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A great day out being chased by a car

by Ben G
Friday 12th May 2017
Ah, Wings for Life, otherwise known as ‘the one with the car’, takes place at the same time in 25 locations all around the world, so not only are you running with those alongside you, you’re running with people from all corners of the world.
The UK event took place in Cambridge, and having recently moved to Cambridgeshire I thought this was a good opportunity to see what the race is all about.
Supported by Red Bull this is a huge event and is broadcast online, this year saw a record number of people taking part with 155, 288 runners and wheelchair users from all over the world running the event.
Our team would be myself and a couple of runners I know, Maurice and Clare, both of them established long distance runners, Clare said she would run with me as we had a similar target distance in mind, Maurice would fly off ahead.

WFL team

We arrived at the park with just over 1 hour till the start of the race, already the atmosphere was starting to build and we joined the queue to pick up our race numbers, the queues weren’t that long and we picked up our numbers in no time, there was a real buzz going around and the huge screen that showed various places around the world as they also prepared to start. Interspersed with these shots were short films about the great work that the Wings for Life charity does, and a reminder that every penny of entry fees goes to the charity.
With fifty minutes to go the queue for the bag drop was huge and almost as long as the queue for the toilets but fair play to the volunteers as they managed to get everyone’s bags before the start of the race.
As we all made our way to the start line (over 3,500 people took part in Cambridge) there seemed to be a very relaxed atmosphere, quite different to what you’d experience at other races. Lots of people were chatting, people didn’t look nervous but instead had smiles on their faces and were looking forward to simply running as far as they could before a car overtook them, overall it felt a very laid back atmosphere and helped create a very positive feel.
With a few minutes to go there were some lacklustre Mexican waves taking part, then before we knew it the countdown was down to zero and we were off!
The start was very much a shuffle as we approached the start line from the middle of the pack, and then just before we crossed the start a quick high five from David Coulthard! If you’ve never done the race before and you have a set distance in mind and have calculated what pace you need, then for the first couple of kilometres you’re screwed, as there is heavy bunching until the crowd of runners starts to thin out. Now this isn’t a fault with the race or the fault of the organisers, it’s just hard to get 3,500 people, all running at different speeds. Within 1km I was 30 seconds off my target pace, which in the grand scheme of things wasn’t that big a deal, it’s just something to consider if you’re really focused on getting to a set distance before the car gets you. 
The support as we ran through Cambridge was great and everyone was very vocal, in fact throughout the run, when we ran through small villages, past pubs or just along the road people were there to cheer us on, offer water or jelly babies, and it’s well known that cheers make you run faster.
As we headed out of Cambridge and up a hill, a very rare thing in Cambridgeshire, we ran along side some of the wheelchair athletes who attacked the hill with enthusiasm and made a better job of it than me! It was good to see so many taking part and it was good to chat to some of them on the course.
The field had thinned out by the time we reached the airfield which was probably the least visually pleasing part of the course but it was soon over with and we continued on our way, the car was on its way towards up, we weren’t sure how far away it was but you could feel the tension rising among the runners as we edged past 10k. The slick organisation meant there were very regular aid stations along the course, they had water, Red Bull (obviously) and a water/Red Bull mix, most people ignored the first couple but after that the crowd would drift to the right for the aid station and the encouraging volunteers would hand out cups as quickly as they could.
There were signs posted on the course for every kilometre, with the mileage also noted below, and as we progressed further on the loop you could see spray painted the ‘further’ distances for the elites, at one point I saw ‘92k’!
We continued to progress although my previous foot injury was starting to rear its head and I was starting to slow, I told Clare I was going to stop at 15km and walk until the car passed me, that was a lot lower than my initial target but I knew I should stop to prevent further injury.
At 15km Clare kicked on and I ground to a halt, people were streaming past me and I tried a run walk to 16km, by now there were murmurings of the car getting close and as shortly after that a motorcyclist, making sure the road was clear for the car, confirmed that it was less than two kilometres away…
Panic set in and people started to quicken their pace, it was a strange mix of nervousness and excitement in the crowd and as people past me they would say ‘the car is coming’ with big smiles on their faces, I ran walked to 17km and we were all starting to cast glances back, some more motorcycles came towards us beeping to make sure the left hand side of the road was clear, then a sign that David Coulthard was getting closer, a surge of people who must have seen the car and picked up their pace, people were laughing or grimacing  as they made one last push. I started to run, I probably shouldn’t have, powered by adrenaline, I could see the 18k sign coming up, a quick glance back and there was the car, not far from me!

catcher car

The car drove alongside me and I kicked, managing to keep up with it for about 400 metres before it passed and that was it, my Wings for Life race was over. Me and the people around me slowed to a walk as the car drove on, some people were high fiving, others hugging and almost everyone chatting and congratulating each other on getting as far as they ran, I looked ahead and saw a guy wearing an inflatable unicorn outfit, which couldn’t have been easy to run in, and we all made our way to the next bus pick up that would take us back to the start.
On the bus on the way back everyone remained chatty and conversations included some people who were running their third Wings for Life in a third country, I can see why they have done that, the race is really well organised, it feels less competitive than a ‘normal’ race and you get the chance to run somewhere you might not normally consider. I’m already looking at where to run next year.
Our bus driver got a bit lost on the way back so by the time we got the worldwide race was drawing to a climax, the big screen went from country to country showing the last few runners and each time they were caught there was a round of applause from the crowd in Cambridge, it was a sea of fluorescent yellow as everyone wore they t-shirts from the goody bag. Some sizes had already run out by the time we picked up ours but the smaller sizes fitted fine.
After finally managing to find my teammates in the sea of yellow, we grabbed some food from the food vans around the park and watched the rest of the global runners finish before heading off.
The Wings for Life race is a great event, especially if you’re after something different, it’s very well organised, and the support is great along the course. There are a few places where you don’t see anyone but you bounce off the energy of the other runners. The surge of excitement as the car approaches is quite a strange thing to understand and initially it feels a bit strange just stopping in the middle of nowhere!
I really enjoyed the race and would recommend it to anyone.

You can find out more information about Wing for Life here: www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com

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