Runners who socialise with other participants before a race tend to perform better, a new study suggests.
Researchers at University of Limerick and Oxford University looked at participants in parkrun, a free weekly community-based run that takes place in many towns and villages in Ireland.
The research team found the social element of the 5km event has significant benefits, including improving running experiences and performances.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE, involved a longitudinal study of 143 participants in parkrun.
Dr Pádraig MacCarron, a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Social Issues Research and Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry at UL, said the team was “interested specifically in how the socially supportive and rewarding environment at parkrun affected participants’ exercise experiences and performance”.
“Over several weeks, study participants received a survey link immediately after they completed a parkrun,” he said.
“The survey asked participants questions about how supported they felt by the parkrun community, and how social they were before the event and whether they chatted with friends beforehand.
Dr MacCarron said participants were also asked about their run experiences: how much they enjoyed themselves on the run, how difficult it was and how energised they felt.
“We then linked these survey responses to participants’ run times, which are published on the parkrun website,” he added.
Analyses of the survey responses revealed parkrunners’ social experiences were strongly associated with their exercise experiences and performance times.
Being social before the event, such as chatting with friends, was associated with higher enjoyment and increased energy levels during the 5km run.
Furthermore, the study found increases in energy levels linked to feelings of social support and inclusion led to faster 5km run times – between three and 12 seconds faster, on average – with no corresponding increase in perceived effort.
Lead author of the study, Dr Arran Davis of the Social Body Lab, Institute of Human Sciences at University of Oxford, said humans are a social species.
“Feelings of support and inclusion at parkrun may act as a subconscious safety signal, indicating that increased physical outputs are safe,” he said.
“This changes how the body self-regulates during exercise, thereby affecting perceived energy and fatigue levels, and, ultimately, 5km run speeds.”