I am training to hit the Olympic standard in the marathon, not for 2021 (if the 2021 Olympics is not just another far off dream), but for 2024. COVID-19 has drastically changed my training strategy in a myriad of ways. On top of that, recent wildfires and air quality in Milpitas have made the outdoors unfit for distance running.
I purchased an old treadmill on Facebook marketplace last week in hopes of pulling off some important workouts. Much like COVID-19, the unpredictability of the air quality brings a feeling of endlessness. In short, I could not afford to wait for the proverbial dust to settle.
On day two with the treadmill of unknown origin, I began to hear a mysterious squeaking sound akin to a cat stuck in a wheel well as a car unwittingly rolls out of the garage. What followed was a night of obsessive research and “beautiful mind-ing” myself into vast knowledge of treadmill maintenance rituals imperative to keeping the machine in working order.
Immediately, the metaphor seeker in me drew an uncanny parallel to the need for physical and mental maintenance of a human life to remain “in working order.” The special silicon oil needed every three months to keep a treadmill from its untimely demise, and the weekly cleaning of the underside of the belt; the stretching, water-drinking, vegetable-eating, self-reflecting human: tomato/tomahto.
One would think that doing a few small tasks to keep things running smoothly would be a no-brainer, but how many of us are doing small practical things during this time of physical and mental duress just to keep ourselves in proper working order? Are daily tasks all we are truly meant to do? Or will this cause an eventual “warning squeak,” telegraphing that something big and bad is about to happen? What does it take to make our personal alarm bells start to ring?
Many pro athletes, when asked what their “secret weapon” is, refer to doing all the extra things that many others overlook because these things are inconvenient and/or an extra load on an already rigorous training regimen. The athlete that does not have a physical maintenance routine may perform well in training, yet burn out or injure themselves from letting things slip, such as stretches or proper rest.
Likewise, this pandemic has many people going through the motions, or overwhelmed at the daunting responsibility of having children at home for school, and needing to have established routines for them as well as trying to keep their own heads above water. With all that going on, who’s got the time for maintenance? In the moment, things seem to be going alright.
Personally, once the metaphor clicked, I began to evaluate my own strategy for maintenance. I already have a physical strategy that works well, but what about the mental? As I reflected, I began to see a pattern of waiting with bated breath for an acceptable time to have my one-per-day glass of red wine. One glass per day in and of itself is not a problem: the degree to which I began thinking about that glass is what worried me. Was this the “warning squeak” in my brain telling me I’d better oil up? In any case, I decided to give up that one glass of wine for good. It may seem like an extreme thing to do, but this has been the best decision for my own mental sake.
There has never been a more important time than this to maintain ourselves in the best possible way to avoid “breaking down,” mentally and physically. Our body is the one piece of machinery that is imperative to our being. Check-ins, evaluation, and action plans with follow-through on mental and physical well-being should be part of our everyday routines.
No one knows when life will return to normal, when the fires of 2020, both the real and the metaphorical, will be “put out.” That is out of our control. Personal maintenance is about all that a person can do right now to keep from “breaking down.” Don’t wait to oil until after you’ve heard the squeak; oil to prevent the squeak from happening in the first place. And, most importantly, to those who are squeaking, a squeak does not mean a treadmill is ruined. All is not lost–it is simply crying out for care.