The Wings for Life World Run is definitely the most unique road race I've done. The event is a charity race with 100% of the entry fee going to spinal cord research. But that's not the only thing that makes the race unique. There's no finish line. Yes, that's right. NO FINISH LINE. I discovered this is both a blessing and a curse.
As its name implies, the race is held in 35 locations around the world, simultaneously. With a giant large screen in the Reunion and After party area, participants were able to view footage of runners from other countries. We could watch to see who was running the farthest and fastest in all races. It really made me feel like I was part of something bigger.
But about that "no finish line"... Runners begin at the local start time. For the race in Sunrise, Florida, that was 7a.m. Then a half hour later, the "Catcher Car" starts. The car is equipped with a timing device, so that when the car catches the runner, the runner's race is over. Those fast runners could log a half marathon or more; those moving more slowly could run a 5k. It's up to the runner to determine the length of this run.
Before I discovered the goal calculator on the race's website, I posed the question to my 8th grade students... if I run at a 9:45 min/mile pace, how long before the catcher car catches me? They predicted I would be caught at 8:28 a.m. The goal calculator predicted about the same.
There was plenty of parking available since the race start and festival area was at the BB&T Center. Registration was quick and easy. Bag check was available and free! Coolers were located everywhere and packed with Red Bull and water. Port-a-potties were plentiful, as well. The race began on time with confetti.
It's sunny South Florida-- flat and fast, like most courses down here. What's not to love? We even got a break from the heat. Water and electrolyte stations were available frequently, and stations past the 10k (I think) mark also provided fuel such as mini Cliff bars, gels and fruit. I didn't really look at a course map before running because I wasn't quite sure how far I would run. I was happy that I ran far enough that I finished the race where the course looped back around near the start. Although buses were provided to shuttle runners back to the start, once the Catcher Car came by, I walked and jogged the mile or so back to the Reunion and After Party Area.
Runners were given water on the bus ride back to the Reunion Area. And upon returning there, we were given a medal, unique to our race location. Fruit and giant cookies were provided, as well as tickets for free beer. The Red Bull and Water was plentiful. And somewhere vouchers were being handed out for free food at the multiple food trucks onsite. (By the time I figured this out, I was just too tired to stand in line-- even for free food.)
I absolutely loved this race. It was so unique and challenging in a different sort of way. My legs were protesting heavily during the first 5k. The day before I had raced my first non-obstacle, non-mud 5k in two years (the Big Cardio 5K) and had finished in a decent 25:53. For this race, my time at the 5k was 27:20. And it felt like a huge struggle to get that far. The Catcher Car haunted me-- my thoughts kept drifting to "If I stop now and walk, the car will catch me soon, and I can be done." But the endorphins flowed, my legs loosened up, and I was able to clear those distracting thoughts. The 10k came, which meant it was time for a snack-- and that always boosts my mood. I was also pretty happy that I completed the 10k in about 55:57, so I was keeping a fairly solid pace (considering this was more of a long training run than a race for me). My pace was faster than I thought I would be able to maintain.
The longest I've run recently is 8 miles, so around mile 9, I was starting to hit the wall. But that's when my "just for fun" song came on: "Single Ladies" by Beyonce. Now, this isn't typically my kind of music, but on a long run I need something a little peppy and cheerful. And really, it's not about the song; it's about the Saturday Night Live skit featuring Justin Timberlake. That is the image that brightened my mile 9.
My race ended at 10.44 miles. I knew the Catcher Car was approaching. I'd been watching my watch. 8:28 a.m. had come and gone and as the seconds kept ticking away, I kept pushing as hard and as fast as I could. My total run time was about 1:36.