Running for Success: Marathon Boom and Middle-Class Bodies in Estonia

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Since the turn of the millennium, the number of Estonians running at least one marathon a year has grown nearly twentyfold. This paper links the marathon boom in Estonia to novel ideas about the “good life” among a subset of the country’s middle class, also situating the phenomenon in the broader context of post-1991 socio-economic changes. Drawing on fifty narrative interviews with recreational runners and a content analysis of various runners’ blogs, the article pays special attention to “runners’ bodies.” Recreational marathoners consciously put their bodies at the service of their “selves” by submitting the body to regular physical strain, which fits with their distinctively middle-class ideals of self-discipline, motivation, diligence, and perseverance. But runners’ bodies are also “bodies for others”—they not only encapsulate but also display these ideals. Approaching runners’ bodies as “bodies for selves” and as “bodies for others,” the article makes two arguments. Firstly, a fit body as physical capital and the “purposeful suffering” that long-distance running almost inevitably leads to have recently shifted to the core of living a “good life” in the case of growing numbers of the Estonian middle class. Secondly, the “others” for middle-class runners’ bodies are first and foremost the sedentary and generally overweight bodies of their own class. For a subset of the Estonian middle class, a slim and fit running body, in combination with changed consumption practices and reference groups, serves to distinguish themselves from the generalised idea of a middle-class person in today’s Estonia.




Gross, T. (2020). Running for Success: Marathon Boom and Middle-Class Bodies in Estonia. East European Politics and Societies, 34(2), 441–463.

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