← back

Running Is Easy but Starting Is Not

January 20th, 2022

I don't know how many people actually know this, but I have not been running for a while.

Over finals, I was prepping for tests and a mock tournament, so I was barely hanging on to it. A knee issue that felt like it was developing into an injury was enough to push me off of the habit. I haven't properly run in 5 weeks.

At a practical level, I'm not terribly concerned with that because I don't need to be in stellar shape right now—as long as I'm good over the summer (when it's hiking and trail running season), I'll be happy. But I've found that now that I'm back at Tufts with a lot of free time and the desire to start running again, it's hard. Really hard.

Not the running itself. That's fine. I'm out of shape but I can easily do it as I ramp back up to my normal schedule: 60 minutes on 3 weekdays, 2 hours on Saturday, 40 minutes on Sunday. And I remember how much I liked that schedule. It worked for my energy level, my fitness: it was ideal.

No, the issue is getting there. The motivation to run is totally gone—there's so little to galvanize me out the door. When I was in the slipstream, used to running all the time, it was almost like I was physiologically craving it. Now, it feels less like a need and more like a task to do, albeit one that requires going out and sweating in the cold. I've gone on a few runs this week, all of them pretty short, and I wake up the next day without any hunger for more. I think I needed that hunger to keep the ball rolling back in the fall.

There's a deeper idea here, and that idea is motivation. I'm behaving like I need to feel motivated in order to get out the door. Here's what that would look like:

Something motivates Ian --> Ian is motivated to run --> Ian runs

In the past, that something was feeling excited about the act of training, the desire for the headspace running put me in. Now that's gone, I'm looking for something else to kickstart the process—because once it starts, that motivation will kick in again and I'll be golden.

But I'm ignoring another mechanism that gets me running, which is discipline:

Ian is not motivated --> Ian forces himself to run anyway --> Ian runs

Wow! Incredible stuff. What if I can run, even when I'm not motivated, by forcing myself to? Duh. Well, I'm not so sure about that one either. For one, I am not very disciplined. I have trouble avoiding procrastination—I mean in high school I was the friend that would occasionally run to the library during lunch to finish his chemistry homework. And for another, college requires I spend most of my discipline on actual schoolwork, so I don't have a lot of reserves left for something like this.

Fundamentally, I can accept that something like 15% of my runs will be fueled by discipline—that's the only way to maintain a training schedule. I am just used to the other 85% being fueled by motivation.

I mean, I have some thoughts for how to swing this. I could force Zoe to run with me for a while and see if that gets me off the ground. I could buy some inexpensive but shiny new equipment item to excite me into running. Or I could just force myself to start and hope I've got some discipline in reserve to stick to it for a week or two (which seems unlikely).

The other tantalizing option is to pivot slightly into the Henry Nitzberg style: running and climbing. Henry runs to the gym and back a lot, which seems like the best of both worlds, and undoubtedly a better workout for the upper body and such. And climbing seems really fun! That would be a way to get back into it and even augment my fitness. But it is also expensive and would cost many monies.

Honestly, it feels a little sad that I'm even thinking this way. I used to be a big runner man or whatever, and now a month long break has reduced me to someone who struggles to get out the door for 4 miles. I was gonna go for a run today, but I got sidetracked and now it's dark outside. Maybe I'll go for one tomorrow.