New research finds emotional intelligence impacts half marathon finish times

Research finds emotional intelligence impacts finish time

We’ve all been there, whether it’s the middle miles of a 10K, or the last six miles of a marathon, there’s a constant mental battle to keep pushing through those boring, lonely miles. On some days, this is easier than others and this can be the difference between a PB and a disappointing finish.

Until now, there hasn’t been much in a way of explanation as to why some runners find it easier to keep pressing on when their mind tells them to ease up – is it a stronger determination, or just better training? A recent study by psychologists in Italy looks into just this.

The study, published in the Journal Science Direct set out to analyse how a runner’s emotional intelligence impacted on their half marathon finishing time. To do this, lead researcher Enrico Rubaltelli of the University of Padova studied 237 runners who were set to take part in a half marathon in Verona. The runners were asked to fill out a Trait Emotional Intelligence questionnaire the day before the race.

The questionnaire involves agreeing or disagreeing to a number of different statements, such as ‘On the whole, I’m a highly motivated person’ and ‘Expressing my emotions with words is not a problem for me.’ The runners were also asked to report their experiences and performance in previous races.

Whilst this might sound an odd indicator of how well the runners would do the next day, the scientists found that a runners’ trait emotional intelligence was the variable with the highest power to predict finish time, over and above training. In short, no matter how good (or bad) their training runs had gone, the runners who were most effective at controlling their emotions were the best at dealing with fatigue during the half marathon, leading to a better overall performance.

It’s important to note that previous research has well documented the fact that those with higher emotional intelligence are often more optimistic and confident, therefore will set themselves more ambitious goals. It’s also a relatively small sample of runners, all of whom had trained on average 3.4 miles per week for a total of 24.4 miles – training which must not be overlooked. That said, if these results can be replicated to longer races, it reinforces the fact that running is not just a biological equation of how fast our legs move and heart beats, but how we choose to respond to these processes too.

Read next: How to run a sub-2:00 half marathon