The Mechanics of Running
I spent a number of years working as a professional motorcycle mechanic. Like so many other jobs I had when I was younger I knew just enough to get the job but not nearly enough to do the job.
One of the first lessons I learned from Stuart, a crusty older mechanic, was that there are a few immutable principles. These are the incontrovertible truths that all mechanics live by. They are: 1] if it can be lubricated, it needs to be lubricated 2] if it can be adjusted, it needs to be adjusted, 3] if it’s worn out, replace it and 4] if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
It’s amazing how far you can go as a mechanic if you remember only these four simple rules. What at first might have seemed like a major mechanical overhaul often turned into nothing more than lubing what was stuck, adjusted what was out of adjustment, replacing what was worn out, and leaving the rest of the motorcycle alone.
Our lives as runners may seem to be more complicated than a motorcycle, but I’m not so sure. I’m afraid that most of us overcomplicate nearly everything we do, including our running.
We can certainly be stuck. I’ve been stuck in training ruts. I’ll get into a training sequence that works for a few weeks and then slowly but surely becomes less and less effective. I’ll run at the same pace or same effort day after day and wonder why I don’t seem to be getting anywhere.
Like a rusty nut and bolt, my training becomes stuck. It doesn’t do any good to just try harder to make the training work any more than it does to try to tighten a wrench around a rust bolt. All you’re going to do with the bolt is round off the head. All you’re doing to do with your training is round off the joy.
What we need, sometimes, is a little penetrating oil to get inside and free us up. One of the best running lubricants for me is leaving my watch at home. Just the simple act of liberating myself from the pressure of time is often enough to loosen the grip of my training regimen. It’s just a matter of taking the pressure off.
There are plenty of times when we, as runners, need to make adjustments. 5 weeks into a 20-week marathon training program a child gets sick, or we win a vacation, or we a big project comes up at work and we have to make an adjustment. We need to reevaluate our goals, redefine our criteria for success, and create a new plan. That’s what we should do. But we don’t always.
We get ourselves in trouble when we should make the adjustment but don’t. We miss several days of training and just jump back in where we left off. Worse, we stay so glued to a plan for training or a race that we ignore all of the signs that are telling to change our plan.
Adjustment is not failure, but it can look like it if we’re not careful. As Stuart said, if it can be adjusted it needs to be adjusted. Maybe the mileage we planned is more than our body can handle. Maybe the speed work is more than our spirit can handle. Maybe the rest of our life won’t accommodate our race plan.
When any of those things happens, it’s time to make an adjustment. It’s time to back off, rethink, recalculate, and get real. If you don’t adjust the chain on a motorcycle it will eventually fall off and you won’t be able to move. If you don’t adjust your training, you’re in danger of the same thing happening.
Sometimes, things just wear out. We know that running shoes wear out, socks wear out, and believe me, and the elastic in running shorts wears out. But attitudes and beliefs wear out too.
Maybe you’ve been thinking that you’re not a long distance runner, or that you’re not a fast enough runner to race the shorter distances. Maybe you believe that you’re too tall, short, fat, skinny, young, old, or any of a hundred reasons to limit yourself. Maybe you just don’t believe that you will ever be anything other than what you are.
You might be surprised to learn that those kinds of beliefs can and do wear out. Who you think you are is more than likely based on what you used to be. You may find that those beliefs about yourself don’t fit you anymore. You may find out that those beliefs that you’ve been carrying around for so many years are just flat worn out.
If they are, it’s time to replace them. Pack up those old worn out beliefs and just throw them away. Put on a new set of beliefs. Believe that you can run farther, or faster. Believe that you are young enough, old enough, tall enough, short enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to. Don’t let those worn out beliefs keep you from moving beyond yourself.
Just as important as knowing what to lube, adjust, and throw away is knowing what to leave alone. Chances are that the vast majority of what’s going on in your running life is just fine. There’s no need to go in and start messing around with a training program or philosophy that’s working because something new has come along. If your running is satisfying and fun don’t change a thing.
In the end we are probably not that much more complicated than a motorcycle. It may be time to give yourself a running tune-up. Just don’t forget the rules.
Waddle on, friends.