Unlocking the “Why”: The Science Behind What Motivates Ultrarunners


Ultrarunning has boomed within the final ten years, rising at a staggering 345% globally. Though it stays psychologically unclear why people run ultra-distances, latest analysis on the subject helps uncover explanations concerning the motivations and experiences of ultrarunners.

Printed in Psychology of Sport & Train, the examine carried out semi-structured interviews with a various vary of ultrarunners to achieve insights into the philosophy behind ultrarunning. The examine’s authors utilized a novel psychological strategy often called reversal concept. Reversal concept is a concept of motivation with an underlying objective of understanding why folks do what they do, and the way this modifications over time. 

Earlier Analysis on Motivations

Early analysis on the motivations of ultrarunners reveals themes within the sport. A typical motivation is an absence of competitors with others. This isn’t to say that ultrarunners are usually not aggressive however are inclined to compete with themselves fairly than others. Given the required psychological and bodily exertions of the game, a believable clarification rests on the objective of finishing the occasion fairly than ending in a specific place.

“As a result of ultrarunning occasions are so tough merely to finish, it shifts the main focus from competitors with others to competitors towards your self. Whereas racing, it typically feels extra like a ‘we’re all on this collectively’ strategy fairly than me vs. you,” stated UTMB winner Katie Schide.  “After all, these athletes working on the entrance of the race are really racing for efficiency, however there may be at all times some facet of questioning whether or not or not they’ll make it to the end line.” 

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Different motivations embrace pleasure, life which means, group affiliation, appreciation and engagement with the pure surroundings, and well being advantages. 

Research of ultrarunning have established expertise in nature as a key motivator. That is exhibited as an elevated consciousness of nature and appreciation of time spent alone in pure environments.

Analysis on the expertise of ultrarunners is characterised by persistence, objective orientation, self-awareness, optimistic self-talk, dedication, and the power to beat bodily fatigue and adversity.

Reversal Idea Utilized

In reversal concept, the structural framework consists of particular motivational domains. Eight core states comprise the motivational domains. The states comprise: 1) severe and playful, 2) conformist and rebellious, 3) self-oriented and other-oriented, and 4) mastery and sympathy.

“Reversal concept may be understood as a psychological concept of human motivation, character, and expertise. Reversal concept accommodates moment-to-moment experiences, how this interacts with character traits, and inconsistencies in habits,” stated Dr. Leo Watkins, lead researcher of the examine. “Reversal concept establishes modifications in psychological states underpinned by motivation as occurring immediately.” 

The speculation derives its title from the power to change or ‘reverse’ from one motivational state to a different motivational state primarily based on one thing that occurs externally or internally. You’ll be able to go from both severe to playful, rebellious to conforming, and so forth. 

Reversals between motivational states are regarded as attributable to modifications in environmental environment, frustration by the shortcoming to fulfill the present state of affairs or satiation skilled after a chronic time in a single state.

What the Examine Discovered

After a sequence of interviews with ten leisure ultrarunners with a mean age of 43, researchers recognized the vary of motives skilled by the framework of reversal concept. Contributors within the examine revealed an inclination to expertise every of the eight core reversal concept states when working.

“Contributors described their ultrarunning experiences by the eight core motivational states of reversal concept, demonstrating their experiences to be underpinned by psychodiversity,” stated Dr. Watkins. “While sport is conventionally seen as an exercise that’s objective and mastery oriented primarily based on competitors towards others, members confirmed how the game of ultrarunning can also be skilled by playfulness, riot, and caring for fellow opponents.” 

Katie Schide enjoys the pure surroundings. (Photograph Credit score: Colin Olivero)

Psychodiversity includes fulfilling every of the eight core motivational states over time. Failure to fulfill every of the eight states recurrently is taken into account dangerous to psychological well being. It’s understood that cognitively wholesome people swap between totally different psychological states.

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This implies that the power to change between and harness numerous motivational states is a necessary ingredient for finishing ultramarathons. Contributors depicted motivational dexterity by severe and playful states. Experiencing the playful state doubtless serves as a stress discount process.

An integral a part of the expertise was the connection felt with the pure surroundings. Contributors described the necessity to escape city environment and join with nature. Proof of this connection reaffirms earlier research citing nature’s function in offering which means to ultrarunning experiences. 

Extreme time spent completely within the severe and extreme outcome-orientated state was detrimental to efficiency and expertise. 

Furthermore, members expressed the philosophy behind ultrarunning as one based on the enjoyment of the expertise greater than accomplishment. 

The mastery state performed a component in members’ motivation to participate in ultramarathons as a private problem was an unquestionable part of extremely working. Quite than worrying with competitors with others, members tended to specific mastery of competitors with themselves. 

Contributors revealed a tradition of care, help, and compassion amongst fellow ultrarunners, typically on the expense of private efficiency and self-mastery. This denotes one of many extra significant conclusions of the examine, at odds with conventional notions of aggressive sport.

“I’ve discovered to shift my mindset to having fun with the expertise, the surroundings, the folks round me, working by each problem to maintain going, and inspiring different runners,” stated skilled ultrarunner Camille Herron of the findings. “Having an angle of gratitude actually helps. We’re on the market so lengthy we would as properly discover a method to take pleasure in it to assist push by the struggling.”



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