‘Did you see that runner?’ I asked my daughter the other day. We were cycling home along a lakeside road that positively teemed with ‘physically active people,’ as the sociologists of sport put it.
‘Which one?’ she asked, looking around for clues. ‘The one we passed just now,’ I explained. ‘She was smiling, you know!’
Running tends to be a dead serious business not only for those who run for a living, which is why a smiling runner is destined to become an oxymoron. Ever heard of humble mixed martial arts fighters? It’s the same with smiling runners; they exist only in the commercial reality of glossy magazines.
When did recreational runners cease smiling and mutate into solipsistic institutes of human locomotion? The turning point appears to have preceded the Sports Tracker Smart Sensor by a few decades. American runners, according to Jean Baudrillard, ‘cocooned in the solitary sacrifice’ of their energy in the early 1980s, which may or may not have been just another symptom of the Reaganite era.
The French philosopher was partly right, partly wrong. As the historian Aaron Haberman recently argued, ‘solitary runners came together’ all over America in the 1970s, if not earlier (Journal of Sport History 1/2017). At least some first-generation joggers protected themselves against the proverbial trap of long-distance runner’s loneliness by setting up communities of their own.
According to Baudrillard, America, especially California, provides a glimpse of things to come, and in terms of sports technology, Europeans may well have lagged behind the American trailblazers. Subsequently, the Walkmans spotted by the French visitor evolved into the iPhones without which no self-respecting twenty-first century jogger dares to break into a sweat.
Which brings us back to this year’s wonder woman, the smiling runner circling a lake in Central Finland. ‘You see,’ I started lecturing to my daughter. ‘She smiled because she enjoys the simple act of running, which is something every person should do. Running for no other reason than the thrill of being able to keep your legs busy!’
‘You just didn’t get it, dad,’ the cycling six-year-old shot back. ‘She had earphones, didn’t you see? She must’ve been listening to music or talking to somebody. Anyway, when will I get my iPhone?’