Sometimes runners just need a little chemistryFebruary 15, 2012
By Simon Donato
If the words “activation energy” give some of you flashbacks of high school chemistry class don’t panic, it’s just a metaphor.
If your chemistry class memories are a bit hazy, activation energy is the energy required to start a chemical reaction. I’m not a chemist, but I do think about activation energy a lot in my daily life. For me, activation energy is the mental energy needed to get started on a task, be it at the office, at home, or related to training. It’s a metaphor for overcoming the mental hurdles that reduce our willingness to reach our goals.
In science, the activation energy required to start a reaction is always much larger than the energy required to sustain a reaction. The same is true for most things in life. Think about it — to go for a run on a cold day, you’ve got to get geared up, and psyched up, simply to get out the door. Once you’re out the door though, the chances of you turning back early are slim, because all those great feelings come back and you’re happy to be running. The biggest hurdle is simply getting out the door.
Fortunately, there are things called catalysts, which basically reduce the energy required for a reaction to take place. In my world, a big race, a sunny day, the promise of a sweet trail at the end of a drive into the mountains, or simply the reward of a GIB Brockton IPA and a tasty meal at the end is catalyst enough to motivate me when my desire lacking.
I’ve been thinking about desire and motivation a lot lately, thanks to being laid up for the past month with a hip injury and generally feeling sorry for myself.
What initially began as a hip-flexor strain following a yoga class (to which many of my running buddies reply “and that’s why I don’t do yoga!”) moved into my hip and adductor as I continued to run through the injury. After a few physio trips, I faced the reality that if I wanted to heal, I needed to rest, which meant removing running from my training. I love to run, so obviously this is tough to do. Hell, I ran to work this morning (6 km) even though I’m not officially running. It’s hard to stop. I tell myself I can’t stop. I’ve got some huge ultras this summer and from the research I’ve done and read (the Adventure Science core study), a high training volume will win these races.
Since I can’t stop training, my running has been replaced by cycling on a trainer, for two to three hours at a time. Sure, I get to watch Whale Wars, but three hours on a trainer is a LONG time. In the summer, I thrive on long mountain runs, winters are always tough as plowed bike paths replace the mountains. I struggle with this as my desire, and correspondingly my activation energy is very low when it comes to mounting the steel steed indoors.
Thankfully, I’ve got several catalysts that give me the mental energy to train while injured. Racing, beer, training partners, and motivational videos on YouTube. Go ahead, laugh. It works though.
In addition to all of this, there is personal accountability, and the standard that I try to live up to. At the end of each day I consider what I accomplished. Did I accomplish what I set-out to do in the morning? If not, why, and how can I improve on this?
My activation energy comes from the desire to succeed. Little rewards along the way are my catalysts, but the constant desire to do my best is what drives me. I don’t need to win, but I don’t want to say that I didn’t try my best. My activation energy doesn’t need to be the same as yours, but often, I think that it’s the simple things in life that mean the most and give us the activation energy we need. We all lead busy lives, but just remember: Once you clear the activation-energy hurdle, it’s smooth sailing on the other side.