Born to Run: The Origins of America’s Jogging Craze

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Set in 1970s San Diego, cult comedy movie Anchorman featured a brief skit about jogging. In the scene, lead character Ron Burgundy attempts to explain the new fashionable jogging craze to his colleagues. Struggling to come to terms with the concept himself, Ron settles on “running for a prolonged distance of time…it’s supposed to be wild.”

So when exactly was jogging discovered by the United States?

In 1963, Oregon became the birthplace of jogging in the United States when William Bowerman and his associates published a small pamphlet concerned with increasing physical activity.

Only four pages in length, the pamphlet sought to educate the Oregon public about the benefits of a radical new exercise called ‘jogging’. Sponsored by the Oregon Heart Foundation and The US National Bank of Portland, the ‘Joggers Manual’ as it was titled, aimed to spread the message of jogging.

Readers were informed that at its simplest “jogging is a bit more than a walk.”

So how did one jog?

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According to the Manual you started

With a short distance then increase as you improve. Jog until you are puffing,
then walk until your breathing is normal again. Repeat until you have covered a mile or two, or three. Jogging…can be done ‘anywhere’ and by ‘anyone – six to– male or female.

All that was needed was for the jogger to “wear a pair of comfortable shoes with thick, moderately soft soles.” What could be simpler than that?

In less than 250 words the pamphlet had attempted to establish jogging as an accessible form of physical activity. Little did they know it would signal the birth of a mass physical fitness movement in the United States.

So what motivated the publication of the Jogger’s Manual?

Why did people need to jog?

Getting Fatter

For many, 1960s America was a time for great concern. Men and women were becoming increasingly unfit and the incidences of heart diseases were increasing at an alarming rate. Outside of work, adults weren’t exercising. Period.

Indeed, many commentators from this era lamented the fact that for many, bowling constituted strenuous exercise.

In 1955, Sports Illustrated had devoted an entire article detailing the need for the general public to exercise. The article warned that

Once the sedentary man passes 30, he begins to take a physical nose dive. Thousands of microscopic blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, lungs and heart and other organs slowly fall into disuse.

The solution was simple according to Dr. Cureton, a doctor quoted in the article was”to force open and use those blood vessels” i.e. exercise! It’s hard to explain how momental this advice was. For many years doctors had discouraged strenuous activity in the belief it was hard on the body. Indeed, many saw bodybuilders as the epitome of dangerous exercisers (this was before the steroid boom in the sport).

But something had to be done. Americans were dropping likes flies from hypokinetic diseases brought on by sedentary lifestyle. The very term hypokinetic disease was coined by Hans Kraus and Wilhelm Raab during the 1960s to describe this very problem. Both men saw the decline in physical activity as the cause for many of America’s illnesses.

They weren’t the only ones concerned with increasing America’s exercise levels. Seymour Lieberman, an attorney of law with a personal interest in fitness, decided to seek advice. Having devised his own simple activity plan, known as the Dance of Socrates, Liberman wanted a physical activity programme that was simple and accessible for everyone.

Lieberman got in contact with William Bowerman, then a Professor of Physical Education at the University of Oregon and also a  track and field coach, to find a solution. Bowerman had recently spent time in New Zealand were he had observed the use of jogging to treat sedentary lifestyles and heart disease. Bowerman had no doubt a similar programme would work in the United States and soon the ‘Joggers Manual’ would be born.

But when did the jogging craze start?

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Well quite soon after the publication of the Jogger’s Manual.

In the late 1960s, Bowerman and cardiologist, Waldo Harris published Jogging, a book which sold over one million copies in its first iteration. Jogging was sold across the US and helped further popularize the activity.

Then in 1968, another cardiologist, Kenneth Cooper, published Aerobics, which re-iterated many of the key points made in Jogging. Part cardiologist, part showman, Cooper helped to turn the jogging movement into a mass one and is now credited by many as the man who got America running.

Amazing to think it all began with a 250 word pamphlet….

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