Imagine that, an odd perspective from me...
but, 'ever noticed that when you show up to a hotel where other racers are, and you may not know the runners you see, but you feel a sort of unsaid connection. Kinda like, "man, I know you must have been going through those same long training runs as me, talking to yourself, convincing yourself to continue, fighting the urge quit, to walk, to rationalize how/why you've gone far enough for today and can try to improve tomorrow." - "I'm sure you have the same collection of empty wrappers, plastic bottles, stinky clothes and smeared vaseline all throughout your car just like me." - "I'm sure you've held on to that pine tree just like me, with you shorts at your ankles, trying not to pee on yourself, as you stink up the woods, watching out for oncoming hikers and cursing the decision to eat Mexican the night before a 20-miler..."
We run these races because we feel like we share a big secret that others don't know or understand. A sort of secret to unlocking areas of our mind, body and spirit that usually go untapped - at least in the normal hum-drum, ritualistic lifestyle of most of us working stiffs.
and as you pass a runner in that hotel hallway, it's a nod, or a "hi" ...or whatever... and you walk away wondering, "hmmm... I wonder how fast that person will be tomorrow?" ...or, "damn, that girl is lean and bad-ass looking, why don't I look like that?" ...or, "Wow, I hope I can be running these races when I am that dude's age."
We run because we strive for our own, sliding-scale, versions of perfection.
and lastly, when you cross that finish, you notch that mental belt that adds yet one more kick-ass experience in this journey of life and for a second you are the coolest person in the whole world ...to you.