An Investigation of the Different Motivations of Marathon Runners with Varying Degrees of Experience

By Masters, Kevin S.; Ogles, Benjamin M. | Journal of Sport Behavior, March 1995 | Go to article overview

An Investigation of the Different Motivations of Marathon Runners with Varying Degrees of Experience


Masters, Kevin S., Ogles, Benjamin M., Journal of Sport Behavior


Many different theoretical perspectives acknowledge that the factors which motivate someone to initiate an activity are often different from the factors which motivate the individual to maintain or continue to engage in the behavior. Researchers in the area of exercise have been especially receptive to this position, in part because of the high drop out rate among those who begin an exercise program. Martin and Dubbert (1982) noted that between 50 and 70% of individuals who begin an exercise program drop out within 12 to 24 months. Dishman (1982, 1986) has similarly noted that about 40 to 50% drop out within the first 6 months. Lee and Owen (1986) have examined this problem from a number of perspectives, including the cognitive-behavioral and social psychological. They noted that behavior change is a process which occurs in a series of stages. Consequently, from a behavioral view, early reinforcement contingencies that influence behavior change may lose their effect as the individual moves from the acquisition to maintenance stage.

Along these lines, Shepherd (1985) has proposed that exercise programs be designed to initially maximize external reinforcement until the preliminary discomfort experienced by exercising individuals has subsided. Subsequently these exercisers will become motivated by internal rewards that are inherent in the exercise itself. Both Kasimatis, Langston and Clark (1992) and Sonstroem (1988) have reported other process models that rely more heavily on cognitive variables to explain exercise initiation and maintenance. What these approaches have in common is the position that the motivation for exercising changes throughout the individual's particular exercise history.

While theories that address the general topic of exercise have merit, Crandall (1980) has recommended that investigators concentrate their efforts on a particular activity since the motivating factors that are important in one activity may or may not be important in another. Individuals who engage in marathon running and weightlifting will, for example, differ in their reasons for participating and maintaining these activities. Thus, it seems prudent to follow Crandall's (1980) advice and investigate the reasons for initiating and maintaining behaviors within specific domains.

Previous investigators have explored the development of motives for participation with runners using retrospective self-report methods. For example, Carmack and Martens (1979) studied 250 non-marathon runners who were recruited at various locations and events throughout Illinois and Indiana. The subjects completed questionnaires that inquired about their reasons for running, outcomes of running, commitment to running, training practices, and demographics. The investigators found that serious runners tended to de-emphasize physical health as a reason for running, and instead, placed increasing emphasis on psychological reasons.

In another self-report, retrospective study Johnsgard (1985) asked a large sample of readers of a running magazine, and a second sample of runners over age 50 years why they began running and why they continue to run. He found that both groups indicated a shift toward psychological factors and away from fitness and weight control, although fitness remained the top ranked reason. Okwumabua, Meyers, and Santille (1987) recruited master runners (persons 40 years of age or older) from five 10 kilometer road races in the southern United States and from two 10 kilometer races in the southwest. They distributed a three part questionnaire and achieved a response rate of 42%. The instrument assessed demographic information and psychological aspects of running including cognitive strategies and reasons for beginning and continuing to run. They observed the now familiar shift from physiological to psychological reasons for running among the master runners in this sample.

Relatively few studies have addressed the motivation issue among marathon runners. …

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