Revisiting Metacognitive Skills and Ultrarunning

AJW checks back in on the five metacognitive skills we use as trail runners and ultrarunners.

By on January 3, 2020 | Comments

AJW's TaproomBack in 2013, I wrote an article series on ultrarunning and metacognitive skills, which are patterns of behavior informed by personality traits and temperament. In contrast to cognitive skills, metacognitive skills are difficult to measure and assess. After outlining the concepts in an introductory article, I wrote a subsequent series of articles on the skills of persistenceresiliencepatiencecourage, and grit. During the process, I spent a fair bit of introspective time reflecting on the five skills and how ultrarunning has developed them in me. Recently, over the winter holidays, I re-read the articles and sat down with my wife Shelly and my three sons Carson, Logan, and Tully to discuss them. In the process, my family thought it would be a fun exercise to give me grades on the five skills as they perceive they have evolved in me since the winter of 2013.

Persistence: Grade B-

Dogged persistence has long been an important quality of ultrarunners and I have often been accused of being overly persistent–even stubborn at times. Over the past six years, however, my persistence has ebbed and flowed as injury, lack of motivation, and life challenges have become obstacles to my running process. While I have maintained my generally persistent attitude, my family tells me that my B- is due in large part to that inconsistency.

Resilience: Grade A-

Resilience has been a hot topic over the past several years as several books were written on such things as a ‘growth mindset’ and the ability to adapt and grow as a result of shortcomings and failure. In the past six years, I have been confronted with my own shortcomings and failures and I am relatively satisfied with the way I bounced back from these and evolved into a better version of myself. It has by no means been perfect, but these instances both in running and in life have helped shape my future.

Patience: Grade C+

Of the five skills, patience is the one that has presented me with the greatest challenge. While I have preached to others the importance of training and racing with patience, in my own running and life I have been plagued by periods of impatience which have impelled me to reconcile ambiguity in my life. While I know, intellectually, the importance of practicing patient optimism, too often impatience creeps in, fuels a negative mental loop, and makes me even more impatient.

Courage: Grade B+

After two major surgeries, a half dozen other running setbacks, and three job changes, I can safely say that I have maintained some measure of courage in my life this past half decade. While I would certainly say that at times my confidence has been thwarted, I have maintained an ability to take calculated risks that allow me to move forward even if those moves are not as bold as they were in my youth. Maintaining a courageous attitude has allowed me to confront parts of my life that need it, even if I initially didn’t know they needed confronting.

Grit: Grade A

Of the five metacognitive skills, I believe grit is my greatest strength. Ever since taking Angela Duckworth’s grit test 10 years ago, I have viewed myself as a gritty person. My family, as well, has said that they think it is my greatest strength. Grit, defined as “a psychological trait that allows some people to work harder more frequently and to give up on tasks less frequently” has been viewed as one of the essential skills in ultrarunners and it is perhaps the trait of mine of which I am most proud. While there are certainly times that my fortitude has been tested, my ability to maintain a gritty mindset has given me the opportunity to reach outside of my comfort zone in ways that have kept me motivated and disciplined.

I continue to believe that the mind is a powerful tool for any ultrarunner. The skills we develop and hone in our lives and on the run can provide stepping stones to greater success. It seems to me that today, even more than six years ago, these five skills can provide a foundation for us all to build upon and become better runners and people.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Marble Brewery in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their recently released Desert Fog Hazy IPA is a sweet version of this popular variety. Balanced and mildly hoppy, Desert Fog is a fresh-tasting IPA that goes down smooth and easy.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What grades would you give yourself in these five metacognitive skills and why?
  • What of these skills do you excel at and what could you focus on improving?
  • Which skill do you think you call upon most in your running? And how about in your life?
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.