Further Ruminations on Grit (And an Unscientific Study Proposal)

AJW looks deeper into grit and ultrarunners.

By on October 19, 2012 | Comments

AJWs TaproomA couple months ago I received an email from Kevin Schraer, a doctoral student at Grand Canyon University in Arizona. Kevin told me that earlier in the year as he was bouncing around the room trying to come up with a dissertation topic he happened upon AJW’s Taproom and my column on Grit from back in January. Upon reading the column he was so intrigued with the concept that he decided to devote his research to it. At the time he had no idea what the specific dissertation topic would be but he knew he wanted to write about Grit.

From there he got in touch with Dr. Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania and they began exploring topic ideas. Given that Duckworth had, through her Grit Scale Instrument, determined the importance of Grit for West Point Graduates, Special Forces candidates, spelling bee champs, and gifted teachers, Kevin knew that she could help him find a topic. He decided to focus his exploration on one key question: Can Grit be taught, learned, and developed or is it more of an innate characteristic? Kevin was zeroing in on a classic nature vs. nurture dilemma. Ultimately, he chose to focus his research on education at the high school level and, at present, is engaged in a thorough research exercise to determine the answer to his essential question.

Subsequent to receiving Kevin’s correspondence, I began to think about what ultrarunning could teach us about Grit. As I discussed in the January column, I firmly believe that Grittiness is more common in long-distance runners than in your average person in society, but I also wonder whether Grit is something that can be learned, nurtured, and developed through ultrarunning and, if so, are there ways that ultrarunning can be used to develop Grit in non-runners?

When I think about my own personal situation, I am quite certain that ultrarunning has made me gritty. Prior to beginning my running career in the mid-’90’s, I was decidedly less gritty than my score on the Grit Scale suggests I am now. In fact, when I think back to my youth, I was a bit of a wuss! That said, conversely, I know many people who are in the sport today who basically came out of the womb gritty. Has ultrarunning made them even grittier or is it just the natural place for them to be?

So, in this context and based on the fact that I do not have the time or the inclination to commission an actual scientific study, I thought we’d try a non-scientific Grit study right here on iRunFar. Here’s the idea:

To participate, please begin by thinking back on your life before you began running long distances and rank yourself on a “Grit Scale” of 1-5 (1 being total wuss, 5 being Chuck Norris tough guy). Then, pick a time in your running career when you feel like everything clicked. It could be in a race, a training run, or even something in your life outside of running. How gritty were you in that moment (1-5 scale)? Finally, how gritty are you right now (1-5 scale)? Enter your ratings in the comment section below the column and if you could also provide a bit of narrative context to your ratings as well as a very short running bio (how old you are, how long you’ve been running ultras, etc…) we can compile the data and come up with some unscientific, but perhaps enlightening, conclusions about grit, ultrarunning, and personal development.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Bells Best Brown AleThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from one of my favorite breweries and one that’s been recommended in this space before. Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery has been pumping out great beer for a while now and their Best Brown Ale is a great choice for these shortening days of autumn. A toasty, malty brown ale with a super-smooth finish, Best Brown Ale is a nice complement to a warm bowl of chili around a crackling fire.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)
AJW spelled things out pretty well. Get to it!

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Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.