Just over 2 weeks ago at the wonderful 44th Parbold Hill Race the usual crowd were there. It wasn't that I recognised anyone in particular other than Glen and his family, but I recognised the crowd and the familiar tentative smiles and easy talk. I recognised those hardy people and their wiry bodies, rugged lines on their faces. With nowhere to hide under fancy suits or skirts, make-up or carefully sculpted hair, running 11km often in ankle deep mud would never be a fashion parade, the mud and sweat and red faces a natural and disarming leveller cutting through the falsity of usual social standing. Dressing up for the occasion would be absurd.
Beginner, seasoned veteran, or elite athlete alike, everyone was there for the same reason; simply to run. There was no need to hide behind image or be afraid of expectation in an event like that, we were all brothers and sisters gathered for the joy of the challenge (and maybe a half pint of bitter afterwards by way of reward).
These are the beautiful people. Beautiful people who gather on a winter afternoon to slip and slide across muddy fields that suck at feet and ankles. To trip on hidden tree roots buried in the soil, to leap over fences and stiles. Friends and family come out to support them braving high winds and rain to selflessly clap and cheer and encourage, or to direct the runners around the course. These too are beautiful people, beautiful beyond compare.
The course is like an old friend; each twist and turn, where the trail kicks up, where the mud pools by the fence crossings, and the brief dip in the stream near the end (that seems to become wider and deeper each year). But it is the crowd - the people - that make this event special. I shall be back there again next year for the 45th race, without a doubt!