Introduction

The 4th October saw over 23,000 runners take to the streets of Cardiff for the annual half marathon. Although the final figures for this event aren’t published, the 2014 statistics show that of the 21,124 runners, 52% were over 35 years of age and 48% were aged 35 years or younger. The role of physical activity or competitive sport for older adults (i.e. those over 35) is of importance to public health and the role of Sport and Exercise Psychologists. Numerous studies have shown that, in our ageing society, physical activity and sport participation decrease as individual’s progress through middle-age and beyond (see Medic, 2009). As a Trainee Sport and Exercise Psychologist an understanding of this population’s motivation to continue will enable the search for strategies to increase activity levels of middle aged and or older adults. This article will discuss this population’s involvement in physical activity and Masters Sport in relation to their perceived motivations for participating in a half marathon.

Involvement in physical activity

Regular physical activity has been associated with various health and wellbeing benefits which counteract the ‘typical’ age-related decline of the body. For example, strength and endurance can be improved by increased physical activity whilst weight and blood pressure concerns could be prevented or treated. Several factors influence older adult’s motivation to stay physically active:

  • Personal factors: age, gender, socio-economic status, work, past exercise
  • Social/cultural factors: influence of a treating physician, social support
  • Environmental factors: physical activity qualities, travel time, environment costs

For some of the older marathon runners the motivation behind their participation is likely to have been linked to a combination of the factors mentioned above. Linking this to Nicholls’ (1984) Achievement Goal Theory this group are more likely to be taking part due to a task orientation which is based around mastering a skill. It is likely that they are participating for enjoyment, because they like opportunities for self-improvement and they measure success on performance.

Involvement in Masters Sport

Masters Athletes are individuals who continue to compete in their respective sports beyond their biologically determined peak performance. Preparation for competitive events engenders a regular pattern of involvement in goal-oriented activities for skill acquisition, at intensities and durations that allow them to compete with those in their age group. Several factors are important for Masters Athletes to maintain their motivation to compete:

  • The importance of obtaining or preserving health, fitness and wellbeing.
  • Mastery motives such as improving and meeting personal challenges.
  • The competitive motives of going out there to win.
  • The social support that is provided through these avenues provides a squad/team identity.

Some of the older runners would have still been motivated to run those miles as they are working their way through the competitive elements of age group running as part of a structured running group. Linking again to Achievement Goal Theory these individuals are likely to have an ego orientation which is based around mastering competition, competing to win, results are everything.

Conclusion

Events such as half marathons shed light on a number of motivational backgrounds. As a Trainee Sport and Exercise Psychology it is important to understand the motivational climate for physical activity and Masters Sport participation in order to promote intrinsic motivation and task mastery. This can be done by working with coaches to reward hard work, focus on improvement and avoiding a complete focus on winning.

Overall, the challenge of running a half marathon requires a huge amount of motivation from every participant. The role of motivation for the older athletes that compete can depend on their perspective on running, are they a competitive masters athlete or an individual using running as a tool to reduce the effects of aging. Either way, if you ever come across someone questioning themselves in the days before a race, ensure you understand their background and motivation before establishing your direction of support.