Ultramarathon Running and Meta-Cognitive Skills

How the meta-cognitive skills of persistence, resilience, patience, courage, and grit affect ultrarunning.

By on November 15, 2013 | Comments

AJWs TaproomAs educators at all levels continue to grapple with the best course of action for the future of education, several diverging themes have emerged. The most compelling theme, from my perspective as a progressive educator, is the increasing focus on meta-cognitive skills. These are a set of skills that universities and employers have told us they seek in their students and workers and yet, thus far, secondary-school education has yet to embrace these skills in any meaningful, measurable way.

This trend started to change in the last two years with the introduction, from the National Association of Independent Schools, of the “Schools of the Future” movement. This movement focuses on 21st-century schooling from the ground up. And, in particular, this movement seeks to address exactly what are the skills needed to be a constructive, functioning member of 21st-century society. In this context, NAIS distilled down from hundreds of skills the five key skills that schools of the future must address, measure, assess, and evaluate:

The Five Essential Skills for the “School of the Future”:

  • Persistence
  • Resilience
  • Patience
  • Courage
  • Grit

Looking at these five skills and reflecting on them both as an educator and as a runner, I couldn’t help but notice the connection. Indeed, it is quite obvious to me that these five skills are essential to success in ultramarathon running and, in my experience, are skills that are not easily measured and evaluated. But, let’s face it, you know them when you see them!

So, it is in this context that I am initiating a five-part series on each of these five skills. And, while I will certainly provide my own reflections and ruminations on these five skills and their relative value to my life as an ultrarunner, I would also like to hear from you, the readers of iRunFar, in considering and reflecting upon these five skills. Therefore, I would like to invite any and all of you to send me an email to [email protected].

Please tell me a story, an anecdote, or a reflection on how your running has helped you develop these skills and what, if anything, you’ve learned from these experiences. I will start with “Persistence” next week and continue through the early part of the holiday season with five articles on the five skills listed in the order above, finishing with “Grit” on December 20th. Please feel free to write me at any time about any of the five skills so that I can incorporate your thoughts and stories into the articles. And, if you’d prefer to offer your story in the comment section of this article, that would work, too.

In the end, it is my hope to gather information, knowledge, and wisdom from you, the loyal readers of AJWs Taproom, to provide a series of essays that capture the essence of the skills not only necessary for success in running and in school but also, perhaps most importantly, in life.

Bottoms up!

I am pleased to announce a new feature at AJWs Taproom, Brew’s Brew of the Month. Brew Davis is a teacher, dad, and beer lover who also happens to be a talented writer and the spouse of record-setting Appalachian Trail hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis. Brew has accepted the position as AJWs Taproom Field Correspondent and has promised to deliver monthly beer reviews that inspire the senses and excite the taste buds. So here, without further ado, is Brew’s November Brew of the Month!

Brew’s November Brew of the Month
In 2011, my wife, Jennifer Pharr Davis, set the endurance record on the Appalachian Trail (46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes). This past June, Jen’s new book, Called Again: Love and Triumph on the Appalachian Trail, was released. So I did what any normal person would do: I quit my stable (albeit low-paying) job as a high-school history teacher, ran my first 100 miler (Mohican in Ohio), and began a book tour with Jen and our one-year-old daughter, Charley.

So far, we’ve visited 32 states and almost as many breweries. And my decision to quit teaching has already paid off because AJW’s agreed to let me be his “Field Correspondent”. So now, instead of being viewed as a bad husband/borderline parent, I have an excuse to drag Jen and Charley to more breweries. And I may even manage to finagle some free beer out of bartenders when I tell them I work for a beer blog. :)

Flat Branch BrewingIt’s tough to choose my favorite beer from our first collection of breweries. We’ve visited so many good ones: Bell’s and Founders in Michigan; Long Trail in Vermont; Snake River and Wind River in Wyoming; O’Dell, New Belgium, and Mountain Sun in Colorado. But this first month, I’m going toward the flatlands by recommending the Green Chili Beer at Flat Branch Pub and Brewing in Columbia, Missouri. It’s heated with Anaheim and Serrano peppers. The menu suggests adding a shot of tomato juice to make it a “liquid enchilada” and, when served that way, the beer is much milder and more drinkable than other chili beers I’ve had. Before visiting the brewery, you can earn your carbs by hitting the flat, shaded MKT (Missouri-Kansas-Texas) Trail that runs through town.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)
AJW asked for it! Comment below or send him an email at [email protected] sharing your experiences with persistence, resilience, patience, courage, and grit in trail and ultrarunning. He wants to know stories of how our sport has helped you acquire these skills and what you’ve learned from those acquisition experiences.

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.