More people are running for health, fitness and competition than ever. In 2010, the number of finishers of U.S. marathons topped 500,000 for the first time. This increase in participation has meant a more diverse cohort, and not everyone who completes a road race these days is a whippet-thin natural. Nevertheless, dedicated and accomplished runners do share a number of traits, both mental and physiological.
The Successful Runner
Greg McMillan, creator of the McMillan Elite training group, lists a number of traits common to runners who, while not necessarily fast, get the most out of their talent. These include not dwelling on the inevitable bad days that befall every runner in training or in a race; being able to balance tough training with rest through accurate self-analysis; being consistent; being tenacious and patient; and always seeking ways to improve confidence. Thus, your approach is at least as important as the physical effort you put forth daily.
Writing for "Washington Running Report," coach Roland Rust describes the mentality of the committed runner, noting that the same characteristics that foster success can -- at times -- be detrimental. Rust reports that while dedication and persistence are both vital to success, too much rigidity and intensity leads to training through illness and injury and hence serious setbacks. Thus, balancing good sense with diligent training is indispensable, but it is elusive for overly "Type-A" personalities.
Toward the end of the 20th century, the typical American runner was more educated and affluent than the average U.S. citizen, according to Running USA. While only about one-third of Americans have college degrees, well over half of running-shoe owners do. In 2006, 16 million Americans claimed household incomes in excess of $75,000. Women and men participate in virtually equal numbers, and the average age of a road-race entrant of either sex is in the mid-30s, making race participants a more mature group.
The Australian Institute of Sport says that top-level competitive runners typically train six to seven days a week, often twice a day, and log as many as 100 to 125 miles per week depending on their specific event and how close they are to their goal race. They separate their workouts into long runs, lactate-threshold runs and race-specific speed training, although these make up a relatively small amount of total training volume. Many of these athletes do strength and conditioning work in addition to running.