I’m a Running Researcher: Alister McCormick

This post is part of the I’m a Running Researcher series. See all profiles in this series here.

Who are you?

I’m Alister McCormick. I’m a Sport and Exercise Psychologist who lectures at Plymouth Marjon University.

What is your background?

After competing an undergrad in Psychology, I specialised in sport and exercise psychology through my master’s, PhD, and professional training. My PhD focused on how psychology can inform interventions for improving the performances of endurance athletes.

How long have you been researching running?

My PhD (2012-15) focused on endurance sports broadly, including middle- and long-distance running as well as sports like cycling, swimming, and triathlon. My PhD included a systematic literature review of the interventions that impact endurance performance, and I tested some new interventions. In particular, I examined the effects of a self-talk intervention for ultra-endurance runners. This intervention involved training runners to think constructively at key moments of a 60-mile event.

Why do you research running?

I value the health, wellbeing, and social benefits of running. I would like to support people who have taken up running to keep going with it, if they want to keep going but are struggling. Psychological factors such as motivation and coping strategies are very important, and I would like to share my expertise with those who could benefit from it.

What running research have you done?

Through my PhD, I looked into what interventions help runners to perform better (e.g., head-to-head competition, verbal encouragement, psychological strategies) and tested a psychological strategy (self-talk) for improving their performance. Self-talk refers to the words and phrases that you say to yourself, whether silently in your head or aloud. Sport psychologists often help athletes to use self-talk that is particularly constructive or helpful. This is often motivational self-talk or instructional self-talk. Motivational self-talk involves using self-talk to motivate yourself or benefit your confidence (e.g., “Dig deep – You’ve got this”), and instructional self-talk involves being your own coach and giving instructions relating to things like your pace, running form, or what to pay attention to (e.g., “Long strides”).

After my PhD, I conducted research on how runners look for and find guidance on the psychology side of their sport (e.g., guidance on improving their motivation, controlling their emotions), such as through asking coaches, looking on websites, or seeing posts on social media. I did this to identify what sport and exercise psychology researchers need to do to make their findings more accessible to runners so that runners find and benefit from research findings: How could we share our research findings with athletic populations? – BPS Division of Sport and Exercise Blog (home.blog)

Recently, I’ve looked at what words of encouragement runners find helpful during 10ks and half-marathons, and explored the meaning they find in encouragement. These findings can support crowds in providing helpful encouragement at events: Crowd Support at Mass Events – How Should We Encourage, and How is it Experienced? | BPS

Recently, I followed 20 new runners over 3-12 months after they started running and interviewed them about their experiences. I’m trying to improve our understanding of how some runners maintain their running long-term and become committed, and why others stop. The goal is to later create interventions to help new runners keep going with it.

How do you research running?

I’ve particularly focused on qualitative research in recent years, such as interview studies. I enjoy talking to people about their experiences of running and learning about how they interpret their experiences. In the past, I’ve also conducted experiments in a sport science lab and at a real-life ultra event, and I’ve conducted reviews of the published literature.

What is the most significant, important, surprising, interesting, unusual, or favourite finding emerging from your research?

Currently, I am enjoying learning about how the “why” people have for running (i.e., why they do it) explains whether and how they maintain running long-term, and how it helps people to avoid “life getting in the way”. When their “why” is tied to their identity, their values, and their meaningful relationships, runners often find a way to overcome barriers to running like family and workload.

Do you run?

I live in Dartmoor and enjoy running on the moors. It’s my way of staying fit and healthy, it’s my opportunity to think and reflect in peace, I enjoy the beauty of the moors and the wild ponies, and somewhere along the line it became a part of who I am.

Where can I find out more?

I have a page on ResearchGate: Alister Mccormick (researchgate.net)

Academics might have access to more papers (especially my most recent studies) through my Google Scholar profile: ‪Alister McCormick – ‪Google Scholar

I am on Twitter: @AlisterPsych

You are welcome to email: amccormick@marjon.ac.uk

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