Short run reference points and long run performance. (No) Evidence from running data

Adriaan R. Soetevent*

*Corresponding author for this work

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What motivates runners to bunch at round finishing times? Is it merely the immediate gratification that round time finishing brings, or do athletes set single-stage round time subgoals to help them attain multiple-stage end goals related to their future performance? To examine this question, I construct a new panel data set that covers all finishing times of 7000 major running events of different distances organized in the Netherlands between 1996–2016. For all distances and age groups, I find strong evidence of bunching at round finishing times for both genders, but men engage in round time finishing more frequently than women. No relation is found between round time finishing and running experience. In shorter distance runs, round time finishing is much more prevalent when the reference time is ambitious. This is no proof that runners do not set round time subgoals. It however does suggest that meeting or just missing such a single-race subgoal makes no difference for a runner's future performance in terms of continuing to race, running faster or running longer distances. It also suggests that the excessive amount of round time finishes we observe in all types of races is mainly driven by the immediate gratification (and possibly status) it gives the runner.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102471
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Economic Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Mar-2022


  • Bunching
  • Goal setting
  • Reference points
  • Running

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