The sport of ultrarunning is becoming more popular today, as athletes search for new ways to challenge themselves in competition and training. Ultrarunning is defined as the sport of long distance running. The standard distance for ultrarunning is anything past the marathon distance of 26.2 miles, but distances can go up to 100K, and can include a series of time related events as well. Many times these events and races involve the additional difficulty of a rough terrain, trails, or routes that might require some navigation.
Ultrarunners are a extraordinary group of athletes, who are willing to push themselves mentally and physically to extreme limits. The sport of ultrarunning requires strong motivation, will, stamina, strength, and determination. There is relatively little data that exists on ultrarunners, and less specifically focusing on female ultrarunners. New research in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, examined the motivation, goal orientation, demographic characteristics, training habits, and coaching preferences of 344 female ultrarunners.
Researchers found that general health and psychological coping were the strongest motivational factors in these women. The female ultrarunners sampled were found to have very high task orientation, which relates to the ability to finish a race, or accomplish various goals. Scores signifying psychological motives were high, indicating that self esteem, life coping, and life meaning were noted as important sources of motivation among ultrarunners. Over 85% of athletes sampled set specific goals for their races or events. These goals were placed in four categories by importance including: top finisher/winner goals, time goals, distance goals, and a strong finisher goals.
Ultrarunners by nature follow a very rigorous training protocol, as a typical training run can be more than four hours in length. Athletes indicated that they trained an average of 12.49 hours per week, most trained alone (64%), and a large majority (80%) did not utilize a coach. Researchers explained that many athletes did not utilize a coach due to perceived financial costs. Of the women sampled 60% indicated that they did not have any children, and 78% reported being married or in a long-term relationship.
Researchers found female ultrarunners were primarily motivated by a sense of personal achievement first with general health goals being ranked second. Many ultrarunners indicated experiencing psychological and emotional personal rewards for pushing themselves past their perceived limits in an extremely challenging race. Researchers noted that having the strength and stamina to finish a race, increased the athletes’ perceived self-esteem.
Overall, researchers discovered that female ultrarunners were task oriented by nature, highly internally motivated, healthy, and somewhat financially conscious individuals. New and continuing research allows coaching professionals to take a look into the lives and inner workings of this specific population of athletes.