Ever since I can remember, I've loved watching sport. Football, cricket, golf, athletics, snooker, tennis. Even bowls if there was nothing else on. And Superstars. Especially Superstars. The skills involved, the shifts in advantage from one side to the other, the sheer unpredictability, all inspired me to go outside and kick a ball or throw a dart (not always at my sister) or do some sliding squat thrusts. If I wasn't watching sport, I was doing it.
In those days, if it wasn't on television or radio, the only other option was Ceefax (or Teletext), a sort of early text-only version of the internet. It wasn't pretty but waiting for the page to update was strangely exciting.
Now I'm interested in ultrarunning - a sport which is rarely broadcast live except on flaky online feeds - I'm back to following a sport which I can only track competitors and results via text, with the odd picture thrown in if you're lucky. iRunFar do a great job of live reporting some of the bigger races but generally it's nothing or if you're lucky, updates from friends of runners or infrequent checkpoint splits on the official race site. It's far from ideal but actually, the lack of information can be the most thrilling way to follow events.
Last year a friend of mine had entered Centurion Running's North Downs Way 100, almost on a whim. She'd done really well on her first 50-miler on half of the same course earlier in the year and despite not being fully fit thought she'd give the 100 a go. All through the day and the night she was in contention with the leaders and was up to second place in the closing stages. With the drama unfolding at snails pace (online at least) I was constantly refreshing the page on tenterhooks. Finally, I saw that she'd won the ladies race; the long-time race leader having had to drop out with just a couple of miles to go.
It's this sort of unexpected turn of events that make sport so fascinating. These unscripted, unplanned happenings are pure magic, in a way that fictional drama never truly is. As Nick Hornby says in Fever Pitch, his book about supporting Arsenal, people often compare scoring a goal to having sex, equating it to the pinnacle of your efforts and a joyous moment. But as he explains, the difference with sex is that there comes a point when you know it's going happen, even if it's over the course of a few minutes. It's never a true surprise in a way that scoring a goal can be. Or at least it shouldn't be. If 'surprise sex' takes place, you may want to reevaluate your choice of partner.
Even if there was widespread live television coverage of these ultra-long ultrarunning events (and there probably never will be because of the lack of interest and cost to cover the whole course) I'm not sure it would be as exciting to watch as it is to follow online. And when you get posts like this on Facebook from last weekend's South Downs Way 50, it's hard not to get caught up in the drama of it all.
In less than four weeks, I'll be that slow-moving statistic on a website and who knows, maybe there will be people tracking my movements to see if I can fulfil my dream of finishing the Thames Path 100.
In the meantime, I'm still collecting for my chosen charity if you've got a couple of quid that would otherwise only be spent on an overpriced pint of beer...