What’s Your Running Personality?

What’s does your personality say about your strengths and weaknesses as a runner?

So far, 2012 has been a year of much soul-searching. While 2011 was a year of lofty goals and big PRs, 2012 began with my first prolonged, injury-induced running lay-off in 15 years. Cross training did a lot for my sanity, but the gym is a lonely place. The things I love about running – the camaraderie, the teammates, the shared dreams and the competition – were all stripped away. It left me with more time than I wanted or needed to ponder the ins and outs of running.  You can take the girl out of running but you can’t take the runner out of the girl. At least not this girl.

After three long months without running anything over 10 minutes, I was finally able to string together a few good runs in a row. Eight months later, I’ve posted my first 50 mile week of the year.  Sure it’s about 50% of the volume and 2+ minutes slower per mile than what I was running at this time last year, but it’s much better than 6 hours a week on the stationary bike. When I was injured and trapped in the gym, all that time thinking led met to realize how much deep love of running is an integral part of my personality.

Just as I thought I had pondered every element of running and it’s importance in my life, the Olympics have me pondering more. I cried when USA won Gold in the Women’s Gymnastics Team Competition. I choked up when Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston won silver in synchronized diving. Tears streamed down my face when training partners Mo Farah and Galan Rupp went 1-2 in the Men’s 10,000m. And the embrace of Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan after the Olympic Marathon tugged at my heartstrings.

Olympic Women's Marathon 2012
I had to hold back tears as Kara helped Shalane along after the duo finished 10th and 11th in the 2012 Olympic Marathon. Photo from www.examiner.com.

Why? I’m a runner. I’m not a gymnast or a diver. I don’t know these people. They didn’t (all) win Gold. Why are these the moments that stick with me? I love watching the best of any sport go for it. It’s something deep within in me that responds to what they’re going through. Is this part of my running personality? It must be at least part of it. Pondering this got me thinking: what is a running personality, anyway?

I dug into my graduate school brain and recalled learning styles and personality types. As I Googled, I came across the Jung Typologies and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. You know, those four-letter acronyms that describe your personality? The test has four categories and each category has two choices: Extrovert/Introvert (E/I), Intuition/Sensing (N/S), Thinking/Feeling (T/F), and Perceiving/Judging (P/J).

The eight basic preferences, according to Myers and Briggs. Image from www.developers.sun.com

I decided to retake the test online and see where I fell and see if I could make sense of the results as they applied to running.

My Typology is INFJ– Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging, with introverted narrowly beating out extraversion. I read through both descriptions and felt the INFJ fit the best, with some spillover from ENFJ. The descriptions are lengthy and the traits are many. A few of them seemed to relate to my running more than others.

Here are some of the strengths and weaknesses of an INFJ and how they fit me as a runner.

1. INFJs are future-oriented. Oh my. This one is first on my list for a reason. There is nothing I love more than setting a goal and getting to work. I know the saying goes, “live in the present,” but its the promise of the future that drives me. Whether it’s in running or in life. I set my sights on my high school’s 3200 m record (which was 11:45) as a freshman after running 12:59. I had ups and downs the next four years but never lost sight of the goal. What’s the catch phrase? Eye on the prize? I ended up running 11:42 late in my senior year.

Future for me, please! Image from www.futurity.org

And now, as I claw my way back from plantar fasciitis, I’m gutting through the appallingly low fitness level for the same reason that I drug myself through the cross training sessions. Because of the promise of the future. There will be a future and I will get there. It’s allowed me to never give up. My goals may change. My priorities may flex. But there will always be goals to strive for and new heights to achieve. This is what moves me forward.

2. INFJs are natural leaders.  Leadership opportunities seem to fall into my lap, whether I want them or not. I also hate running in 2nd place. If I could split myself in two to run the same workout twice, here is how it would play out. Self #1 would run the workout with a runner who is equal to about 10 seconds slower per mile. Self #2 would run the workout with a runner who is 5-10 seconds faster per mile. Self #1 would rock the socks of the workout. Self #2 would be crying before the third mile. It’s not because I’m competitive. It’s because I just do better when I’m in front. INFJ, natural leader.

3. INFJs are idealistic and have high expectations. I’m not entirely sure if this is my nature or a learned behavior, but I can find the positive in anything. I will believe in myself (and in others) until I’m blue in the face. Even without proof that I should believe. In 2009, I set a goal that might seem completely insane to outsiders. With a marathon PR (at the time) of 3:03, I decided to set my sights on qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the Marathon. People would ask (kindly) why I thought I could do it. My response? Why not? Over 150 women qualified for the 2008 trials, why not me? Two years later, I ran 2:53, missed the qualifier by 7 minutes, but have never been more proud of a training cycle or a race. And even though the cards are against me, I’m not giving up just yet. My personality agrees:

“An INFJ has a “stick to it” attitude. They’re not afraid of hard work, and will put forth a great deal of effort towards something that they believe in. This persistence will help the INFJ to achieve an identified goal.” From http://www.personalitypage.com/INFJ_per.html

4. INJFs intuitively understand people and situations/understand how others are feeling. I think this is why I had the emotional connection to the victories (large and small) at the Olympics.  I can get a sense of whether or not a run/race will be good or bad. Last year, I came down with a stomach bug the day before a big 5,000 race out of town. But I just had a feeling that I should go and at least try to run. I ended up running 1 second slower than my PR. Also ended up with a weird bout of hypothermia and made my friend, Steph, blast the heat in the car all the way to our hotel, but it all turned out ok. Conversely, I also get these sensations, sometimes months, weeks, days, before a race. I start to feel a sense of doom. As though it just isn’t going to be my day. I’m pretty adept at redirecting negative thoughts, but  eerily enough, my intuition is often right!

Intuition kitty knows what it’s like. Image from http://i.fra.bz.

No one likes admitting weaknesses. But since these weaknesses are connected to my typology, it makes it a little bit easier.

1. INFJ’s are intense and can be inflexible about plans and arrangements. Well the good news about this? I stick to my training plan. The bad news? I stick to my training plan, sometimes to my demise.  My mind, body and heart can be telling me “don’t do it,” but if it’s written on my training grid, it’s happening. If somehow, I am convinced to forego the grid, say for instance, I have a 101 degree fever, I feel guilty about it for weeks.  This weakness can make me a bit selfish at times too. If I have plans to run with someone and they have to back out, I can get kind of defensive. If I do this to you, or have already done this to you, I apologize. It’s my nature.

2. INFJ’s have a tendency to hold back part of themselves. Perhaps this is why Salty has been asking me for weeks to get more personal. It’s also why I end a lot of races with “should haves.”

I should have responded when she made that move.

I should have gone out with the leaders.

I’m not very effective at putting myself out there. Not so good with vulnerability. Even worse at risk-taking. If I’m going to take a risk, it has to be a planned, well thought out risk. Maybe I can develop an algorithm for risk-management. I bet it would look like this:

My running risk-taking algorithm would look a lot like this. I can’t help it! There are so many scenarios that need consideration! Image from http://patrickhaston.co.uk

3. Under stress, INFJs feel fragmented and lost. Yes. Case and point? I enter every race with a race plan. Which is interesting, because I’m not really a planner. In other areas of life, I generally go with the flow. But in running, I do a terrible, terrible job adapting to unexpected events. Last spring, I ran a low-key 5,000 m at a local university. I had no reason to believe I’d win the race. It was not even on my radar. I wanted under 18:00. So, when the first place runner dropped out at 2 miles and left me in the lead, I fell apart. I didn’t expect to be in the front and I didn’t want to compete for first place. That was never in the plan! I ended up falling off <18 pace, still squeaked out a PR but could have been under 17:50 if I hadn’t become fragmented and lost under stress.

Phew! That’s a lot of self-reflection for one day. Maybe, in the future, I can devise a well thought our plan to address my running weaknesses to avoid poor training decisions, racing “should haves,” and panicking mid-race. Now, that’s the INFJ talking.

This is me: an INFJ who’s going to use the information about my personality type to get that OTQ!

Take the Jung Typology test online and check out the resources about strengths, weaknesses, and personal growth. Does this shed some light on why you are the way you are as a runner? Does your day-to-day personality match your running personality? How do you think understanding your personality type might help you become a better runner?

I'm a pediatric physical therapist by day. Running mostly early am miles as I balance life as the mom of a toddler. With PR days in the past, my primary running goal is to be a lifelong runner. With 20+ years behind me, I still love the sport and I am truly grateful for every day I get to run.

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  1. Without even taking the test and just looking at the chart, I pegged myself as an ESFJ. Then, I took the test and was not shocked that I was right. I love to run with my girlfriends. It is what I look forward to every week. So, this definitely fits my type. I am easily wounded…as demonstrated yesterday and today by not being able to get over my race time yesterday. I PR’d at the 10 mile, but only by 30 seconds. My goal was at least a minute. But, as reflected by my personality type, I am one who works my way through life by setting goals, and I have a really hard time when I cannot meet them. This was a really interesting post…it did definitely shed some light on my running type!

  2. I’m a hybrid too- ENFJ/INFJ. I think that our personalities definitely play a major role in how we approach sports. I really connected with your point about feeling fragmented/lost when under pressure/stress. I’ve had to learn to not be so hard on myself, and give myself a break when I need it.

    1. I’m the same, Paprika! I am just barely an ENFJ over an INFJ but have a lot of characteristics of both. I think that’s why Greg, Rosemary you and I are all drawn to blogging – we have tendencies to have strong beliefs and want to share them with others to help them be their best.

      As for running, I think I’m likely one of those people who’s more suited to coach and get the most out of others than to be a great athlete, myself. That tells me I need to work on championing myself and believing in my own abilities as much as I believe in others if I want to improve!

      PS This is such a great topic, Rosemary!!!

      1. Hey, I’m an ENFP!

        That means we’re both social, intuitive and relate well to others. You’re good at figuring out what stuff is good, I’m good at figuring out how it works.

        Hey, maybe we should build a community together. You can do the how good it is part and I’ll do the how it works part. Whaddya say?

  3. I doubt anyone is surprised I am an E 🙂 Barb and I took these tests before Boston with a couple we stayed with and found it fascinating! Both Barb and I are ESFJ. It bummed me out that I didn’t learn these things earlier in life. I think I would have chosen a much different career path!

    I will have to ponder how my personality relates to my running. Something to do with all this time I am not running right now 😉

  4. me –> Introvert(44%) iNtuitive(12%) iNtuitive Feeling(12%) Judging(56%)

    thank for for doing all the self-analysis for me, haha! but seriously — your analysis hits me spot-on!

    1. I’m surprised we’re the exact same type! I feel like you are a much better risk-taker than me! And so much better at being flexible with training. Maybe you’ve learned to work thru those “weaknesses” and make them strengths! Did you do a lot with personality stuff in school?

      1. This is so interesting to think about! It’s funny you see me as flexible — I feel like in some respects of my life (running included!), I’m barely keeping my neuroses in the sub-clinical area. 😉

        I think part of what might make me take some risks is that I still feel so insecure about competing at this level — so I feel like I need to take advantage of every opportunity because it seems so fleeting.

        Or maybe it goes back to the future orientation because I often make choices in races based on things I want to practice for bigger races. I tend to set a lot of process goals — “kick from 400m out” “stick with xxxx”. When I was first trying to break 18, I went out at <5:40 pace in every 5k I could find so that when I was physically ready to break through, the pace wouldn't scare me. I definitely struggle with confidence, so these kind of goals really help.

        I did take a sports psych class at Kzoo which was immensely helpful. I still have the text if you want to check it out. We covered a lot about ideal arousal level, visualization, plans, and probably a lot more I've forgotten. I've been wanting to pick up a less-"textbooky" sports psych book, but haven't found one that seems to be really good for runners, yet.