I enjoy running. I used to run marathons, twenty kilos ago. If I dropped some weight, I might run marathons again. As it is, on most days I run on roads or trails for about an hour. Sometimes I add interval training and sprint for a few, short bursts; but mostly I just run, slow and steady.
When I came to Paris to work, back in 1992, there weren’t many runners on the Champs de Mars. I distinctly remember drawing a few stares. That has all changed, of course. It’s not New York’s Central Park, but the sight of a runner in a Paris park is no longer cause for amusement.
There seems to be an unwritten rule among French runners: don’t acknowledge fellow runners. Most pretend not even to see you. Some will nod, but most don’t. I find myself saying “bonjour!” to fellow runners much more often than I hear other runners greet me.
This feigned invisibility only seems to apply to other runners. Walkers and strollers and seated park-goers do notice runners, including me. Every so often, they speak a couple of words. Almost invariably, these words are “bon courage !”
I enjoy the support but have often wondered about what the speaker means. Does my effort signal some sort of fortitude, some exemplary conduct that observers salute? Or am I seen as so hopelessly slow that I need encouragement, a few words to fuel my continued effort?