Are Certain Personality Types More Likely Than Others to Become Consistent Runners?

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A look at the link between different personality types and running. Are Certain Personality Types More Likely Than Others to Become Consistent Runners?

Isn’t it funny how some non-runners believe that they just aren’t cut out to be runners? That their DNA somehow prevents them from rising early, braving the cold and having the discipline to keep at it, day after day? Which implies that, for committed runners, these things always come naturally. Something that couldn’t be further from the truth!

And while this difference of opinion isn’t likely to be resolved any time soon, it does raise an interesting question. Is there truth in what these non-runners believe? Are certain personality types more likely than others to become consistent runners? And do certain individuals have a genetic advantage when it comes to things like discipline, consistency and toughing it out? Let’s find out.

Runners Are, Not Surprisingly, a Different Bunch

In 2009, the team behind a small study of 11 participants of the Trans Europe Foot Race set out to prove something that most runners already know. By examining the cold pain tolerance and personality traits of these athletes, and comparing the results to that of 11 matched controls, researchers wanted to show that ultra runners are different from the norm. And they succeeded in doing just that. Not surprisingly, the pain tolerance of the ultra runners were found to be higher than that of the controls. In terms of personality traits, they also found significant differences between the ultra runners and non-ultra running controls. The ultra runners were found to be less cooperative (read: more individualistic) than the controls, as well as less reward dependent (read: more self-motivated). The ultra runners also exhibited a higher degree of spiritual transcendence than the controls.

Exercise Personality: Fact or Myth?

And while this (very small) study scratches the surface of the link between running and personality traits, its findings can hardly be extrapolated to the rest of the running vs. non-running population. Which still leaves us with our burning question: Is there something like an “exercise personality”? And do you have to be genetically blessed with this overall personality type in order to become a successful runner?

According to the Introduction to Kinesiology handbook, the answer is no. To date, no specific set of personality traits that predict exercise adherence have been identified. Meaning that, up until now, researchers have been unable to differentiate between exercisers and non-exercisers based on overall personality type alone. Which is great (or is that bad?) news for our non-running friends and relatives!

Two Important Personality Characteristics

And while overall personality type cannot be blamed for a lack of adherence to exercise, the following two personality characteristics have been found to be good predictors of exercise behavior:

  • Confidence in one’s own physical abilities, and
  • Self-motivation.

Individuals who are confident about their own physical abilities tend to exercise more often. It also goes without saying that individuals who can self-motivate are more likely to start and stick to a running program.

And if you’re a non-runner who thinks that the absence of these two characteristics gives you the green light to spend your days lounging on the couch, think again. Lucky for you, research has found a positive correlation between participation in exercise and an increased positive perception of one’s own physical capabilities. Which means that the more you exercise, the more confident you’ll be about your own physical capabilities. A glorious positive cycle!

The Dark Side

And while this is great news that places the ball firmly in your own court, it’s worth noting that moderation remains key. Because as much as physical activity is a good and necessary part of a healthy, happy life, too much of a good thing isn’t always a good idea. For a group of individuals classified by researchers as “obligatory exercisers”, physical activity becomes the central focus of life. These highly self-motivated individuals exercise at levels that are excessive and even harmful, something that obviously doesn’t contribute to increased well-being.

And is there specific personality traits that contribute to the occurrence of unhealthy exercise dependence, you ask? Yes, there is. A 2014 study by a team from Australia found a positive correlation between exercise dependence and narcissism, self-orientated perfectionism and socially prescribed perfectionism. Good reason to be very selective about your social media exposure as far as fitspo goes.

Remember that consistent exercise is only a small part of a healthy, balanced and happy lifestyle. So if you or someone you know falls on the opposite end of the motivational scale, i.e. is an “obligatory exerciser”, speak to a specialist in exercise psychology to help foster exercise behavior that is both healthy and non-controlling.

The Good and the Bad News

In closing, the good news is that you are not a slave of your DNA when it comes to becoming a consistent runner. Which, if you’re a non-runner, may be the bad news too! Individuals of all personality types have the potential to become dedicated to running, with those possessing confidence in their physical abilities and self-motivation more likely to succeed.

Even better news, however, is the fact that participation in exercise has the ability to boost your confidence in your own physical capabilities. Which means that taking that first step to a more active lifestyle will reward you in more ways than one. So, go on. Stop making excuses, get the green light from your physician and get moving!


  1. K.J. Miller, Personality traits and exercise dependence: Exploring the role of narcissism and perfectionism, Academic journal, Jun 30, 2014
  2. S.J. Hoffman (ed.), Various personality factors affect athletic success and exercise adherence, Handbook: Introduction to Kinesiology, Fourth Edition, Sep 01, 2012
  3. Scott Douglas, How Ultramarathoners Are Different, Online publication, Feb 04, 2013
  4. W. Freund et al., Ultra-marathon runners are different: investigations into pain tolerance and personality traits of participants of the TransEurope FootRace 2009, Academic journal, Sep 01, 2013
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