Does anyone jog any more? Or do we now just run – for our lives?

Members of the Air Force Academy football team job on Waikiki Beach before their game with the team from the University of Hawaii / Wikimedia Commons

Members of the Air Force Academy football team job on Waikiki Beach before their game with the team from the University of Hawaii / Wikimedia Commons, 1980

While I was growing up I often heard my dad saying that he was “going out for a jog”. He took his jogging pretty seriously: he covered respectably long distances, wore the right shoes and suitable gear, and built it into his daily routine to keep himself fit. Now, fast forward several decades, and my brother and daughter (in their 40s and 20s respectively and on opposite sides of the Atlantic) are similarly dedicated to this type of activity to stay fit. But the big difference between them and my father seems to be this: they go for a run, and not a jog. And this seems to be true too for their athletic contemporaries. Running is a huge and important part of their lives: as my brother, Owen, said in his own book: “Running is not what I do: it is an essential part of who I am.” So my question is this: has the word jog simply faded from usage over time and generations and been replaced in our vernacular by the more generic term run, or is it the activity itself and its practitioners’ attitudes that have transformed over time — from what was once a somewhat casual and discrete hobby into a more all-consuming lifestyle choice, which in turn has affected how runners prefer to name their passion?

Modern dictionaries don’t generally address the different uses of jog and run to describe the fitness verb: the OED defines running as “mov[ing] at a speed faster than a walk, never having both or all the feet on the ground at the same time,” and jogging as a type of running — “at a steady gentle pace, especially on a regular basis as a form of physical exercise.”  Wikipedia, quoting the conditioning coach Mike Antoniades, describes jogging as “running slower than 6 miles per hour,” and the web site goes on to claim — without any citation — that “jogging is also distinguished from running by having a wider lateral spacing of foot strikes, creating side-to-side movement that likely adds stability at slower speeds or when coordination is lacking.” Hmm. At least Wiki does acknowledge that “the definition of jogging as compared with running is not standard.”

Let’s take a look at the word jog and how it might have evolved. According to Etymonline, the verb meaning “to walk or ride with a jolting pace” dates from the 16th century, and the modern sense of running as training “mostly dates from 1948; at first a regimen for athletes, it became a popular fad c. 1967.” Etymoline goes on to hypothesize that this sense might have developed out of its use in horsemanship, quoting from Samuel L. Boardman’s 1910 Handbook of the Turf: “Jogging. The act of exercising, or working a horse to keep him in condition, or to prepare him for a race. There is no development in jogging, and it is wholly a preliminary exercise to bring the muscular organization to the point of sustained, determined action.” That reminds me a bit of what Wikipedia claims when it says — again without referring to any source — that “jogging may also be used as a warm up or cool down for runners, preceding or following a workout or race. It is often used by serious runners as a means of active recovery during interval training.”

However, I’m inclined to think that there’s more to it than things like speed and spacing of foot strikes. It looks as though the very nature of running for fitness has evolved into a completely different beast from the jogging of yore, and its name has changed along with it. I think what distinguishes the joggers of my father’s generation from today’s young runners is not what they call it or what they’re doing physically when they put one foot in front of another, but the place the activity takes in their minds and their lives; in fact, it represents so much more than an activity for today’s athletes — and we’re talking here about amateur as well as professional runners.

My brother, Owen, jogging -- or running

My brother, Owen, jogging — or running

Owen, who has written his own book about running, cites a well-known sports writer, George Sheehan, who explained what he saw as a substantial difference between joggers and runners in his 1992 book Running to Win:

Jogging, they say, is competing against yourself. Racing is competing against others. Running is discovering that competing is only competing. It is essential and not essential. It is important and unimportant. Running is finally seeing everything in perspective. Running is discovering the wholeness, the unity that everyone seeks. Running is the fusion of body, mind, and soul in that beautiful relaxation that joggers and racers find so difficult to achieve.

Sheehan might have slightly overstated his case, but his point is well made and seems to hold true for 21st-century adults who build running into their daily lives. There again, the words jog, jogger and jogging are still very much alive and well in standard usage: you hear and read them often — in news reports (perhaps to distinguish the amateur jogger from the pro athlete), in literature, and when it is done in a more leisurely fashion, as in a gentle jog along the beach with a dog. Perhaps this is ultimately where today’s joggers and runners part company: in their motivation, intention and level of daily investment in getting from A to B without both their feet touching the ground at the same time.

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