Sunday, March 15, 2009

Runners Are Like a Box of Chocolates

If only I had a dime for every time some snarky individual yelled, "RUN, FORREST, RUN!" as I sped past them on the sidewalk. However, Forrest Gump's life-is-like-a-box-of-chocolates theory certainly has some truth to it - especially when it's applied to runners.

As of now, I am coining the spin-off phrase, "Runners are like a box chocolates." Why, you may be asking, would I ever compare a runner to a small, hardened block of sugar, cocoa butter, milk, and vanilla?

For the obvious answer, of course, we're sweet. But more importantly, runners bare a striking metaphorical resemblance to chocolates because, although they come in a wide number of flavors - whether you be of the coconut, covered strawberry, or truffle variety - you can fit them together in a personality "box." There is something that separates runners from the rest of the population; something that accounts for their willingness to wake up at crazy hours of the morning, fitting in runs around insanely packed schedules, and more than happily pounding out mile after mile before the rest of the world has gained consciousness after a long night's slumber.

William P. Morgan, professor of physical education and director of the sports psychology laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, conducted research on a group of women marathoners with less-than-amazing results. Nothing significant was shown to be separating them from the average individual. From studies such as this, some sports psychologists conclude there is little to no difference between the psyche of non-runners and that of runners. However, logic, combined perhaps with a bit of self-serving bias, leads me to believe otherwise.

It seems very reasonable to say most runners have Type A personalities. To name a few shining examples, elite men's marathoner Meb Keflezighi earned a 3.95 GPA in high school, not to mention prodigy Jordan Hasay, who has maintained a 4.53 GPA as of this year. Lisa Koll (pictured at right), a runner for Iowa State University, set an American collegiate 10,000 meter record of 32:11. She recently got her degree in biology after only 3 years, rounding out her college career with a 3.98 GPA. In an interview with Running Times Magazine, elite female runner Kara Goucher explained, "When I got my first B in 10th grade, I was very upset." Clearly, ambitious, determined, and motivated seems to be the dominant personality profile filling the upper ranks of our sport.

However, it has also been my experience that even recreational and fitness runners tend to be people who profess great self-motivation, drive, and intelligence. As with every generalization, there are surely exceptions, but it is my belief that a number of runners who may not fit this description still have "selective" Type A personalities - that is, this perfectionism is limited to the sphere of running and perhaps a handful of other areas in their lives. One also has to wonder if such a personality can be developed, per se, when a non-runner suddenly decides to adopt the runner's lifestyle and finds great solace in the sport.

Although the Type A personality can spur an individual to reach new heights of their abilities, it can also be the source of a talented athlete's demise. If you have a self-proclaimed mentality such as this, you may need to beware of your own inner drive to succeed. In Sweden, when comparing personalities of a group of runners previously injured by a tibial stress fracture and a group of runners who had never experienced this setback, researchers found the once injured runners scored higher than their non-injured counterparts on personality inventories gauging exercise dependency and Type A behavior. This is not to say that great ambition will result in injury, but it could if it is not matched by equally ambitious rest and recovery when necessary.

For a more mundane and less scientific approach to personality profiling, Runner's World of March 2007 included a "Runner's Personality Quiz," providing some self-analysis of its readers. The quiz identified four personality types: Warrior, Purist, Socializer, or Exerciser. Interestingly, whether the drive stems from competition, the love of running, social aspects, or physical benefits, all of these profiles describe the runner as a motivated individual.

One study, conducted by researcher-marathoners David C. Nieman and Darren M. George at the School of Health at Loma Linda University in California, contrasted 231 male runners from ages 18 to 40 with the 30-year-old male population as a whole. Using the results of the Cattell Sixteen Personality Factors Questionnaire they administered to their subjects, it was discovered that the group of runners were more intelligent, dominant, experimenting, self-sufficient, unconventional, detached/self-involved, and socially reserved. However, previous studies using this same questionnaire have been conducted and found conflicting results, making the interpretation of this amalgam difficult.

Clearly, sports psychologists are split on the issue of the runner's personality and whether or not it is, in some way, disparate from the non-running community's. Some believe it is not an innate "runner's trait," but rather, a commonality resulting from the endorphin release and overall mood boost all runners can attest to having experienced. Whether or not you buy into my runners-are-like-chocolates philosophy, there is surely some common ground that connects and ties us runners into such a supportive and friendly community, even if we share nothing more than the sport itself.

Thus, my runner friends, in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, let's have a virtual "toast" to our amazing sport of running and everything it provides us. Eat, run, and be merry! *clink, clink, clink*


  1. Cheers! Great post, I was just thinking about this...what common personality traits most runners have. I'm definitely type A, and pretty anal, and that seems to be a common way that runners describe themselves. Happy St. Patty's Day!

  2. Great analogy. Good read!


  3. I totally agree. :) Great ideas and post. and thanks for voting!

  4. I think it is an interesting question. I believe it takes a certain amount of internal drive just to get over the first 4-6 weeks as a beginner runner before the 'fun' parts of running show themselves. People who are prone to giving up on things easily never make it past that initial running barrier and spend the rest of their lives telling people how much running sucks. That little bit of stubbornness separates runners from non-runners.

  5. Hey! Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a commment. To answer your question, yes I do speak Polish. However, my family left Poland when I was a little kid so my vocabularly is somewhat stunted. I make all sorts of grammatical and spelling mistakes when I try and write in Polish as well, but as long as I am understood I'm OK with it.

    I've been told that I am "Type A", and although running is a relatively new activity for me (I was a competitive swimmer) I think my stubborness helps in my training. Of course, it also means that I tend to run through injuries too much and end up getting hurt a lot. Also, I have zero tolerance for stupidity, which is perhaps the most visible manifestation of the whole "type A" personality thing.

    Great blog! Cheers.

  6. your blogs are so in depth - they never cease to amaze me. and, usually i find myself nodding in agreement a lot. i have really been enjoying your posts! great writing on great topics.

    i don't know if i am type a because i am a perfectionist in most things, but at the same time i know i can be really lazy about other things. so, i don't know where i fall in, but i'll be happy to just be a part of the box!

    i think we should definitely get paid for all the stupid 'run forrest run' comments. seriously... it's old people. stop.

  7. Thanks for visiting my blog! Your post is so true. I really like the box of chocolate comparison.