Ultrarunning Skill #5: Grit

[Author’s Note: This is the fifth in a five-article series on meta-cognitive skills and their role in running, education, and life. If you enjoy this article, go read the previous articles persistence, resilience, patience, and courage.]

AJWs TaproomThe fifth and final skill in my Ultrarunning Skill series, grit, is in many ways the most fascinating. And, it also represents, to me, the confluence of all five skills I have discussed in this series. As regular readers of this column know, I have written on grit twice before here in the Taproom. First, in January 2012:

Grit: Have You Got It

And then again, in October 2012:

Further Ruminations on Grit (And an Unscientific Study Proposal)

In my research and observations, what I find so interesting in the discourse on grit is how elusive a specific measurement of grit is. While Angela Duckworth and her team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have created the grit scale and a series of rubrics through which they can analyze grittiness, there remains an air of mystery about what exactly grit is and, perhaps more importantly, whether or not it can be taught, nurtured, and objectively assessed.

That, paradoxically, is precisely what fascinates me about grit. Whether it is kids in the classroom or runners on the trail, grit is something that does not discriminate and is painfully obvious in its absence. Some people simply have more of it than others. And, on top of that, there are those who seem to be endowed with a healthy dose of grit who don’t know what to do with it and others who seem to scrape and claw for every little bit they can find and grow and evolve into some of the grittiest people out there. And, perhaps most importantly, especially in school, out on the trail, and in day-to-day life, a lack of grit seems to show up for many at the most inopportune times.

My suggestion on all this would be, if I could be so bold, for educators and runners to embrace the data on grit. To seek answers to the mystery behind who has it and who doesn’t, and to seek to find a way to make sense of how best to use grit as an advantage for those who have it and to mitigate against the downside for those who don’t. The stories that would emerge from both sides of that ledger could be fascinating.

Finally, I challenge all of you to go to the finish line of a 100-mile race sometime in 2014. I urge you to carve out the time to hang out in that glorious place all day and all night and to meet the people who finish. I have done this and I can assure you it is an extraordinary window into the human experience.

I encourage you to talk to the finishers, help them if necessary, ask them questions, listen to their poignant mumblings, and absorb their wisdom. Because it is there, I believe, in that crucible of human exhaustion and exhilaration, that the inflection point of resilience, persistence, patience, courage, and grit resides. That place has something to teach us all!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Brew’s Beer of the Month Week
and I spent the last month and a half touring North and South Carolina, Georgia, North “Flur-da” (aka, Baja Georgia), and East Tennessee, and we visited Natty Greene’s Brewing Co. in Greensboro, North Carolina right before Thanksgiving. (Side note: If you don’t know who Natty Greene is, you better recognize. The dude was, like, the most important general in the Revolutionary War after GW, and a key reason why we don’t have all have gnarly British teeth today.) Lucky for us, Natty Greene’s was already making their Red Nose Winter Ale. It’s an American red infused with ginger, orange peel, and cinnamon. Full-bodied, smooth, and weighing in at a hefty 6.8% ABV, Red Nose is perfect for curling up by the fire on a cold winter night, or for helping you endure your version of Cousin Eddie at the family Christmas party. Because let’s be honest, both are part of the holiday season.

Jen, Charley, and I will be touring middle Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida through January (you can see the schedule at www.blueridgehikingco.com) so send me brewery suggestions if you live in those areas. Happy Holidays!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Where have you seen grit this year?
  • Have you found moments where you saw grittiness in yourself… or when you realized you lacked it?

There are 2 comments

  1. @RunninRocks

    Fabulous series Andy. Like most who post here this is the first thing I read on Friday mornings. Your last two sentences are perfect: "Because it is there, I believe, in that crucible of human exhaustion and exhilaration, that the inflection point of resilience, persistence, patience, courage, and grit resides. That place has something to teach us all!" 2014 marks my 10th year running ultras and there is no situation or struggle in life where one of the 5 attributes is not drawn upon to stubbornly and defiantly continue. Thanks, and see you in squaw!

  2. ClownRunner

    Grit is at the heart of ultra trail running. It's all about the grit, the grind, the dirt, the sublime.

    Grit gets in our shoes and grit gets in our heart and mind. When everything else fails–the shoes, the hydration, the fuel, the headlamp, the gaiters, the Bodyglide, the pacers, the crew, the ribbons–all that remains is grit, the will to go on just for the sake of going on.

    Grit is the furrowed lines on the cheeks, the crows feet near the eyes, the missing toenails, and all the aches and pains from years of getting it done.

    Grit is getting up at 4am and drinking black coffee.
    Grit is driving bleary-eyed across several state lines.
    Grit is throwing up and then continuing on.
    Grit is powering through rough patches that last 4 hours.
    Grit is making gutteral noises that get us over the next climb.
    Grit is not wrapping a knee when one bloodies it on a bitch of a descent.
    Grit is always sharing a smile or at least a smiling grimace around others.

    Grit is looking at negatives as positives, and positives as nothing special.

    Grit is rising with the sun on the 2nd day, and whooping it up like a banshee.

  3. senelly

    Thank you for this wonderful series! here are a few more thoughts about grit:

    Rock climbers, gymnasts, and weight lifters use chalk to simultaneously smooth the way and hang on. Drivers on ice use sand. Grit provides protection and friction, both of which are necessary.

    Ultrarunners use this thing we call grit. As many of us have experienced at the finish line of a 100-miler, grit gets rewarded. But, like climbers, gymnasts, and lifters, perhaps ultrarunning grit is more about smoothing the way and hanging on than experiencing reward at the finish. Maybe it's what keeps us from slipping into DNF oblivion as we hang on from moment to moment – from tree to tree – from mile to mile – from aid station to aid station.

    If finishing is also not quitting, maybe it's the grit that keeps us from quitting. If so, we need to cultivate this grit. If so, we need to apply it regularly and liberally as we make our way. It will smooth the way and keep us on.

  4. j_w_s

    The grit test seems to me to be more about workplace, career-orientated grit. I have ADD and jump continuously from one project to the next and can't concentrate and am constantly starting new projects that I never finish. I've never experienced any crossover with that type of grit and attention with running ultra grit.

  5. JJK3262

    AJW, Great blog as usual. Really liked your suggestion of hanging at the end of a 100 mile race and greeting the finishers. I am resolving to do that this year.

Post Your Thoughts