Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Finishing the Race: Exploring the Meaning of Marathons for Women Who Run Multiple Races

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Finishing the Race: Exploring the Meaning of Marathons for Women Who Run Multiple Races

Article excerpt


Women's motivation to participate in other leisure activities might provide additional insights as to why some women run marathons repeatedly (Axelsen, 2009; Barrell, Chamberlain, Evans, Holt, & MacKean, 1989; Cronan and Scott, 2008; Deyell Hood, 2003; Pohl, Borrie, & Patterson, 2000; Roster, 2007; Verhoef, Love, & Rose, 1992; Vertinsky, 2002). Vertinsky (2008) noted, "Women today set vastly different exercise standards for themselves than did women even a few decades ago" (p. 83). Nowhere is this more apparent than in women's participation in the marathon. reported that in 2011, an estimated 518,000 runners crossed the finish line at marathons throughout the United States; 41% of these participants were women (Running USA's Annual Marathon Report, 2012).

For both men and women, the training leading up to a marathon is long and intense, typically 16 to 20 weeks, culminating in a race that takes multiple hours to finish. Throughout the training and the actual running of the 26.2 miles, the journey can be filled with physical and mental challenges, injuries, blisters, and dehydration. Given these challenges, few individuals will ever run a marathon. Since marathon running is an uncommon human experience, a mystique surrounds participation in these events.

This mystique is even more significant for women, given their minority status in the sport and relatively short participation history. The first woman to officially enter a marathon was in 1967, and the sport was not recognized as an Olympic event for women until 1984 (Pate & O'Neill, 2007). Serravallo (2000) observed that gender differences exist among those who participate in marathons. Through data from the 1998 New York City Marathon, the author noted the ratio of men to women participants was more than two to one. Given the relative late entry of women into marathon running and their minority participation in these races, what benefits do recreational women runners derive from participating in marathons?

Although runners experience numerous health benefits through physical activity, Masters, Ogles, and Jolton (1993) suggested, "...marathon runners expose themselves to stress and strain well beyond what is necessary to achieve these advantages" (p. 134). While the lure of sizable cash prizes and athletic endorsements are motivation for elite athletes to train and compete in marathons, the casual observer might question why recreational runners, men or women, would subject themselves to the mental and physical challenges of running these races, not once, but often time and time again.

Comparative analysis of men and women marathon runners in terms of their participative motives (Ogles, Masters, & Richardson, 1995), performance (Deaner, Masters, Ogles, & LaCaille, 2011; Hunter, Stevens, Magennis, Skelton, & Fauth, 2011; Mountain, Ely, & Cheuvront, 2007) and perceived benefits of the marathon experience (Ziegler, 1991) is limited and fails to address the complexity of the marathon experience. In two such studies (Ogles et al., 1995; Ziegler, 1991), the sample of identified women is small compared to men (128/482 and 58/300, respectively). Absent from all these analyses is a rich description of women's' marathon running experiences. Ziegler (1991) posited, "A further understanding of the schema women use to evaluate their own experiences in sport would be useful in predicting not only exercise and sports patterns, but also expected outcomes of participation" (p. 125).

These issues lead to the central question of this qualitative study: What is the meaning of marathons for women who repeatedly train and run multiple races?

Literature Review

Marathon runners are not a homogeneous group; they have a variety of reasons for participating in races (Ogles & Masters, 2003). In order to further understand the psychological and motivational characteristics of these distance runners, Masters et al. …

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