We studied mental toughness in ultra-marathon runners. Mind over matter is real — but won't take you all the way

3 min read
fairly difficult
Ultra-marathon runners face a plethora of physical and mental challenges on the track, including intense fatigue and extreme physical pain.
For most people, running a marathon sounds like a lot of work — and they probably wouldn't even consider completing more than one within 24 hours.

The will to go the extra mile is what lies at the very heart of ultra-endurance events (and that's exactly why they're called "ultra").

These events are for athletes who go beyond the typical marathon distance of about 42km, or engage in physical exertion for more than six hours. They're generally performed via biking, swimming or running, but can also be held in activities such as kayaking.

Our new research published in the journal PLOS One looks at the role of "mental toughness" in the performance of ultra-endurance runners. Our findings suggest mind over matter is a real phenomenon — but can only get you so far.

The nitty-gritty of ultra-endurance events

On-foot ultra-marathons are notoriously challenging, with distances starting around 56km and going upwards of 150km. They're often held in remote mountainous settings and almost always involve unpredictable course conditions and massive shifts in altitude.

Read more: I ran 100 miles in a day – this is what happened to my body

Unsurprisingly, research on ultra-marathon runners has found this unique population experiences a range of difficult circumstances during these events.

The most common physical reasons for withdrawal include nausea, vomiting, blisters and/or muscle pain. Alongside extreme physical pain and discomfort, it's also common to experience intense fatigue, unpleasant emotions…
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