This article from the Boston Globe summed it up well:
"In recent years, psychologists have come up with a term to describe this mental trait: grit. Although the idea itself isn’t new - “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” Thomas Edison famously remarked - the researchers are quick to point out that grit isn’t simply about the willingness to work hard. Instead, it’s about setting a specific long-term goal and doing whatever it takes until the goal has been reached. It’s always much easier to give up, but people with grit can keep going."The story goes on to find examples in West Point cadets, how measurements of grit can predict who might be a finalist for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, how pre-school is effective in building these traits, and more.
Clearly there is more to the story than just pure "grit". You need to have passion to pursue a problem over an extended period of time. You need some fundamental skills and intelligence. And you need to have cojones - the willingness to try in the face of probable failure. Malcolm Gladwell would probably argue (as part of his book, Outliers) that other macro effects will contribute to the lifetime achievement. Further studies are going to try and determine how this all comes together, and you can be a part of it by filling out this study.
Perhaps these studies can help us answer "why do we do these crazy ultra events?". Somewhere deep inside, we know to develop our grit by practicing the art of setting big goals and persevering to them. We welcome the challenge of being knocked down again and again, only to prove that we can get back up and keep moving. It's a core value that needs to be nourished, practiced, and celebrated.
It might also help explain why all of our fellow athletes are such amazing life achievers. I can't run 5 miles in an ultra without being blown away by the stories from those around me, and impressed with how each of us seeks adventure in all parts of our lives. The smiles tell it all - it's how you live in this world instead of on it.
Now let's just hope the media doesn't get too crazy with this word, "grit". It looks like troubled Italian Prime Minister is on board, saying he will now "govern with grit". Too late! Grit has officially entered the international lexicon. ;-)