How Healthy Is Your Passion for Running?

Being passionate about training and racing can make you a great runner. Obsessing over it? Not so much.According to a recent study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sportsobsessing over your running may negatively impact performance and overall happiness.

The study surveyed 696 marathon runners about their passion for running and how they go about working toward a goal. After interpreting the data, researchers concluded that people who meticulously dwell on decisions are more likely to have an obsessive/passionate relationship with running. These runners feel internally pressured to run, can’t control the urge to run, and put running first in life. On the other hand, researchers found that people who don’t dwell on decisions and act quickly without much worry are more likely to have a harmonious/passionate relationship with running. These athletes love to run, but they effectively integrate the sport into their lives.Study authors concluded that a person’s passion type – harmonious or obsessive – will impact running success as well as the overall happiness of the runner.

Fabio Lucidi, the chief researcher of the study, tells Runner’s World via email that runners with harmonious/passionate relationships are more connected with the sport and run more happily over longer periods of time. These runners often have better race outcomes, a more positive mindset during training, and are better equipped to handle race day stress.

An obsessive runner, on the other hand, like “an individual who cannot resist going on a training run despite being woefully unprepared for an exam the next day,” or a runner motivated solely by external factors like medals or prize money, is ultimately more likely to resent the sport or have a negative attitude toward training. Fabio says competing without intrinsic motivation (running because you enjoy it or it makes you feel accomplished) is not healthy. Obsessive runners cannot mediate the stress of training and are at higher risk of injury and burnout in the long run.

Cindra Kamphoff, a sports psychology director and professor, agrees that intrinsic motivation, often lost in obsessive runners, is key for success.

“Runners who participate with intrinsic reasons more often fulfill themselves and are more successful,” she says.

Kamphoff explains how obsessing over the outcome – instead of the run itself – can ultimately hinder runners. “Obsessive passion is related to stress,” she says. “We get really wrapped up and running becomes rigid…rigidness doesn’t allow us to react. To reach your potential, you have to be ready to act without being too emotional. People who are harmoniously passionate have less negative emotions reacting to failure, and they let things bounce off.”

The good news is that runners can take steps to change their obsessive tendencies.

To control race day anxiety, Kamphoff recommends that obsessive runners try to recreate the arousal and energy levels felt before a successful past performance, center your breathing, and pay attention to your own irrationalities (like acknowledging that no, you do not need it to be a perfect 62 degrees to perform well). While peak arousal on race day is helpful, too much pre-race stress can lead to a performance decrease. Kamphoff advises that obsessive runners focus on the current kilometre they are racing instead of worrying about previous or future kilometres.

She also advises runners to develop a race plan that includes contingencies. This way, runners can change their plans on the fly in the case of unexpected factors like a bad fall during the race or a weather change. “Sometimes runners can get in their own way,” Kamphoff says. Developing a flexible plan will make rigid, obsessive runners more adaptable, like their harmonious counterparts.

If you find yourself still getting caught up in your own mind and obsessing over running, Kamphoff advises seeing a sports psychologist to help master your race-day nerves and to take charge of your passion. “Having a good relationship with running is key,” she says.

Subscribe to Runner's World

Related Articles