"Prudence is the virtue by which we discern what is proper to do under various circumstances in time and place." - John MiltonI 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