Long-distance runners are very different from other people. It’s not just that they can run further, as Toronto-based fitness coach Walter Keating Jr. explains. There are key psychological differences in the mind of a long-distance runner.
A recent study published in the Australian Journal of Psychology found that long-distance runners have greater resilience and a lower affiliate extraversion. These people also appear to be less responsive to emotionally negative stimuli in physiological terms. Here are some more insights into the mind of the long-distance runner.
How the Study Was Conducted
The study compared 20 non-runners to 20 ultra-marathon runners, with all the same age range and gender. The study participants were asked to complete questionnaires about personality traits, mental resilience, and emotional regulation.
After the questionnaires, the participants were shown various images that mixed everyday objects and things intended to cause a strong emotional response. The latter images included images of gruesome injuries and crime scenes.
The researchers measured their skin conductance and heart rate as they were shown the photos.
They found that the runners were able to regulate emotions better when they were shown disturbing images. They could re-frame the situations they saw in more positive contexts, resulting in lower skin conductance and heart rate than the non-runners.
What It Means
The researchers concluded that ultra-marathon runners could tolerate stressful external stimuli much better than non-runners. They were also determined to be much more resilient.
The researchers didn’t conclude whether running can strengthen and build mental resilience or if these runners simply have a mental psyche that naturally fits being a long-distance runner.
Why Resilience Matters
People who want to be successful long-distance runners need to build and improve their mental resilience. As many ultra-marathon runners will say, you have to have a positive mental attitude if you want to be good. Walter Keating Jr. says it may be even more critical than building physical strength or endurance.
Long-distance runners use mental resilience to push through when they want to quit. It helps them get out of bed to run when the weather isn’t good or when they don’t feel like running. It helps them push through a difficult part of a marathon when their body is aching and wants to stop.
While it’s great if a person has innate mental resiliency, it’s also something that can be worked on and built over time. Much like hitting the gym to build strength, you can work on training your mind to be more resilient.
Long-distance runners do this by focusing on the aloneness they experience while running, by listening to music on long runs, and by having motivating conversations with themselves. They work on not being distracted and building up their distance a little bit at a time.
A long-distance runner’s mind is undoubtedly different from a non-runner, as people have long known and the recent study above confirmed.
About Walter Keating Jr.
Walter Keating Jr. is a Toronto-based fitness coach specializing in triathlon coaching and corrective exercise training. He graduated from the Fitness and Lifestyle Management Program at George Brown College and immediately started his professional career. Mr. Keating has worked as an endurance coach, personal trainer, spinning instructor, and corrective exercise trainer.