A Whole New Set Of Running Emotions
It doesn’t take a genius to know that I love a race with a different concept to the norm. Wings For Life World Run or ‘The race with the moving finish line’ therefore gave me all I could wish for in an event.
Participants run as far as they can until a catcher car (driven by Formula One legend David Coulthard) overtakes you. The runners get a 30 minute head start on the car which then gradually increase in speed until everyone is caught.
The event is held simultaneously in 33 countries across 6 continents over 17 different time zones so not only do you get a finishing position for your own race in your particular country but also a placing of where you finished in the world.
The UK race is held in Cambridge and starts at 12pm. With so many different time zones it felt lucky at first to have the convenience of a midday start time whereas some races were going off in darkness late at night or in the early hours of the morning but being Britain’s hottest day of the year the beaming sunshine would make for a hard days work.
Arriving at the start area located on Parker’s Piece common right in the city centre the first thing I noticed was queues. A huge long queue to sign the race waiver, then another one for race pack collection then another for bag drop. It was less than an hour until the start and I wasn’t the only one wondering if the UK were going to make the worldwide synchronised start.
All I can say is there must have been a super efficient registration team as the flow from one end of the 100 meter plus queues to the other was as smooth and as quick as I’ve ever experienced eradicating any worries of not making the start line on time. I fact I still had plenty of time for two toilet trips and a mile or so warm up run (not that I needed to ‘warm up’ as it was absolutely boiling).
They called everyone into the starting pens early and there was an amazing atmosphere as the announcers broadcast live on Red Bull TV with the huge screen switching to different cities across the planet from Melbourne, Australia to Santiago, Chile. From Florida USA to Dubai UAE. From Ahmedabad, India to Niagara Falls, Canada. Every time they came back to the UK a huge cheer erupted. There was a genuine feel of pride for your country as the majority of the 2,500 participants waved the Union jack.
Then the countdown began. The whole place was a buzz of excitement as we got underway running straight through the busy shopping streets of Cambridge, out into the surrounding housing estates then into the beautiful countryside.
I wasn’t expecting crowds of encouraging supporters lining the route but it was a very welcomed surprise. Some of the county roads were quieter but each and every time we ran through the many villages alone the way the residents were out on mass with smiling faces and home made banners.
My pre race planning using the online goal calculator told me that in order to reach marathon distance I needed to run 3.08 for 26.2 miles. I decided to aim at 3 hour marathon pace then see how much longer I could keep it going for. That meant 6.50 miles. Considering I was operating at 6.15 miles for much of the London marathon only two weeks previous this should have felt comfortable and it did for a while but nowhere near as long I’d of hoped for.
The weather and distinct lack of shade were taking their toll with every mile that passed. Luckily there were ample fuel stations on route. One every couple of miles fully stocked up with water, Red Bull or a mix of the two, bananas, orange segments and jelly babies. I was taking in as much water as possible holding a bottle from one station to the next, drinking and tipping it on my head as I went.
I reach 13 miles in good time, just under 1 hour 30 mins so on pace but I knew that in that heat and only 14 days after London marathon my legs weren’t ready for another sub 3 hour clocking. I decided to keep pushing the pace where I could but take more time at the fuel stations and just see how far that got me.
As my legs began to stiffen and the sun drained my energy levels the psychological aspect of this event started to sink in. Normally when you are tired in a race knowing that you are getting closer to the finish line with every step is a welcomed relief. Your muscles may be telling you to slow down but your mind knows that the faster you go the sooner you’ll finish. Well that’s actually the complete opposite here.
When the going gets tough it’s very hard to keep pushing knowing that means you’re going to be running for longer. Essentially you are running away for your finish line. That becomes quite hard to get your head around.
Another unusual aspect of this event is that until very late on in your day are you really able to race at all. I had no idea what position I was in until one of the marshals came towards me on a motorbike around mile 20 mark informing me I was in 23rd place. I had a staggered group of runners in slight at this point, as I did for most of the time, so my competitive nature then pushed me on a little harder to get myself into the top 20.
At mile 21 another motorbike passed me, this time telling me that the catcher car was just coming over the horizon and I didn’t have long left to run. By this point I had already realised I wasn’t going to make marathon distance and almost wanted the race to be over but the natural fear inside of us when being chased is to run away and that’s what I did. My pace picked up quite considerably.
The minutes that followed seem to last an age. I took several looks over my shoulder but couldn’t see the catcher car anywhere. Before it eventually came into sight I’d managed to rack up another couple of miles. I had three runners all within catching distance. I knew the end was near so I did what I always do when racing and sprinted for home. I went past two of the three that were but rather annoyingly just as the car caught me someone came past me from nowhere. I still thought I might have made my target position though and later had it confirmed that is finished 20th.
I’d notched up 23.12 miles/ 37.2 KM. I wasn’t overly impressed with that distance but in the circumstances I was satisfied enough and just how far that is was emphasised by the length of journey back on the roads by bus that collected all runners to take them back to the start area. Sitting there feeling a little worse for wear it seemed crazy to think that I’d actually just ran what the bus was now driving.
Another change to the norm for the race is that the fastest runners finish last so when I got back to collect my goody bag, t-shirt and medal what is normally a fairly quite event village was heaving with runners some of whom had been finished for hours.
The big screen was now showing the last remaining runners throughout the world. There were still a couple of Brits in course too. I had my photo taken with my finishing distance displayed, drank my free beer and headed home. Amazingly when I got back the winning runner from Italy had only just been caught having racked up an incredible event record of 88.44 KM!