The Meaning of Running

In my last post I described the ways in which different forms of running were more strongly associated with particular motivations than average. Those involved in fell-running, for instance, were shown to have higher levels of motivation around competitiveness and desire to engage with the outdoor environment, and lower levels of aesthetic (i.e. to do with shaping the body) motivation than the average runner.

I mentioned at the end of that post that the motivational profiles of each form of running were often quite different for men and women. In this post I want to unpack that a little.

First, a word on the statistics. In the first post the numbers I gave for each motivational score was based on the correlation between the motivation and level of engagement with the type of running in question. This gives us an idea of how much difference there is between non-practitioners and practitioners, but doesn’t reflect the overall level of motivation.

For example, fell-runners might score 5/10 for competitiveness and non-fell-runners 3/10. This shows a significant difference, so the score in the previous post would be high for the relationship between fell-running and competitiveness. Here, fell-runners are significantly more competitive than non-fell-runners.

However, what this doesn’t show is that the level of competitiveness even for fell-runners is actually not very high. In this example it’s 5/10, whereas environmental motivations (the desire to get out in the outdoors and experience and explore the environment) might be 8/10. If this motivation is also high for non-fell-runners (say, 7/10) then the ‘effect’ of doing fell-running (compared to not doing fell-running) is marginal, and hence a lower score on the previous post – despite environmental motivations being more often cited by fell-runners.

Really we need to supplement the correlations with another measure to help build a more complete picture. So in this post I’m going to compare the average (mean) scores on different motivations for different forms of running. This isn’t as good at showing the distinctive profile of each form, but gives a clearer picture of the motivational profile of the typical runner from each variant of the sport.

As promised in the last post, I’ve also split the profiles down by gender, so you can see there are significant differences in the ways that men and women see the key benefits of the forms of running they are involved in. This may help provide part of the reason why men and women are attracted to different variants of running in different proportions.

I’ve selected a handful of running variants that offer a nice contrast in motivations. The below charts indicate the mean motivations for runners who participate in these kinds of races. The motivations are explained here. The only addition is ‘charity’ which refers to the degree to which participants report raising money for good causes as a motivation.

Track runner's motivations
Above: Track runners’ motivations









Road runners' motivations
Above: Road runners’ motivations (5-10km)









The motivations of half-marathon runners
Above: Half-marathoners’ motivations









Ultra-marathon runners' motivations
Above: Ultra-runners’ motivations









The motivations of fell-runners
Above: Fell-runners’ motivations










The motivations of mud race runners
Above: Mud racers’ motivations









The motivations of non-racing runners
Above: Non-racers’ motivations


















The above charts are useful for looking at motivations within each variant of running and for comparing men and women, but aren’t so good when it comes to comparing the different types of running. There’s just too much to take in! So below I have created a further set of charts which allow you to compare how levels of each type of motivation vary across the different forms of running.


charity mot soc mot bod mot psych mot








Env Mot


comp mot










































What does this tell us?

Clearly there’s a lot of information here, so what are the key takeaways?

On gender differences in motivation:

  1. Across all variants of running, men are motivated by competition (doing well in races, getting fast times) significantly more than women.
  2. However, in almost all other motivations women score higher. It appears women run for a wider range of reasons than men.
  3. The exception is environmental motivation, which appears quite even (and high) between genders.

On motivational differences between forms of running:

  1. Competitive motivations are highest for track athletes.
  2. Among road runners, including half marathoners women are significantly less competitively oriented than men. On the other hand, women in this group are significantly more motivated by managing their bodies’ appearances through running.
  3. Ultra- and fell-runners are highly motivated by interacting with the outside environment and the former are relatively noncompetitive on average.
  4. Mud racers are the most likely to be motivated by raising money for good causes, and are the most motivated by aesthetic goals of all the racers. Among women, they are the least competitive racers.
  5. Non-racing runners are the most motivated by aesthetic goals of all types of runner covered here. Their competitive, social and charity motivations are all low.

Obviously these are average scores, and within every group there is a wide range of runners, each with their own unique set of motivators. However, these scores do provide evidence of the meaning behind the practice of each form of the sport. People are drawn towards the particular variant of running that meets their personal needs. Needs that are generated by their unique experiences, tastes and personality. We’ll be exploring this later on.

Next time though, I’m going to look at the ‘life course’ of runners. We’ll see how runners’ relationships with their sport change as they get older, and as they build up years of experience. We’ll see how life events (having children, getting married, starting work) impact on runners, and how different groups are impacted in different ways.

Thanks so much for reading. I’d love to have any feedback or questions – please just use the comment box below.


2 thoughts on “The Meaning of Running

    • Neil Baxter Post author

      Thanks! there’s plenty more data to crunch, so there should be plenty more over the coming weeks.

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