Do you associate or dissociate?

I mentioned in Wednesday’s post about my upcoming marathon that one of the reasons I like smaller marathons is that I tend to be an associative runner. What does that mean exactly? I like to check in with myself when racing, do a little self-talking, and focus on what I am doing. When I don’t practice this method, I don’t perform as well.

Studies have shown that most runners fall either into the associative or dissociative model. Associative runners are very inward focused and much more in tune with what their bodies are doing as they move along. Some might focus on form, for instance, while others might use association with competitors to motivate them to push harder. Focus on breathing, cadence, and relaxation are all ways that runners can associate mid-run.

MGF 9520 3 198x300 Do you associate or dissociate?

Do you associate or dissociate to get through runs?

Dissociative runners, on the other hand, use distraction to get them through the miles. Like to listen to music during a race? You might be more dissociative. Are bands every mile and loud, cheering crowds a bonus for you? Then you’re likely a dissociative runner.

Are all runners one or the other 100 percent of the time? Not likely. As much as I like to associate during a race, there are times when a little distraction can come in handy. And I’m sure those who like distraction become inward focused during a race at some point or another. But in general, you’ll fall into one category or the other.

Is one better than the other? Some of this depends on what you want from your runs, but from what I’ve read, it does help to be associative if you’re after your best performance. I would guess a little practice at association can go a long way toward this. We all know how important the mental game can be when it comes to this sport. Either way, every runner is unique and what works for one won’t work for the next.

What about you? Associative or dissociative? 

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  1. I’m so with you on this one…doesn’t surprise me. :) I like smaller marathons where I’m running a lot of it on my own. No music. Just my own head. This is one reason I really remember loving Napa Valley Marathon and excited to do it again in March.

  2. I think I do a little bit of both, but probably fall more into the disassociative category. I am always rocking out to girlie pop and chanting little mantras in my head :)
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  3. I think I’m generally dissociative when I run, but lately I’ve been doing a lot more associating. The other day I ran with music because I felt like I needed motivation, but I realized at the end of my run that after the first few minutes or so I wasn’t even paying attention to the music and could have turned it off no problem. I had been focusing on my form, pace, and pushing myself, instead.
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  4. I’ve become associative over the past few years. I tune in internally. No music (except on the treadmill). Just my mind games. Of course, I do like to have some good conversation to help me not think that I have xx more miles to go too!
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  5. I don’t listen to music on the run and I don’t get excited by having bands on the course (Have never done an RnR event and likely never will). I am much more associative than dissociative.
    Jamoosh recently posted..Running AmokMy Profile

  6. I would say for the most part I’m dissociative most of the time I’m racing but I do have moments when I check in…not the whole race though!
    Fancy Nancy recently posted..Foodie Friday with Diet-to-GoMy Profile

  7. Such an interesting aspect of running. I’m very much an associative runner.
    Jill @ Fitness, Health and Happiness recently posted..Fitness Friday || 2013 Race CalendarMy Profile

  8. I’m a bit of both – on the trails, I definitely disassociate with views, sometimes music, but when I’m struggling, I definitely focus on breathing and form.
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  9. I’m a fan of association, it seems to actually make the run go by faster because I feel like a “part of it”.

    That is unless a really good song comes on. I do have a couple days where I use music for a bit of a mental break. Depends on what you’re trying to accomplish that day, I suppose.
    Adrienne recently posted..Looking Back, Looking AheadMy Profile

  10. Totally disassociative, I wear headphones, I work the crowd, I use other runners to get me through (gotta pass tutu girl, gotta pass the guy with the viking helmet, etc) stuff like that! I also time myself between miles a distraction, talk to the other runners, etc
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  11. I’m definitely an associative runner, and very aware of how I’m feeling, pacing, form, etc but I like a little distraction along the way, too. Music is a little too distracting for me in a race, but I need people around to not get too bored for the half and full distance. I’ve never thought about it in these terms before… great post!
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted..How does tapering affect you?My Profile

  12. I think kind of both, but more dissociative. At the end of a race I’m blocking out a lot! And while I generally run without music, I find it very helpful on race day (I know, totally backwards!)
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  13. I totally zone out when I run! I’ve been known to ignore a running partner for miles at a time, even forgetting they are there!!! The second I start thinking about the run, my form, really anything at all, I tend to unravel!!
    Sarah MomRunningonEmpty recently posted..I don’t believe in RESOLUTIONS!My Profile

  14. I think i am kind of both, although i never use iPods on the road, just to be safe!
    lindsay recently posted..Thursday Threads and ThingsMy Profile

  15. I’m a little bit of both depending on what works best at the time!
    Betsy recently posted..2012 in ReviewMy Profile

  16. I would say a bit of both. I need music but right from the go I find someone that is just a bit faster than me and I make it my goal to stay within a few yards of them. Competition is my fuel that I use for almost everything in life. Every few minutes I also check myself… how’s my breathing, how are my legs feeling, all moving okay? I try to stay very intune with my body.
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  17. I like smaller marathons and races but still would say I’m dissociative…I tend to be an oxymoron in many ways though. :)
    abbi recently posted..Lack of Plans for the New YearMy Profile

  18. I am associative when I care about my performance. I love me some distractions when I’m out for pure fun!
    Marcia recently posted..FRS Energy ReviewMy Profile

  19. Totally depends on my mood but I’m normally one who needs distraction to push through walls..yet when I’m quiet I focus and go faster!
    Kat recently posted..NYE was RAD!My Profile

  20. I think I am associative. I don’t ever listen to music while running and I usually use a mantra to get myself through the last few miles, I just talk to myself – I count steps, I focus on my arms. Depends on the race though.
    J recently posted..Running in the winter weatherMy Profile

  21. Oh interesting post. I used to be the one who had to listen to music for my runs. But I’ve become a much more associative runner. Like J mentioned, sometimes I do things like count steps up a hill/incline or I count to 8 over and over if I’m pushing my hardest and just trying to make it across the line or to finish up a speed drill.

  22. Interesting post Amanda… I am mostly associative, very rarely does distraction motivate me, cow bells and cheering makes my brain go haywire, it becomes almost painful to hear, smells become more intense (I can smell everything.. like dog pee on the side of the road) so I’m thinking something happen where my senses go on overload. Definately associative.
    LisaM@RunWiki recently posted..Looking Back and Looking Forward… The Art of TransitionMy Profile

  23. Hmm interesting I guess I fall out of the “most” category. I run with music mostly and can totally focus on my form, the competition etc!
    Stuart (Quadrathon) recently posted..IMSG training Week 1My Profile

  24. I’m into paying attention to my body since I know as I get tired I’ll just fall apart. It helps to pay attention and try to avoid all those things that will just make you hurt more later.
    Constant music and chit chat gets on my nerves but I enjoy cheering crowds and the occasional band.
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  25. I would say I’m a mixture of both :)

    Great post!
    Kierston recently posted..#RECIPEFRIDAY: Protein Packed Hummus!My Profile

  26. I’ve already figured out that I like smaller races too. I think I am more associative but there are times I need distractions too. I don’t particularly like the bands and too much hubbub along the sidelines. I like to be able to focus at the task at hand. The signs are sometimes great, yet other times strange. Some of the signs people hold up can be rather rude. I like the support along the sidelines of the “you can do it” better :)
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  27. This is so interesting. I think that I tend to dissociate more (with music) but things like cowbells and cheering crowds don’t always help to motivate me. I’ve been trying to tune inward more on my runs so maybe I’m a dissociative runner on the way to becoming an associative runner?
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  28. I’m mostly a dissociative runner. At every race, I do take in what’s around me and appreciate everything.
    shelly recently posted..Sit Up Straight!My Profile

  29. Interesting. I like to listen to music when I run but I hate the large and crowded races. During my best races, I am so in my head that I don’t remember half of the race. People will mention certain landmarks and I wonder if we ran the same race:)
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  30. Wow…I never thought about it this way but it makes complete sense. I can see why if I cant to get serious about getting faster, I need to pay more attention to my body and focus on the task at hand.
    Katie @momslrb recently posted..Prepping for Baby – Printable ChecklistMy Profile

  31. I’m both! I would have said dissociative (I enjoy music, taking in the scenery etc.), but lately there have been runs where the music irritates me and I don’t even remember the scenery because I’m all about the details of the run. Not sure which kind of run goes faster for me. Races are definitely both. During marathons I always bring music but use it as a reward for getting to 18 miles. In my last marathon (CIM), I did turn the music on, but I don’t remember hearing any of it. I just wanted to be finished.
    Terzah recently posted..Race Report: New Year’s Day Predict RunMy Profile

  32. Very interesting- I am more of an associative runner. I don’t like to listen to music when I train or race. Those bands on the course mean nothing to me because I don’t even remember half of them. I don’t even really notice the crowds unless I am specifically looking for someone in a certain location that I know will be there.
    Tasha @ Healthy Diva recently posted..Lactate Threshold Test: Round 2My Profile

  33. I’m totally an associative runner, no music and I love running alone with just my thoughts. Really interesting post, thanks for the information.

  34. Weez and I were just talking about this the other day. I’m 50% associative, and he couldn’t be more dissociative. Since we run together in the mornings, this difference shows at times when I really want to push it and focus, and he wants to chat about news or work. Works out though, I love having him as a running partner!
    Efo recently posted..Getting the ball rollingMy Profile

  35. I’m definitely a dissociate runner – I love big crowds at races and bands at every mile, etc. I love talking to other runners during races to entertain me during the race. I’ve never listened to music while running before though.
    Nelly recently posted..Rose Bowl, 2012 in review, 2013 goalsMy Profile

  36. Such an interesting post! am a very associative runner. I don’t listen to music because I like to listen to my own breathing. I can tell my pace just by the rhythm of my breath. I do a lot of self talking, sometimes out loud :) I like to think about how every part of me is responding to the workout. My running buddy likes to listen to music and do anything that makes it so she focuses on anything besides what she is actually doing :) Both types explain us to a tee.
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  37. I love this! I didn’t know this, but I’m definitely a disassociative runner. I use music to get me through my runs. Although I would prefer to be an associative runner, because that sounds way better…

  38. big DIS here! big big big!
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  39. Depends on the distance but for marathons, I’d say I’m associative. I totally concentrate on what I’m doing when I’m racing. However I do listen to music. I don’t always “hear” it but it’s there for the in between times. I don’t pay a lot of attention to the bands/crowds and I seldom talk to anyone else. So I don’t know, a bit of both?
    Robin recently posted..My Year in RunningMy Profile

  40. I am usually disassociative I guess, but I also make it a point to check in regularly on myself. I like the distraction (multi-tasking) of music or an audiobook though. And I like both big and small races, there are benefits either way. I would guess I’m mainly disassociative with a healthy dose of association. :)
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  41. I am definitely associative. I never race with music and love the small, quiet races. I like to focus on my form, breathing, leg turnover, etc. I think it’s good for people to know what works for them. :)
    Erin recently posted..Thoughts from one month outMy Profile

  42. I am generally an associative runner, I rarely listen to music even during my long runs, I like to concentrate on breathing and how I feel.
    Toni Church recently posted..Commitment Day 5K Recap 1/1/13My Profile

  43. Very interesting post. I didn’t know that there was a thing such as this!! I’m not sure what I am. I love listening to music but to be honest, I tend to tune the music and everything else out when I get going. I typically have no idea what songs I listened to, sights I passed, or people waving at me on the side of the road. I guess in that regards I would dissociate …maybe the music is more of a security blanket for me for those hard parts?
    Michele @ Nycrunningmama recently posted..Running Book for Kids: Pellie Runs a MarathonMy Profile

  44. I have to totally disassociate. I need music or a podcast to keep going. I do get a lot of thinking done when it’s music. Some of my best ideas come during steady runs.
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  45. I’m a mix of both – depends on I need at the moment and what my race goals are.
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  46. I’m whichever kind talks (yells) at themselves out loud during work-outs! I’m always saying “suck it up” “3 more minutes” ” 1 more lap” “Push” – during my runs. Not pretty or cool but what I do!!!
    Kim recently posted..Friday, Friday, Friday – 3 FavoritesMy Profile

  47. I’m with you. I am an associative runner, introspective, constantly checking in with myself during runs. I too like small, local marathons. I’ve run a couple RockN’Roll races and those are my worst times. My best times have been at small races with few crowds.
    Sarah @RunFarGirl recently posted..Out of the Woods: Moving Forward into 2013My Profile

  48. When I race, it usually ends up being an ‘out of body’ experience. While I often perform better with music, this isn’t always the case. I’d have to say I flail about between the two types.
    MILF Runner recently posted..An IntroductionMy Profile

  49. Wow! I always learn something from you!! I think best races have been “associative” runs! When I try to distract myself, I miss a step! Great post! Thank you!
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  50. Thanks for the insight! I hadn’t heard of these terms before. I am mostly an associative runner thinking about my form, my fuelling and the end goal. But when I’m really struggling through a long run in my training then a little distraction from the ‘ole iPod is welcomed which would make a dissociative runner.

  51. I’m dissociative I think. The more distraction, the more I can focus…strange.
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  52. I was reflecting on your post during my swim today, and I am wondering if there is another type of runner: a “team” runner or a community-type of runner. I prefer to run mid-size races with a friend or a couple of friends, and I believe that I run the best when others are encouraging me and I am encouraging them (like a “team” mentality). Any thoughts on this?

  53. That’s super interesting, and I’m not sure if I’m definitively one or another. But if I had to pick now, I’d say dissociative. But I am definitely checking in with myself and form during an entire race. But I like to do it while listening to music or talking to someone.:)
    Yo Momma Runs recently posted..My back is back: group speedwork and 20 milesMy Profile

  54. Eye opening! Thank you :-) I like the tune everything/everyone out style-that’s me! My hubby, the opposite!!!
    Marissa recently posted..our weight loss journey’sMy Profile

  55. i think i am both! depends on my mood and what i need out of the run. some days i like music to just get in a groove and get lost in my thoughts-other days without music are more focused.
    elizabeth recently posted..Can You Spell It?My Profile

  56. For me, the fewer the distractions the better… but I do like a nice view and I like to hear birds, see dogs playing, that sort of thing. I would rather not have conversations or listen to music or put up with people other than my running partner, though.

    Sounds grumpy!
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  57. LOL I have to use distraction just to get through a work out on the treadmill!
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  58. Wow, lots of comments!

    Associate, of course.
    Only way to go fast 8)
    Paul recently posted..Cold! (T-17 weeks to Tacoma)My Profile

  59. The marathons I’ve done the best are the ones I’ve disassociated myself. I guess I’m not the norm – I like that! :) My first BQ race, I devoted a mile to one particular person or life changing event in my life and focused on that. The races where I’m constantly looking at my watch and assessing how I feel are the ones I have done horribly.

    I saw you took the plunge and got the coach. I hope it all works out for you! :)
    Jill recently posted..2012′s Running Top Ten, err FourteenMy Profile

  60. For me, I think I like a little distraction at the beginning of and at the end of the race. While I usually run with my headsets on, they’re on low and often I find that I turn them off altogether (illegal, I know). So I guess I’m a little of both.
    Michelle recently posted..Photography Goals for 2013My Profile

  61. I am more dissociative; I really prefer either having music or a really nice scenery to look at, unless I am running with someone else, but then I disassociate by talking!
    Travel Spot recently posted..Currently: JanuaryMy Profile

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