Monday, January 30, 2012

The Virtue or Vice Of Prudence

When Is It Rational To Run Injured? Does It Matter If It's Irrational?

"Prudence is the virtue by which we discern what is proper to do under various circumstances in time and place." - John Milton
I am eleven weeks out from the Boston Marathon. If I weren't running Boston I'd probably be running a lot fewer miles and trying to get a real handle on healing a pesky injury that's been plaguing my existence since November. But Boston has no deferral option, the plane tickets are bought and paid for, and I can't possibly tell my 5 year-old that we won't be going to visit her Boston cousins after all.

So here I am, fully aware that what I'm trying to do is to hold the ship together, and on April 17th I will rest.

For most people, runners included, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense. When we're injured, we should stop...rest...heal. And, in a different situation I would agree, sort of. I've been known to try to run through injuries before, and sometimes it works out okay and sometimes it doesn't. Most runners have had this experience: They feel an injury coming on and keep running and it improves - miracle of miracles! And then there are the times you feel an injury creeping up behind you, and you continue to run and, well, things get much worse and you end up hobbling around for months regretting, with all your heart and soul, your foolishness.

The tricky thing about bodies is that they're unpredictable and some injuries are difficult to judge. Sure, a stress fracture is deal killer and you must stop running, stat. But others are much more vexing. I've had injuries that have gotten worse with rest. I've had injuries that were misdiagnosed.

In 2008 I was told that my running days were over - Over, for good. There was "nothing to be done" for me. I was proclaimed a lost cause, a sad story, a cautionary tale...see what running does to you? It turns you into a lame shadow of your former self before you even make it through middle-age. Don't go there. Don't run. Don't stress those poor fragile knees...Running is bad for you. Non-running friends shook their heads and raised their eyebrows in a "what did you expect?" way. All that wear-and-tear...All those years...all those miles upon miles.

And now it's 2012. I've run a few marathons, dozens of halfs and 10ks and 10 milers, etc. since that diagnosis of doom and, yes, I'm dealing with another injury. Part of my current situation is the result of an old climbing injury - yes, climbing not running - that I probably didn't rehab well 11 years ago. So, should I just do what would normally be rational and reasonable and stop?

I have chosen to push on and patch the ship when a leak appears, to keep pounding the boards back in place when they spring loose, - to hold the ship together until I can get it into port.

While many may view my actions as irrational, stupid, foolhardy, or shortsighted, on many levels they are entirely reasonable given the situation. First, I know what I'm dealing with as far as the injury and the long and short term consequences - That is, as far as those things can even be 'known'. I monitor it constantly (which makes me a little crazy and somewhat irritable at times) to make sure that things are improving rather than the opposite. I am receiving the best physical therapy I can find and afford - Physical therapy was my Christmas present this year - Oh joy! I'm receiving PT that seems to be helping me.

I wouldn't do this for just any race. I sat out a couple races earlier this year that I had registered for because pushing on in those instances would have been imprudent on so many levels. But in the case of Boston I have to weigh the pros and cons more seriously because it matters more to me. This may not be the case for everyone, but it is for me.

And so my reasonable self looks to Aristotle - my go to philosopher - for guidance and justification. The reasonable action depends on the individual, but for each individual there is A rational action (this is not a relativistic, it's all good view). Given who I am, and what enriches my life as a rational animal, I must decide what the prudent (prudence being the virtue I'm aiming at achieving) action is for me. There is AN answer, and the challenge is to discover it. The answer depends on who I am: my skills, my training, my injury, my experience. And when I consider all the key factors, I conclude that this is the best action for me.

But then I think of grander desires, perhaps wild dreams that may be less than rational and even irrational and passionate, and those too draw me in. Whether prudence be a virtue of strength and reason, or a vice of weakness and timidity, the answer is the same for me. I will go on until a can't or until I succeed. 

It is both reasonable (though never guaranteed) and passionate.
"Prudence is a rich, ugly, old maid courted by incapacity." - William Blake
"It is no less a feat to keep what you have, than to increase it. In one there is chance, the other will be a work of art. " - Ovid

10 comments:

  1. It makes sense.

    Last year I had a very painful, sudden flare-up of ITBS. My only thought, after learning I hadn't torn something, was "How can I run on this and continue to train for my marathon?" It was a setback, but it made me work harder than I would have w/o the injury.

    This year, training for the same marathon, I'm deferring/resting with a much less sharply painful but more lingering injury. I feel crappy about missing the race, but I just knew the long runs would be miserable and completely unenjoyable.

    If it were Boston, though (in the fictional universe where I'm fast enough!), I'd probably have thought harder about trying to push through. Good luck!

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    1. Yes, if it weren't Boston, I'd probably - probably;) - take a more conservative approach, but maybe not. I've run and trained for other marathons injured. Bad habits are hard to break!

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  2. You're taking a risk. A calculated (prudent) one, but a risk nonetheless. Each day you train you (literally) step outside of what's "safe and secure". It's not who you are, who you've become, to give yourself to this in half measures. So, with your knowledge of the physical, emotional, spiritual being you've become, you go the risky (passionate) route. You're "in it", all the way, because that's just who you are.

    [My apologies if I've been too presumptuous in my comments. Sending good energy your way for a butt-kicking time in Bean Town.]

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    1. Always appreciated, Ken. You got my number :)

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  3. All my friends tell me I'm "lucky" I found running so late in life. (hey 50 isn't *that* old, is it??) They tell me "you haven't worn all your parts out." All I know it's a big effort every day to keep everything in working order. I can see how easy it is to try to run through pain or an injury. It sounds like you've weighed your options and have made the best decision for you. I hope you have a great race in Boston!!

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    1. No, 50 is not *that* old - and our parts don't 'wear out':) And the effort is the same...everyday...though some days feel easier.
      There are some theories/claims that arguethat your best running (racing/times) come in the first decade or so, whatever age you begin - so based on that, you're at an advantage (over most your age) - but I'm not going to believe it - because I don't want to.

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  4. I am so sorry that you are having problems with an injury. I know that they are no fun because I have been there many times myself. I wish you the best and I will pray that your injury starts to improve.

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    1. Thanks Christi - I can use all the help I can get!

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  5. I think it's correct to think you can train through most injuries. Properly diagnosed and the right therapy of course. But no option is worse than actually laying off for weeks or months. You might never come back from that. I bought a Strassburg Sock recently from the Boulder Running Store that is keeping my plantar fasciitis at bay.

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  6. Ed - I wore a Strassberg Sock last year when I had a mild case of PF and it help - but it's current incarnation seems to be more aggravated when I wear it. I think there's a number of things going on, so it's a constant challenge trying to figure out "what will help today". And of course. training is one thing - racing is something else. Time will tell...

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