I’m a lecturer in Victorian literature, so when people hear that I’ve been working on a book about running they’re usually a little bemused. First, I have to reassure them that I’m not writing a history of the activity but instead investigating what running can tell us about the body, the environment and the way we live. ‘Is there a literature of running, then?’ they tend to ask. At that point they invariably start telling me about a character they think they might remember, one buried deep in a Trollope or a Collins, who had to run somewhere to do something. But as the pair of us scratch our heads trying to work out who it is, it becomes clear that they have revealed a simple fact: there isn’t really a canon of literature about running.
Two hundred and fifty years ago, writing a book about walking would have seemed a peculiar endeavour. Walking has featured in literature from the beginning, in poems such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Odyssey and the Aeneid, for instance. But walking was incidental, rather than crucial, to the narratives.