Jo Ball shares her introductory thoughts from a new blog about running and social change.



I have been trying to map out how long it has been since I started running. I remember going out in Camperdown memorial park in Newtown, that little park with the walled church grounds. I smile to think that if I ran round there now I would have to run laps around and around, but back then that park was more then enough.

I was starting the ‘Couch to 5k’ running program and I was running for one minute and walking for one minute times three. That was when I started. That was week one, day one. Maybe that was three years ago now? I have since recommended the ‘Couch to 5k’ to many different people, perhaps even to you. I am still convinced it is the single best way to get into running, if you have never run before.

I feel like my running has become such a constant over these last years. Even when I took long breaks from it, either from injury or from despondency, it has remained there as a persistent project that I have been chipping away at. Not too dissimilar to how I have felt about my participation in social change over the same period, yet it has been my running that has been more focused and has reaped more personal rewards. It is certainly easier to run a 14k then it is to create a movement that can change Australia’s immigration policy!

If only, like running, you could download an App onto your phone and methodically go through a program, a program that if you stick to it week in, week out will succeed for only $1.99 on itunes. Imagine that Scott Morrison: week one, day one find people you want to organise with; week two start a collective; week three build the collective;… week ten policy change;… week twenty social change.

Regardless of the lack of synchronicity between running and social change, I want to talk to you at least about running, ideas and occasionally social change. I don’t mean questions of hydration or training, although sustenance and our daily routine is inherently political. This is not a ‘how to’ run blog. It is rather, in the words of Haruki Murakami, “what I talk about when I talk about running”. It’s my own self indulgent philosophical exploration of my own running within a broader social context. Isn’t that what blogs are all about?

I want to write to you about bodies in movement, the politics of the street and even about organised charity runs, just for starters, perhaps in words not dissimilar to Judith Butler’s* “bodies congregate, they move and speak together, and they lay claim to a certain space as public space” (Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street 9/2011)

It’s a bit naughty, I fear, to quote Butler as I did because she is really talking about the emergence of bodies in space like in Tahrir Square, large scale protest, not people at large running festivals. Yet I think it is interesting to ponder the similarities, particularly as they merge and disassociate in the event of the charity run. Many people feel political, or at least ethical on these runs, as in it’s not just for them but for some other cause. I, myself experienced this when I recently ran in the ‘Run for Refugees’ contingent at the Melbourne Marathon 5k event.

I want to problematise my/our running with you. Maybe you feel the schism too between how you think about the world and the excitable runner you are becoming. Richard Cashman in his 1995 book ‘Paradise of Sport’ argues that we need to turn our critical minds to the criticism of sport for “the institution of sport has largely been above criticism, there is a need to subject it to constructive criticism. Since sport has largely been dominated by conservative purposes, there is a need both to document this point and to explore other perspectives and uses of sport”.

I want to push my mind a little in Cashman’s direction, because I am a lefty who runs and who struggles when she runs and runs when she struggles.


Jo Ball2About the author

Jo Ball is a social justice activist currently involved in the Refugee Action Collective.

A very recent convert to running she has started a blog called “what ideas do when they run” as a way of exploring the politics, ideas, schisms and synchronicities between being an activist and a recreational runner.