31 Days Project: Forrest Gump, Physiology and Philosophy of Running

I’m a bit of a runner, always have been. Nothing overly competitive but participated because of the health benefits. So, whilst exercise has physiological effects on the body there is also another side to running that interests me, the philosophy. More specifcally the sense of freedom, the adventure and the opportunity to reflect and consolidate my thoughts – Essentially, what compels me to run?

The Philosophy Bites podcast is one of many podcasts in my subscribed list and a favourite of mine is the episode with Mark Rowlands on Philosophy and Running. Mark discusses 4 stages of running.

Stage 1 – The embodied self – The awareness of how our body moves and feeling the stresses, strains, aches and pains.

Stage 2 – The Cartesian stage – At this stage the mind is making bargains with your body or telling little lies. Such as, “I can get to that tree or to the next corner then I can walk or rest” suggesting that the mind was separate from the body.

Stage 3 – The Humean Stage – In this phase the understanding is that the rational mind has faded away and thoughts just come from nowhere.

Stage 4 – The Sartrean Stage – This final stage embraces the idea that there must be intrinsic value to keep doing what you are doing. Mark describes a moment in the book ‘The loneliness of the long distance runner’ where the character “Smith” is about to win his race but decides to stop because the intrinsic value does not compel him to continue despite facing dire repercussions.

What’s this go to do with Forrest Gump?

There’s a moment in the movie after Jenny (Forrest’s long term friend and one true love) has left him once again (Forrest had also lost his mother previous to Jenny returning briefly into his life). The following morning he wakes, finds Jenny has gone and decides to start running.

Forrest’s intrinsic value to begin running was down to heartache, needing to reflect, separate himself from the world and reset.

What I found interesting in this clip is that Forrest openly admits that physiology did have a role to play. He slept when he was tired, he ate to fuel his body and when he had to go, he had to go!

What stops him is the intrinsic value of continuing to run ultimately ceased. He had been through the stages of running the detachment of mind from body, the random thoughts that came into his head that inspired ideas to some of his followers i.e. the moment he inspires one runner to make “Shit Happens” car stickers.

It was the moment when he had accepted the past and it was time to move on, to leave the past behind him. He stops, turns around and addresses his followers saying, “I’m pretty tired, I think I’ll go home now.”

I can’t say I have reached stage 4 during my races so far but have certainly reached stage 3 of Mark Rowlands stages of running philosophy.

What I do believe this tells us is the importance of recognizing the intrinsic value in the things we do. This intrinsic value forms part of our motivation to continue with an activity, other factors are forms of reward or relief I.e. financial, health, weight loss, pain relief etc.

Giving people exercises without understanding the intrinsic value means an increased risk of poor adherence, which can result in blaming the person when they have failed to gain an outcome.

Thanks for having a read and enjoy the clip.



Sillitoe, Alan (1959). The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. W.H. ALLEN Ltd. London. England.






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