“That Nut Who Runs”: A Quick History of Jogging in America
Back in the 60’s, you were considered a ‘nut’ if you went for jogs.
If you were to go to any park in America right now, you would spot several people out for a jog. It’s such a common sight that it’s hard to imagine a world where people don’t go for runs.
Jogging wasn’t always as popular as it is now. In fact, it didn’t begin in earnest in the U.S. until the early 60’s. Even then, it took nearly a decade for the sport to gain traction among non-athletes.
Curious to learn more? Read on to uncover the fascinating history of jogging in America.
Jogging was introduced to Americans through Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman.
After an inspirational trip to New Zealand, Bill Bowerman introduced the popular fitness regimen to the U.S.
In 1962, William Bowerman visited a colleague, Arthur Lydiard, in New Zealand and learned about how jogging was becoming a popular pastime. Lydiard had started a local running club that was gaining momentum with the locals. Bowerman saw groups of ordinary people out jogging together on the streets, which was something he had never seen in the U.S.
Inspired, Bowerman decided that he would introduce Americans to the benefits of jogging for sport. Following the trip, he returned to his position as head coach for University of Oregon’s track and field team and began writing about jogging.
In 1963, Bowerman and his colleagues published a four-page pamphlet to spread awareness about the benefits of jogging. The pamphlet instructed joggers to “jog until you are puffing, then walk until your breathing is normal again. Repeat until you have covered a mile or two, or three.”
Early joggers were considered ‘suspicious’ by police.
Joggers were once fined for the crime of “illegal use of the highway by a pedestrian.”
The first joggers attracted negative attention from the police, and some were even fined.
One night in 1968, Senator Strom Thurmond decided to go for a jog after a television appearance in Greenville, South Carolina. Shortly after he began, he was pulled over by a squad car. The officer was suspicious that he was running ‘for no reason.’
In addition to Senator Thurmond, several citizens of Hartford, CT were also stopped by police for jogging. Dick Cordier, a student at Kent State, received a ticket for “illegal use of the highway by a pedestrian.” Another resident, Ray Crothers, was pursued by five police cars – for simply jogging around his neighborhood.
So, what was so suspicious about running? The police assumed that if you were running, you must be running from something. They assumed joggers were criminals fleeing the scene of a crime and were quick to fine those who participated in the new fitness trend.
When he brought jogging to the states, Bowerman only wanted to introduce a new pastime for people everywhere to enjoy. He certainly didn’t intend for it to be an answer to a public health crisis – but it was.
Jogging was an answer to America’s rising health crisis.
The consequences of a sedentary lifestyle were catching up to Americans in the ‘60’s. Jogging was the solution.
As America entered its ‘Mad Men’ era, office jobs were taking over, and our country’s health was suffering because of it.
By the 1960’s, most people didn’t engage in any physical activity outside of yard work, bowling, or golfing. In fact, many doctors at the time believed rigorous exercise was bad for you. Doctors even suggested a diet known as the Drinking Man’s Diet for weight loss, which included two martinis at lunch and a thick steak for dinner.
It’s no wonder that Americans were developing heart disease at alarming rates, and something needed to be done.
In 1968, cardiologist Kenneth Cooper published Aerobics, which supported the pamphlet published by Bowerman. He claimed that jogging was a great way to boost heart health and decrease cardiac disease. Many doctors pushed back on his claims and said that strenuous exercise would lead to the heart giving out. Now, we know that Cooper was correct.
From 5k’s to ultramarathons, jogging has introduced many to the love of recreational running. It’s hard to believe that it’s come so far as an international pastime in only 60 years.
Let us know which sport or activity you’d like to learn more about in the comments below!
Written by Miranda Risser