At the Wings for Life World Run, set for May 4, 2014, “the finish line is actually chasing you,” as organizer Evan Korn tells Runner’s World, and that’s just one of the ways in which this global charity event differs from typical road races.
Aimed at raising money for spinal cord research, the Wings for Life World Run will comprise 40 simultaneous races on six continents, including four in the United States.
Korn wasn’t kidding about the finish line. Here’s how it works: When the gun goes off at 6:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, participants in Atlantic City, NJ; Sunrise, FL; Denver, CO; and Santa Clarita, CA, will start racing, and 30 minutes later, a “catcher car” starts its pursuit, traveling initially at 9.32 miles per hour and slowly increasing speed throughout the day.
Once a runner is passed by the car, he or she is eliminated, and on the event’s website, competitors can calculate how far they’ll likely get before being bounced from the race and sent back to the starting line on shuttle buses.
Folks running 8:30 miles would travel 13 miles before being overtaken by the catcher car, for instance, while those moving at a 6:30 pace would cover 50 miles.
Organizers are hoping for a global turnout of 150,000 people, and due to the unique format—made possible by state-of-the-art timing chips—they expect that runners will need to cover “ultramarathon distances” to have a shot at winning.
The registration fee is $50, and it will increase to $70 before the end date of April 20. If the fee seems high, it should be noted that Wings for Life is supplying its own support staff and covering all costs related to the event. This means that all proceeds go toward spinal cord research.
It’s a cause near and dear to the heart of two-time motocross world champion Heinz Kinigadner, who co-founded Wings for Life with Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz. Kinigadner’s son, Hannes, was left quadriplegic after a motocross accident, and the foundation’s focus is curing spinal cord injuries.
Each race can accommodate a maximum field of 5,000 runners, and while Wings for Life has yet to finalize each route, Sunrise race director Zoltan Polgar promises wide, unobstructed courses that will allow the catcher car to travel at the desired pace in each location, ensuring a fair race.
“I’d like to last near the end, but at the same time, it’s really about running for those people that can’t,” said ultramarathoner Karl Meltzer, one world-class athlete who’s committed to the race. “I have a certain pace I’ll run. I think once that catcher car gets closer, I may be inspired to keep moving.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg