An Introduction to Understanding Your Runner

Original Editor - Mariam Hashem

Top Contributors - Mariam Hashem  


The popularity of running as a sport has increased widely over the last few decades [1]. It is not uncommon to hear that ''running a marathon'' is one of someone's life goals or on their bucket list. The belief that running a marathon is an important life event is adapted by many people and could have significant effects on their beliefs, behaviours and attitudes in general[2]

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Running is a sport that comes with huge physical and psychological demands. People run for many reasons, to compete, to get fit, to socialise with other runners, some run to improve their mental health and others just love to run[3].

Running related injuries are part of the running experience. Runners present with a variety of musculoskeletal injuries including:

When it comes to the assessment of injuries, a holistic assessment approach is recommended to understand the needs of the runners and help them to manage their injuries successfully.

The published evidence is heavily focused on the physical aspects of running but the psychological factors also need to be well understood and investigated.


The Personality of the runner

Personality is defined as the sum of characteristics that make a person unique[4] Running is not only a physical task; it influences the characteristics of the individual particularly when done professionally.

Different studies that looked at the personality of runners found that marathon runners showed cognitive anxiety, arousal, self-confidence, motivation and perception of the physical state[5]. In addition, hardy personality (i.e. a group of characteristics related to personal perception of control, commitment and challenges), intelligence and imaginations[6] were found to be higher among marathon runners when compared to the general population [1]

Increased pain tolerance was reported to be high in long-distance runners[7]

Runners achieved high scores on boldness, warmth, conformity, sensitivity, dominance, and high drive with tension, self-discipline and emotional stability[8].

They type of running and the performance level have different influence on the runner's personality[9]. Periods of intensive training can place high physical and emotional demands on the athlete. A range of food disorders[1] as well as menstrual irregularity were experienced by female ultra-marathon runners during periods of intensive training due to emotional stresses but their menstrual patterns were normalised once these stresses were removed[10].

Why People Run?

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An essential question to ask runners when assessing running injuries: why do you run?[3]

Understanding runners' motivation can help in exploring their personalities and therefore essential when addressing running injuries or helping runners for better performance[3].

The motivation to manage weight, affiliation, coping with psychological distress or day to day life and self-esteem were expressed by female marathon finishers however, there weren't highly motivated to compete with others.[11]

Many runners are motivated to stay fit and/or manage long term conditions.

It is important to consider that running is a great personal challenge and gives the runner a sense of achievement [12] which could explain the difficulty for some runners to refrain from the sport when asked by their physiotherapists or doctors as part of their recovery plan[3].

Psychological factors and running injuries

The psychological and emotional response of the runners may fluctuate over time depending on their level of participation and performance. Beginner marathon runners are often unprepared for the mental and emotional demands of training and competing in a marathon[13].

The rate of injuries could be influenced by any psychological aspects and they also play an important role in the recovery.

Return to running after a period of recovery from an injury could impact the runner's sport-specific self-confidence and could trigger a fear response. Therefore, psychological assessment should be integrated into clinical care throughout the entire recovery process.

Utilising interventions to address negative psychological responses can decrease the time lost due to an injury[14].



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  2. Gorczyca A, Jankowski T, Oles P. Does running a first marathon influence general self-efficacy and positive orientation. Int. J. Sport Psychol. 2016 Sep 1;47:466-82.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Nunes D.An Introduction to Understanding Your Runner.Physioplus Course 2020
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  8. Nudel DB, Hassett I, Gurian A, Diamant S, Weinhouse E, Gootman N. Young long distance runners: Physiological and psychological characteristics. Clinical pediatrics. 1989 Nov;28(11):500-5.
  9. Jerome W.C., Valliant P.M. Comparison of personalities between marathon runners and cross-country skiers. Percept. Mot. Skills. 1983;56:35–38. doi: 10.2466/pms.1983.56.1.35.
  10. van Gend TD. Menstrual patterns in ultramarathon runners. South African Medical Journal. 1987 Dec 1;72(11):788-93.
  11. Waśkiewicz Z, Nikolaidis PT, Gerasimuk D, Borysiuk Z, Rosemann T, Knechtle B. What Motivates Successful Marathon Runners? The Role of Sex, Age, Education, and Training Experience in Polish Runners. Frontiers in psychology. 2019;10.
  12. Summers J. J., Sargent G. I., Levey A. J., Murray K. D. (1982). Middle-aged, non-elite marathon runners: a profile. Percept. Mot. Skills 54 963–969. 10.2466/pms.1982.54.3.963
  13. Carter L, Coumbe-Lilley J, Anderson B. Strategies for working with first time marathon runners. Sport J. 2016 Apr 29:1-7.
  14. Nelson EO. Psychometric Analysis of the University of Wisconsin Running Injury and Recovery Index. The University of Wisconsin-Madison; 2019.
  15. The connection between running and the brain: By Neuroscientist Ben Martynoga. Available from:[last accessed 24/11/2020]