Why Do Runners Run?

Why do runners run? It’s a question that many of us have heard from our family and friends who don’t quite understand the lure of running. The common answer is to improve health, but are there other reasons why we find running so enjoyable? To answer this question, researchers in a recent study observed participants in a running club over the course of one year. By analyzing these runners, the authors hoped to increase their understanding of why people run.

The study consisted of 150 runners who were part of a popular running club that hosted road races social events in the community. The researchers joined the running club to get a close-up look at the lives of the runners. Upon completing their observations and interviews, the researchers found that the reasons for running included the following:

1. Security: The study found that runners ran not only for physical fitness reasons, but also for a general feeling of security. Runners derived stability and consistency in their lives through the persevering over running adversities, such as injuries or a bad race. Successful running required the setting of short-term and long-term goals. Working toward these goals grounded the individual’s lives and caused them to be better organized and balanced in other areas of life including work, school, family life, and dealing with life’s ups and downs.

2. Mastery and Competency: In order to excel at running, runners must be willing to educate themselves about injury prevention, training principles, appropriate shoes, and other knowledge. This continual need to grow and improve understanding of running provides a runner with a sense of control and personal responsibility over his or her success and failures. Gaining an expertise in running knowledge imparts a sense of self-confidence to runners.

3. Competition: The need for a runner to test himself or herself against the clock or other runners is one answer to the question why do runners run. Runners obtain a tremendous amount of satisfaction from running faster than a competitor, achieving a personal best time, or simply completing races. Achieving goals gives runners a boost of self-confidence and self-esteem that can not be found in many other areas of life.

4. Identity: In the study, runners appreciated the fact of being “a runner.” Running gave these individuals an identity and sense of shared experience among other runners. Members of the running club felt that they were part of a community that had a common language of training ideas, opinions on running gear, and experiences in races. Running becomes a lifestyle that provides participants with autonomy, independence, self-control, accomplishment and achievement.

5. “Psychological Flow”: The authors of the study use the term “psychological flow” to describe a state in which an individual is fully immersed, focused and involved in the process of an activity. When an individual experiences psychological flow, he or she is harnesses all emotions and cognitions to succeed in a task. Many runners experience this phenomenon in races or in training where one feels he or she could run forever. It is a great experience and great motivator to maintain commitment to running.

The authors concluded that these types of benefits outweigh some of the negative aspects of running (i.e. injuries, time investment, disappointing races). In committing themselves to running, runners enjoy incredible awards such physical health, self-renewal, satisfaction, and gratification.

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