What Is Jogging?

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Louis Armstrong allegedly said once, when asked what jazz is, if you have to ask, you’ll never know. In a roughly similar way, I’ve found that there are three types of people in this world who run: runners, joggers, and those who don’t know the difference. The attempt to define the terms is the subject of recurrent discussionions on running lists.

Few people can remember the very first time they heard a word that is a part of their fundamental vocabulary. Curiously, I remember well the very first time I heard the term “jogging“. It was early fall of 1954, when I was eleven years old. Some readers may be surprised to learn that it goes back that far.

At the time I was a Boy Scout, showing early signs of loving an activity that has become dear to me. Those of us from Troop 2 who had signed up for the adventure made a twenty-mile out and back hike on the Black Hawk Trail in western Illinois.

To quality for this hike we were required to read a book of two-hundred pages about Chief Black Hawk and write a book report on it, which I duly did, though some kids (not from our troop) were caught trying to cut the corners, and were therefore not permitted to go. Shame on them! Honor meant more in those days than it does today.

While on the course we were to spot and identify by type as many numbered trees as possible … there were about twenty of them to search for. My hiking partner was the smartest kid in the troop, a boy named Tom Gardner, who knew all the trees and knew enough to carry a field guide, so even though we finished last (a sign of things to come), we (Tom) correctly labeled all but one of the trees. They told us beforehand that no one had ever gotten them all.

We must have been about five miles down the road when — What did our wondering eyes behold? — A uniformed phalanx of Scouts running past us. (Our sternly militaristic troop was not required to wear uniforms for this hike, but instead wore garb more appropriate for the activity.)

What in Sam Hill were those nutty boys doing!!?? Didn’t they realize this was a twenty-mile hike?

An adult counselor who passed us by explained: Those boys are jogging! (None of them looked too happy about it, either, as I do remember well.) So — What’s jogging? we anxiously inquired. He explained: The boys were alternately walking fifty steps and running fifty steps. We were told this technique was derived from military training. You run a little and walk a little. In the end you get where you’re going a lot faster than if you just walked, and less tired than if you just ran, which none of those eleven- to thirteen-year-olds could do in any way, shape, or form.

Can you think of a more mind-numbingly boring way to spend a day in the woods than counting your steps as you go? I can’t.

I don’t know how long they kept it up or what they did about the tree identification requirement, or whether they stopped to run the compass course and correctly identify one of three or four marked trees starting from the statue of Chief Black Hawk at the turnaround point, also one of the requirements to get the finisher’s medal. (I kid you not — there was one, which my mother kept for decades.) But I never saw anyone running on the return trip, and my guess is that we had seen a case of would-be manly little boys being abused by their pretend military commanders, subjecting them to way more physical stress than their likely untrained prepubescent bodies were ready to handle on that day.

By the time we returned, it was dinner time. How relieved we were to find that on this outing the tasks of setting up tents and cooking had been accomplished by the scoutmasters and volunteer assistants while we were out wearing out our soles and building up our souls. The other Scouts had already eaten and were sitting around the campfire singing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmitt and doing other little scoutly things that little Scouts do, but it was all we could do to drag our weary derriers into camp, gulp down some food, and hit the sleeping bags. It was the only time I can recall that I ever slept on the ground when it actually felt soft. The next morning I learned that was because the spot of ground where they placed my sleeping bag was over what had recently been a latrine, so the dirt was soft.

And so it was that the idea of “jogging” came into my consciousness, with its notion of a little bit of running alternating with a little bit of walking. Today, 53 years later, judging from the discussions I’ve seen among the erudite and deeply experienced readership of the Internet’s primary running lists, most people still don’t know what it is, but most people have sort of vague notion about it. Now you know.

Today word “jogger”, which must have appeared on the scene somewhat after “jog” and “jogging”, can have two meanings:

  • A person who is at this moment jogging, regardless of whether he has ever done it in his life before, or will ever do it again. “Look Mommy, there’s a jogger!” The child knows it is so, because he sees the person in question jogging. He may in fact be running for his life from a bear. This an accepted use of the word.
  • A person who habitually or regularly jogs, regardless of whether their present state is tearing up Heartbreak Hill or quiescent. “Say Bud — I hear you’re a jogger!” The inquirer isn’t sure because Bud is at this moment sitting in his Barcalounger quaffing a beer, with a bag of Cheeze Doodles in his lap, and therefore, even though he may indeed be a jogger, he is not now jogging, nor does he show evidence of being a jogger.

It’s from the latter form that derivative expressions have grown, for instance: jogging suit and jogging trail. No one has ever seen a suit or a trail jog. These references are obviously to clothing and terrain appropriate to the jogosphere.

But you knew that, right? Why is it then, that so few runners are able to agree on what jogging is?

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About Lynn

o Writer and Editor o Computer Technologist o Composer o Ultrarunner
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