'It's a core part of who I am': A qualitative analysis of runner role and running group identities in the context of running group disbandment


Constructs of exerciser role identity ("I am an exerciser") and exercise group identity ("I belong to this exercise group") predict better exercise adherence. Both exerciser role and group identities are supported by exercise group participation. However, group disbandment may present a barrier to continued exercise for those who identify strongly with their exercise group relative to those who identify strongly with their exerciser role. This study aims to qualitatively explore the benefits and/or costs of exercise-related role and group identification in a situation of group disbandment. The disbandment of groups during COVID-19 presented an opportunity for this exploration. We conducted semi-structured interviews with a sample of n=15 Canadian running group members (Mage=46.5; 53% women) to explore meanings of runner role and running group identities. Runners also described their lived experiences of group disbandment. Two researchers collaborated to thematically analyze the transcribed interviews. We generated three themes describing runner role identity and three themes describing running group identity. These identity meanings were captured within runners' experiences of group disbandment. We interpreted that runners drew from their role identity to support independent running after disbandment. The disruption of group identity after disbandment evoked a sense of mourning and difficulty running alone. Yet, runners also drew from their group identities to nurture social connections and reflect on the importance of the group. This study builds upon previous quantitative work by describing how running group members enacted their role and group identity meanings in the context of group disbandment.

Acknowledgments: Funding for this research was provided by the University of Manitoba Undergraduate Research Award