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.

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. says

    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. says

    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.
    Rachel recently posted..First Run of 2013!My Profile

  3. says

    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!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..SnowshoeingMy Profile

  4. says

    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

  5. says

    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

  6. says

    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
    kim prytherch recently posted..My One Year Blogiversary!My Profile

  7. says

    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

  8. says

    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.
    Taylor @ lifting revolution recently posted..Top Ten Thursday: 10 Ways To Stay Accountable So You Can Lose WeightMy Profile

  9. says

    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

  10. says

    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.

  11. says

    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

  12. says

    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.
    Joanne recently posted..FOFF Spicy Buffalo Shredded Game Day ChickenMy Profile

  13. says

    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 :)
    Christina recently posted..Runner’s Radar: Brooks PureFlow 2 vs Newton GravityMy Profile

  14. says

    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:)
    hikermom recently posted..Three Things ThursdayMy Profile

  15. says

    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

  16. says

    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

  17. says

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

  18. says

    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

  19. says

    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.
    Andrea recently posted..Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013…My Profile

  20. says

    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…

  21. says

    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

  22. says

    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. :)
    Heather @ Better With Veggies recently posted..A Different Kind of ResolutionMy Profile

  23. says

    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

  24. says

    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

  25. says

    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.

  26. says

    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?

  27. says

    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!
    Elle recently posted..My Paleo Diary… #Whole30 Days 1 – 5My Profile

  28. says

    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

  29. says

    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.
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