In contrast, Morgan found that the average marathon runners tended toward dissociation during competition. That is, they transfixed their minds on subjects
Totally unrelated to running. Morgan also reported that the need for the average runner to dissociate became overwhelming as the race progressed and the runner was overcome by discomfort.
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In more recent research, my colleague at the University of Cape Town, Dr. Helgo Schomer (1984, 1986, 1987) studied the relationship between marathon runners’ perceptions of effort and the mental strategies these runners employed during exercise of different intensities. Using lightweight microcassette recorders, he recorded the thought patterns during training of three distinct groups of marathon runners: a group of beginner runners who were training for their first marathon, a group of average marathon runners, and a group of elite runners with best marathon times in the region of 2:20. These runners were encouraged to speak into the tape whatever went through their minds.
The surprising finding, which contrasts with that of W.P. Morgan (1978), was that all runners, regardless of their levels of proficiency, spent progressively more time in associative thought as the intensities of their perceived efforts, measured on the Borg scale (see Exercises 6.2), increased. Thus, regardless of whether they were elite or beginner runners, as they perceived their exercise becoming harder, they altered their thinking from being mainly dissociative to mostly associative. The findings of Sachs (1984a) are in line with this interpretation.
Although these thought patterns are probably beneficial for the novice runner in that they maintain motivation by distracting the runner’s thoughts from the discomfort he or she may be feeling, for the more serious runner, dissociative
Thinking patterns, particularly during races, probably indicate that the athlete is not really running as hard as would be possible if he or she trained more seriously.