Temperament and Disposition

AJW, the ultra philosopher, takes a look at the temperaments and dispositions that go into making a successful ultrarunner.

By on November 18, 2011 | Comments

AJWs TaproomGrowing up in a progressive household my parents taught me to always understand the difference between temperament and disposition. As I’ve developed as a person and as a runner this distinction has allowed me to grow and accept who I am and what I want to be. It’s an interesting comparison and one that deserves a deeper dive.

Temperament is, simply, the way we are when we come out. And often, it is said, that if you come out looking around and seeing the gloomy side of life you’ll end up, 84 years or so later, going into the ground with a gloomy view of life. It’s simple, I know, but true nonetheless, just ask my Uncle Kenny.

The Anthroposophists, who founded Waldorf Education and have created a thriving educational industry based on temperament, identify four essential temperaments that are part of human experience and are, for better or worse, the way we’re wired. To make understanding these a bit more simple for people such as myself, there is, of course, a story refined over the years and designed to exemplify the ideal:

The Choleric, the Melancholic, the Sanguine, and the Phlegmatic are walking along one day when they encounter a large brick wall, about 12 feet high, in their path. The Choleric, quickly and without hesitation, proceeds to bash the wall mercilessly and without restraint in an attempt to forge through to the other side. The Melancholic, sighs, shakes his head, sits on the ground, and proceeds to sob, forlorn over the fact that his journey has been thwarted and resigned to a life on this side of the wall. The Sanguine, upon seeing the wall, says, simply, “Well, things are pretty good here on this side of the wall, it’s green, the flowers are growing and there’s food. Let’s have a picnic.” And the Phlegmatic, he pauses, a bit longer than most, reflects, and methodically, through a measured process of trial an error, works to find a way through, over, around, and under the wall.

In this context, you can probably identify with one (or more) of these temperaments and, with a little soul-searching and perhaps an over-a-beer chat with a spouse/significant other, can nod your head knowingly in your understanding of who you are and who you are not. Regardless, don’t worry, there’s still hope.

As ultrarunners, what do you think? Which temperament is best suited for the journey around the San Juans on the second weekend in July or a trip along the Wasatch Front in September? I suppose a case could be made, in one way or another, for all four, but, in the end, that doesn’t matter much because that’s just our wiring.

What about the nurture side of the equation?

What about our disposition?

That is the lesson I didn’t learn until I started running. And, it’s made all the difference.

Intense and exhaustive neuro-scientific research over the past ten years has been devoted to precisely this; what is it, in the human brain and nervous system, that makes us different, unique, identifiable, and purposeful? If there are certain aspects of who we are that we can’t control (temperament) what are those aspects of who we are that we can control (disposition)? And, more to the point, how we can develop the disposition to be successful ultrarunners in spite of and because of our temperament.

I venture to say that there are four acquired attributes, available to any of the four temperaments, that lead to success in ultrarunning and are the inevitable by-product of experience, hard-work and a little luck — they are, patience, acceptance, resilience, and confidence. Think of the ultrarunners you know, the successful ones, how patient are they? Are they willing to accept what is, and what isn’t? Can they bounce back from adversity without whining? Do they know they’re good? Taken individually, these four attributes are simply pieces of the puzzle. However, assembled correctly on the right day in the right place at the right time, these four attributes can lead us to great things we could never have imagined we were capable of. And that, is yet another reminder of the beauty of this sport.

Face it, you are stuck with the temperament you came out of the womb with and, whichever one it is, you can grow and evolve because of it and in spite of it. But, your disposition can be nurtured, even at the age of 88. I dare say, if you are patient, accepting, resilient, and confident you can and will achieve greatness. You simply need to do it.

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Boneyard RPM IPAAJW’s beer of the week is Boneyard RPM IPA from a great craft brewery in Bend, OR.

A great brew for HopHeads like me and better when you have a rest day scheduled, Boneyard is a new-school brewery with an old-school attitude. As of this writing they only have a tasting room and growler fills but this stuff is the real deal and I’ll bet they’ll expand in the next year or so. Next time you’re in Bend, stop by (look for the BatMobile). It just might alter your disposition. :)

Call for Comments (from Bryon)
AJW poses some interesting questions. What are your temperament and disposition? How do you think these benefit and detract from your ultrarunning? How do you think you could improve your own disposition to find more success and/or happiness ultrarunning?

[Editorial Note: A few of you may have seen this post go live on Wednesday morning before it taken down. Sorry for the teaser, I simply misscheduled the article’s publication.]

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.