A Cycling Chemist’s View: Reducing Activation Energy for Efficient Training

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Jacqueline Godbe

For the elite esports racer, chemist, and physician, Jacqueline Godbe, finding the formula for success boils down to adding the perfect ingredients.

A Bit About Myself

My name is Dr. Jacqueline Godbe. I hold a Ph.D. in chemistry and recently graduated from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. I am currently doing my intern year of residency before specializing in radiology.

 

I am also a (former) professional triathlete and current professional virtual cyclist for Saris-TPC. I took 5th place at the 2020 UCI World Esports championships and look forward to competing again this year on the elite virtual circuit.

triathlete getting motivated before a race

Successfully juggling both fitness and career is a goal that we all strive to accomplish. Let’s be honest. We all know the feeling.

 

Whether we’re getting up brutally early in the morning or finishing up an equally brutally long day of work, it’s tough to silence the complaining voices in our heads.

What do you mean I have to do VO2 intervals today? My legs already hurt! And they can still hurt worse!

I had to deal with people all day! I don’t want to deal with >people< at the gym. What if the music sucks?

Just…five more hours of sleep. Please.

I have dishes, laundry, two papers to write, a wedding to plan, and that’s just the START of my to-do list.¹

image of girl with waves coming from her head

It takes a lot of energy. Fortunately, as a chemist, energy is something I know!

 

If you’ll all go back to high school chemistry with me², let’s pull out the energy diagrams and talk about activation energy. If Language Arts and Literature were more your speed, please consider this an extended metaphor instead.

¹ Conversation I 100% have with myself. Usually multiple times a day. For brevity, I also left out the voice that’s just constantly asking for more food because that one doesn’t mind working out. It just wants to know if there’ll be snacks there.

² Eye-rolling only allowed if you’re really getting into character as a surly teenager.

exothermic energy diagram
Figure 1. Exothermic energy diagram. Credit to By Fvasconcellos - Image: Activation 2 updated. SVG, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4127593 because I am not this good at drawing!

Catalysis – What Does That Mean?

Okay! Basic (re-)orientation time. You guys are all virtual cyclists, so I know you’re smart, but bear with me.

 

The X-axis of the graph is the reaction coordinate. For this particular metaphor, pre-workout you is on the left, and kicking-ass-currently-working-out-you is on the right.

 

The Y-axis is the amount of energy contained in a given state³. The big hump in the middle represents the energy it takes to get between the two.

 

You know: find your gear, find your motivation, drive to the gym, park, figure out a workout, and so on.

 

I could go on and on, and I’m sure you could too. Remember? It takes a lot of energy.

 

So what do chemists⁴ do to make it easier to go from one side to the other? They add a catalyst to reduce the activation energy.

Make your workout this explosive!

As athletes, that means we need to figure out ways to reduce the seemingly endless pre-workout checklist to something manageable. We need to lower the barrier to getting on our bikes and embracing the endorphin rush of a workout.

 

³Yes, I picked an exothermic reaction. Because when you work out, you get sweaty and make heat! Exothermic = release heat.

⁴ And chemical engineers.

picture of a wave

Catalyst 1: Coaching Reduces the Activation Energy to do Key Workouts

My Coach Chris⁵ is my most important catalyst in terms of getting me over the activation energy to train. He helps me reduce the mental energy of planning by pre-loading workouts onto Zwift so that I don’t have to waste time scrolling and convince myself that yes, I really do need to do sweet spot intervals today when that recovery workout looks soooooo tempting.

 

Cutting out that 10 minutes of indecision at the beginning of a workout means ten extra minutes for me at the end of the day!⁶ Multiply that by a week, and you get a whole hour⁷ back!

 

Notably, Chris also helps me plan an off-season. When I got married in April, he purposefully built an easy training block into my schedule to focus on the other aspects of my life.

 

Currently, we’re devising a plan to train for worlds around several months of night shifts. Training isn’t just about crushing yourself all the time!

 

⁵Chris Navin of 4S Endurance. He is amazing! He actually helped plan my training around my wedding because he knew that would be a stressful time.

⁶By which I mean sleep. Sleep is lovely.

⁷My week includes a rest day. So, yes, SIX days. My math remains correct.

picture of lighting striking the water

Catalyst 2: Virtual Racing Reduces the Activation Energy to Race

Zwift and e-sports, in general, have also helped lower my barrier to competing. When triathlon was my primary sport, I was severely limited in the number of events I could race in a year by the number of days I could take off work for travel.

 

Even local races, like the Chicago Triathlon⁸, required coordination, setup, and transportation logistics.

 

E-racing doesn’t. My bike is always ready. My water bottle and food are in the next room. I don’t even need to apply sunscreen!

 

The time I need to get ready, race, and warm down on virtual platforms is so much less than in real life that I can (and have) raced before going to work.

 

As long as I budget time for a shower and post-race chocolate⁹, I’m good to go!

 

⁸ Still my favorite!

⁹ And other food too. But really, chocolate is what I look forward to.

man holding weight plate in home gym

Catalyst 3: Home-Based Equipment Reduces the Activation Energy to DO ANY WORKOUT

That efficiency inspired my husband and me to expand our home gym since moving to California. Although we are both dedicated athletes, my husband and I realized that neither of us would drive 15 minutes (and back) to the gym for “a quick lift.”

 

Moreover, we realized that the gym probably wouldn’t be open many times we wanted to visit because of the number of night/late shifts we work as residents. However, having the equipment in our backyard makes it extremely easy to do leg day before clinic or add a quick strength set after my morning run.

 

Like streamlining my workout choice above, ten minutes a day adds up fast. It’s only been a few weeks at this point, but my squats are rapidly improving, and I’m so VERY sore¹⁰.

 

¹⁰But in a good, this will make you crush your opponents on steep climbs with glutes of lightweight, but strong titanium sort of way.

Conclusion

So there you have it! As a chemist and a professional athlete, my catalysts are:

 

  1. Coaching to reduce the mental burden of choosing the “optimal” workout and just get going!

 

  1. Zwift & E-racing to promote instant, easy access to races!

 

  1. Eliminating the commute with a home gym.

What are yours?

Comment below!  Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.

For other great articles by Jacqueline check out the Features page of The ZOM!

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Fogg Mark
Fogg Mark
1 month ago

Hi very much agree with this. My other half whom is also my coach, has transformed my whole game plan. One of the greatest simple things which combats my anxiety in getting ready, is do all the set up work so all I have to do is get on, BUT DON’T, walk away for a minute or two, sit down, do some mental breathing, take my pre workout gel (specific) then all calm, get on the bike, it’s made a difference in my heart rate of at first being from 90-100 to the other day being 58.
Steady 5k min warm up, don’t race anyone, no matter what lol.
Also I’m using (all vegan inc gels) all by MY PROTEIN, the amino+ and clear vegan protein, drinks for my workout. My sustainable power has vastly improved, the other day I did road to sky and I’ve dropped my time from 1 hour 8 minutes, to 45 mins 34 secs, and my recovery is amazing. I’m 49, two years ago I was 18 stone 7 pounds, now I’m 15 stone, and racing again. I was an elite tt specialist thirty years ago.
Anyways, I digress, I basically use all your above mantra as well as my few other bits, and I fully agree with all your points.
Thank you for sharing, I dearly hope people will take them on board and improve as well.

Many thanks

Mark Fogg

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