Some Healthy Rivalry Could Actually Help You Run Faster

07/05/2014 12:09 pm ET | Updated Jul 05, 2014
Tom Merton via Getty Images

If you've ever run a race, whether it be a 5K fun run or a full-on marathon, you may have experienced this: There's that one runner who you've seen before, who has a similar pace to you, and who you've made it your absolute mission to beat to the finish line.

Turns out, this sort of rivalry can actually be a good thing when it comes to your own performance, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, included several parts. For one, New York University researchers surveyed 72 runners (about half of whom were female) about rivalries. More than half -- 56.9 percent -- said that there was at least one runner in their region with whom they felt a rivalry. And the percentage of runners who reported feeling rivalry went up to 76.5 percent for those who had run at least five races in the year prior.

Runners also revealed that they had about three rivals, on average, and that having a rival was motivation to run faster and try harder. In fact, about two-thirds of all the runners said that their motivation and performance was improved because of a rival.

In another part of the study, researchers analyzed the results from 184 races from 2004 to 2009, most of which were 5Ks (3.1 miles), but that ranged in distance from 3 to 21.1 kilometers (nearly 2 miles to half-marathon length). Researchers took note of rivalries and the presence of said rivals at the different races and compared the runners' performances in the races. They found that, indeed, "the presence of at least one rival predicted significantly faster race times," they wrote in the study.

"Thus, in a 5-km race, a runner would be expected to run roughly 25 [seconds] faster if at least one of his or her rivals was also in the race, as compared to if none of his or her rivals were present," the researchers wrote. Other factors that seemed to improve performance included the number of other rivals at the race, the presence of a "top-rated" rival and continued rivalry.

"This suggests that we may be able to boost our own levels of motivation and performance by either forming rivalries or harnessing the ones we already have," study researcher Gavin Kilduff, of NYU's Stern School of Business, said in a statement. "It might also get us to think about whether other individuals in our lives may view us as their rivals."

Kilduff also found that there were some predictors for who would end up making a good rival. One is similarity, such as being the same gender or being close in age. Another is repeated competition -- always seeing that darn guy with the yellow running shorts at every race, for instance -- and yet another is closely decided contests.

Do you have a rival who pushes you to run harder? Tell us in the comments!

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