Sports Psychologists Weigh in on Runners’ Personality Types

Ashley Lauretta
by Ashley Lauretta
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Sports Psychologists Weigh in on Runners’ Personality Types

Runners are a unique bunch, partly because of the fact that if you put two runners together, the conversation rarely strays from personal bests and race day horror stories. It’s also because the sport attracts a diverse group of people. Thanks to the large variety of distances and workouts, there is something for everyone.

It could be that if you don’t like running, you might not be running a style that matches your personality. If you’re having trouble choosing a distance to race or are looking for a new approach to your training, you may be able to use your personality to find your fit.

Of course there will always be some exceptions, but sports psychologists believe certain traits are best suited to specific distances and workouts. So, how do you know what you are best suited for?

COMMON TRAITS OF RUNNERS

Board-certified sports psychologist Richard O. Temple, PhD, a member of the American Board of Sport Psychology and owner of Mind for Sports, notes that because the sport is comprised of such a wide range of people, it is hard to nail down specific traits all runners have. However, he does say scientific research has been conducted that has identified a few characteristics that stand out: conscientiousness and neuroticism.

“Conscientiousness is relatively self-explanatory, referring to dedication and commitment to the task at hand,” he explains. “Neuroticism, an old term from Freudian days, can be interpreted as being very detail-oriented and focused on the task at hand. This makes intuitive sense, as competitive running requires a huge commitment in time and effort, particularly in the context of normal life.”

If you don’t innately have these traits, they are things that can be developed. Runners know that the sport isn’t just about training your body; you also need to dedicate time to training your mind. This is why being a contemplative person is a benefit in the sport of running, so you can visualize meeting both your training milestones and overall goals. Sports and exercise psychologist Dave Caldwell, head coach at Whisper Running, uses the analogy of the angel and devil on one’s shoulder. If you are able to imagine yourself meeting your goals, you can silence the devil no matter the level of discomfort you experience in training.

“Seeing or imagining the challenges you wish to face, including the process of goal attainment, is a form of visualization,” continues Caldwell. “Talking yourself through intervals by vocally or mentally repeating interval paces — perhaps even trying to rehearse what interval paces might feel like — are examples of visualization (also known as mental imagery or rehearsal).”

MATCHING RUNS TO PERSONALITY TYPE

Though dedication, attention to detail and the ability to visualize are generally quite common, as you know, running is a very broad spectrum. Some people prefer to run or race only a mile at a time, while others regularly participate in ultramarathons. Why do some runners prefer to sprint on the track and others hit the roads for hours at a time?

YOU MAY PREFER LONG AND SLOW WORKOUTS IF …

Should you choose to train with a group, running can become a social activity; however, at the end of the day, running is most often a solo sport. Because of this, introverts may enjoy long runs — especially those measured by distance rather than pace. Though introverts are known for being quiet and either preferring to be alone or needing time to emotionally recover after social situations, running offers a way to recharge and spend time with oneself. Their ability to  reflect on both themselves and their surroundings for long periods of time is key.

“I don’t have much in the way of hard data to support this, but in my work as a sport psychologist and a clinical psychologist, I believe a personality type that can sustain attention over longer periods of time, and one that is more introspective, may be better-suited for longer workouts,” observes Dr. Temple. “Particularly in this generation of instant gratification, largely perpetuated by digital technology, the athlete who can sustain attention over extended periods of time on an activity that is somewhat monotonous and repetitive will likely be the most successful.”

YOU MAY PREFER SHORT AND FAST WORKOUTS IF …

You would think that because introverts are well-suited to long, slow runs the opposite is automatically true for short, fast runs. It is true that extroverts thrive among the company of others, so short workouts such as intervals and fartleks that are usually done on the track with others in a training group may be preferred. However, there are a few other characteristics that predispose a runner to short distances and speed.


READ MORE > WHY RUNNERS SHOULD JOIN A RUN CREW


If you have strong coping skills and are able to sit with suffering for a bit, you could thrive on speed workouts where you are pushing your pace to the limit and working through discomfort. This may actually allow you to see progress at a quicker rate when it comes to building speed and quickening your pace. Additionally, if you crave instant gratification and immediate feedback, you’ll do well with these workouts; especially if you have a coach monitoring you along the way. Caldwell, who works primarily with middle and high school middle-distance runners, really sees this trait in his coaching.

“As a coach in a digital world, where kids seek answers and gratification at the present moment, it is important to be able to provide feedback in a way they can see themselves improving at this present moment,” he explains. “This can be done in a number of ways, such as video analysis, correcting technique during drills and intervals, emphasizing consistent pace and providing feedback every 100 meters during intervals of 200 meters or longer.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

As stated before, runners are a diverse bunch, so these guidelines won’t be true for every single runner. However, if you are in a slump or looking to spice up your training, keep your personality in mind! When it comes down to it, Dr. Temple notes that recent research in the field of neuroscience has shown the brain has immense capacity for change.

“Although research has identified some trends in personality characteristics for various athletic activities, it is important to note that a personality trait is just that, a trait or a tendency,” emphasizes Dr. Temple. “In other words, no personality trait is a deal-breaker for any type of activity. With dedication and effort, human potential is endless.”

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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