Ryan Clevenger shows grit by moving to the front of the pack in the 2014 3A state xc championship
Throughout my running career, I have always been very passionate, focused and persistent on my goals and dreams. I am always trying to find ways to increase my speed, stride length, strength in order to gain an upper hand on my competitors. However, something very simple cannot be gained by training harder, finding correct exercises, or increasing your mileage per week. That very simple thing is Grit. A four-letter word that is overlooked way too often. This word has taken a lot of meaning to me recently, as in the past it was not a part of my mantra.
Grit stems deep within your heart when your race hurts and is a lot harder than you thought and you have to make a decision to fight or fall back. Grit is what powers through and never quits no matter how a race may be playing out. Grit realizes that the moment is bigger and more important to you than the fear of letting go. Grit has always been something that has been a work in progress for me.
My senior year of cross country at the state meet I entered into it as fit as I have ever been in my life with a goal of capturing the individual state title. I ran my race strongly through about two miles and at about 400 meters there was a group of four remaining around the "candy cane" pole. I remember one of my team's assistant coaches (Kup) telling me, "Ryan, reach for the gear, not on the bike."
After I heard him say this, that moment quickly faded away and before I knew it the race was over and I got 4th place in the state. There was no failure at this moment but a lot of frustration. Today I realize that grit is what separated me from that next gear. The gear not found on the bike was nothing you could teach or learn but instead something that came deep within your heart...your desire. That day I didn't find the grit, but I know that I can find it. It is your inner desire to be a "bulldog" when racing and training to throw whatever you think you cannot do to the wind and let your heart lead you.
I am still learning more and more about grit but I hope this helped you learn a little more about something that I am learning is crucial to successful racing within this sport for myself. So my call to all reading this who may be trying to figure out how to race better, search within yourself, ask yourself why do you run. When you answer that question fight all out to give back to this sport. Honor those who you compete against by giving them your best as they do the same for you. Honor those who came before you and run every race like it is your last. Finally, search for that inner desire to never give up no matter how the race may be playing out, how you may be feeling, and never forget to race with your heart.