Running is a means of locomotion used by many species of animals, including humans, whereby they travel across an area by propelling themselves with rapid movements of their legs and feet.


Running has many functions for an animal, including the pursuit of food, escape from a predator, and, in many cases, the pure joy of a recreational activity. Among humans, the first two of these objectives has become, over time, a less common motivation for running than the last. Humans now run primarily for the pleasure it provides, to improve one's general overall health, or to win a competition with other humans.


Data and statistics on running in the United States are compiled and published annually by the nonprofit organization Running USA (the “National Runner Survey”). Its most recent survey (2016) provided the following information about “core runners,” defined as individuals who tend to enter running competitions of one kind or another and tend to train year round. (This information was obtained from the responses of 10,000-plus runners nationwide over the period from January to April 2016. These data correspond rather closely with surveys conducted by two running magazines, Runner's World and Running Times.)


Running for the pursuit of food or to escape predators was almost certainly a part of the daily life of early humans dating back more than four million years ago. Running as a recreational and/or competitive activity is much more recent, but still an ancient tradition. Perhaps the earliest competitive races were those held in Egypt about 3800 years before the birth of Christ. Competitors ran back and forth between two pillars about 800 meters apart for four laps. Among the earliest written records of running races were those held in connection with the Tailteann Games in Ireland between 632 BCE and 1171 CE. Perhaps most famously running races were an integral part of the Olympic Games held in Greece, the first games dating to 776 BCE.

The excitement of betting on a running race probably first developed in England in the seventeenth century, when nobles placed wagers on which of their servants would prevail in various types of foot races. The first use of scientific training principles of the sport of race running is sometimes traced to the work of Finnish distance runner Paavo Nurmi and his associate Lauri Pihkala. Today, many kinds of competitive racing events exist, ranging from short-distance races (sprints) of 100 and 200 meters to medium-distance races of 800 metes and a mile to long-distance races of half marathons and marathons.

Elite runner—
A runner who runs professionally or who has attained some level of distinction in her or his field of running.
Iliotibial band syndrome (ITB)—
Atype of hip injury.
A moderate form of running in which the primary goal is recreational rather than winning a competition.
Medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS)—
The technical name for shin splits.


Foot racing can be divided, in general, into two major categories: events in which participants compete with each other for some type of recognition, such as a cash award or a trophy or some kind, and recreational running, in which a person runs simply for the exercise, to improve one's overall fitness, to lose weight, or just for the joy of running. One form of recreational running is called jogging. Jogging is simply a form of running at a slower pace than in most other forms of running. It has the advantage of placing less stress on the runner and, therefore, reducing the risk of physical damage as a result of participating in the sport.


Elite runners, those who participate in the sport for more than just recreational reasons, often develop more rigorous programs of preparation that may include strength, speed, and endurance training. They also focus more closely on nutritional programs that prepare their bodies for the demands placed by frequent practice and competition and, especially, long-distance runs characteristic of marathon and ultra marathon competitions.


Running requires relatively little specialized equipment, usually just a shirt and shorts. The most important piece of equipment is running shoes. A great variety of running shoes is available, each designed for a specific type of running. A novice runner should seek the advice of a qualified shoe expert to decide precisely the type of shoe needed by that individual.


Running might appear to be a rather benign sport in terms of the risk it poses to the participant. After all, there is little or no contact with another person, as there is in most sports. Yet, the stress placed on the body by slamming the feet and legs onto the ground in a continuous pattern can have a number of serious effects on the body. In a 2009 survey by the running magazine Runner's World, for example, two-thirds of respondents reported that they had suffered some type of injury in the preceding year that prevented them from running for at least some minimal period of time. The most common types of injuries reported in the 2011 Running USA's “State of the Sport” survey were blisters (30.9% of respondents); knee injuries (22.7%); iliotibial band syndrome (ITB; a hip injury; 15.6%); plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the foot pad; 14.0%); shin splints [also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS); 12.7%]; hamstring pulls (12.3%); and miscellaneous foot (12.0%), hip (11.9%), and low back (10.4%) injuries.


Sports medicine specialists suggest that most running injuries can be prevented by proper preparation for the sport. The best way of avoiding running injuries, according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, is to stretch and warm up before beginning to run. Other preparatory steps should include making sure that one has the best available running shoes, to take sufficient rest periods between training and running, to run on the best possible surface, to make sure one drinks adequate amounts of water during a run, and to avoid large changes in one's running regimen (such as the length of the run or the elevation over which one runs) in a short period of time.




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Maharam, Lewis G. The Running Doc's Guide to Healthy Running: How to Fix Injuries, Stay Active, and Run Pain-Free. Boulder, CO: Velo Press, 2011.

Noakes, Timothy. Lore of Running, 4th ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2003.

Puleo, Joe, and Patrick Milroy. Running Anatomy. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2010.

Tucker, Ross, and Jonathan Dugas. Runner's World, the Runner's Body: How the Latest Exercise Science Can Help You Run Stronger, Longer, and Faster. New York: Rodale, 2009.


Matava, Matthew. Running and Jogging Injuries. American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. 2016. (accessed January 22, 2017).

Tiefenthaler, David. “Running Tips and Training Programs for Beginners to Marathon Runners.” Tips4Running. (accessed January 22, 2017).


American Running Association, 4405 East-West Hwy., Ste. 405, Bethesda, MD, 20814, (800) 776-2732, Fax: (301) 913-9520, .

David E. Newton, AB, MA, EdD

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.