On a downhill portion about 9 miles into my 12-mile run on Sunday, a runner with gray facial scruff and a ponytail who looked liked he had been around the block more than a few times in his life, came up on my shoulder and passed me from behind. At first, I just let him pass since I was taking an easy long run. Then I changed my mind. I picked up the pace and decided to follow him down the hill. About a couple hundred meters after we had reached the bottom of the hill and were running on the flat, I passed him. At first, it felt good, I admit, to use him on the downhill and then go past him, but almost immediately, I decided to wave at him to come up to me so we could run together. At first, he declined.
“You’re running too fast,” he said.
“Come on, we’ll help each other out.” I said.
For the next mile or so, we ran side-by-side, cruising along the wood chipped trail at a much faster pace than what I had been running just a minute earlier. And it felt good. I noticed he had an accent. I asked him where he was from. “Ireland,” he replied. Ironic, I thought, being the day before St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps this was a sign? I started talking to him.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Nice to meet you, Raymond. I’m Jason.”
“Nice to meet you, Jason.”
We kept talking for about another mile. He said he runs five miles a day on this wood chipped trail after being a smoker for 30 years. “I do this for my health,” he said.
Competition is in our DNA. By competing within his own species, man supports the chances for success of his biological information in future generations. Thus, it is likely that man competed primarily with others of his own species for his reproductive success. Man does not perform behaviors that are for the good of his species. Natural selection favors selfish behavior because altruistic acts only serve to increase the recipient’s reproductive success while decreasing that of the donor’s. Survival of the fittest.
However, perusing through books on anthropology and evolution (I do lots of weird things in my spare time), one comes across the word cooperation just as often as competition. It has been suggested that cooperation, rather than competition, has been the chief factor in evolution. After all, even the word competition comes from the Latin, competere, “to seek or achieve together.” Early man had to cooperate in order to survive. The use of warning cries when enemies approached, submission to the leadership of the strongest male, hunting in packs, all exemplified man’s need to cooperate. So perhaps humans are just as cooperative as they are competitive.
As I turned a corner to run a few more miles on my own down another road while my running partner remained on his five-mile path, I said goodbye to my new Irish friend with the scruffy face and ponytail, and I thought how great it felt to pick up the pace and cruise on the trail with someone who could push me and how we helped each other run faster than we could on our own.
It’s hard to find a runner who isn’t competitive. But sometimes it feels good to be cooperative instead. Next time a runner comes up on your shoulder during a run, pick up the pace and run together. Help each other achieve something that you both wouldn’t or couldn’t achieve on your own.
Wherever you are, Raymond from Ireland, thank you, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day. You made my day.