I was volunteering at the Ickworth Hoohaah at the weekend. As you do. It's a great chance to see who's out and about and remember why we do this stuff.
I'll never be a racing snake. Various injuries have sorted that for me, sadly. So why do I bother? I can't chase PBs any more (49:49 for 10k, I'll have you know...), and I'm tending to get slower rather than faster. In fact, usually I'm somewhere up the back having a chatter with some poor unsuspecting person-that-I-don't-yet-know (my apologies if this has ever been you...).
It's good being at the back, as people that have already finished give you a bit of a cheer and a clap when you cross the line (not that I've ever been at the front, but I imagine it's a much quieter affair). Now that I no longer have any chance of a PB I don't even look at the clock, just have a nice little trot and look at the scenery (and chat, as previously mentioned). And sometimes you're raising money for stuff, which is all well and good - that's worth racing for isn't it?
The other thing about being towards the back, is that we make the faster people look good. If it wasn't for us, the people in the middle would be last, after all... That cliche your mum used to roll out at sports day is spot on. It is all about the taking part, and making the races into the place to be. Giving people someone to beat. I am happily embracing my role, it's a public service :)
And, until you've driven miles with a hangover, fought through a crowd of fast-looking racing-snake types in expensive-looking compression clothing to get your number, forgotten (again) how to put the chip thingy on your shoe, pinned your race number wonky (without writing anything useful on the back), and worked out where the last minute loo stop is, you'll never quite appreciate what racing is. It's not about times, not really. It's about family. The running family that know exactly what I'm on about with the chip thingy and the loo stop (and probably the hangover). Those familiar faces that pop up over and over again at events, cheerful and chatty and happy to just be there. The ones that bring cake for after and sympathise about chafing and the hills on route. And that wait for the very last person across the line and clap and cheer more for that one than any other.
That's what racing is.