What are you running after

3 min readDec 30, 2020
Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

A homeless man, sitting on a bench, a bottle of beer in his hand, calls out to me:

“What are you running after?”

It is Saturday, at the end of the morning, the time for my jogging. As I continue to run, I just turn around and smile at his little provocation. He undoubtedly sees himself as a free man, freed from the bizarre whims of all these city-dwellers in hurry, stressed, who spend part of their free time continuing to run. But his question deserves to be taken seriously:

“What are you running after?

The answer is far from obvious. I started running regularly over years ago. In the beginning, the goal was to lose weight. In fact, it was less a matter of health than appearance: losing that belly and regaining my young man’s figure. The first day, I was puffing and in pain after a small mile. The following week, another motivation appeared: to run two kilometers without stopping. This personal challenge took on the appearance of a competition … against myself.

Running against yourself? But what is this hiding? As a teenager, I was running to become a champion. With each practice, the inner dream machine transformed me into a hero, winning imaginary victories against unseen competitors. It’s pathetic and ridiculous, but even today, at the slightest steep climb, I see myself pacing the laces of a legendary race: the Soweto marathon or the New York City marathon, the great wall of China. And the paunchy old man who we see suffering on the side of the road continues to project an interior film in which he is at the same time the author, the main actor, and the only spectator. What then does this inner epic correspond to? The philosopher will perhaps see in this a desire to surpass oneself, specific to the human condition. The sociologist will rather detect the internalization of a social norm oriented towards the quest for performance. And why not the Nietzschean “will to power”? Or even an erotic drive hidden and sublimated in sports practice, as Sigmund Freud would have thought? There is even a popular theory, inspired by the evolutionary trend, which holds that the human being is “born to run”: the passion for the race would be nothing other than the manifestation of an archaic instinct of the hunter-gatherer who sleeps in all of us. After three months of training, I thought about joining a club. I felt my motivation weaken in the event of rain, of fatigue. And what better than a group to support you in the effort? Finally, it was my friend Raoult, the doctor who had to fill out the aptitude certificate … who became my running companion. A new motivation was added to the race: the pleasure of meeting up, of talking, of laughing while running along the small country roads, in a word: friendship. This complicity is made up of a spirit of camaraderie mixed with small rivalries:

“The first to arrive at the top of the hill. Ready Go ! ”

Why are we running? Multiple causes overlap, not so easy to disentangle. The explanation of grassroots sport represents a challenge for the human sciences. Sport is a philosophy, a passion, a religion, a drug, a sociability, a moral …When I returned from my training session, sweaty, short of breath, and with heavy legs, I returned to where I had crossed the homeless an hour earlier. Fortunately, he is no longer there to taunt me with his ironic gaze. But this time it’s me who asks me:

“But what are you running after?”




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