The evolution of running for fitness

Running is essential for any modern fitness program. Most people understand the benefits of a regular running program to enhance fitness levels, and these benefits are one of the primary reasons for its widespread use. However, people tend to assume that running has been used for widespread training for centuries. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Running for aerobic training was practically non-existent fifty years ago. So how did running become such a pillar of modern training?

Bill Bowerman was track coach of the University of Oregon from 1948 to 1972. In his 24-year tenure as coach, Bowerman coached 24 NCAA champions, 33 Olympians and 22 world-record holders (1). Although Bowerman was at the forefront of training high-performance athletes, the concept of running over a set time at a constant speed (jogging) for training was still foreign during most of his coaching days. All of this began to change in late 1962 (2).

Bowerman travelled with his world-record-holding national relay team to New Zealand in December 1962. During the trip, Bowerman was introduced a new exercise program during this trip that was beginning to gain momentum and popularity in the country. The activity was coined, “jogging.” Various jogging groups had been formed and the members of these groups were starting to experience the benefits of running first-hand. Bowerman began to experience the benefits of this new exciting program himself, by jogging every-day for three weeks after his first encounter with the revolution.

Intersport Australia Sports Store Running For Fitness - Bill Bowerman Bill Bowerman. Via: https://www.celebritynetworth.com/richest-athletes/richest-coaches/bill-bowerman-net-worth/

Upon setting foot back in the United States, Bowerman was determined to bring the craze to his home country. There was considerable hype surrounding Bowerman’s findings overseas, due to his status as a running coach. Bowerman created running clubs in Oregon, which grew considerably over the following weeks. People ranging from peak athletes to sedentary were experiencing weight loss and various other health benefits. The benefits of jogging for people of any physical condition was very appealing for Bowerman. His vision to communicate these benefits was solidified after Bowerman collaborated with cardiologist W.E. Harris in 1966 to publish a book named, “Jogging” (3). Jogging sold over one million copies, and the jogging movement was well and truly established in the United States (and subsequently worldwide).

Bowerman’s “Jogging,” struck a chord with the American public. Through the 1970’s, the running boom had arrived and was here to stay. Running was now mainstream for the masses, predominately due to the inclusive nature of fun runs and marathon events, in conjunction with the health benefits. People running in public were often seen as “weirdos” in the pre-jogging era, however it was now seen as the norm. Jogging’s considerable increase in popularity coincided with the explosion of athletic footwear brands into the marketplace. Brands such as Nike (co-founded by Bill Bowerman), Asics, Adidas, Puma and New Balance (just to name a few) became more and more popular as the uptake of jogging also increased. These brands are still staples on any INTERSPORT store wall nationwide.

The fascination of jogging spread across the globe, including Australia. Public demand for running events had increased and subsequently resulted in the inaugural Melbourne Marathon taking place in 1978. The inaugural event had roughly 2000 entrants (4). This number has grown to 33,000 people participating in the 2017 Medibank Melbourne Marathon festival (5).

Running’s popularity is established by much more than purely improving health. As I participated in the Melbourne Marathon festival in 2016, I had my first awakening to the power of the running movement. The comradery between participants, all striving to achieve a common goal of self-improvement was in one word, liberating. The inclusive atmosphere of these running events is unmatched in practically any other aspect of life.

There is something deeply spiritual about running. Its power was felt by the visionary, Bill Bowerman back in 1962 during his very first encounter with a jogging group. Much has changed over the past 55 years, however much has stayed the same. Running allows any individual, no matter what wake of life or physical prowess to channel the interconnectedness, liberation and fulfillment experienced by Bowerman in New Zealand. Running will undoubtedly remain as an essential to any fitness program for years to come.

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