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Meaningful experiences through recreational endurance running and hiking in Belgium
Recreational running and hiking is not a new phenomenon, but over the past decade it has become an increasingly popular leisure-time activity with people covering longer distances. Running and walking events such as ultra-trails and thru-hikes, but also heritage runs and/or walks are growing in numbers. Not only are trails longer in distance, the way in which people engage with these recreational physical activities has intensified as well. Through framing them as 'serious leisure', endurance running and hiking can be understood as activities that offer meaningful experiences that go beyond the mere physical movement. Besides investigating the involvement and investment of practitioners, the research presented here also wants to comprehend the overall context in which these endurance activities take place. In trying to do so, I focus on the role of the broader community that surrounds them. That is, the offline and online communities of recreational endurance runners and hikers, as well as the role of event organisers, volunteers, and family members and friends. How do the experiences and understandings of the broader community of these serious leisure pursuits influence the ways in which practitioners deal with their embodied selves? In this paper, I will present preliminary data and anthropological insights from a literature study and ethnographic fieldwork with both endurance runners and hikers, conducted before, during, and after endurance events. Besides participant observation, the ethnography also includes digital methods to examine the online communities that have developed around these endurance activities.