The Missing Links

Current Gender Skew
Current Gender Skew

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been staggered at the success of the Big Running Survey so far. Only 11 days of data collection and there are already well over a thousand responses, with more coming through by the hour. With each respondent answering about a hundred questions the volume of data I will be working with is fantastic – far above 100,000 datum.

This bodes extremely well for making some very confident assertions about the nature of the British running community, the ways it can be segmented and the relative ways in which different social groups participated in the sport.

If the sample (the people who completed the survey) was a completely random selection of British runners we would be looking at being able to say we have 99% confidence (in statistical terms) that the sample we have represents in miniature the entire population of British runners, accurate to within 3%. That would be very impressive indeed.

However, there is one fly in the ointment: sampling error.

Because we weren’t selecting people at random, but were instead inviting runners across various social media, via running clubs etc. we have a lot of unevenness in our coverage. There are, for example, many more women than men in the sample. Club members appear to be over-represented compared to non-members. There are very few runners over sixty in the sample. These discrepancies are sampling errors generated by the way the data was collected, for instance:

  • Social media users are on average younger than the general population
  • Women tend to be more keen to participate in surveys than men
  • Our tweets were picked up by an influential women’s running group, but not by its male equivalent
  • Email addresses for clubs are available on the internet, allowing us to reach club members, but no equivalent channel exists for lone runners or non-club members
  • Athletic (i.e track and field) clubs appear to have a more formal structure than many more casual running clubs, so appear more bureaucratic and resistant to requests to help

For these and more reasons we cannot assume that the data accurately represents the running community as a whole. However, it is very rare that this can be said to be the case for any survey with true confidence.

The good news is that this doesn’t hinder us significantly, especially given the volume of data. It may be that one group (let’s say sprinters) are under-represented, but there are enough of them for us to identify a decent sized group of them in the survey data that we can use to provide some detail of their approach to the sport and demographic profile compared to, say, road runners. The only thing we won’t be able to say with certainty is how big that group is across the UK.

Fortunately we can cross-reference this small group in our data with its counterpart in Sport England’s massive Active People Survey (APS) to find out how big the group really is. APS can give us the sheer size of the group, and our survey can provide rich detail about motivations, practices and opinions. In combination we can generate a pretty complete picture of the British running scene.

But before we get there I intend to try to fill in some of the gaps. In a couple of weeks we will do a preliminary analysis of the data to identify where we have any blind spots. That will give us some key groups to really focus in on in terms of data collection. We’ll follow this up with some precise, targeted efforts to build the data in those areas.

In the meantime, if you know any male runners, runners who are not involved in any kind of club or members of track and field clubs please let them know… we need them!

Link to survey:

The Generosity of Runners

Thank you!Since I started out on the Big Running Survey project (i.e. my PhD research) a year or so ago I admit I’ve been swaying between wild optimism and gloomy pessimism on an almost weekly basis. I’m not naturally given to either extreme, but one unknown about the project has kept me up at night on many more than one occasion.

Specifically, after a year of research and writing and survey development, then the piloting, getting feedback and finally drawing up the final survey tool, I’ve wondered if, when the survey was finally launched, anyone would notice – or care. At my most pessimistic moments I’ve imagined running clubs refusing to pass it on to their members, social media shrugging its shoulders and moving on, race organisers throwing my requests for help in the bin… then where would I be? back to square one, and a year’s work down the drain.

However, at sunnier moments I’ve thought about all the nice people I’ve met through running. Their keenness to get others involved and to support them on their way to their own goals. Their pure joy in the sport, and the enthusiasm of their conversations about it. Surely these people will help me… some of them, at least.

Well, D-Day was last Monday, 8 days ago: The moment my survey was announced to the world. I contacted a few dozen running clubs – the first of a long list of contacts I’ve compiled by scouring the internet, I emailed all the runners I knew and called in a few favours, and then I took to twitter and facebook to try to get a snowball rolling. Then I just had to wait and see what would happen next.

Within a few hours a trickle of responses was coming in. Day 1 reaped 9 responses. Day 2, a further 7. At this stage I was feeling positive. At this rate I could reach my minimum target of 500 in just a couple of months – well within schedule.

But then it started to take off. A friend of a friend posted a link on his running club facebook page and sent out a tweet. Day 3 garnered 33 responses. After a quiet day 4 one of my tweets was picked up by #ukrunchat and another couple of retweeters and in flooded 56 responses. Two days later and more retweets from various running groups and individuals led to 72 responses… Surely it couldn’t go on like this?!

It didn’t… A day later it went off the scale! I’d had far fewer women respondents than men, so tweeted #womensrunninguk to ask for help finding female runners who would be interested in participating. A day or two later they retweeted it, setting off a minor viral cascade, with dozens of retweets and resulting in an incredible 469 responses on the day.

So, I’ve already surpassed my minimum sample size of 500 by 50%, and the responses are still coming in. I had allocated four months for data collection, and this all happened in only 8 days! The only ‘problem’ I have now is that I need more male runners, as the call for female runners was so successful they’ve put the men in the shade!

I’m going to keep up the publicity on social media (without getting annoying, I hope!) and keep contacting the clubs, many of whom have already been so helpful. I’m just so thankful for the generosity of the running community – all those hundreds of strangers – who have helped me promote the survey and who have completed it themselves. Also for all the encouraging comments that have redoubled my enthusiasm for the project.

Thank you all!

Survey can be accessed via

Results will be published on this website in due course.

Why we Run: Survey Pilot Complete

I’ve been very quiet on the blog for the last few months as I’ve been finalising and piloting cropped-runometer-logo.gifthe survey that is a major part of my PhD research project into the British running scene, as well as writing the first drafts of two chapters of my thesis.

At last though, the pilot data has been collected and analysed, the survey tool has been tweaked and it’s now ready to be sent out into the big wide world to seek its fortune, hopefully shedding new light on the motivations and practices around running, and describing the hidden factors that impact peoples’ relationships to the sport. Hopefully the responses will start coming in over the next few days.

The pilot went extremely well, with over 50 people responding. That’s 20 more than I needed, but only a fraction of what I’ll require for the full survey. The good thing is that – as expected – fellow runners have been extremely helpful in passing the survey on to friends and running partners, and many are keen to participate.

Over the coming weeks I will be contacting running groups, clubs, race organisers and institutions to see if they would be kind enough to help raise awareness of the survey. I’ll also be taking to social media to see what kind of response that can generate.

I’ll be posting regularly now, with updates and findings as they come through.

The final survey is available now, at If you run I would love to hear from you!

The Starting Gun

This is the first post on my new website, I’ll be updating the site with lots of material relating to the psychology and sociology of running at regular intervals, but this is a marathon, not a sprint (sorry) so expect new content on a weekly rather than a daily basis.start of a marathon project

A big reason for starting this site is to have somewhere to publish details of progress on my PhD research into runners and running, along with interim and the final findings as they are completed. I am developing a large scale and detailed survey of British runners that will improve our understanding of the psychographic characteristics of the community as a whole.

Another reason behind setting this up is to begin to compile a single source of information on sociological and psychological running research. This site is all about drawing the best and most rigorous research in the field together in one place, creating a touchstone site for industry and academia alike.

But that’s a long way – and a lot of post – down the road. I’m looking forward to the journey, and hope you will join me on it. If you’re interested to see what happens next, please subscribe!