Credit to Sporlab (2019).

With the popularity of long-distance running set to resurge during the summer, one TU/e PhD student has challenged himself to solve the evasive question as to why some runners are more prone to injuries than others by studying an app developed to support runners. 

Researcher Luuk van Iperen is defending his PhD thesis this month which focuses on looking into why the high incidence of injuries, chronic fatigue, and training vigor differ among long-distance runners (those training for half and full marathon distances). 

Unfortunately, understanding why certain adverse health outcomes occur remains challenging.

An analytical approach

Van Iperen says his team’s psychological probing began with two ideas: firstly, by looking at the variety of demands and ways to cope employed by different runners and, secondly, examining factors that have physical, cognitive, and emotional components, helping explain why certain approaches by runners were more effective. 

Van Iperen’s team used a mobile app called REMBO to support self-regulatory behavior and reduce injuries, but no evidence showed it being useful. Uptake and sustained use without intervention proved low among the sample of 618 half or full marathon runners living in the Netherlands or Belgium. 

In searching for answers, van Iperen, who is himself not a big fan of running, and his team of researchers looked at a combination of methods and survey data from more than one thousand runners across two studies. 

“Analysis of the results from the first study showed some evidence of self-regulatory mechanisms, which were in turn related to the vigor of runners,” notes van Iperen.

Van Iperen also looked at the role of passion, which previous research suggests is a big part of self-regulation.

Types of passion and risk profiles

Passion for running comes in two flavors: harmonious and obsessive passion. “A harmonious runner can balance their sport with other aspects of their life. But an obsessive runner is one that dedicates most of their time to running, so much so that their life can be unbalanced. It’s the obsessive runner we were most concerned about,” notes van Iperen.

Obsessive passion was indeed found to relate to a lower usage of recovery approaches or resources to help deal with the demands of running. “These so-called ‘high-risk runners’ displayed a higher incidence of injuries and chronic fatigue,” says van Iperen.

This high-risk profile for injury was one of three psychological risk profiles that were identified, the other two being medium and low risk profiles. “To help runners and coaches in the field, we designed a self-test to allow them to determine their most likely profile.”

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