I ran a 5k at Merwin Meadows in Wilton yesterday morning. It was a fundraiser for my kids’ preschool. Before the race, I went around making jokes with the other fathers and mothers about how embarrassing it would be if they beat me, and then showing them my sympathetic pregnant belly.
I was hitting a wall at about the 1.5 mile mark, despairing over how fat and out of shape I am and how many women and children were going to beat me.
Then I did something that I don’t normally do in road races. I started cheering people on. There were a few out-and-back turnaround points so you ended running right past the people going in the opposite direction. I started giving high-fives and cheering people on. Neighbors, friends, strangers, children, my sister. “Good job, ladies, keep it up!” “High-five! Almost there!” “Go Hop, Yeah Hop!”
Each cheer gave me a burst of energy. I wasn’t out there running against competitive athletes and guys with ripped abs. It was other dads, just like me, and moms and kids, and we were all just trying to finish the race and have a good time. We were in it together.
I ran the last mile hard, all the way in, and I felt good. I wound up finishing in 6th place.
It is tempting to draw some sort of conclusion from this. Something about altruism and society and evolution.
But maybe it’s just that being a selfish jerk is actually not a very effective way to be selfish. Because you get bitter and lonely and you lose, even if you win.
I wonder if there are lessons to draw here for the rest of my life.