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"Happiness does not come from having much, but from being attached to little." ~Cheng Yen


PostHeaderIcon The Hawthorne Effect in Running

The Hawthorne effect (also referred to as the observer effect) is a type of reactivity in which individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.
I didn’t realize all this time I’ve been contemplating something in running that actually has a name! Effectively, this Hawthorne phenomenon is why so many people sign up for a race instead of solely run on their own or with their running group at home. They may not realize it, but it’s essentially the “why” we sign up for, and so very much enjoy race day. It’s the energy of it all, no doubt. And, we all raise our game. Whether we are conscious of it or not.
How many times have I, or you, said “oh, I just get this infusion of energy on race day, it’s like nothing else during normal running or training.” And it’s so true. It’s this thing I can feel, and many times actually rely on. There have been races I have not been as well prepared for that I craved that race day to lift me higher. Or not been enough prepared for but the race day, the effect of those around me, carried me through. Or life itself ain’t going so well, but knowing I will be a higher version of myself on race day, I yearn for that.
Why am I a higher version of myself on race day? Well, I often talk about that I feel I am my best version of myself when I run – creative, powerful, empowered, healing, compassionate, grounded, heart-centered, and more. And on race day? Up that quotient times 10. And, my output effort is better too. It’s sometimes like I’m being carried forward and I don’t even know it. But I do. That’s why I do so many races. And that’s why when someone gets the taste of one, they want more.
It happens in training too. I’ll be merrily running along a trail and will either pass people coming my way, or pass them along my way, and I feel this uptick in effort – I unconsciously check my form, throw my shoulders back and make sure I’m exerting all I can. It may last the rest of the run, or the rest of the block – it definitely lasts longer than just being out of their sight. But I often giggle at that – I mean, who are these people to me? Do I care what they think? Is that why up the ante? Why don’t I go all out like that only on my own?
Believe me I do. Many many times I can and easily do push myself without another soul for miles around. It’s not that I can’t do it sans the Hawthorne effect. But effect it does have. Sometimes I’m fully aware of it, like on a training run. And sometimes it’s just something that “happens” like during race day. That’s the beauty of race day. It can lift you up when you need it and push you further than you knew you had in you.
And sometimes that’s the buoyant effect of running with people beside you. But isn’t that buoyant effect the Hawthorne effect, in a way. How many times have I paced myself with someone a little bit faster than me, or wanted to catch up to someone – and pass them for good, or had someone come up to me at the finish line and say “wow, you put the afterburners on at the end, that was great, I couldn’t catch up but you got me under my goal finish time!” Or some such thing.
I love the Hawthorne Effect. It can be used for good without a doubt, and I like how it brings together everyone to throw up their best foot forward on race day. And it’s not just the other runners that can inspire the effect, it’s spectators too. Anything from immediately shifting from shuffling the last quarter mile to leaping over the finish line because you hear the announcer say your name. Or seeing a sign you like and find inspiring, written by people you don’t actually know, and pointing at them as you run by, their look of recognition and sudden cheers for you sending energizing shockwaves through your system, making you run faster than you thought possible. Or just generally hearing the cheers of the crowd for runners all around you, feeling that sense of pride and accomplishment just for being out there.
While it’s not the only component of what makes up the excitement and unique setting, race day is infused with the Hawthorne Effect and plays a big part in how we all show up for each other as runners. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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