The Long Run: Contemporary Performance Practice and Endurance Running

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: English Language and Literature


'As a body-cultural phenomena running has eluded serious study in the humanities...' John Bale, Running Cultures, Routledge, 2004, p1

For 12 years my practice, located in the field of contemporary performance, has focused on ideas of travel, journey and context, often operating across extended timeframes; elements of duration and physical 'endurance' have been central to my work. My other areas of enquiry include performance for public space, the social impact of context-specific performance, and performance and narrative. My practice can be framed as a body-cultural enquiry: the deployment of the human body (often the performer's own) as a catalyst for - and site of - cultural phenomena. Performance art, live art, and specific parts of theatrical, visual and textual practice - contexts my work operates across - can be framed as body-cultural enquiries.

Through critical examination of my own practice and substantial exposure to the broader field, I have identified a key problematic that has been widely overlooked, perhaps due its apparent utilitarian yet complex nature. As a mode of practical enquiry that deploys the human body as its central site of investigation, the field is yet to undertake serious investigation into an activity that - many argue - defines both the cultural history and the present physical form of the human body: running, more specifically endurance running. The relevance of this problematic is thrown into sharp relief by the neighbouring fields of contemporary biology and anthropology, which for two decades have engaged in research on endurance running, resulting in a near complete rewriting of the socio-cultural place of running and the history of the human body; an event to which body-cultural enquiries in the arts are yet to seriously respond.

'Endurance Running Hypothesis', as proposed by Bramble and Lieberman (University of Utah and Harvard University respectively), frames human survival and the evolution of the human body as products of our ability to run considerable distances, typically between twenty and three hundred miles. The hypothesis is linked to persistence hunting, in which prey is exhausted by being outrun. This is how the light Homo sapiens survived when the heavier Neanderthals did not. We are human, the hypothesis implies, because we ran, and we continue to inhabit the bodies of endurance runners.

A critical question for contemporary performance practice emerges from this hypothesis: how does a body-based field of cultural enquiry, especially one such as mine that specifically approaches ideas of endurance and travel, respond to this framing of the human body as an endurance running body? The question is not whether endurance running can be discussed in terms of being 'art', rather what knowledge can be gained by using endurance running as a mode and site of performance-based research.

The programme takes my practical investigations as a model and operates across the schools of Arts and Humanities, Biomedical and Health Sciences, and Physical Sciences and Engineering at King's College London. Mentored by Professor of Theatre Alan Read the fellowship will establish creative dialogue between the specialisms of performance studies, literature, biology, biomechanical engineering and anatomical studies. Practical exploration will produce three professional performance outcomes. Discursive and analytical enquiries will inform and review the research through two papers and a seminar series located at the Anatomy Theatre & Museum - a live and 'digital' space for interdisciplinary performance research at King's. The programme's objective is to create a body of practical research on endurance running as a mode and site of performance enquiry that not only contributes to contemporary performance practice's study of endurance, but impacts across the public realm and related academic fields in the arts, humanities and sciences, establishing a performance paradigm of running.

Planned Impact

The research will be beneficial to the following 4 key contexts:

1.National and international artists, professionals, professional bodies and academics in the field of contemporary performance practice/research (including performance art, live art and specific parts of theatrical, textual and visual arts practice). These include, but are not limited to:

Professionals and professional bodies:
The Live Art Development Agency, UK
FADO - Performance Art Centre, CA
Louise Jefferies, The Barbican, UK
New Work Network, UK
Kristy Edmonds, Park Avenue Armory, US
Sven Åge Birkeland, BIT Teatergarasjen, NO
Chuck Helm, The Wexner Centre for the Arts, US

Essi Kausalainen, FI
Ivana Muller, HR
Bak Truppen, NO
Adele Prince, UK
Martin O'Brien, UK
Anti Laitinen, FI
Stephine Nadeau, US
Gwendoline Robin, BE
Augusto Corrieri, IT/UK
Search Party, UK
Martin Creed, UK
Franko B, UK
Panther, AU
Regin Igloria, US

2.Academics involved in research on Endurance Running Hypothesis, biomechanical engineering and anatomical studies
3.Academics involved in literary/cultural study
4.The general public

Artists, academics, professionals and professional bodies in the field of contemporary performance practice will benefit from research on the body's relationship to 'endurance'. Although endurance - and duration - are both central areas in much body-based practice/research very little emphasis has been placed on our physical relationship to such activities, and no work, to date, has taken place on Endurance Running Hypothesis's reframing of the human body as a running body. Academics in the field of literary/cultural practice and those in biomechanical and anatomical research will benefit from a unique dialogue with a practising artist - creating a valuable investigation into the cultural agency of endurance running.

All beneficiaries, including the general public, will encounter the research through attending - or by accessing documentation of - three performance outcomes and by attending - or by accessing online - a series of four seminars. The performance works will take place in public space, engendering public discussion on endurance, journey and travel, health and fitness and the socio-cultural place of endurance running. A seminar and performance event will take place during London's hosting of the Olympic marathon, capitalising on interest in endurance running and ideas of running as public urban spectacle.

The fellowship will be launched at an evening seminar in King's Anatomy & Theatre Museum. All outcome events - the seminar series and performance works - will be open to academics, related professionals and the general public. Outcomes will be widely publicised; print and e-flyers will be circulated; national media (including specialist running publications and websites) will be notified as will all related e-lists and discussion groups; all national and international beneficiaries listed here will be notified and invited.

The academic community and the general public will be further engaged through the publication of two research papers; extracts from these are expected to appear in popular running magazines, widening public awareness of the programme. The programme's website will be extensively networked across all relevant academic, performance-based and public/running contexts. The site will carry live broadcast and recorded documentation of both the research processes and its outcomes.

I have a proven track record of delivering performance outcomes and related activities to a wide national and international audience. Past performances works, similar in size and scope to those proposed here, have received live audiences of over 10,000 people per project and have been widely covered by national and international media alongside academic publications/journals and conferences.


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Whelan, G (2013) Research Seminar: What I Run About When I Run About Running. 0.1 in Research Seminar, Aberystwyth University

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Whelan, G (2010) The Long Run: An Introduction in Research Seminar, King's College London

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Whelan, G (2012) Running Through a Field, Performance and Humanness in Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/H033386/1 31/08/2010 26/01/2014 £220,639
AH/H033386/2 Transfer AH/H033386/1 25/04/2014 30/07/2017 £98,600
Title 33 Miles And Counting 
Description A running-based performance which was undertook as an exercise to produce writing, a text, that mapped both the run (a 50K Ultra Marathon through the wilds of Wiltshire) and the 'run' or the 'course' of my research to date. The performance-text, both a document of the live action and the contextual concerns of the broader research project was eventually published as 'Running Through a Field', in Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts, 17:2, 110-120 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2011 
Impact The performance/text has had a considerable impact through it's publication (as above). The text constitutes one of the first mappings of potential of running as site of performance research and as such has led to a number of important invitations to speak at various conferences and events etc. In many ways it announced the presence of my research to the wider contemporary performance community. 
Title The Message: 20 Miles and Counting 
Description A video work essaying the historical activity of message carrying by runners conflated with a contemporary reading of the runner as one engaged in exercise/competition. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2011 
Impact The piece is currently in use as tool to describe to a group of runners how I, as an artist, might work collaboratively with them on a further video work. Both pieces will then form a publicly sited diptych. 
Description This Fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts was focused on a series of research activities (practice-based, discursive, analytical) that explored the potential of apprehending endurance running as a context and site of enquiry for body-based performance practices. A related field of performance-focused disciplines where identified - performance art, live art, and specific parts of theatrical, visual and textual practice - and looked at, and worked with, in terms of their possible relationship, uses of, and resonances with endurance running. Part of that research surveyed contemporary performative approaches on running made by performance-makers - and was shared across articles, conference and seminar papers; and part used creative work, my own and that of others curated by the project and shared across a number of public-facing cultural events and platforms.
What was the most significant achievement of the award? The Fellowship's key achievement lies in the articulation, from the perspective of contemporary performance practice, of a cultural turn in the apprehension and reappraisal of running and its socio-cultural functions. The initial point of departure for this project was located in sports-sociologist John Bale's proposition that running was yet to receive serious critical attention in the humanities. The research enabled by the award forms a significant contribution to what might now, these years later, be termed - in regard to academic enquiry - as 'running studies', and whereas previously such studies would more usually feature the physiological, the biological and the bio-mechanical etc. this research and allied activities that appeared during its course (particularly in the social sciences), have firmly established an understanding of the importance, and value, of a cultural paradigm in our thinking around running. This development is particularly exciting and potentially impactful around ideas of culture, and the arts', contribution to furthering social well-being and public health agendas and imperatives - an area my ongoing research, as informed by this award, is currently engaged with.
Alongside the above achievement other key, and related, findings include identifying a significant, and growing, number of performance-makers whose work moves beyond representations of running and instead uses the physical, body-based, materiality of the act in their work, as both a form of presentation and its content. This work is currently forming the basis of an in-progress book on such practices. In relation to the above a key finding can also be identified in understanding and sharing the value and contribution creative-practice can make to those engaged in the cultural turn in running studies; this feels to be a significant finding, that disciplines such as Cultural Geography, Ethnography, Cultural Anthropology and the such, can draw valuable parallels between contemporary performance practice and their own approaches to running and its cultural efficacy, agency and functions.
Exploitation Route Through various modes and contexts of dissemination the Fellowship's findings have been used by academics (across a number of fields, particularly Performance/Theatre Studies and Cultural Geography), performance-makers and other related actors: curators, cultural programmers, writers, artists and those involved in the sports-focused running sector. In response to an invitation by Dr Kai Syng Tan (Leeds College of Art) and Dr Alan Latham (UCL), to contribute to a conference event in 2014 we, along with the below, co-convened the Running Cultures Research Group, which includes Professor Hayden Lorimer (University of Glasgow), Dr Jennifer Lea (University of Exeter) and Dr Andrew Filmer (Aberystwyth University). The findings of this Fellowship project have been reflected in the work of the above group and has had impact on a number of recent papers in the social-social sciences (via citation). The discursive, academic, research, speaks to a number of disciplines engaged in apprehending the social and cultural impact of running. Across numerous outputs the research has shared a number of perspectives on what the beginnings of a cultural perspective of running might offer, in this case one developed through the lens of contemporary performance practice. Creative (practice-based) and curatorial research has had impact on the thinking and practices of those involved in programming and supporting artists' engagement with running and that involvement with, and from, those professionals is ongoing. Alongside the above I am also taking elements of the research forward; a book on the Fellowship project, although not an outcome listed in the initial proposal, is underway and a recent new funding bid has been submitted (to Catapult Satellite Applications) on how GPS-enabled wearable running technology, encounter through the Fellowship research, might be used to undertake relatively large-scale data analysis of the wellbeing of rural communities - which will considerably extend the reach and uses of the foundational research.
Sectors Education,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Transport

Description The Long Run Fellowship partnered with ANTI Contemporary Art Festival (Kuopio, Finland) to curate and produce an international public programme of three performances and one video work- built from, or made in response to, running - by artists All The Queens Men (Australia), Vicki Weitz (UK), Sandra Hall (UK) and Kai Syng Tan and Alan Latham (UK). With a festival audience of over 10,000 the programme had considerable national and international reach and impact, in terms of audiences encountering the work and participating with it; each project had a participatory element, and via its dissemination through online documentation and live streaming. The programme was discussed widely across Finnish broadcast and print media. The programme was curated in collaboration with Kuopio Marathon, the two events ran concurrently, and thus members of the running community also encountered the projects and participated with them, creating a context of dual cultural and sports participation. The impact of the programme, shown across the ANTI Festival week (01/09/15 - 06/09/15) was on a broad public audience apprehending the agency, presence and potentials of running when framed in social and cultural terms and deployed as a creative act. 'Stage Flight', an article on artists who use running in their work, appears in the March 2017 edition of Runners World Magazine. The article profiles 5 UK and international artists, working in a range of media and forms. The content and focus of the article is relatively unusual for the context, which is primarily focused on pragmatic exercise and nutrition instruction/advice and human-interest narratives. Runners World is the leading UK running publication, with a combined digital and print circulation of 80,000 (monthly) and an average of 4,730,514 page views per 6 months (data as collected in 2013). The publication context provides substantial reach and potential public awareness and impact for the research. 'Conversational Pace' will appear on Like The Wind magazine's website, in the bespoke Like The Wind TV pages. Like The Wind is a specialist, short-run, globally distributed magazine and website created by runners for runners. The film 'Conversational Pace' essays the ambitions of an informal, amateur, running group based in West Cornwall and is a result of a residency with said group.
Sector Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description A visit to Aberystwyth University to talk to undergraduates about On The Move - their own running and performance project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The students were using material from my article Running Through A Field: Performance and Humanness. My visit to their practical session engendered discussion around the performic agency of running.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the students used the visit to excellent effect across their making process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Co-Convening Running Cultures Research Group - a multi-institution and cross-disciplinary research group, currently in early discussions around a suite of collaborative research projects 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The group was co-conevened by Professor Hayden Lorimer (University of Glasgow), Dr Jennifer Lea (University of Exeter), Dr Alan Latham (University College London), Dr Kai Syng Tan (Leeds College of Art) and Dr Andrew Filmer (Aberystwyth University) and myself. The group's initial meeting took place 17-19/11/14 at Falmouth University. Remote discussion has already identified a number of possible projects and funding bids across RCUK and H2020.

Much impact to come!
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Created 'Running Cultures Research Network', an e-list for academics and artists across fields and sectors to discuss and disseminate information on the cultural, social and political agency of running 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The e-list remains an excellent resource for academics, artists and other professionals to discuss and share information on cultural approaches to running.

Many individuals have assisted others in their research enquiries and the list has partly informed the convening of the Running Cultures Research Group - a multi-institution cross-disciniplary group established in October 2014 by myself to focus on a range of collaborative projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014