Do you have a more addictive personality than the runners who completed my survey?
Before I get in trouble for my interpretation of my survey results, I’d better make some disclaimer-type statements. This was not a scientific survey. It was completed by 42 respondents, fewer than I was hoping to get, but that represented about 42% of the people who read about the survey in my post—a pretty good response rate.
Moreover, these respondents were not a random group of runners; they self-selected themselves merely by being interested enough in the idea of runners’ obsessions to complete the survey. Also, 71% of respondents rated themselves as “serious” or “elite” runners. More than half of them (55%) were 40–59 years old, with another 26% of respondents in the 20–39 age category and 29% over 60.
(You can view my article about runners’ obsessions and get a link to my survey here.)
The results in brief
Before I go over the questions in more detail, here is the short summary of the results. This group of runners is fairly obsessive with regards to running; for instance, two-thirds of them have run while injured against a doctor’s advice. More than half (57%) have attempted to sustain a running streak. Most respondents follow consistent warmup routines and activities before races. Almost two-thirds of the respondents (64%) time all runs. Most of the runners in this survey (88%) have kept a training log, and most of them record an astonishing variety of information in these training logs, indicating some obsessive record-keeping behaviour that I am personally very familiar with.
Is running an attempt to channel a tendency toward negative addictions into a healthy addiction? There may be some truth to this theory; 43% of survey respondents reported experiencing at least one negative addiction at some point in their lives. Of course, one of the weaknesses of this survey is that it left the definition of “abuse”, for example with respect to sexual behaviour, recreational drugs, or alcohol, up to the respondents. So when one respondent commented, “All runners are addicted to sex! That’s a given,” perhaps he or she was misinterpreting “sex addiction” to mean “a lot of sex”. It’s pretty well agreed that tobacco in any amount is harmful, but with all of the other “negative addiction” categories, the interpretation of what constitutes a negative addiction depends on factors such as the context in which the behaviour occurs and the extent to which it damages the individual’s health, personal relationships, or professional life.
Detailed results for each question (note: the order is changed somewhat from the survey itself)
Why do we run?
I’m pleased to report that 86% of survey respondents run because it’s fun! Even more people (93%) run for their health, particularly to lose or control their weight (52%).
The result that most surprised me was the number of people who like competing! (71%) But given that the majority of respondents run at a high level, this makes sense. I was also surprised by how many people said they run because they need physical challenges (57%). The social aspects of running are also significant for over half of the survey respondents (55%).
Only 5% of survey respondents run for money (either cash or scholarships). That’s just as well, considering running is not the most lucrative of sports.
Seven people added their own comments to this question, explaining good motivations for running that I hadn’t thought to include in the choices. Two people mentioned “exploration” as being an important reason to run—I would say this is a subcategory of “fun”. Several people mentioned that running can offer stress relief and “mental well-being and wholeness”. A couple of people acknowledged that they are addicted to running and don’t feel “right” if they don’t run on scheduled running days. One person said, “Running is the only thing I’m really good at.” Well, most of us like to do the things we’re really good at—and so we continue to get better at those things!
1. Training logs
As mentioned above, 88% of survey respondents have kept a training log at some point. The length of time for keeping a training log spans months to decades, with the most common responses being “over ten years” (24%) and “three to twelve months” (24%).
Almost everyone who keeps a training log includes a lot of information in it. Of those respondents who keep a log, 95% record their training distance and 81% record their race results. 81% record a name or description of their workout. People include comments about how they felt (62%), their injuries (59%), and the weather (54%). They record who they ran with (43%) and how sleep or illness affected their training (38%). 57% include their cross training workouts in their logs, and 24% make comments about their diet.
I was astonished by the kinds of information that some people include in their training logs (as revealed by their comments)—there were details I’ve never thought to include in my own logs. Some additional features mentioned by survey respondents were:
• type of shoes and socks
• effort level
• average, maximum and minimum heart rate
• time spent in each training zone
• calories burned
• total running time
• interval split times
As I suspected from the responses on the training log question, there are some serious Garmin and computer nerds out there amongst my survey respondents.
For me, the question about how runners use stopwatches and Garmins confirmed runners’ obsessiveness more than anything else.
In this group of runners, 64% time all workouts. Only one respondent (2%) never times runs. 45% use a Garmin to check their pace and their distance. And about two-thirds of these Garmin users make sure they run an exact distance! (I had heard of this peculiarity of runners, but was still surprised at the prevalence of this irrational precision.)
3. Running streaks
Though 57% of respondents to this survey have tried to keep a running streak, there are no outstanding streakers in this group. Two-thirds kept up their streak for less than a month. Of the remaining third, half ran daily for between one month and a year, and the other half kept up their streak for one to five years.
4. Running while injured
Almost two-thirds (64%) of survey respondents have run while injured against doctors’ advice. We all know how badly injured some runners have to be before they choose, or are forced, to stop.
5. Warmup routines before races
Most runners learn that a good warmup helps prepare them, both physically and psychologically, for the hard effort of a race. Having a consistent routine can be calming; however, in some situations it’s not possible to follow the usual routine, so it’s good to be flexible and not too superstitious about one’s routine. My sample of runners doesn’t seem to be too rigid; only 36% reported doing all parts of their warmup in the same order every time. Here are the other common components of a pre-race warmup:
• 64% eat and drink specific foods and beverages
• 45% include running drills
• 36% use visualization
• 33% include stretching
• 24% give themselves a “pep” talk
• 19% avoid talking to others before a race
• 10% listen to music (I was surprised this was so low; perhaps younger runners use music more)
• 5% reported they don’t race
• No one in my sample prays or meditates
Some additional activities mentioned by respondents in comments were focusing on a plan, including a brisk walk to the start, dynamic stretching, and many bathroom trips—all good ideas!
As mentioned above, 43% of survey respondents have experienced at least one negative addiction at some point in their lives. It was a little surprising to me that 17% have been smokers. The other negative addictions were all reported at pretty low levels: 10% have experienced sex addiction (but see comments above), 7% report alcohol abuse, 5% recreational drug abuse, 5% shopping addiction, and 2% prescription drug abuse.
The comments also revealed a couple of other negative addictions I hadn’t considered. Three people mentioned food addictions, and one person suggested “Facebook addiction—just kidding!” Seriously, though, online addictions are real. Perhaps I could have included them, but it would have been very hard to define a point at which online activities can be classified as a “negative addiction”. I think interacting online while running would definitely be classified as going too far; yet being online while riding a stationary bike is very easy with smartphones.
I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into a small sample of other runners’ obsessions! A big thank-you to all who participated in the survey.