Simple, essential lessons on running maintenance from a place you might not expect: the garage.

When I was in my 20s, I spent a number of years working as a professional motorcycle mechanic. I knew just enough to get the job but not nearly enough to do it.

One of the first lessons I learned from Stuart, a crusty older mechanic, was that there are a few immutable principles: (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 these rules. And though our lives as runners may seem to be more complicated than a motorcycle, I’m not so sure they are. Most of us overcomplicate nearly everything we do, including our running.

I’ll get into a training sequence that works for a few weeks, then slowly but surely it becomes less effective. I’ll run at the same pace or same effort day after day and wonder why I don’t seem to get anywhere. Like a rusty nut on a bolt, my training becomes stuck. It doesn’t do any more good to try to make the training work than it does to try to loosen a rusty nut. All you’re going to do with the nut is round off the head. All you’re going to do with your training is round off the joy.

What you need, sometimes, is a little oil to get inside and free you up. One of the best running lubricants for me is leaving my watch at home. The simple act of liberating myself from the constraints 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 runners need to make adjustments. Five weeks into a 20-week marathon training program, your child gets sick, you develop an injury, or a big project at work comes up, and you have to make an adjustment. You need to reevaluate your goals, redefine your criteria for success, and create a new plan. Maybe the mileage you planned is more than your body can handle, the speedwork is more than your spirit can handle, or maybe the rest of your life won’t accommodate your race plan. When any of those things happens, it’s time to back off, rethink, recalculate, and get real.

Sometimes, things just wear out. Running shoes wear out, socks wear out, and believe me, the elastic in running shorts wears out. But attitudes and beliefs wear out too. Maybe you think that you’re too tall, short, fat, skinny, young, old, or any of a hundred reasons to limit yourself. You might be surprised to learn that these kinds of beliefs can – and do – wear out. You may find that the beliefs you’ve been carrying around for so many years are just not working anymore. If they are, it’s time to replace them. Believe that you can run farther or faster. Believe that you’re young enough, old enough, strong enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to do. Don’t let worn out beliefs stop 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 majority of what’s going on in your running life is just fine. If your running is satisfying and fun, don’t change a thing.

In the end, runners probably aren’t much more complicated than motorcycles. As long as you don’t forget the rules.

Waddle on, friends.

Leave a Reply