Updated 05 February 2015

Why people run marathons

A new study suggests that women run marathons to feel good while men run for competition and to achieve personal goals.


With the Two Oceans and Comrades attracting record numbers of entries each year, non-running South Africans, bemused at the overwhelming numbers who seem to go in for these gruelling races, are asking: why do you do this to yourself? 

Well a new study suggests that women run marathons to feel good while men run for competition and to achieve personal goals.

The research included 507 female and 399 male first-time marathoners, ages 18 to 72, who completed an online questionnaire designed to reveal the participants' motivation for taking part in the long-distance running event.

Overall, the reasons most often given for taking part in a marathon were: self-esteem, such as "to feel proud of myself"; achievement of personal goals, such as "to finish the race in a certain time"; and health, such as "to improve my health".

Women were more likely to give reasons related to weight concerns, psychological coping, such as "to improve my mood," or life meaning, such as "to feel at peace with the world." Men were more likely to give reasons focused on competition and personal goal achievement, such as "to see how high I can place."

What the study found

"We also asked the participants whether they planned on doing another marathon," study author Elizabeth Loughren, of the University of Birmingham in England, said in a news release. She conducted the study while at Temple University in Philadelphia.

About "70% of women and 79% of men told us they intended to run another marathon within the next six months or year. The most popular reasons why were: 'to lower my finish time' (83%), 'to include the race as part of a vacation weekend' (74%), and 'to improve my training' (63%).

"Over 85% of males overwhelmingly cited to lower their finish time, whereas 79% of females did so," Loughren said. The study was to be presented Friday at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society. 

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