Reduced mood variability is associated with enhanced performance during ultrarunnning

PLoS One. 2021 Sep 16;16(9):e0256888. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0256888. eCollection 2021.


Ultrarunning requires extraordinary endurance but the psychological factors involved in successful ultrarunning are not well understood. One widely held view is that fluctuations in mood play a pivotal role in performance during endurance events. However, this view is primarily based on comparisons of mood before and after marathons and shorter running events. Indeed, to date no study has explicitly examined mood changes during a competive ultramarathon. To address this issue, we measured mood fluctuations in athletes competing in the Hardmoors 60, a 100 km, single day continuous trail-ultramarathon, and examined how variation in mood related to performance, as measured by completion time. The key finding was that the variability of athletes Total Mood Disturbance (TMD) score was significantly and positively correlated with completion time, consistent with the idea that mood is an important factor in determining race performance. Athletes also experienced a significant increase in tension immediately prior to race onset. This effect was more pronounced in less experienced athletes and significantly attenuated by measurement stage 1 at 35.4 km, which suggests the effect was driven by the release of pre-competition anxiety. Depression, anger and TMD were significantly lower at the pre-race measurement compared to the baseline measurement taken the week before. Consistent with previous studies, there were also significant increases in fatigue, anger and TMD during the race. The data are interpreted in terms of the Psychobiological model of endurance and may have broader implications for the understanding of endurance performance in other domains.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology*
  • Athletes / psychology*
  • Fatigue / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marathon Running / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Endurance*

Grant support

The research was supported by a Laidlaw Undergraduate Research Bursary awarded to PB (The Laidlaw Foundation - Undergraduate Scholars). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.