Keep on running! How have jogging and fitness changed over the decades?
PUBLISHED: 08:00 12 January 2019
Taking up running is a rare New Year's resolution that many people manage to keep. But why is running so popular, and how has it changed over the decades?
Nationally, Sport England says that more than two million people run every week. Here in East Anglia, running clubs’ efforts to make the sport more welcoming have paid off, with more people of all ages and from all backgrounds pulling on a pair of running shoes and joining in.
Parkruns taking off
Parkruns, in particular, have proved to be far more than a short-lived trend, and have taken off massively over recent years.
An amazing 1004 people took part in the Norwich parkrun on Christmas Day, while many others joined in runs across the area over the Christmas period and on New Year’s Day.
Richard Polley, event director for Norwich parkrun and trustee of City of Norwich Athletic Club, said, “Our numbers have grown, and more lifestyle and community runners are joining in parkruns. It has become a worldwide movement - when we set up ours, we were the 60th parkrun to set up, but now it’s approaching 600 in the UK.”
How jogging took off in the 1970s and 80s
Road running (then widely known as jogging) started to take off in popularity in the 1970s and 80s, but not everyone was supportive back in those days, with the sport sometimes suffering from a slightly “weird” image.
Richard recalled: “You often used to get abuse shouted at you when you were out running, because a lot of people had a negative view of runners, but that has changed now. It has become quite cool to run!”
In Ipswich, jogging in the park courses were held in Chantry Park in the summer of 1977. The enthusiastic reaction from runners in the town led to the founding of Ipswich JAFFA (the initials stand for ‘Jogging And Fitness For All’) the same year.
Clive Sparkes, Ipswich JAFFA running club vice president and club coach, said: “JAFFA was one of the first clubs that was interested in road running.”
The club became better known when it ran a fun run in Christchurch Park in May 1978, attracting around 1500 people. JAFFA has gone from strength to strength and celebrated its 40th anniversary with a major reunion and a series of special events in 2017.
Clive said that JAFFA had always been keen to welcome runners at all levels, including beginners, as do many other running clubs around the region, including Rushmere Community Runners and Kesgrave Kruisers in the Ipswich area.
However, he said some people can be nervous about contacting a club when they are starting to run. “I think there’s a slight stigma - at JAFFA, we’ve had a number of people who said, ‘I thought we had to be good to join!’ But we cover the whole range of abilities, and have beginners’ groups.”
The first Norfolk Marathon was held in 1982, starting at Kelling and finishing at Norwich Cathedral, while the following year saw a marathon and half-marathon staged around Ipswich, the highlight being the opportunity to cross the Orwell Bridge, which had opened at the end of the previous year. Traffic was still on the roads alongside the runners in those days, instead of roads being shut off!
From Blue Peter to Sport Aid
Greater participation in running was encouraged by the likes of Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan, who ran in the first ever London Marathon, back in 1981, inspiring a generation of young viewers to follow his example.
Then in 1986 came Sport Aid, following on from Live Aid and similarly unforgettable, with Tears for Fears rerecording their hit, Everybody Wants to Run the World. More than 19 million runners around the world did just that, as they took part in the Race Against Time in aid of African famine relief charities. They all ran in unison on the same day, running, jogging or walking for 10 kilometres to raise sponsorship money.
Kit, shoes and training
Runners’ kit has of course changed massively since the 1970s and 80s, when popular gear included shiny tracksuits or shellsuits (voted the worst fashion trend of the 80s in one poll), vests and tight, skimpy shorts. Today’s kit tends to be more comfortable to wear, with features such as breathable fabrics to keep you cool and dry and all kinds of accessories.
The biggest change, though, is in running shoes - once so heavy and cumbersome. Clive said: “Shoes are now a lot lighter, and will do a lot more and give more protection.”
Training has also changed out of all recognition. Instead of just running vast distances each week, runners are encouraged to take part in various different types of workout and gym routine, with a greater concentration on building body strength to avoid injury. There is also a greater awareness of nutrition than in the past, with runners taking more care about their diet and getting advice from sports nutritionists.
Hi-tech world of running
Technology has had a wide-ranging impact on running, with GPS running watches enabling runners to measure their heart rate and fitness and track their activity and distances covered, fine-honing training before an event.
You can also book your places for races online and interact with other runners on social media.
Partly as a result of technology, the range of events available for runners at all levels has expanded hugely over the years, and the internet has made it far easier to find details of all the different events in East Anglia and further afield. Major events set to take place in 2019 include the Colchester Half Marathon, City of Norwich Half Marathon, the Great East Run half marathon in Ipswich, Norfolk Coastal Marathon and many more.
You can also choose from a wide number of 5K and 10K races and shorter distances, plus many themed fun runs - such as the Inflatable 5K family events to be held in both Ipswich and Norwich during 2019.
Or what about a running festival, such as the Bungay Festival of Running in April, the first-ever Henham Park Festival of Running in May, or the Suffolk Trail Running Festival, to be held at Shimpling in rural west Suffolk during June?
Many runners also sign up for events in other parts of the world. For instance, JAFFA members have taken part in the the Boston and New York Marathons, and even the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert,
However, the downside is that some events are now much more competitive to get into, and you may need to sign up well in advance, or take part in a ballot to gain an entry, as in the case of the London Marathon.
So what does the future hold for running? It seems it will continue to grow, as people become more aware of the health benefits. Clubs have seen many more women taking up the sport in recent years, with many being inspired by the success of charity events like the women-only Race for Life, organised by Cancer Research UK.
Richard Polley said there had also been a particularly strong growth in numbers of children and young people taking up running, inspired by the legacy of the 2012 London Olympics.
“They might want to be the next Mo Farrar or the next Jessica Ennis.”