Well-trained, trained and recreationally-trained runners’ cognition during a 5km tempo run: A think aloud study

LAURA JOHNSON, Lorcan Cronin, GREG DONCASTER, Charlotte Williams, Joseph Varga, DAVID MARCHANT

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A think aloud (TA) protocol was used to explore whether thought processes and attentional focus differed between well-trained, trained, and recreationally-trained runners across a 5km tempo run. Eighteen runners completed a self-paced 5km tempo treadmill run. Participants were asked to TA and provided their ratings of perceived exertion alongside breathlessness, cognitive demands and lower-body effort, every 1km. Verbalisations were coded using content analysis into categories and sub-categories and were compared across groups and over every km of the run. Speed and RPE scores increased over the 5km but there were no significant differences across groups. The nature of verbalisations for categories and sub-categories varied across groups with the majority of the well-trained runner’s thoughts relating to active self-regulation while internal sensory monitoring was used most frequently by the trained runners and distraction was most widely verbalised by the recreationally-trained group. There was a statistically significant difference between the use of active self-regulation across groups, with differences also seen for the sub-categories of running form and motivational self-talk. The number of verbalisations across categories changed over time, but there was no statistically significant interaction with group. Results highlight active self-regulatory differences between well-trained, trained and recreationally-trained runners in the study, suggesting that it is likely not just exposure to running that enables runners to develop effective psychological skills. Findings could be used by coaches to offer targeted support and opportunities for lower-level runners to develop effective cognitive skills to impact on performance and running adherence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
JournalInternational Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Early online date5 May 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 May 2023


  • Attentional focus
  • thought processes
  • think aloud
  • running
  • endurance


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