and their running goals. Briefly, we find that among the participants in our study, the strongest predictors of running speed are sex, body weight, leg length, and weekly training volume. The degree to which someone self-identifies as “an athlete” also is associated with running speed but this variable drops out when other variables are included. Few variables were related to running injuries.

We gratefully acknowledge the wonderful help and support of the Atlanta Track Club. We also acknowledge the assistance of the Center For Faculty Development and Excellence who graciously provided funds for research equipment.

If you have any questions related to this project please email me, Craig Hadley, at chadley [at] emory [dot] edu. I look forward to hearing from you.