Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Educational Leadership, Evaluation and Organizational Development

Degree Program

Educational Leadership and Organizational Development, PhD

Committee Chair

Greenwell, T. Christopher

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Hambrick, Marion

Committee Member

Choi, Namok

Committee Member

King, Kristi


Endurance sports--Psychological aspects; Physical fitness--Social aspects


The endurance event industry has been experiencing a recent popularity boom, where number of events produced and event participants continue to reach record levels. Running USA (2013a; 2013b) has reported the number of finishers in the largest 100 timed running events has grown 77 percent in the last 14 years. A major factor in this current boom is the emerging number of non-traditional running events. Nonexistent a decade ago, non-traditional endurance events, such as obstacle-course races and a variety of themed runs, have flooded the market. For example, Tough Mudder, founded in 2009 (Branch, 2010), has grown to over 3.5 million participants worldwide in just its first five years (Widdicombe, 2014). The variety of offerings available in the endurance event market has not only assisted with growth with the endurance event segment of participatory leisure sport, but it has also spurred cross-category competition. Interestingly, while endurance events have never been more popular or more accessible, health behaviors in the United States are at an all-time low (Healthy People, 2013). American society has been plagued with an overabundance of sedentary behavior and other poor health habits resulting in dire consequences. However, mass participatory endurance events, such as marathons and obstacle course events, and their supporting services represent a potential population-based intervention that may have the capacity to offer positive influence on both healthy and unhealthy populations (Funk, Jordan, Ridinger, & Kaplanidou, 2011; Murphy & Bauman, 2007). These events have not only been shown to possess the ability to increase physical activity (Murphy & Bauman, 2007), they also have the potential to promote positive attitudes towards exercise from individuals across a range of fitness levels (Funk, et al., 2011). To further investigate this recent growth and the potential endurance events have to act as a positive health intervention, by attracting and retaining participants, the purpose of this study was to investigate the process individuals undergo while becoming involved in a leisure endurance sport activity and the role self-congruity between individuals and their functional and symbolic associations perceived with the activity plays in this process. Specifically, this study was designed to investigate the associations individuals have toward endurance events and the role these associations have in the process of involvement by developing increased attitudinal and behavioral loyalty. Additionally, constructs of self-congruity with endurance event functional and symbolic associations perceived by non-endurance event participants and participants were analyzed as to how they were associated with different levels of involvement. Data were collected from current members of endurance running groups and undergraduate students in the United States. Results revealed both non-endurance event participants and endurance event participants considered both types of endurance events, traditional and non-traditional, to share obstacles for participation. Additionally, both event types required their participants to demonstrate an array of physical and mental demands, while still finding sources of enjoyment for participation. However, unique obstacles for participation, such as potentially dangerous and unpredictable, in non-traditional endurance events were considered by traditional event participants. Another area where the two event types differed was in the perceived rewards for participation. Both groups considered traditional endurance event participation to be rewarding, but the non-endurance event participant group did not recall any rewards for non-traditional event participation. Results also indicated significant differences were present in each of the four types of congruity (functional congruity, stereotypical user congruity with ideal self, stereotypical congruity with actual self, and brand personality congruity) based on level of endurance event involvement. Overall, scores of congruity grew in coordination with the Psychological Continuum Model level of the individual. Specifically, those within the highest involvement level, allegiance, displayed significant differences between all other levels along each congruity score. No significant differences existed between those occupying the attraction and attachment levels within each congruity measure. Implications of this study are useful for individuals interested in further understanding the process an individual undergoes while becoming involved in a physical leisure activity such as endurance event participation. First, a segmentation strategy utilizing involvement level produced valuable and descriptive points of differentiation which may be used to generate effective marketing strategies. Second, constraints to activity participation should be minimized through marketing efforts to encourage involvement level elevation. Third, highlighting the benefits of activity participation should be used to encourage involvement level elevation. Finally, efforts to increase the overlap of how an individual perceives the activity with their own self-image and the benefits of activity participation should assist with increased involvement.