Skip to main content
Log in

Drive beyond body: the undead jouissance of endurance sports

  • Counterspace
  • Published:
Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Slavoj Žižek’s interpretation of drive as a “less than nothing” entity that goes beyond life and death itself in the space of the “undead” is the proper dimension of endurance sports. The question of how far a human can push themselves is open, and limited only by real-life investigation. This paper highlights aspects and potential limits of the drive through three stories of endurance feats: the “Iron Cowboy” James Lawrence who completed 100 Ironman triathlons in 100 days, Courtney Dauwalter who won a 240-mile ultramarathon, and Eliud Kipchoge, the fastest marathoner in history. In each story, a few themes emerge, like the paradox that “discipline is freedom,” “feeling alive at the moment of death,” and pure jouissance beyond biology. It is not a coincidence that the first marathoner in history actually died after making the famous trip from Marathon to Athens. In the same way, this is exactly the death that endurance athletes strive toward. This paper argues that we should understand this drive as a being-toward-death, as Heidegger’s phenomenological analysis in Being and Time holds remarkably for the experience of endurance athletes. But even beyond Heidegger’s being-toward-death, as well as various biological explanations for sports motivations, only Jacques Lacan’s understanding of drive, and the lamella, yield a satisfying account of these fantastic athletic achievements. As well as the three stories of endurance feats, I incorporate my own experience as an endurance athlete.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.


  • Baudrillard, J. (2010). America (C. Turner, Trans.). Verso. (Original work published 1986)

  • Fader, M. (2022, August 20). Inside the pain cave. The Ringer.

  • Freud, S. (1964). Analysis terminable and interminable. In J. Strachey (Ed.), Standard edition: Vol. 23 (pp. 216–255). Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1937)

  • Freud, S. (1966). Project for a scientific psychology. In J. Strachey (Ed.), Standard edition: Vol. 1 (pp. 281–391). Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1895)

  • Gellius. A. (1927). The attic nights of Aulus Gellius (J. C. Rolfe, Trans.). Harvard University Press. (Original work published ca. 177 C.E.)

  • Green, M. (2023, January 5). ‘You won the game of life’: Damar Hamlin received positive updates from doctors. NBC Sports.

  • Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time (J. MacQuarrie & E. Robinson, Trans.). Harper & Row, Publishers. (Original work published 1927)

  • Herodotus. (1998). The histories (R. Waterfield, Trans.). Oxford University Press. (Original work published ca. 430 B.C.E.)

  • Lacan, J. (2007). The other side of psychoanalysis: The seminar of Jacques Lacan, book XVII (R. Grigg, Trans.). W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1991)

  • Matthews, V. (1974). The “Hemerodromoi”: Ultra long-distance running in Antiquity. The Classical World, 68(3), 161–169.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mederis, A. (2021, August 23). A man who did 100 Ironman-distance triathlons in 100 days used 4 simple rules to conquer his goals. Insider.

  • Nolan, A. (2021, June 4). Why he’s completing 100 Ironman distance triathlons in 100 days. Runners World.

  • Sartre, J.-P. (1992). Being and nothingness (H. E. Barnes, Trans.). Washington Square Press. (Original work published 1943)

  • Skolnik, A. (2021, June 28). He felt like running: 100 days, 100 Ironman-length triathlons. The New York Times.

  • Swann, C., Crust, L., & Vella, S. (2017). New directions in the psychology of optimal performance in sport: flow and clutch states. Current Opinion in Psychology, 16, 48–53.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Sweat Elite (n.d.). Eliud Kipchoge – 15 motivational quotes about training and life. eliud-kipchoge-motivational-quotes-about-training-and-life/#:~:text=%E2%80%9COnly%20the%20disciplined%20ones%20are,That's%20a%20fact.%E2%80%9D

  • Žižek, S. (2008). The ticklish subject: The absent centre of political ontology. Verso.

  • Žižek, S. (2014). Absolute recoil: Towards a new foundation of dialectical materialism. Verso.

  • Zupančič, A. (2017). What is sex? MIT Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cameron More.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

More, C. Drive beyond body: the undead jouissance of endurance sports. Psychoanal Cult Soc 29, 280–289 (2024).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: