Grit: Have You Got It?

AJWs TaproomA couple of years ago, I received an out-of-the-blue email from a team of researchers from the Psychology Department at the University of Pennsylvania. They had apparently picked up my name from Ultrarunning Magazine and were interested in having me participate in a study on something they were calling Grit.

Led by Professor Angela Duckworth, the team was conducting a study to test the theory of innate versus developed talent and the impact of deliberate practice and hard work on success. The team created a set of questions which were used to assess an individual’s grit and distributed them to various individuals who were perceived to have a high level of grit. That, it turned out, was why they came to me.

Simply defined, grit is a psychological trait that allows some people to work harder more frequently and to give up on tasks less frequently. In addition, gritty people tend to be single minded about their goals, are often obsessed with certain activities, and are more likely to persist in the face of struggle or failure.

After their initial research, Duckworth and her team developed a very simple 12-item “Grit Scale” used to determine grit.

This simple scale allows individuals to assess their own grittiness by rating themselves in a series of situations. Duckworth and her team took this scale on the road and her work has been featured prominently in the mass media over the past year.

One of her most interesting conclusions is that perhaps our most important talent is having a talent for working hard and for practicing, deliberately and for many hours, even when the practice isn’t fun.

Which brings me to ultramarathon running. Having been around the sport for fifteen years, I have come to the conclusion that ultrarunners are, by default, more gritty than the mainstream. But, is the reverse also true? Are naturally gritty people more inclined to be ultrarunners? And, is grittiness a better predictor of success in ultras than physiological talent?

When looking specifically at the elite runners in the sport I am curious as to whether those individuals are likely to be more gritty than their middle-of-the-pack counterparts? It would seem to be a logical extension of the concept. However, having observed finishers at major 100-mile races it appears to me, at least on the surface, that those runners who spend all day and night at war with the cutoffs may be about as gritty as they come. Finally, I can’t help but wonder if grittiness becomes a more significant factor in ultra success as the events become longer and/or more extreme?

Clearly, this groundbreaking work has potential impact across the spectrum. In fact, I have wondered how well we teach grit in my school and if we provide an environment in which it can be nurtured and developed. Clearly, ultramarathon running is a natural-grit laboratory. Perhaps if a bunch of ultrarunners took the grit scale test and we tabulated the results in some semi-scientific way, we might determine the degree to which grit matters. I have a strong hunch it matters quite a bit.

Bottoms up!

[Editor’s Note: AJW followed up this article with Further Ruminations on Grit a few months later.]

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Lagunitas Brewing Co - A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' AleThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Lagunitas Brewing Company in Northern California. Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale is a smooth drinking Pale Ale that defies the 7.5% ABV it allegedly has.  It also has a nice hint of Belgian wheat making it a perfect post-run sipper.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Are grit and toughness different? Is one more innate than the other? Can one be learned/trained better than the other?
  • Who are some of the grittiest ultrarunners that you know?
  • Where’s your grit most been tested on the trail? In life?
  • Do you think that grit is situation/setting-dependent? In other words, are some folks significantly grittier while running than in life or vice versa?

There are 64 comments

  1. Maurice Politis

    It is not just ultra-running that is about grit but also any major endurance event, think training for a fast (sub-11h) PB in Ironman. Incidentally, I find training for a "fast" Ironman Triathlon much more demanding and grit-worthy than for just finishing any low altitude and elevation 100-miler ultra. With Hardrock/UTMB/Tor-des-Geants you are again in Pure Grit territory though. Now to your questions:

    -Are grit and toughness different? Is one more innate than the other? Can one be learned/trained better than the other?

    Yes in the sense that grit is all mental whereas you can be "tough" by the gift of genetics (think perfect biomechanics). With this premise training the body will make it tough and it is easier to improve but harder to overcome your innate genetic limitations. Training the brain (and is more difficult and there must be something innate in some 'elite' people that makes them do what seems unreal.

    -Who are some of the grittiest ultrarunners that you know?

    Must be Marco Olmo

    For your last point on grit in life vs running it is difficult to say. You must define life and also explain why running is not just part/sub-set of life. The two are just too interconnected and there should be a gestalt.

  2. Hone

    "Finally, I can’t help but wonder if grittiness becomes a more significant factor in ultra success as the events become longer and/or more extreme?"

    I am pretty sure a 800m runner or a miler would totally disagree with this.

    Also Gingerich is the toughest runner I have ever met. Running upwards of 200 mile weeks while working a demanding career is ridiculous. His training enviroment is also terrible. Treadmill in winter and boring bike paths the rest of the time. He has above average talent (nothing off the charts) but was able to throw down a some good results from hard work and pure grit. The dude is as tough as they come.

    1. AJW

      Certainly 800 meter runners and milers have tremendous grit but my point was is grittiness more significant as ultra events get longer. In other words, are 6-day runners grittier than 50k'ers, etc…

      On the track, I don't even want to wade into that debate:)

  3. Joachim

    Fascinating post, thank you AJW!

    And it opens a whole can of very wriggly worms. The point about mid and backpack runners is very well made. I recall Tim Twietmeyer many years ago observing that, just as people marvel at the elite’s ability to come in under (say) 18 hours, so he marvels at the ability of the pack to keep it together through the night and into the following morning.

    My problem here though is that I see grit more as a binary thing. Either you have it or you don’t . Objective measurement may not actually hold all that much relevant information. Byron's question about context probably plays a really big role here.

    I scored 4,5 on the test, but have had serious issues in the past with ability to focus on work related tasks. One major reason I took up running, again, and keep running now, is that I know that the grittiness I „learn“ while training and racing, keeps me resilient in terms of my work related goals and issues. Simply put, when I run and train I am less likely to throw in the towel at work. So what does that say? Context dependent wimpiness, that can be managed by context dependent grittiness. Averages out? Maybe, but maybe it is a subjective view of myself and my expectations of myself in the workplace. I definitely rely on the crossover though. Without the running, I collapse into a useless heap of inconsequential resolve.

    The next point is that of comparing runners across natural ability classes. Lets make 2 assumptions:

    a) Every elite runner has a natural gift for running

    b) That natural gift is not enough to succeed over ultra distances, grittiness is needed to complete the brutal training these guys and girls complete . Further we can all think of race situations in which elite runners were able to „bring it“ They re all tough mofos.

    I think I’d be prepared to defend those assertions as axiomatic.

    As „Unbreakable“ is now in everyone’s consciousness – lets take a few examples from that closed system.

    Kilian – „Those 18 miles were the hardest of my life“

    Jenn on Hal – „he can just bring it – he’s the toughest mofo alive“

    That Geoff was able to turn the race round and charge down is all the proof of grittiness one needs. Now then, would anyone feel comfortable setting up the statement that Anton wimped out because he let Geoff beat him. I certainly would not feel at all comfortable with such an assertion.

    So who was the grittiest? I m not sure a valid evaluation can be made.

    Now given all of these runners natural ability and (proven?) grittiness in terms of training – can we really compare them to Joe/ Jane Alsoran slogging through the night with broken toenails, blisters and quads screaming for mom and STILL limping over the line?

    Not in my opinion -. Because the only valid statement is that anyone who does this seriously is demonstrating courage and determination in the face of the biggest enemy – ones own fear of failure. Further comparison holds no meaning.

    Lizzy Hawker’s performance at UTMB 2011 was another high profile demonstration of grit. She had a duff hip and finished first within a whisker of the record.



    How gritty?

    Well, just very (I feel no compulsion to define that closer)

    But grittier than any other finisher with demons on their shoulders? Who is going to seriously make that claim. Just as gritty and a few magnitudes more talented is probably closer to the mark.

    Which may just be a longwinded way of saying that, in terms of the post, most ultra-runners, whether elite or not, are going to punch the scale between 4 and 5, so one would be trying to make comparisons between people decimal places apart, and it becomes a fractal scaling issue.

    Whichever way the discussion goes – anyone who toes the line at an ultra has grit enough and no need to prove anything to anyone other than themselves. All are truly gritmasters.

  4. Jason

    Interesting. How transferable is "grittiness" to things that don't necessarily excite us or offer intrinsic/extrinsic satisfaction? It seems that persisting through an activity we don't enjoy would require more grit than say, running for hours through wooded mountains; something we enjoy.

    Here's an example of ultrarunning grit: A few years ago (2008 I believe) the NF Endurance Challenge races were cancelled in D.C. b/c of a hurricane/tropical storm. Several of us ran anyway, providing our own crews/support. I only ran 50k, since that's what I signed up for. The conditions were brutal. A few of the guys who signed up for the 50 miler ended up doing laps for almost 2 hours around the Great Falls parking lot after all the trails had been washed out by flooding streams. They ran around that parking lot until they got their 50 miles! That's gritty!!

  5. Sarah Lavender Smith

    Thank you — this is just what I needed to read before my track workout! As the parent of two school-age kids (10 and 13), I've been pYing a lot of attention to these studies on grit and growth mindset, and trying to praise my kids effort and grittiness more than the outcome (eg praise the hard work and their willingness to try something they might fail at rather than praising only a good grade). Unfortunately our public ed system is more outcome oriented (ie caring about test results) than process oriented. As for running, I most certainly believe grit is a factor in success, especially if you define success by not DNFing. The good news is that grit can be cultivated through practice and determination; I doubt it's something we're born with but rather we learn.

  6. Art

    "are grit and toughness different?"

    semantics v.s. definition. in my view its semantics, two words for the same thing.

    "is grit innate or can it be trained?"

    yes. as in most things, we are born with a certain innate maximum level, but training allows us to achieve our maximum innateness.

    In my view grit is time dependent. The longer the activity the more Grit required.

    An 800 meter run does not require grit. (again semantics v.s. personal definition).

    1. Hone

      The definition of grit is….in order to keep one's resolve when faced with an unpleasant or painful duty. A 800 does not require grit?

      The longer the distance the slower you get to run.

  7. Art

    p.s. after reading some of the other entries.

    1.Grit really has nothing to do with how well you do relative to others.

    Its all about how well you do relative to yourself, and your own internal boundaries.

    You can win a race and have less grit than the person who comes in last.

    2. it takes more grit to accomplish the same thing solo as compared to accomplishing it in the company of or with the help of others.

  8. Matt Smith

    I was going to take the 'grit scale' quiz, but I found the whole enterprise to be too difficult, so I just gave up and went home. :)

  9. Jamie Falk

    I think my grit score would be entirely different if I considered just my running versus the rest of my life. My running grit is probably up there, but the rest of my life?

  10. art

    with that definition, everything in life requires grit … much too broad/vague.

    not saying 800 meters does not require something, just not grit … by my time related personal definition.

    for the sake of this lets say grit = mind over body(where body=intensity/intensity max) x time squared .

    so ok 800 requires a tiny grain of grit.

    1. Patrick Cawley

      The two of you are going off the rails a bit here. You assume that the longer a run goes, the more it turns into a pleasant stroll through the park. I think we can all agree that a 100-mile ultra, regardles of the terrain, becomes a crucible in which the mind and body must survive intense conditions or else burn up completely.

      1. KenZ

        And we should also not forget that to be a top 800m runner, even if the torture/grit level isn't that high (relatively to a 100m), the training involved to run 800m at a world class level may take every bit as much grit as the training for a 100 miler. Frankly, I find training for long distances one heck of a lot easier on mind, body, and spirit than were I training to maximize 800m performance. I'd rather go for a 5 hour training run than run track intervals! Thus, I give the 800m people serious grit points.

        1. Jeremy

          I've been in plenty of gritty long races, but the last 800 I ran in junior high stands out in my mind as the soul-suckingest experience ever. 7th grade, 4'11". Racing an 8th grader with muscles and a beard. I was never behind in a race in my life and his speed out of the gate sent stabbing pains into my psyche. I hung on for dear life, terrified of losing in front of everyone that knew me. To pull it out, I gave more than I have ever given since. I felt like I was dying in the last 200, but the speed just kept increasing. I wish I understood how I dug that deep that day. It took every bit of grit I had. 2:13…vomit and collapse. Never to step on the track again for competition.

          Someday I hope to be that gritty again in a 100 miler, but I doubt it.

  11. Jeremy

    I think we are talking about too many things wrt grittiness. It would be easier for me to wrap my mind around if we define it this way:

    The ability to establish a single minded pursuit of a goal.

    This way the 800 meter runner can be just as gritty as the 100 miler, because it is about the process of establishing "excellence" in a 800 m race- whatever that takes.

    I think it is safe to say that anyone who completes a 100 miler has grit. Not every 800 m runner needs grit.

  12. Jay

    I don't think anyone is saying that 800m runners or milers don't have grit. I ran both in track and they hurt…a lot.

    Rather I think the question is what is the relative importance of grit as a predictor of success. There is no question that even the grittiest person in the world will not have great success at the 800m or mile without some biological predisposition. S/he might get pretty good. But the biology is necessary.

    The question then is if the same is true for ultras or if biology plays a smaller role in success and instead mental grit starts to play a large role. As an example, most people will never run a 4:15 mile no matter how much grit they have and how hard they train. However almost anyone can run a 9:00 mile if they work at it (many without working at it). Now, is being able to do that 100 times in a row mostly grit or mostly biology? I tend to think that all things equal physiologically, a gritty runner will have more success at ultra distances than short. But I could be wrong.

    1. JKal

      to me the 800m race is pure torture but requires no grit (perseverance and passion for long-term goals). Sure you have to be tough as hell and push like a food and go into total absolute anaerobic oxygen debt. running 50 or 100 miles can't be done on a whim. I could get my mom to run 800 meters at age 65. She couldnt run 50 miles though. That would require perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Now, if you want to run a world class 800m that requires grit. But, the discussion here is about individuals simply FINISHING an ultra right?? That's a huge accomplishment and requires grit.

      Jay, I totally agree with you, the 800m is the most painful race in track for ME. But as the 800m runners on my team and they'd call the local 50 miler the most painful race of the two!!! I guess biology and mindset have a lot to do with it.

    1. Cujo

      Grit is that stuff that you taste and feel when you eat a sandwich on the beach; each grain of sand impeding your efforts to enjoy your turkey and cheese in peace… Horrid.

      Picture this scenario: This grit (the tangible noun) brings about human grittiness, which you may find parallels running ultras; "Can I finish this sandwich and in the end truly feel like I enjoyed it? I mean, I walked it all the way down here after slaving to make it in the kitchen. I'm going through with this, I'm halfway done now…just keep chewing.. its so gritty… I'M so gritty!"

      So, the question: Can grit be learned? Returning to the metaphor, we train and get used to eating sandy-sandwiches by eating glass beer bottles.

  13. swampy

    All of the elite ultra runners out there certainly have grit. However, I have never seen more grit, gumption and just plain stubbornness than I witnessed at Grindstone 100 this past October when Irawan Balcet finished dead last on trashed quads.

  14. roland

    A big question here is whether grit is a core attribute or a product of something else. A strong argument can be made (and has been made by others in Duckworth's field) that grit is derived from passion which in turn is derived from valuation. The degree of valuation one places on something is the core driver, not grittyness. As is commonly observed, one can be gritty about some things in their lives but not others (this has been expressed first hand above). There may appear to be individuals who are gritty about everything in their lives, but that may just mean that they place high value on many things that they are in a position to pursue. Plenty of others have "passions" and exhibit substantial grittyness in this area but not in other aspects of their lives.

    Here is TEDx video of Duckworth giving her view on the subject:

    Those "gritty" cadets all probably prescribe very high valuation to the concept of being a cadet; the less "gritty" ones probably place a lower value on the concept. In fact this is exactly what a high school friend told me after he dropped out after the initiation process – he went on to be incredibly "gritty" as a scientist, because, I will argue, he valued that endeavor at a very high level and, as it turns out, at a higher level than being a cadet.

    I think more important here is the mention that Duckworth gives to the "10,000 hr rule" (or 10 year rule) that is nicely surveyed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers". The essence of the message is that you cannot become world class at anything unless you put in the time and that it seems, as a general rule, that 10,000 hours is a ballpark estimate of how long it takes. To do 10,000 hrs of anything will require grittyness, but I do not think you will have the grittyness to survive such a program without a passion for the area and therefore a high personal value placed on the activity.

    The good news is that much of the gain in these 10,000 hrs takes place in the first 3,000….. so we can become relatively "good" at something in a reasonable period (say three years of focus). The bad news is that to improve to wolrd class (if you have some innate talent) there lie ahead of you 7,000 hrs of work!! I have seen a good share of talented athletes not make that bridge from the 3,000 hr level to the 10,000 hr level in competence and focus. Those that do reliably make it to the world level. Being married to one, I can tell you first hand that the long-term focus and competency development exhibited by competitive Olympians is just as real and measurable as that required to obtain a PhD from a pre-eminent program under a world renowned thesis adviser. Same "grittyness", different passion, different valuations.

    So are ultra marathoners, as a group, more "gritty"? I think not…. Are they, as a group, passionate about running long distances (often in remote, wild places) and place high personal value on such? Yes.

    1. Mike Hinterberg

      Roland, you nailed a few things I was thinking about.

      The most important is "value" — we haven't defined what we're valuing here in terms of "grit."

      Some may be dedicated, reinforced by talent and circumstance, to be the best (ultra)runner they can be.

      Others may have other talents and goals in addition to running. Every minute spent on the trail, as great as it is, could also be spent reading, volunteering, performing heart surgery, writing a novel, learning a musical instrument, or spending time with your kids, if you have them. Some of *those* interests may be reinforced by desire and talent as well. Every race weekend, as great as it is, precludes wandering around the planet and seeing how other people live.

      There's a notion — mostly correct — that runners are above the more superficial mindlessness that we often see in society, with regard to inactivity, watching television, consumerism, etc. But running alone does not solve the great and interesting problems of our existence.

      So for many runners (including some "elites"), it's about balance. The enjoyment of the run isn't solely in the run itself, but the memories, inspiration, health, and confidence it might provide in all other aspects of life as well.

      So there is plenty of grit out there in the front of the pack, where the leaders have been putting in the weekly miles. But so, too, in the middle and back, of folks with vastly different backgrounds and interests, who have balanced their time in a way that best suits them, yet still doggedly pursue their own goals in other realms that don't show up in race results listings only.

    1. Patrick Cawley

      I was hoping someone would bring this up. I hope they study grit in those who may have no reason for hope — patients with cancer or other terminal conditions, depression, even addictions.

  15. the other "geof

    Why the long posts guys and gals?

    Definition of Grit by the Interwebs: Indomitable courage, toughness, or resolution.

    Grit by my definition is never giving up. Fighting hard until the end… insert John Wayen references here. (Obviously pushing through limits and extremes others may not.)

    It is, without question, the indomitable spirt of never giving up. 127 Hours (movie) would be a good reference for those discussing this topic.

    I am more interested in what Bryon asks of us in terms of sharing a "True Grit" experience. How did you push through and conquer? I would love to hear about other runner's race experiences OR life experiences where they exhibited a drive that could not be contained by any amount of fear or pain.

    Thanks, Geoff.

  16. Bev

    Getting some treatment the other day my sports DR mentioned he has to treat ultra athletes different. We have a Grit that surpasses normal people and our pain thresholds are very much greater.

    I agree, its one thing to struggle for for a short time as in a game but another thing to struggle for hours.

    This Grit can also be seen in life, people will give up on things at the first hint of failure, others will see it through no matter how hard it becomes.

    Good topic!!

  17. Matt

    Love the beer, AJW. A sweet little six pack for sure. That there brewery has tremendous grit, perhaps distancing itself from others by the sheer volume of quality hopped brews and otherwise.

    Keep up the good word.

  18. Jeff

    I think "grit" is a confusing term. I think it would make more sense to think of grit in terms of "diligence" or "persistence," which seem to be at the heart of many of the comments thus far. We're really talking about an unwillingness to give up easily. Of course, persistence is relative, since it depends entirely on the real or perceived obstacles in a person's path. For example, many of us are more diligent at some things than others, usually — though not always — activities we value more.

    Another question as a follow up to the one above: Can a person have too much grit? When does grit become pathological?

    1. Ben Nephew

      I think persistence became grit at the same time background became backstory.

      Ultrarunners would be a good population for studying the negative effects of too much grit. Experiences were people freeze body parts and run through injuries are celebrated, and runners encourage each other to go on despite signs of acute organ failure. As far as I can tell, no one has studied the long term effects of acute rhabdomyolysis. Being persistent with running but nothing else might be a sign that your grit is pathological.

      Persistence can certainly have a learned component. Animals that exhibit persistent qualities often have lower stress responses. These more persistent animals have been exposed to a greater level of stress when young which leads to an adaptive habituation. The nature of this process depends on the strength of the stressor and the response of the individual. Sometimes the response to what is called early life stress is maladaptive.

      While it was once thought that that the brain did not change much in adulthood, this is clearly not the case, and the activity of running was the key to many important discoveries on this topic. Hard training may not only show up in your legs, it may physically change your brain as well.

  19. JKal

    I think grit has an intelligence factor too. Look at the doctors, lawyers, college graduates, Masters degrees, and doctorates you'll see at an ultra race or marathon. As a chemistry teacher and high school cross country coach i was happy to see that the high score on my recent chemistry semester exam was a cross country runner. AND, the high score on my AP chemistry exam was also a cross country runner. Both 17 yr olds are extremely gritty – displaying all the traits you mention. The hours of running and effort they expend are related to grittiness and intelligence because they KNOW that the delayed gratification of reaching a goal will eventually come their way if they stick with it. I'm also happy to report that when i was in college my xc team had the highest GPA of any club (academic or athletic) on campus. Grit + intelligence + goal setting = good results!

    1. Bryon Powell

      I was chatting about this on my long run today and thing that the intelligence and grit factors are separate in professionals. Given a base intelligence, I think law school was a good sorting mechanism for "grit." Working with focus for long periods (both on a daily basis and over the course of semesters and years) with little to no intermediate feedback or reward was the name of the game. That said, the combination of intelligence and grit is hard to beat. ;-)

      1. JKal

        i suppose we see so many of the professional/intelligent crowed at ultra/marathon events because only the intelligent/gritty crowd have the disposable income to do what we do for fun – and, like you someone below said, the other people in life have already used up all their grit in a blue collar job. Interesting thought. There also seems to be a component of OCD in the ultra crowd … i know i'm part of that situation too!! OCD + grit + intelligence = ultra

  20. adam

    maybe ultra runners are mostly white collar folks and blue collar folks use up all their "grit" just getting through their day at their back-breaking job which takes a lot of grit to do day in and day out for oh, say 30 years?

    "grit"!? I'll bet your average 14 year old Chinese iphone worker has more than any ultra runner!

    putting one foot in front of the other…are we over selling it?

    1. Trailrutger

      This morning i was thinking about the exact same thing.

      But in my opinion grit for back-breaking jobs is laziness and fear of the unknown.

      Grit becomes a factor when you enter the unknown and your curiosity for the unknown is bigger than the fear of it.

    2. William Swint

      Overselling it for sure ! If the biggest struggle in your life is running and being uncomfortable for a 100 miles, then my friend you have it good. I love running in the mountains as much as most anyone and I've only run one hundred miler, and as hard as it was it's not even in my top five of biggest struggles in my life.

      Next time you see one of our fine military soldiers, thank them for the freedom that you have to be able to show just how much grit you have doing your selfish past time and see how silly it sounds!

      1. olga

        I agree, William, I finished 18 of those, some very well and defying odds, some with bad injuries (and some just walked in), but neither come to top 5 of what life threw at me to deal with. And I am far from a bad case in life, if I think about it even for a second. We have it good, indeed, if our grit is about finishing some ultra in the mountains, however great time and/or obstacles there are.

  21. Kix

    Grit – what makes one person have it in abundance and another person not? Is it genetic or learned? Do we always display grit or does it fluctuate with the task at hand? Grit, drive, determination, stubbornness, persistence – all amount to the same. Is it attached to emotion? We all have issues and struggles but, what makes some of us rise to the challenge and others wither?

    Interesting, I have wondered about this for years.

    1. John Holt

      In my experience, the type of grit that it takes to finish a tough race when you're feeling horrible seems titanic and hard to come by in the moments that you need it. That said, I find hundred mile runs much easier than I find a lot of life stuff. At the end of the day, running is always simple, if not easy. That's what keeps me coming back for more…

  22. Mackey

    Hmm.. like Lumbergh, i'm going to go ahead and..umm.. disagree on the intelligence = grit thing. The reason there are more people with higher degrees running trails (not just ultras mind you.. they are basically the same in the US) is because of leisure time. The people who have more income can dedicate it to leisure, and therefore have better health outcomes than those who make less income. These are also the same people who have adequate health insurance and are able to take care of themselves, and aren't hand to mouth for themselves and their families. Now if this country were more egalitarian (we are not a democracy anymore; we are an oligarchy) and the income gap were not so monstrous (and growing) then you'd see a more even distribution of professions on the trails/ultras.

      1. Pithydoug

        I don't know if intelligence = grit or grit = intelligence. Kind of a chicken and egg discussion. What i don't buy is the leisure time argument. There may be an occasional profession that allows high pay and easy hours but that is not the case across the board. The higher the paycheck the more time you get to work at the company store not less. It's even more today with the unemployment issue and companies "rightsizing." People are working their tails off to in front the pile. They may have more materialistic things but sadly not much time to play with them.

        As for the oligarchy statement, that's for another forum although i would say that the GOP debates have brought to the forefront income disparity and how the loopholes have allowed that gap to widen and thus the shrinking middle class with haves and have not's but not more leisure time unless your counting the unemployed.

  23. danny

    of all aspects of my running this is the one thing that i have to work on !! grit ! in the criticall moments it seems to desert me ….. the pschology of running or the " mental " toughness is criticall to success . i think positive people have an advantage and although you can improve your grit i think a lot comes down to genetics and inherent mental make up .any one with tips on how to improve my " grit " i will be happy to hear .

  24. Jason

    Regarding leisure time, I agree with Pithydoug, an increase in pay does not equate to increase in leisure time. I do think these "professional" individuals value leisure time in a different way, thus making time off count, or getting creative in making more time in the day for training. This may define ones grittiness. For example, I frequently go out for my mid-week at 4 or 5 am to get in my miles and the same goes for my weekend long runs. This is so I can't make it to work on time, or start my family duties on the weekend. I don't see many folks identifying my dawn patrol runs as leisure.

    However, I'm sure there are folks that get up early to read or tie flies, or brew beer, but that isn't defined as a gritty sport.

    I think we are motivated to be in good shape for the times we make for our leisure activities like a fun run through a National Park or an annual race. If that is gritty, so be it, but there is a range or grittiness and there are those that are on the extreme high side.

  25. ScottD

    Bryon – don't forget to change the link in AJW's bio (since he shut that blog down).

    I see a lot of "grit" in Silicon Valley…people who doggedly pursue a vision, trying multiple iterations until one fits just right, in an endless quest for perfection. Most of them have been this way since childhood. I am certainly in that boat, and working 70+ hours/week doesn't feel like work at all most of the time. It's just how I'm wired.

    Ultrarunning is a wonderful outlet for grit for two big reasons. First, few things are as motivating as a big scary race on the agenda, which makes it easier to stay focused on long runs and hard workouts. The grit has purpose. Second, a race has a defined start and end, unlike most of life's gritty challenges, which gives defined benefit.

  26. Pithydoug

    Danny, is it really genetics? As an experiment of one I find that my "grit," as in desire to finish, comes from my training. My experience says that my training for some specific race must meet some very specific criteria. When I have that in the bank I go into the race with a very positive attitude. As long as I don't go nuts with pace I can push off any negative thoughts. I have shown up for races and been greeted with excessive heat or cold and wet, causing some serious race day changes but those are the exception to the rule. I'm suggesting that once you know yourself well enough to meet you requirements in training, your heads get screwed on with a more positive attitude. If there is genetics or attitude involved, it is used during your training to get you to the dance. As overly simplistic as it sounds, train hard and dance with a smile.

  27. George O

    Obsessive compulsive disorder= ultra-runner. Fact is that for "most" of us, spending countless hours on the trails is like a huge crack addiction. We crave it, must have it and will do anything to get it. Sacrificing family time, sleep, social outings, and whatever other activities normal folks do. Countless amounts of money can be spent on registrations, travel costs and gear. Nothing short of injuries (and even then we find a way to lie to ourselves that we can run through it) will stop us in our quest for the next big race. I am not sure that "grit" plays a major role in the mental makeup of the ultra-runner but if a study was done on OCD and the ultra-runner, I am sure that the results would be outstanding and lean towards categorizing us in the OCD category. So does genetics play a part in ultra-running? SURE! if you count OCD as an Integral symptom of the ultra-runner. I am no way categorizing "all" ultra-runners but I think that it's safe to say that those of us that train for and complete 100's need more than just grit or leisure time to satisfy our craving (addiction).

  28. Lisa

    North Korea has a perfect distrabution of wealth, how is that working out for them? hmmmm?

    How can you get income disparity out of this article?

    I'm a custodian that makes 20,000 a year… paaalllleeeaaassseee! and I don't want anyone's money distributed to me!

    I can do with less if I want to run more.

    I don't get how ultra runners are leftists. In a sport that takes 100% individual effort, how come it is full of people who want someone else (government) controling the outcomes.

    Maybe we should do this with races… everyone finishes at the same time, no matter how hard you have trained???

    I know an elite marathon runner. She works in a shoe store and runs a race when she gets short on money, because she needs the purse to pay the bills. She drives a crappy car and has an old cell phone. But she will be preceived as having an elite income if one didn't know the details.

    I have another friend who doesn't have a cell phone, doesnt' drive a newer car, works for a school district and shoes horses on the side. He has run 100's all over the country, becuase he lives his wage and spends his money on running instead of modern pleasures of cell phone, tv, computers, internet and such.

    I have a doctor friend, who just found out he will never run again due to a broken ankle. He and his wife has lived on a shoe string for 20 years to pay off his student loan. They drive a 15 year old car and pay cash for what they need.

    Income has nothing to do with one's success as an ultra runner, priorities are what determines success, and priorities come from growing the F up and deciding you are responsible for your own life instead of wanting someone to distribute fairness to you!

  29. Lisa


    I think you are on to it. We make the time for the things we love. We all know people who "don't have time". They watch way more TV than we do, spend more time on the computer than we do… whatever their poison.

    The old addage; "if you want something done, get a busy person to do it". Someone who doesn't have the time, never has the time and never gets the amount of constructive projects accomplished as the busy person who just makes it happen.

    I think grit can be learned. I think my grit improved a great deal a week after THAT one race, I DNF'ed, then studied and cried myself to sleep for a week after learning I could have finished it.

    I have done harder races since THAT race, but that feeling after DNFing, and then realizing I could have finished, I hope that feeling stays with me for the rest of my life, haunts me, and chases me down the trail over the finish line.

    A person who looks for excuses or to someone else for outcomes will never develop this kind of grit. They may finish those 100 milers, but they will never posses that grit, because they are always looking to an outside source, it comes from inside.

  30. Brooks

    I am the proud father of three young children (6, 4, and 2), a professional Industrial Designer, work multiple jobs, am completing a Master's degree, run 70+ miles per week, compete in ultra's and Adventure Races, and sleep around four hours per night. One of my professors once told me "…you can sleep when you die." Everyone has 24 hours in their day, it's all about priorities. How much are you willing to sacrifice? I remain dedicated to all of the responsibilities aforementioned… Oh, and I'm poor as can be (I have three children and a wife)!

  31. Chris


    Thank you for this thoughtful and important critique of what is inherent with all of these mostly white-washed ultra/extreme sports. I love ultra running. It is my practice, meditation, and sanity. But the truth is, as you rightfully state, it is a reflection (similar to climbing, skiing, kayaking) of our troubled country and economy. I am not a rich man and I don't think many are who participate in this sport. But the truth is that this sport (and the recent marketing hype surrounding products that are suddenly necessary in a sport that really only requires a water bottle and some shoes) is supported by a large consumer base of largely middle-upper class folks. It's a shame considering how simple and cheap the sport is at its core.

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