In light of current events, (COVID-19), that question may seem loaded and the answer obvious. However, a 2019 study conducted by STRAVA, explains there are several reasons that reveal not only WHY we run, but also WHO we are at our core. 

“Why We Run” is a 2019 study that surveyed 25,000 STRAVA athletes from 7 countries: Japan, the United States, the UK, Brazil, France, Germany, and Spain. 74% of those surveyed are male, 24% female, and 2% other. The average age is 41.21 years. 63% of the respondents have been running for 1-10 years, 30% for 10 years or more, and 7% for less than 1 year. The average miles run per week of those surveyed is 13.67 miles.

In addition to the 25,000 runners surveyed, 24 runners from the U.S. and the UK were interviewed while running. 

The White Paper, which explains the results of the study is authored by Blair Evans, Ph.D. and Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Penn State University. What Blair and his fellow researchers found from the results of the study shows just how closely a sport such as running is connected to our well being. 

“We focused on the connection between running and well being because people often see running as something more than simply a fitness activity. When involved for long enough, people often see running as a part of who they are and as an activity that enriches their lives. By understanding why people run, we can find new strategies to promote running and ensure that running contributes to well being.”

The study identified 5 types of runners. It was determined that the “type” of runner usually predicts how often that person runs, how much (if at all) they enjoy running, and how often they use STRAVA to track their running. Every runner was found to have diverse motives, but the common thread among all of them was that running is a way to satisfy one or more basic needs that contribute to living a “full” life. Basic needs such as: Health, Connection with Others, Daily Routine, and a Sense of Control were repeatedly related to “why” those surveyed continued to run once they started.  It was found that many people start running with the goal of improving health or “belonging” to a community, but those who have been running for many years perceive running as part of their personal identity and an integral part of daily life. 

Here are the 5 types of runners that were identified from the study:

PASSIONATE RUNNERS: Report belonging to groups and attending races/events, and particularly high on expectations that running helps forge connections with other people. Hold high expectations for experiencing happiness through running, experiences with accomplishment, and feel like running holds them accountable to be healthy. Represent 14% of the runners in the study. 

INVESTED RUNNERS: Participate often in running races and highly likely to belong to formal groups. This group enjoys the experience of running, although they were the middle-of the pack in terms of experiencing social benefits from running. They have moderate beliefs that running provides psychological benefits like happiness or accomplishment. Represent 20% of the runners in the study.

FITNESS RUNNERS: Rarely participate in races and mainly run alone, but they enjoy running in groups and 50% in this group belong to a running group. They tend to report fewer social or psychological benefits of running compared to other types – although their motives to run for health, body image, and strength followed similar profiles as other types. Represent 22% of runners in the study. 

MINDFUL RUNNERS: Tend to report participating in races and primarily run alone. Although they tend to mirror other types regarding the reasons why they run, they resemble ‘Type 1’ runners in that they value happiness, accomplishment, and accountability outcomes of running higher than most other types. Represent 16% of runners in the study. 

RELUCTANT RUNNERS: Rarely compete in races and primarily run alone. They perceive the fewest social or psychological benefits of all types. Their interests in health, strength, and body image benefits follow the same pattern as other types. Represent 28% of runners in the study. (*42% of the Reluctant group are beginner runners). 

Over 80% of all runners surveyed chose health as a primary reason regarding why they run. Over 50% of the respondents said that they run or keep running because of the camaraderie and relationships it fosters. Interestingly, the final summation from the survey was this: 8% of the respondents LOVE running, 45% TOLERATE running, and 5% HATE running. The researchers theories to explain these numbers are the following social influencers:

1. Need to belong

2. Identity

3. Peer Pressure

4. Social Support

5. Social Comparison (competitiveness)

I can tell you that personally, as a lifelong competitive runner and coach, I am a Type 1 (Passionate) runner 99% of the time…but depending on the day, the event, or what is happening in my personal/professional life, I have been every “type” listed and some days probably more than one type at the same time! 

Our current circumstances with COVID-19 have reminded me of the simplistic beauty of the sport of running. Never before have I seen so many people of all ages, sizes, and abilities outside running. Some are flying by, no doubt tracking their pace, some are smiling, taking in the scenery and saying hello as they pass, and sometimes, others are pushing through…not just physically, but visibly…they are battling mentally and emotionally as well.

If ever the world needed a sport or an activity that was so simple to perform, yet so important and connected to our well being, it is now. Through running we can both deplete and refresh our bodies and our minds. We can isolate, yet connect. We can, for a few precious moments or miles, reclaim a sense of control over our lives that seem to have spun wildly out of our control in only a matter of days. 

So, I ask you again….why do YOU run?


By Sonja Friend-Uhl

Sonja Friend-Uhl is a professional runner and a career fitness professional & coach. She has a top 3 world ranking for women ages 40-49 in distances ranging from the 800 meters to the 3k. She is the current world record holder in the Women’s Indoor Masters Mile with a time of 4:44.81. Sonja has helped others reach their fitness and running goals since 1994. In addition to being a USATF certified coach (www.TheRunningWarrior.com) Sonja owns and operates her own fitness coaching and consulting business, www.FitwithSonja.com. She is ACE and ACSM certified and has been a lead Master Trainer and Presenter for Core Health & Fitness since 2006. 

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