Gauge Your Marathon Motivation With This Test

Ashley Lauretta
by Ashley Lauretta
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Gauge Your Marathon Motivation With This Test

If you’ve ever run a marathon — or are currently training for one — you’ve probably had someone ask you, “Why?!” (In fact, you may have even asked yourself the same question during a long training run … or all of them.)

Part of staying motivated requires knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. Even if you haven’t sat down to fully, rationally articulate why you’re running 26.2 miles, something is pulling you along. That’s where the Motivation of Marathoners Scale (MOMS) comes in. Created by two doctors, it attempts to give a qualitative measure of the motivation behind running marathons.


Originally published in 1993 in the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, the MOMS was developed by Kevin Masters, PhD, and Ben Ogles, PhD, based on Masters’ doctoral thesis on motives for runners. The scale covers four areas: physical health, social, achievement and psychological. The test includes 56 items and, when ranked by a runner, can reveal insight into why a runner chooses to run a marathon.

“Since marathon runners are examples of exceptional dedication to training, Masters and I thought understanding their motives might help us understand strategies for assisting individuals who find it difficult to stay motivated to exercise,” shares Ogles, professor of Psychology and dean of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences at Brigham Young University.

It turns out this motivation scale goes beyond just marathon runners. He continues, “we didn’t expect other researchers would further develop the measure and use it with other athletes (e.g., triathletes, ultrarunners), in other cultures and to understand a variety of other questions. We are pleased many have found the instrument to be useful in their work.”


The MOMS has been referenced and tested in other studies in the years since it was first published. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science in 2017 was a collaborative effort between researchers in Israel and Florida. It concluded the MOMS is a “sound and solid framework” for determining and understanding the motives behind such a physically demanding task. The question is, have these other studies — and further work by Masters and Ogles — changed the scale?

“It’s always difficult to tell if the measurement is evolving or if the people who are running now are different from in the past,” admits Ogles. “One thing [that] is really obvious is that our samples include far more women runners than in the 1990s when we were first gathering data on motives for running a marathon. We also have a better sense for the more typical groups of runners who have similar motives.”


Ogles adds that over the years, their samples of runners have been comprised of recreational runners versus the elites. Initially, he was surprised by the finding that a focus on personal achievement was a higher motivator than competition with others. Because the runners in their samples are not running professionally, but are pulled toward longer distances, Ogles says it has become clear there is a strong desire for runners to further develop their personal mastery in the marathon.

“I also find it interesting that the health motivation is a very consistent and strong motive,” adds Masters. “In reality, running marathons is not necessary for health benefits and the additional training and mileage actually confers relatively little health advantage over being regularly active in much less committing and extreme ways. The training also carries with it risks for injury. Nonetheless, this is a prominent source of motivation.”

Why are these findings important? Both emphasize that internal motives — such as the goal to develop personal mastery — tend to generate longer lasting behavioral changes than external motivators do, including social motives of praise or recognition.


So, how can you take the test? And once you do, what should you do with that information? Masters and Ogles have been working on a shorter version of the scale — which includes 18 versus the original 56 items — to make taking the test more manageable (and practical). You can access this shorter version (still in beta) at Marathon Mind and take the test yourself. From there, you can compare your results with five cluster groups Masters and Ogles have identified through further study with the MOMS, that include:

1. Running Enthusiasts
2. Lifestyle Managers
3. Goal Achievers
4. Personal Accomplisher
5. Competitive Achievers

Once you know your main motive and have identified your cluster, use the information to further your mental training. “[Runners] can then use [the information] in several ways,” instructs Ogles. “For areas of high motivation, they can identify key behaviors, thoughts, etc. that help trigger those motives and help them in their training. For areas of low importance, they may realize that including a broader range of motives may help them keep going. Variety in reasons for training can often help folks stay fresh, so alternating or varying strategies to stay mentally fresh for training can also help.”

About the Author

Ashley Lauretta
Ashley Lauretta

Ashley is a journalist based in Austin, Texas. She is the assistant editor at LAVA and her work appears in The Atlantic, ELLE, GOOD Sports, espnW, VICE Sports, Health, Men’s Journal, Women’s Running and more. Find her on Twitter at @ashley_lauretta.


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