Why do we do it?
We're all crazy...
No, but really. What are the driving forces behind running a marathon? Non-runners are always perplexed by a runners motivation to run 26.2 miles "Just for the fun of it".
From an external point of you, you can kind of see their point. Why would you put yourself through months of training, hours of discomfort, and for what - a free banana at the end?
However, with more of an insider point of view, my perspective is...why are you NOT doing this?
The answer to WHY is actually much more complicated and subjective to each individual ( kind of like running injuries! its never an easy answer with a runner...). As one of the most popular sports in the world, it has been researched for decades to try and find out why so many people, from such as large variation of backgrounds, cultures, lifestyles etc., are able to connect with one activity. Here are some reasons why...
Intrinsic and Extrinsic
Intrinsic reasons are driven by internal rewards, such as enjoyment from the act of running itself ..."for the fun of it!". Whereas extrinsic reasons are driven by external rewards, such as receiving a medal or praise from others. The banana at the end of the finish line would be the extrinsic reward (Zinner & Sperlich, 2016). Although, I must admit most races have stepped up to the plate and now offer a chocolate bar or a t-shirt...much more motivational.
Masters et al (1993) created the motivation of marathons scale ( MOMS) in order to assess an individuals motives for undertaking marathon training. Here are some categories and sub categories for the 56 - item measurement tool, which helps to explain the reasons behind marathon motivation.
- Psychological ( providing a sense of life meaning, enhancing self-esteem, psychological coping)
- Achievement ( achieving personal goals, competing with other runners)
- Social (Desire to receive recognition, approval from others, desire to affiliate with other runners)
- Physical motives ( General health orientation, concern about weight)
Motivation to Start & Persist
The reasons behind initiating an activity are very different than someone's motivation to continue with it. A study by Masters & Ogles (1995) showed that people who had run MORE than 3 marathons were motivated more by social and competitive reasons. In comparison, first time marathoners were primarily driven by achievement, self-esteem, and weight concerns. This finding highlights the evolution of our motives, which is also seen through other life developments such as age and family situations.
Motivation and Age
Younger runners were found to be motivated by goals and achievements, such as running a personal best. Whereas, older runners motives were found to generally focus around general health orientation (concerns about weight), a desire to seek life purpose, as well as social affiliation with other runners. These age related goals were speculated to reflect losing the physical ability to continue to achieve personal bests, and therefore a reconfiguration of reasoning (Ogles and masters, 2000).
Motivation and Gender
Women are more motivated by weight concerns, meeting people, improving confidence, feeling a sense of achievement, life meaning, and psychological coping.
Men, on the other hand, had a greater compulsion to run as defined by their history or race participation, miles trained per week, and anticipated miles of training per week ( Masters et al, 1993; Ogles et al, 1995).
Motivation and Family Status
Differences in motives emerged depending on someone's family structure, including; maratial status, birth of children, and even age of children.
- NOT Married and NO children - motivated by sense of accomplishment, health benefits from running, and social aspect of running
- Married and NO children - health benefits, accomplishments, improve race performance, and emotional issues and martial stress - NO SOCIAL aspects!
- Married WITH children - motivated by social aspects of running ( perhaps to create identify separate from family roles)
- Married and children left home - aka "empty nesters" - Mostly social!
Motivation and Performance
A study by Havenar & Lochbuam ( 2007) comparing the motivation of individuals completing training and finishing the marathon versus those who dropped out before the race. The difference was that those people who dropped out prior to the race were motivated more by weight concerns, social recognition, and affiliation. This identifies a potential negative consequence on the emphasis of those particular external motives for marathon training. Also, interesting to note that these are similar motives for first time marathoners...
One of the reasons why marathons and running are popular is actually a result of the sport having so many motivational variables. There isn't one reason that is superior to the others, but the combination that suits each individual. Your motivation to run will likely change as your goals change, your family situations, and how old you are. All of there things need to be considered when we think about why we run. Perhaps it IS just for the fun of it, but maybe there is more to it than that?
So why do you do it?
Zinner, C, & Sperlich, B. 2016, Marathon Running: Physiology, Psychology, Nutrition, and Training Aspects. Sprinter International publishing Switzerland, 2016.
Roberts GC (2012) Motivation in sport and exercise from an achievement goal theory perspective: after 30 years, where are we? In: Roberts GC, Treasure DC (eds) Advances in motivation in sport and exercise, 3rd edn. Human Kinetics, Champaign, pp 5–58.
Masters KS, Ogles BM, Jolton JA (1993) The development of an instrument to measure motivation for marathon running: the motivations of marathoners scales (MOMS). Res Q Exerc Sport 64:134–143
Masters KS, Ogles BM (1995) An investigation of the different motivations of marathon runners with varying degrees of experience. J Sport Behav 18:69–79
Havenar J, Lochbaum M (2007) Differences in participation motives of first-time marathon finishers and pre-race dropouts. J Sport Behav 30:270–279
Ogles BM, Masters KS, Richardson SA (1995) Obligatory running and gender: an analysis of participative motives and training habits. Int J Sport Psychol 26:233–248
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