Running frequency and motivation

One of the questions we’re asking runners as part of the Big Running Survey is about how often runners run. I thought it might be interesting to look at how this single variable relates to a couple of others in the survey, specifically around runners’ key motivations.

So, first of all, here is the breakdown for the running frequency results to date:

times per weekAs you can see, the majority of runners appear to run three or four times per week, with a normal distribution tailing off for higher and lower frequencies.

Next let’s see how this breaks down for groups with different orientations to running. First of all we’ll have a look at the frequencies for runners who say that running fast times is a very important motivation for their running, after that we’ll check out those who say they run to improve their appearance, to obtain psychological well-being, and those who are motivated strongly by raising money for charity:

Running frequency (per week) for runners strongly motivated by getting fast times:

Less than once                  1%
Once or twice                   11%
Three or four times           46%
Five to seven times           36%
More than seven times       6%

Running frequency (per week) for runners strongly motivated by improving their appearance:

Less than once                  1%
Once or twice                   29%
Three or four times           56%
Five to seven times          13%
More than seven times     <1%

Running frequency (per week) for runners strongly motivated by obtaining psychological well-being:

Less than once                  1%
Once or twice                   21%
Three or four times           59%
Five to seven times           17%
More than seven times      2%

Running frequency (per week) for runners strongly motivated by raising money for good causes:

Less than once                  2%
Once or twice                   25%
Three or four times           63%
Five to seven times           8%
More than seven times      2%

Please bear in mind that this is a very rough and ready (and simplistic) way of looking at the data, as among other things, some runners will be highly motivated by two or more of these factors, so will appear in all of the groups. When we move on to conduct more nuanced analysis once the full set of data is in we will be able to account for this properly.

That said, we can already see that (unsurprisingly) time motivated runners are most likely to run a lot. Those who are seeking aesthetic or psychological benefits have fairly similar running habits, although the latter group appear to run a little more often. Charity motivated runners run the least. Of the most committed runners, hardly any cite their appearance as an important factor, and a quick look at the data shows that many of those who appear among the most committed runners with psychological and aesthetic motives are ALSO highly motivated by getting fast times.

At the moment these categories are fuzzy. They overlap significantly. As a result the picture we see above is probably much less clear than it will be when we compare runners who are ONLY motivated by getting fast times, ONLY motivated by improving their looks etc.

And of course it’s not just your motivations that dictate how much you run. Factors like family and work commitments, injuries and involvement in other sports will all bear on how often we are able (or wish) to lace up our trainers and hit the roads, trails or track. We will look at all this in due course!

This is just a quick analysis of the relationship between a couple of variables out of over a hundred. Our goal is to have data collection complete by Christmas, with a target of getting over 2,000 responses. We’re over three-quarters of the way there, so it’s looking good. In the new year we’ll start conducting and publishing (initially on this site) more detailed results.

Sport and Social Class – The Rankings

This is a follow-up to an article I published earlier this week that looked at how people’s socioeconomic background (crudely, their ‘class’) was a great predictor of the kinds of sports they got involved in.Sports by socioeconomic group

Based on a large scale survey of sports participants, running came in just below sports like sailing, yoga and windsurfing, but above cycling, basketball and football in terms of the socioeconomic status of its enthusiasts.

But the data I used for that study was from Belgium, and I only included a handful of sports. So this post is designed to provide an English perspective, as well as much wider coverage in terms of the sports included in the comparison.

I’ve taken data from Sport England’s massive ‘Active People Survey‘, an annual sports participation survey of over 160,000 people, and done a bit of number crunching to compile a list of popular sports ranked by their relative popularity to high and low status groups.

More precisely, I generated a ratio of the rate of participation in each sport by high socioeconomic group people to the rate of participation for the low socioeconomic group. Sorry if that sounds confusing, but what it means is:

If a sport gets a score of 2 on the ranking that would mean it is twice as popular with the high status group as it is with the low status group. Or, if a sport gets 0.5 then the likelihood of a high status person participating in the sport is half that of a low status person.

So this is about comparing the appeal of each sport to the two groups, not comparing the total numbers in each group participating.

The two socioeconomic status categories are defined using the N-SEC classification system used in the UK census. Here’s a list of those included in each group:

Higher Status

  1. Higher managerial and professional occupations
  2. Lower managerial and professional occupations
  3. Intermediate occupations (clerical, sales, service)
  4. Small employers and own account workers

Lower Status

5. Lower supervisory and technical occupations
6. Semi-routine occupations
7. Routine occupations
8. Never worked and long-term unemployed

‘Participation’ is defined as taking part in a sport at least once per week.

The UK’s ‘Poshest’ Sport Rankings



Participation Rate Ratio

1 Tennis 3.89
2 Squash 3.00
3 Keep-fit Classes 2.43
4 Golf 2.42
5 Mountaineering 2.40
6 Running 2.28
7 Road Cycling 2.25
8 Swimming – Outdoor 2.09
9 Athletics – Track & Field 2.08
10 Aerobics 2.05
11 Badminton – Indoor 1.87
12 Hockey 1.67
13 Swimming – Indoor 1.60
14 Netball 1.53
15 Fitness & Conditioning 1.50
16 Gym 1.49
17 Table Tennis 1.29
18 Boxing 1.20
19 Karate 1.06
20 Equestrian 1.05
21 Bowls 1.03
22 Shooting 1.00
23 Cricket 0.97
24 Football 0.94
25 Rugby Union – 15-a-side 0.73
26 Tenpin Bowling 0.71
27 Basketball 0.63
28 Snooker 0.60
29 Pool 0.56
30 Angling 0.54
31 Darts 0.40

Note: A high rank doesn’t mean better! The sports that are doing the best to encourage as wide a range of participants as possible are those towards the middle of the table with scores around 1. These are equally attractive to both ends of the social spectrum.

You can see that most sports are more popular with the higher status group than the lower status group (i.e. they have a participation ratio above 1). This reflects the fact that participation in sport as a whole is more common amongst the middle class than the working class.

Looking at the detail, there are a quite few surprising results. As with the Belgian results, running is pretty high up the list – only just behind golf and mountaineering, but I wouldn’t have guessed rugby or cricket would be in the lower half of the table,or that equestrian sports and shooting have such similar levels of appeal across the classes. But the data is from a very reliable source and from a huge sample, so we have to take it seriously.

I’d love to hear your interpretations for any of these figures.