The psychology of ultra-marathon runners: A systematic review

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: An ‘ultra-marathon’ is a footrace over a distance >42.2 km. There is considerable interest in the psychological characteristics of ultra-marathon runners (‘ultra-runners’) and the psychological effects of running an ultra-marathon. This review aimed to summarise the existing literature concerning the psychology of ultra-runners. Design: A systematic review was performed. Studies were included if they investigated ultra-runners’ personality traits, mood, cognitive processes, cognitive function, pain perception, motivations, phenomenology, psychopathology or response to sports psychology interventions. Method: Four databases (PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science and PsycINFO) were searched electronically up until December 2017. Results: Fifty-one studies met the inclusion criteria. A few conclusions regarding the psychology of ultra-runners may be drawn from these studies. First, the acute mood effects of ultra-running appear to include an increase in fatigue and a decrease in vigour and tension. Secondly, the most important factor motivating ultra-runners to engage in their sport appears to be the opportunity to achieve personal goals. Finally, ultra-running seems to be associated with a psychological drive to explore physical and mental limits. Conclusions: Although the existing literature sheds some light on ultra-runners’ mood states, motivations and phenomenology, further high-quality studies investigating the psychology of these remarkable athletes are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-58
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • Cognition
  • Distance runner
  • Mood
  • Personality
  • Ultra-endurance
  • Ultra-runner

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