Date of Graduation

8-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders

Advisor

Kristin Higgins

Committee Member

Paul Blisard

Second Committee Member

Ed Bengtson

Third Committee Member

David Christian

Keywords

Counseling, Exercise Dependency, Mental Health, Running, Ultra-running

Abstract

This instrumental case study sought to explore the relationship between ultra-running and mental health through the lived experiences of a single participant who self-identifies as an ultra-runner. Three research questions were used to explore this relationship; how did the individual decide to participate in ultra-running, what aspects of ultra-running impact the participant’s mental health, and how has engaging in ultra-running impacted the participant’s mental health? The case study utilized three semi-structured interviews, two participant observations, video documentary review, and journaling to answer these questions. A thematic analysis of the data revealed four essential themes; 1) Development of participation, 2) Promotes positive mental health practices, 3) Development of self-identity, and 4) Dependency. The case study had three major findings. First, the participant’s journey to being an ultra-runner developed over time. Second, the aspects of ultra-running that impact the participant’s mental health are: 1) The social community it creates, 2) The structure it requires, 3) The experience of physical deprivation, 4) The amount of time spent in nature, 5) The challenge it creates, 6) The physical feeling it creates, and 7) The ability to use it as a platform for gender equity. Finally, the ways ultra-running has impacted the participant’s mental health are: 1) The creation of an identity that revolves around her engagement in ultra-running, 2) The promotion of healthy mental health practices, and 3) Her dependency on ultra-running. The case study concluded that the participant did not begin to engage in ultra-running in response to her mental health needs but as a product of experiences and positive reinforcements in her life, ultra-running has the potential to be very beneficial to a participant’s mental health through a variety of areas in a participant’s life, and engaging in ultra-running can create dependency in an individual when used as a primary coping skill or an essential part of the participant’s identity.

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