Runners are nice people

Paraphrasing something @adamengst said in a recent post,

“Runners are some of the nicest people you will meet.”

So let’s discuss:

  1. He could be wrong. Maybe runners are no more / no less nice than other people. I put this as “point 0” partly because I’m a nerd, partly because it’s the null hypothesis. Adam and I might believe the alternative because we are biased (both being runners). Then the idea that runners are nicer than average would be a non-reproducible result. These results are rampant enough in science to have been dubbed the “replication crisis”.

  2. But that’s no fun. Besides, I think Adam is right. That begs the question of the mechanism that causes runners to be nicer than average. Three possibilities:

    a. Running causes people to become nicer than they were before. Maybe because we regularly cause ourselves to be in pain, we compensate by wanting to be nice and generate happiness elsewhere. Maybe because we regularly experience runner’s highs that make us, temporarily, more sociable. We then get the hang of it and the niceness of the runner’s high sticks around beyond the high. Maybe because we sometimes feel the energy surge of team spirit when running so we want everyone to be on our team.

    b. Nice people are more likely to become runners. Causality would run in the other direction then. I can’t think of why nice people would be predisposed to running. But maybe you can.

    c. There is some other factor that has the dual effect of causing people to be nice and increasing the chance that they will take up running. Say you literally have a big heart. Maybe that makes you nice and it improves your running and you are more likely to want to do something your are good at.

Well, if you made it to here, you have read through a pedantic post. A testament, no doubt, to how nice you are. Do you have any favorite hypotheses?


Well, huh, that’s an interesting question! Why are runners some of the nicest people you’ll meet?

I’d attribute it at least in part to two things: supportive communities and the positive effects of exercise:

  • For the most part, runners are supportive of one another. Many people get their start running in school, and coaches largely want their athletes to improve, compete well, and be happy, so they’re supportive. Both track and cross country generally allow walk-ons, providing an option for those who didn’t think they were athletic enough for any other sport or who had been actively rejected from other sports. The team scoring aspect of cross country puts an emphasis on how everyone is important to the success of the team—the last-place scorer is crucial because they’ll add the most points to the team score. (Points are bad in cross country, where you get the number of points matching your place.) After school, non-competitive running groups tend to be even more supportive because there’s nothing on the line. Everyone’s there because they want to be.

  • Exercise in general is associated with reduced stress, improved mood, and increased overall happiness. So exercising will make you happier and likely nicer in general, and the social contagion of exercising with others may only increase that effect.

Other thoughts?


I’d like to offer some literature review for this scholarly and thought-provoking thread from @jeanluc and @adamengst.

  • Saltmarsh 2013 hypothesizes both 1a (running causes niceness) and 1b (selection bias), with mechanisms including some previously mentioned (e.g., stress relief, increased health, shared pain) and some novel mechanisms (e.g., the broad support for conversation that running provides, the humility learned via getting your butt kicked).

  • Barsalona 2020 presents other characteristics that appear to be more common among runners and are often associated with being nice. Barsalona 2020 also proposes that not only are runners nicer than the general population, they are also “the nicest people ever”.

  • Luna 2019 offers a contrasting viewpoint that is somewhat of a bummer, proposing that runners are not nicer than the general population (at least, not at a Fun Run in Boulder CO), and that their performance of ease & fun is calculated to confer a social advantage. The author of this lit review likes to believe that this finding fails to generalize to the Finger Lakes, though will nevertheless keep in mind the criticisms presented.

Thanks for allowing me to indulge in some fun.

J. Saltmarsh, “10 Reasons Why Runners Are Nicer People”, Huffington Post 2013

A. Barsalona, “8 Reasons That Runners Are The Nicest People Ever”, Women’s Running, 2020.

J.K. Luna, “The Ease of Hard Work: Embodied Neoliberalism among Rocky Mountain Fun Runners”, Qualitative Sociology, 2019.


I like some of the “novel mechanisms”. In particular, we have to explain not just why runners are nice, but why they are nicer than people who play other team sports. Some of the mechanisms proposed so far could equally apply to, say, soccer players.
I like the fact that running can enable conversation.
In running, you compete against yourself as much as you compete against your opponent. Could that generate empathy for your opponent?


A recent observational study [Lambert 2024] suggests runners are wicked nerdy.


Well, I can’t speak for others, but I tend to believe it’s from all the endorphins we produce. There have been a few times in my life where I wasn’t able to keep up a decent routine of running which could have been responsible for the grumpy behavior I developed. Once that attitude became overwhelmingly apparent, and could fit running into my schedule again my life changed for the better. So was that a response to the external forces I was experiencing, or was it because of the chemical reactions going on in my brain? We’ll never know for sure since we can’t reproduce my life a second time and review it scientifically.

I found this which makes a similar statement. It doesn’t come right out and say running produces nicer people but it does talk about gaining an “elevated mood” over time which is a necessary requirement of being nice!

We just need to stop talking about endorphins and start talking about endocannabinoids. It doesn’t roll off the tongue as well, but it better explains the “runner’s high.” :herb:

That relaxed post-run feeling may instead be due to endocannabinoids — biochemical substances similar to cannabis but naturally produced by the body.

Shhhh! If this gets out too much they may end up making it a control substance and then there goes all our fun!