An Exploration of Mental Toughness in Ultramarathon Runners

Anna-Marie Jaeschke, West Virginia University, USA

Theme: Mental training/interventions

Poster Number: 125

Program ID: POS-2

Presentation: October 4, 2013 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

Room: Napoleon


Ultramarathon running requires mental dedication extending miles beyond physical training and logistical preparation. Ultrarunners must prepare for unanticipated environmental circumstances, running through the night, and coping with intense physical and mental fatigue. Thus, mental toughness could play a powerful role in this sport. Ultramarathon running has rapidly increased in popularity over the past decade (Hoffman, Ong, & Wang, 2009); however, the sport’s participants have not been studied extensively (Krouse, Ransdell, Lucas, & Pritchard, 2011). This growing pool of athletes with unique demands and challenges presents a fertile environment for the understanding and development of mental toughness. The purpose of this study was to examine perceptions of mental toughness in ultramarathon runners using a mixed-methods approach. Following the completion of a survey on characteristics of mental toughness, 12 runners were randomly selected from the total willing participants (359) to be interviewed on their perceptions and experiences with mental toughness. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to accomplish research objectives: 1) Confirm and/or modify a raw definition of mental toughness gathered from 476 definitions of mental toughness from ultra runners, 2) Identify traits of mentally tough ultra runners, 3) Gather ultramarathon runners examples of mentally tough performances and what mental toughness looks like in others, and 4) Explore the bi-directional relationship between mental toughness and ultra running. Utilizing a grounded theory approach (Corbin & Strauss, 1990), an inductive-deductive process was used in the multi-faceted coding process to reveal common themes. Data show themes of perspective, persistence, psychological skills, overcoming adversity, and ultra-community camaraderie within the individual question categories. The presentation will explore commonalities among interviewees, surprising notions, directions for further examination, and implications for practitioners, researchers, and runners.

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