As a popular sport, distance running has only been around for a little over forty years. Until Frank Shorter won the Olympic Marathon title in Munich in 1972, there simply weren’t many non-professional joggers. But, within a decade, the number of recreational runners had increased exponentially.
It has pretty much stayed that way ever since, though the percentage of the population describing themselves as runners has somewhat stabilised over the ensuing three or four decades. However, as is often the case in life, just when things seem to have settled down, an alternative will appear from left field.
The latest innovation in the sport of distance running (besides positive advances like Park Runs) has been the concept of the journey run. A journey run is a multi-day running odyssey, usually from one significant place to another.
For example, one might run across a county, a state, a country, a continent, or even around the world. Or maybe just between two cities. The important thing is that the run is a journey from one place to another.
City-to-city journey runs taking two or three weeks, such as Melbourne to Sydney or San Francisco to Los Angeles are not uncommon. Longer challenges are gaining in popularity too, such as Italy from north to south, or the even more extreme length of South America.
The ‘granddaddy’ of all journey runs, however, is the world run. Running around the world is now an established sport in itself, with its own governing body, the World Runners Association (WRA). The WRA monitors the efforts of those attempting to run around the world according to its official rules and guidelines. These include starting and finishing at the same place, crossing at least four continents contiguously from one major ocean to another, running a total of at least 26,232 km (16,300 miles), and passing through antipodal points (points opposite each other on the Earth’s surface).
Until a decade ago, no runner had completed a fully transparent and documented run around the world according to the criteria of the WRA. At the time of writing, however, that number has swelled from zero to five, with a sixth world run expected to be completed by early in 2017. Clearly, extreme journey running is gaining in both acceptance and popularity.
The reality is, journey running is quite rare compared to traditional running, but it is becoming more popular. The cycling version is actually very popular, even to the extent that one can participate in journey cycling via organised tours. Multi-day walking tours are also gaining in popularity. For example, week long walks across Britain or even longer walks along the extent of the Pyrenees appear to be attracting a lot of interest.
While the running version doesn’t see the same number of protagonists, it is on the increase. Those participating are usually on their own, not as part of an organized race or event. Their motivation is simple – to experience the countryside from the ground up, seeing, hearing, smelling, and touching the real world, and all as part of an activity they love doing anyway – running.
Whether it’s something as monumental as running around the world, or a more achievable city to city challenge, increasing numbers of journey runners are taking to the roads of the world to participate in their sport as part of a more comprehensive life experience.
If you’ve ever considered such an odyssey, try it – there are few things as enjoyable as being on the road each day as you make your way inexorably toward your destination.
Tom Denniss is an Australian athlete, scientist, and entrepreneur. He has a PhD in Mathematics and Oceanography, has invented a technology to convert the energy in ocean waves into electricity, founded a company to commercialise that technology, has played professional rugby league, and was a finalist in the 2014 Australian of the Year Award. In 2013 he set a new world record for the Fastest Circumnavigation of the Earth on Foot. Tom lives in Sydney, Australia. A former professional musician, he has played to audiences in eight countries. He has written various articles for newspapers, magazines, and journals, as well as a book about his run around the world, titled The World At My Feet. You can read more of Tom's work here.
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