By Elizabeth Bennett, AURA Member & Sports Science Writer

So as the year draws to a close, how’s your ultra marathon motivation going? For some of us motivation may be low as the cumulative fatigue of the year takes the edge off most things, including our enthusiasm for long, slogging, hot runs. For others though, motivation may be high as the end of year brings with it a surge of anticipatory excitement for those New Year ultra marathon goals we have all set ourselves. Regardless of how you may be feeling at this precise point in time i.e., just an end of year snapshot, did you know that ultra marathon runners have been found to have some unique motivational characteristics compared to other runners?

A recent study (Waskeiwicz et al, 2019) researched the motivational characteristics of ultra marathoners compared to those runners who compete in running events <42.2km. The 1539 Polish participants in the study included 382 women and 1157 men. Of the 1539 participants, the control group consisted of 1114 runners who had never participated in an ultra marathon, and the study group consisted of 425 runners who had finished at least one ultra marathon (243 had finished 1-3 ultra marathons, 127 had finished 4-10 ultra marathons, and 55 had finished >10 ultra marathons).

The researchers used the Motivation of Marathoners Scale (MOMS) to measure the motivational characteristics of the study participants. The MOMS includes 56 questions about runner motivation and is divided into four main categories:

  • Psychological Category
    • Life meaning
    • Psychological coping
    • Self esteem
  • Achievement Category
    • Competition goals
    • Personal goals
    • Self esteem
  • Social Category
    • Social – i.e., affiliation and life meaning
  • Physical Category
    • Health orientation
    • Weight concerns

The study found that ultra marathon runners reported higher scores on the social scale i.e., social affiliation and life meaning, than the control group and lower scores on the personal goal achievement, self esteem and weight concern scales. These trends indicate that ultra marathon runners are more motivated by the social affiliations and life meaning that come with running ultra marathons than any personal achievement goals or goals that revolve around either running making them feel better about themselves or running being satisfying because it’s a means to achieving a body weight related goal.

In both groups the level of training experience was negatively correlated with personal goal achievement, but the frequency of training was positively correlated with both personal achievement and competition scales. In other words, in both groups the longer both groups of runners had been runners the less emphasis they placed on personal goal achievement, but the more frequently both groups of runners trained the higher the importance of personal achievement and/or competition measures were.

So what’s the significance of this research? Well firstly, it’s only the third study that has been done comparing the motivational factors of ultra runners compared to other runners, and the results of this study are consistent with the other two studies (Hanson et al, and Krouse et al) thus showing that there’s a very clear trend appearing about the uniquely identifying motivational factors of ultra marathon runners compared to other runners.

Secondly, this study confirms what some of us may think we already know intuitively about ourselves and our fellow ultra marathoners i.e., that ultra marathon runners are a “type” and our motivational factors for ultra running are integral to our type.

And finally, if you are a coach, talent spotter or runner thinking of stepping up from shorter distance running to ultra marathon running, this study poses a good (self) selection question to ask i.e., what is the driving force for their/your running, is it more about social affiliation and life meaning or is it more about achieving goals or weight control etc? If it’s the former then they/you may be well suited to ultra running but if it’s more about the latter than either they/you may not be a good ultra marathon running match or may be their/your relationship with ultra marathon running is one that needs more time to develop and mature.

Motivational food for thought as one running year draws to a close and a new running year is on the horizon.

Elizabeth has a BA(Hons) and a Master of Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning). She has worked as a clinical exercise physiologist, coach, and sports science writer for 25+ years. Throughout her life Elizabeth has also been a dedicated long distance runner and proactive representative of various peak sporting bodies including Fitness Australia and AURA. For many years she had a weekly sport and fitness column in The Canberra Times, and in 2011 she was awarded a place on Fitness Australia’s Roll of Honour for her long term outstanding contribution to the fitness industry. As a long distance runner Elizabeth is decent enough with a marathon PB of 2.59.38 and a 100km PB of 9.47.30. One of her ongoing pet interests is researching and writing sports science articles about ultra running for Ultramag.