A race with no end – the Wings for Life World Run 2014

Do you crave something different when it comes to running? I think that personally I might be at a bit of a turning point as far as my running is concerned.

My marathon PB feels like something I achieved in a different life and getting in share to tackle that feels like it would be a long, long way off. Whilst I still feel a strong competitive drive and I want to test myself, I know that with all the fantastic opportunities we have at Freestak and the fact that Like the Wind magazine seems to have built up some momentum (next issue will be out towards the end of May, by the way) training to beat my time in London 2013 doesn’t seem feasible.

So I am increasingly finding myself attracted to ‘other’ races – different distances and different terrains in particular. I am probably going to run at least one mile race this summer. And I have booked myself into a series of off-road ultras this summer – in particular there a couple of meaningful races for me: the CTS Classic Quarter in Cornwall and the UTMB CCC in August.

So in the spirit of doing ‘different’ races, I was rather excited to be taking part in the Wings for Life World Run yesterday. This is a race with quite a few quirks:

  • The race is being run to support the Wings for Life charity, which has been set up to fun research into spinal injuries. Being backed by Red Bull, every penny of the entry fee goes to the charity, which I really like.
  • The idea of the race is to stay ahead of a catcher car – the ‘finish line’ is attached to the outside of a Landrover which follows the runners at a set pace and as the car passes you, your race is over. In that sense there is no finish line – you simply run as far as you can before the car catches you
  • The run was taking place simultaneously in 35 locations around the world – luckily for us in the UK, we started at 11am. In China, Australia, South America, etc they weren’t so lucky…

You can’t change a leopard’s spots

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 18.07.37So how do you approach a race like this? Well, Wings for Life sort of made it simple by setting up a ‘slider’ on the race website which allows you to work out how far you would get before the car reaches you based on distance or time. So I obviously looked to see how fast I would have to run to get to 26.2 miles before the car caught me. The answer: 3hrs 8mins. Not easy, but also not impossible. Well, so I thought!

Just before the race I spoke to my friend Tobias Mews and we agreed that we would run together at 3:08 marathon pace and just see how we got on. The morning dawned clear and cool but it was obvious that it would warm up and by 11am it was already t-shirt-only weather. In fact a vest might have been a better idea.

The gun sounded and off we went – at sub-6 min/mile pace! There was about 8km of running on the circuit at Silverstone and to be honest that is probably where my problems started, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was really warm and I was almost certainly dehydrated from working all day on Saturday at the Trail Running Team day and then running around on Saturday night and Sunday morning looking after the elite athletes that Freestak had invited to the race. I was sweating hard (there is NO shade around Silverstone for obvious reasons) and with Tobias and I clicking off 7 min miles, I only grabbed a few mouthfuls of water as we passed the aid stations. Worse was to come.

Off the track, into the unknown

After 8km we left the circuit and headed on to the roads. This is where the hills started. The course had been described as undulating and it certainly was that. In fact it was hilly. Tobias and I kept clicking off 7 or 7:15 min miles but the uphills and the heat were taking the toll.

The real problem for me came after about 16 miles. By this stage there were only 70 runners left (according to the results) and the water stations stopped. I had been trying to get water in but balancing this with keeping the pace up was a real struggle. I was sweating really heavily and getting very, very dehydrated. It was really hot by 1pm.

In the end I was reduced to walking a couple of the uphills and begging some water off a passing motorcyclist. I could hear the ‘catcher car’ coming and I pulled myself together for a final burst. In fact from that point the car took 15 minutes to catch me and I was really interested in the motivation that extending the time to getting caught gave me.

Sadly I didn’t get to the marathon. 22 miles was my lot. Tobias had forged ahead at about 21 miles as I was reduced to a walk and he managed 22.8 miles. We were 17th and 13th respectively in the UK.


Overall I thought the Wings for Life World Run 2014 was a great idea. It was fun to race in a different way although I admit that the marathoner in my took over and I reduced my target to trying to run a very familiar distance in a target time (destination goals as described by Stuart Mills – there will be a post on this soon so keep your eyes peeled). I am sure that a few of the logistical challenges will be sorted in future years and this should be a great event with ever more people seeing how far they can go – after all why stop at 10km or 13.1 miles if you can keep going?

For a flavour of the day and how it all worked, check out the video below which was a live stream on the day and is now a record of the event.

I will definitely be back for more!





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