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Running On Grit

 “In sum, no matter the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction.

It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special. In a word, they had grit.” -Angela Duckworth, in ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’.

Races have all been canceled by this time and uncertainty runs rampant. Except right now. I am alone and simply gliding down the road, running only in the moment, with no desire to stop. I was intending to do 10 miles easy but have passed the turnaround point minutes ago. It all comes easy, the mind is quiet. Miles go by without much judgment of how I feel, what my watch says, or what I have to do later that day.

I am exactly where I want to be and maybe even need to be. One foot in front of the other. Thoughts positive or just simply passing—in a state of flow.

Fast forward six weeks later.

It’s the first day of a Texas summer, and though it’s early morning, it’s already 76 degrees and over 90 percent humidity when I head out. Nothing unusual, but it keeps your expectations realistic. On this run, I have just passed the halfway mark and every step feels like work. Hard work. I can focus on what I’m doing, but things are not just falling into place. The best I can do is just stay as relaxed and take in fluids as much as possible.

Races are still canceled, more are canceling every week, but my miles keep stacking up. In between thoughts of resentment for my body not complying fully, I find some gratitude that I’m handling this situation better than I would have a year ago. Is this a pretty run? Absolutely not. But I am committed to the effort because I know that days like this create more grit.

Defining Grit

What is grit? You often see it in and hear it in life and athletics. From Hollywood’s “True Grit” to, well, the Philadelphia Flyers mascot– there’s an allure to embodying the characteristics of grit.

Like many of you reading this, I find running to be the perfect vehicle to find and refine my sense of grit. As a part of the Believe in the Run team, naturally I am signed up for the summer distance project going on right now, aptly named GRIT.

When I opened with those two narratives of recent runs, it’s because I have never seen life and running run more parallel to each other than right now: No two days are the same, we have our little wins, and perception of effort and progress varies. This year has brought pain and struggle, but on the other side, it is up to us how to move forward.

Runners (and I guess all humans, runners are not that special!) tend to perform their best when they have a clear goal, a clear purpose, and a challenge at the outer edge of our ability and comfort zone. Many of us were supposed to be training for Boston or various summer races. That’s not happening anymore. Without a doubt, running is taking a different form right now– anything from Strava segment sniping to time trialing to mileage challenges like GRIT. Never has running been more in the hands of the individual. As such, with the right mindset, preparation, and approach, this can be our summer of grit– an opportunity for growth as both athletes and humans. I want to present you all with some things to consider as you begin your summer miles, whether you’re participating in BITR’s GRIT or your own personal challenge to help you get the most out of your running, and more importantly, get the most out of yourself.

> Why, why, why? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again– having and revisiting a clear purpose for putting your soles on the asphalt or trail is a must. There will be days when heat, fatigue, and frustration merge together and it ceases to be fun. Not to go Debbie Downer on you all, but this is the time to tap into why you are doing this. For some, you may be raising money or awareness for racial injustice, those economically affected by COVID-19, or any other cause dear to you. You may be running a certain number of miles just out of curiosity of what your mind and body can do. You may be running simply just because of a pure love of the sport. There are no wrong answers here.

> Do some simple math. No matter the mileage category, we want to think of this as a project and focus on smaller pieces at once. This can range from one run to one week at a time. In the heat of the summer, you may even want to divide up the miles during a run, focusing on small increments. Our minds work best when obtainable goals are in front of us, and according to research, our performance is likely to increase when a task feels manageable. Motivation works that way too. Simply put, stay outta the weeds!

> Maintain perspective. Challenge yourself, by all means. However, keep the big picture in mind when making decisions of when to push and back off. I recommend being purposeful with your runs and mileage. Want more aerobic ability? Improving form? Smoothness while fatigued? This summer can be a great building block not just physically but mentally for when racing comes back. Also, do not be afraid to make adjustments along the way.

> Do it with passion. Passion is not always pretty, but through the flow and the challenges, it’s those who continually show up who get the most out of themselves. Know what you want to get out of the next 30 days and commit to the process. Need help doing so? Lean on your training partners and online community. You got this, we got this.

This is Your Journey

Remember, we define our own success– not anyone else. One’s journey looks vastly different than another’s and that is what makes this such a beautiful sport. Together this summer, we get to build and flex our own individual grit. I challenge myself and my fellow athletes to take this summer as an opportunity to make something out of a confusing year– to grow our passion and perseverance with like-minded individuals across the country. Just because things look different doesn’t mean that there aren’t important lessons to be had and new goals to set.

As always, believe in YOUR run.

And if you haven’t yet, register for GRIT,  a summer distance project from Believe in the Run. Choose a 30-day timeframe this summer, run your miles, get great swag, and be eligible for sweet prizes from Polar and ASICS.

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