Emotional Intelligence Impact on Half Marathon Finish Times

Rubaltelli, E., Agnoli, S., Leo, I. (2018). Emotional intelligence impact on half marathon finish times. Personality and Individual Differences, 128, 107-112. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2018.034

Marathon runners are known to be physically fit and it is common knowledge that preparing for a marathon involves rigorous physical training. Less attention is often paid to the mental fitness and preparation that is also an important part of preparing for a marathon. Researchers from the University of Padova and the Marconi Institute for Creativity in Italy investigated the impact of Emotional Intelligence (EI) as a key ingredient of mental fitness in runners. They discuss research, which argues that people are capable of regulating the amount of effort exerted during a physically demanding task like a marathon and that fatigue can be overridden when there is the motivation to do so. More specifically, they explain that during a competition, runners feel tempted to slow down when they experience fatigue and this can induce negative or challenging emotions, acting as a barrier to coping with exhaustion.

This research study investigated several hypotheses. Among these, they predicted that runners with high trait EI would be better at emotion regulation, perceive fatigue related stress as controllable and use more effective strategies to cope with fatigue related stress. As such, they predicted that runners with high EI would be faster in terms of finish times than those with low EI.

Two hundred and thirty-seven adult runners completed an EI questionnaire the day before a half-marathon race and in doing so self-reported on their tendency to perceive, express and regulate emotions in addition to providing information on their experience and performance as a runner. The results showed trait EI to have a significant influence on finish times over and above factors such as previous experience and training load. The later was found unsurprisingly to have an impact on performance however; the effect was less significant than that of the runner’s EI. While the researchers acknowledge training as a large part of the preparation process, their findings suggest that psychological characteristics such as EI also play a key role in the final performance by equipping athletes with more tools to cope with physical and mental demands.

This study used a trait based approach to EI, viewing EI as a trait, similar to a personality trait. It should be noted that an ability based approach views EI as a series of abilities or skills that can be acquired, measured and developed. From an ability based perspective, these findings also highlight the importance of training not only the physical aspects of the body but also the psychological aspects, as is the case when learning to identify, manage and control emotions during times of stress and fatigue.