OBJECTIVES: To investigate whether runners' cognitions during a marathon are related to "hitting the wall". To test a new and more comprehensive system for classifying cognition of marathon runners. METHODS: Non-elite runners (n = 66) completed a questionnaire after finishing the 1996 London marathon. The runners were recruited through the charity SPARKS for whom they were raising money by running in the race. RESULTS: Most runners reported that during the race their thoughts were internally associative, with internally dissociative thoughts being the least prevalent. Runners who "hit the wall" used more internal dissociation than other runners, indicating that it is a hazardous strategy, probably because sensory feedback is blocked. However, internal association was related to an earlier onset of "the wall", suggesting that too much attention on physical symptoms may magnify them, thereby exaggerating any discomfort. External dissociation was related to a later onset, probably because it may provide a degree of distraction but keeps attention on the race. CONCLUSIONS: "Hitting the wall" for recreational non-elite marathon runners is associated with their thought patterns during the race. In particular, "the wall" is associated with internal dissociation.
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