Motives for running a marathon: The contribution of achievement motivation

Katherine Mary Breheny, Fordham University


The growing popularity of marathon running has lead many to speculate about the motives of these athletes. Many runners train for years, devoting substantial time and effort to this pursuit. The sports psychology literature has proffered two models that attempt to account for this level of devotion. The addiction model and the eating disorder analogue model suggest that some runners are compelled to run by either a dependence syndrome or by an underlying psychopathology. However, neither of these theories has received substantial support in the literature. In contrast, the vast majority of exploratory studies on running motivation indicate that achievement constructs are primary. The purpose of this study was to examine the motives of marathon runners from the frameworks of need for achievement (nAch), intrinsic/extrinsic motivation, and goal perspective theory. Two hundred and ninety-two individuals, recruited from clubs and organizations in the state of Virginia, participated in the study by completing a demographic questionnaire and three achievement motivation measures. Respondents who met specific criteria were assigned to one of four comparison groups: Sedentary Individuals, Fitness Level Runners (≤15 mi./wk.), High Volume Recreational Runners (≥25 mi./wk., non-competitive), and High Volume Marathon Runners (≥25 mi./wk., training for a marathon). Comparisons among these groups enabled consideration of two key elements of the race: endurance and competition. Results showed that runners, regardless of level of involvement in the sport, demonstrated greater mastery and competitiveness needs than sedentary individuals. In addition, high volume runners reported greater intrinsic motivation for running than fitness level runners. Furthermore, several dimensions of intrinsic motivation were positively correlated with length of involvement in the sport of running. Finally, greater task orientation was also positively associated with two aspects of intrinsic motivation. In sum, the results of this study demonstrate the relevance of achievement motivation for marathon running. They suggest that the level of commitment demonstrated by the majority of these athletes should not be viewed as pathological. Rather, it is hoped that a greater understanding of their motives will eventually generate novel strategies for promoting regular exercise.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Recreation|Behaviorial sciences

Recommended Citation

Breheny, Katherine Mary, "Motives for running a marathon: The contribution of achievement motivation" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3037212.