The rat race continues at night 

Some joggers feel the need to be competitive and create the impression that they can outrun you without ever uttering a word. They focus more on fake victories than of enjoying the pleasures of a late-night run  

I go running fairly regularly, have done so for more than twenty years. And though there have been long phases when I discontinued the practice for reasons none other than pandering to my lazy bones, now I have set out to write about my jogging experiences.

I must clarify, though, I am not writing this for health reasons, though I must add, it’s a quality date with self, especially when you enter into a rhythm and there’s inherent stillness in the synchronised motion. This article is more about a sociological phenomenon that can be very distressing.

I like changing the venue of my jogging — needless to say, my favourite is Lodi Gardens. I can run in a park or take many rounds in a static setting, it doesn’t bore me. I’m a stickler for rhythm, and if I get into one, running is pure music for me. Over the years, having run in various parts of the world, in cities, and towns, beaches and farms, I have realised it’s a good way to know better a place and its people.

Lately, I run in Noida where I live. I keep changing the venues but they are usually close to my house, as I go out running late in the evening, like 11 pm, or even later, come back, take a shower and go to bed. This has been a habit for years and not an adaption to Corona times—I like to run when it’s dark and empty. Now, I find many people walking even during these unearthly hours, and there are always people around.  Those who venture out to exercise late to maintain social distancing, are usually the corporate working-from-home kind of people.

And for some reasons, I’m distracted in their company and like to observe them. Sometimes they are able to cause a fair bit of resentment in me, and on many occasions, we compete. I race at the cost of bartering my rhythm and joy of jogging—as it’s a profound solitary activity.  And all this happens without an exchange of words, even avoidance of eye contact. These tussles are a good reflection of how society operates and the importance of winning, and, in the process, the ways and means are not much of a consideration if in their head they have secured a win.

Let me explain how it works with an example. So there’s this fairly fit looking guy, but for a minor beer belly, must be in his mid-thirties, who I encounter often. So I start running, and I see him walking in front of me, and just as I’m about to overtake him, he starts sprinting and disappears after the road takes a turn. He always disappears after negotiating the turn. I keep running, wondering where he has gone, and when I complete the loop, which is about a kilometre long, I see him walking in front of me again, around the same spot as earlier.  And just as I’m about to overtake, he sprints again and disappears after the turn. The whole cycle is repeated many times.

So I decided to give him a chase, run just a few metres behind him to figure out where he disappears after taking the turn. I could hear him panting, he was out of breath and barely managing to keep up the pace. Soon after the turn, he hides behind the tree along the road, hence disappears. And when I am gone, he walks back to the original place he crossed me and waits for me there to arrive after taking one full loop, so as to overtake and outrun me in a hundred-yard race and secure another victory.

He knows more than me it’s a bluff, but for some reason, it does his ego good, and I’m fairly pestered that he’s not fair. I have learned to ignore him but he keeps doing the same thing, over and over again, knowing very well that I know the secret of his fake victories.

Not just that, many a time when you see people walking towards you from the opposite direction, and they see you coming towards them jogging, they start running as well, only till you run past them, and when I turn around to look at them, they are walking again. So they jog just for 30 yards to give me the impression that they too are running. And they don’t take any trouble to hide their bluff.

Sometimes, when I jog past a walking person, they start to run, and overtake me, and start to walk again, and I overtake them again. Perhaps, it makes them happy to have defeated me in the 20-yard run, and then they are not racing anymore. And there’s no gender bias as far as this disconcerting phenomenon of fake victories is concerned.

Now, what does this indicate? A general tendency that society is in denial. And that they have a need for false reassurance that they are winners. They can ignore the fact that it’s fake—that’s why I feel they are in denial. And try to internalise these fake reinforcements to pep themselves up.

This is not confined to merely a jogging track but in other aspects of life. People are habitual of projecting a personal image that’s not true, and they are not fooling others, but themselves. Social networking sites have made it easy. The profile pictures are not a true depiction, and more often than not, fairly misleading, in terms of the person looking younger, slimmer, and so on and forth. Happiness lies not in being ourselves but in how we appear to others.

In their overzealousness to make these fake projections, they end up making it fairly obvious that it’s fake. I often ask myself, why I’m affected when people secure these fake victories over me. It’s not easy to ignore. I have decided to go for runs even later, after midnight, to avoid such encounters.

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