Participation in ultra-endurance events has been growing continuously over the years, although research focused on them is scarce when comparing with other popular events such as the marathon.
A recent article has tried to fill a gap in this knowledge, focusing on psychological aspects of ultra-marathoners and how they compare with other disciplines.
To do so they focused on two psychological characteristics:
- Mental toughness described as the personal capacity to produce consistently high levels of performance despite challenges and adversities.
- Self-efficacy described as the ability to strive in a productive way. More self-efficient athletes will persist, perform and complete tasks better. Additionally, they seem to have a higher tolerance for pain and discomfort, probably due to the analgesic effects of higher levels of endogenous opioids.
140 elite level ultra-marathon athletes competing in the HURT100 were invited to complete an online survey. The HURT100 is a 100 miles (161 km) race through the Hawaiian mountains (elevation change of 7620 meters, and five 32.2 km laps). Only 56 athletes were finally considered (68% male and 32% female).
The questions that the study tried to solve were:
- How mental toughness and self-efficacy relate to each other?
- How did they contribute to the Ultra-Trail World Tour rankings? And how to the completion and absolute performance in the HURT100?
- Were mental toughness and self-efficacy levels different among ultra-marathon competitors and participants in other sports?
Mental toughness was assessed with the Sports Mental Toughness Questionnaire (SMTQ), consisting of 14 questions and a score from 14 to 56.
Self-efficacy was measured with the Endurance Sport Self-Efficacy Scale (ESSES), a 11-item measure aimed to endurance sports and scores from 0 to 100.
- Mental toughness and self-efficacy correlated strongly. High levels of self-efficacy were usually associated with greater levels of mental toughness.
- Ultra-Trail World Tour rank, race completion and performance were NOT significantly associated with levels of mental toughness and self-efficacy.
- Mental toughness was significantly higher in ultra-marathon than in other sports.
- Psychological training focused on increasing mental toughness and self-efficacy could potentially help to improve performance.
- Despite this, most elite participants in ultra-marathons are already at a level of mental toughness at which performance is determined by other alternative factors. At this “super-threshold” other factors such physical or logistics may determine the race results.
Mental toughness and self-efficacy of elite ultra-marathon runners. Brace AW, George K, Lovell GP (2020) PLoS ONE 15(11): e0241284. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0241284