This hasn’t been easy.
God knows, I’ve tried. A lot. About a dozen times now, I’ve attempted to come up with an introduction to my review of the 2015 Wings For Life World Run, and they’ve all come up painfully short. For a race as special and as unique as this one, you really want to fly in with something that will really knock your readers’ socks off, rather than your average cold, mundane, impersonal bloggitude. And yet for some reason, I’ve been firing blanks on that front.
And it’s a shame, especially since this is my second time to this here rodeo. Whereas the introduction to my review of last year’s race featured paragraph upon paragraph of effusive praise and heartfelt joy, doing the same for this year’s review has resulted in little more than a few hundred words of “ditto”.
I’ve been waiting to use a Blazing Saddles zinger for a while now…
But enough of this zany chicanery. Let’s go back to talking about the Wings For Life World Run, which had its second annual event on May 3rd, 2015, simultaneously held in thirty-five cities across six continents! A precisely 7:00 AM Eastern Standard Time, nearly 70,000 runners in countries like Turkey, Australia, South Africa, Belarus, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, England, Croatia, Japan, Russia, India, Portugal, and of course here in the USA crossed their respective Start Lines together and ran to raise money and awareness for Wings For Life, an organization dedicated to researching new treatments and discovering eventual cures for spinal cord injuries. As a result, nearly $5 million USD (4.2 million Euros) was raised for this incredibly worthy cause.
The race was only being held in two cities in the United States: Santa Clarita, California… and Sunrise, Florida.
Sunrise. That’s precisely the very same town where your humble yet intrepid narrator lives. Broward County. Everglades East. The 954.
What are the odds? A global race that just happens to run past my very home? This is a done deal, folks.
But what makes the Wings For Life World Run so different, so fun, and so fulfilling to all its participants? At this point, I’m just going to take last year’s description of what makes this race so unique and paraphrase it here — not because I’m feeling particularly lazy today (although I am), but because I think it sums it up pretty goshdarn swell. So take it away, Hokeydude from one year ago!
The unique nature of the race allows runners to avail themselves a different type of challenge. Simply put: there is no Finish Line. Instead, the Wings For Life World Run features a “moving finish line” known as the Catcher Car. Precisely thirty minutes after Start Time, a white Wings For Life car with a sensor takes off from the Start Area. It moves at a relatively slow pace (for a car — just over 9 mph), but fast enough to start catching up with runners. Every half hour after departing, the Catcher Car increases its speed until finally cruising at around 13 mph. When the Catcher Car finally passes you — your race is over. The sensor reads the information off the timing chip on your race bib, records your time and distance, and marks you as finished. As the Catcher Car passes you, a host of shuttles behind it picks up the finished runners and takes them back to the Start Area for their medals, post-race food/drinks, and entertainment.
Your job, as a runner, is to elude the catcher car for as long you can! That means run, dammit!! Now that’s the type of challenge that really puts a twist on your entire race approach. First of all, it’s damn fun. You’re always aware that, 30 minutes into the race, someone, something, SOMEWHERE back there is hunting you down. It might be going slow, but it’s going quite a bit faster than you. It WILL catch up with you. Your challenge is simply, how far can you go before you’re hunted down?
OK! 2015 Hokeyboy is back and itching to get reviewing again. I think the big question here is whether or not this year’s race held up as well as last year’s. I made no mistake about how I felt about the event in 2014, calling it “the single most uplifting and fulfilling event in which I’ve ever participated.” My own words there. So was 2015’s race a contender? Did it maintain its impeccable quality, sharp organization, festive atmosphere, emotional connection, spiritual fulfillment, and so forth? Was the strong feeling of global brotherhood meets local community spirit just as palpable? Did I have even remotely as good a time as I did last year?
Oh yeah. In fact, in most ways it was even better.
The Start Line was at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, directly across from the world-famous Sawgrass Mills mall. That was also the scene for registration and bib pick-up the day before the race. Living a few minutes away made getting in and out a breeze, so Boots and I eased over in the early afternoon to grab my bib and race swag. Already most of the tents had been erected, while dozens of volunteers were still busy attending to the completion of the rest of the runners area, media zones, hydration stops, signage, and so forth. Check-in consisted of finding my race number, signing my waiver, and getting my bib, race shirt, and swag bag. The bag had a few nifty goodies, like a small micro-fiber towel in a portable pouch, race buff, and wristband.
Fast forward to 5:15 AM the next morning… I woke to the chimes of my alarm, grabbed all my carefully prepared race gear, munched on a Clif bar for breakfast, and hopped in the car to drive over to the BB&T Center. Boots, my erstwhile wife, supporter, and photographer, had a different plan of attack. Since the race course literally went right past our home, she elected to walk over to Oakland and Hiatus to snap pictures there, and then walked north on Hiatus to grab more pictures of us later in the race.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Boots is the brains of the operation. And the looks. Me, I’m just the mouth…
Due to lane closures and race day traffic, what normally is a 3-4 minute drive turned into a nearly half-hour sojourn. I was planning on meeting Running Buddy Kristi at 6:20 AM, and I was already running late by the time I was parked at the BB&T. She elected to park at Sawgrass Mills instead, and ended up arriving at our meeting area by the Start Line well before I did. Once again, someone else is the brains and looks. I’m detecting a pattern here. Sigh.
After meeting up at the video screen, which was projecting a live feed of various Start Lines around the world, we walked over to the runners chute to await the inevitable countdown.
The area was full of runners, much more so than last year; almost a 50% increase! There was a mix of excitement and anxiety on many of the faces I saw… more of the former than the latter, but I suppose the concept of running until you were hunted down by Catcher Car seemed a bit daunting to some. Still, you could feel that, be it nervousness or excitement or whatever it was people were feeling, spirits were definitely high, optimistic, and ready to run. There was no National Anthem — this was a GLOBAL event, after all — and with a ten second countdown we were off at 7:00 AM! Time to run as long as we could, as fast as we could, until they finally hunted us down. For 70,000 runners across the world, the 2015 Wings For Life World Run was afoot!
Here is the map of our total progress, courtesy of Google Maps and my Garmin 920 XT (…which is new. I love it. Review coming soon):
Weather wise, it was a near-perfect running day! We’re talking high 60s/low 70s and humidity at the 57% mark. For South Florida in May, that’s pretty much a godsend. It felt GREAT out there. Kristi and I quickly settled into 5:1 intervals as we traversed the first mile, which took us around the BB&T Center parking lot. It was extremely crowded out of the gate — walkers five abreast, OY! — but the crowds began to thin out around the half-mile mark. The course took us out of the BB&T Center and onto Pat Salerno Drive, turning north onto Flamingo which then curved into eastbound down Oakland.
There were two things I became well-aware of: (1) the chosen course was a good one, as it remained heavily shaded throughout almost the entirety of the early morning, and (2) the hydration stops were well-placed and well-staffed with cheering volunteers. Police handled the flow of automobile traffic extremely well, although I heard more than a few Sunday morning obscenities from irate drivers waiting for these jackass runners to pass. Come on, people, it’s for a good cause! SHEESH!
At the 5K mark I spotted Boots, who managed to capture some amazing action snapshots, like this one here:
It was right around this time our watches hit the 30 minute mark, which meant only one thing: THE CATCHER CAR HAD JUST LEFT ITS CAGE AND WAS HUNTING OUR COLLECTIVE ASSES DOWN!
I thought I noticed a slight uptick in the pace of the runners around us!
Otherwise, it was a beautiful morning for a run, and we just kept on trucking. We continued eastbound down Oakland, making a left turn heading north on Nob Hill. All of these streets are like home to me; I’ve run and biked down them plenty of times, so I knew exactly where we were and how far along we had gone (OK, yes, the Garmin helped a bit on that). Not for a moment during the run did I ever feel sore, winded, tired, or anything of the sort. As a matter of fact, I felt pretty great the entire time (as did Kristi). Only once did I have to stop; as we turned west on NW 50TH street, I suddenly felt I could no longer contain my pressing urges to pee. No porto-potty around, so I told Kristi to run ahead while I found a secluded tree in a parking lot. Oy. I must have drunk an entire jug of water that morning, because it took over a minute to finish. Afterward I high-tailed it westbound to catch up my with my running buddy, which I did as we reached Hiatus and the turn south.
By the time we passed the entrance to our development, Kim was waiting and managed to capture yet even more action snapshots:
I’m glad we started out with simple intervals and stuck to them. We had a LOT of gas left in the tank. I can’t tell you how many depleted, exhausted walkers we passed between Miles 6 and 7. As we reached Oakland again and turned west, we were in fine spirits indeed and ready to go for another seven miles.
Sadly… fate had something else in store for us.
Just past the Mile 7 mark, we saw it approaching in the distance.
We heard the announcer over the PA, the music blasting, the excitement mounting. Nervous runners looked back in horror, a horror that turned into smiles and laughter as everyone suddenly tripled-down and poured on the speed. God knows, we did. Goodbye to intervals, because Kristi and I broke into as hard a sprint as we could muster. And no, unlike last year, no one threw a cup of water in my face as I yelled “POUR IT ON!” at the top of my lungs to pep up the crowd around us.
We ran our hearts out, and managed to make it another good half-mile before we were finally lapped by the Catcher Car, just before NW 120TH Way on Oakland. Later on I found out my official distance was 7.8 miles in about 1 hour and 19 minutes, or an average pace of 10:14 minutes/mile. We could have run it faster, given how much energy we still had at the end. I ended up only getting 0.1 miles further along than last year. As it turns out, we were a bit too conservative with our pacing. So we’ll remember that for next year!
Here’s a quick pic I was able to grab of the Catcher Car once it had passed us (you can see it ahead of Red Bull truck in the left lane):
… here’s a pic that the Catcher Car took of us…
… and here’s a pic of Kristi and I celebrating our completion of the challenge!
After that, all that was left was to continue walking ahead until a shuttle pulled up to take us back to the BB&T Center… except that no shuttle ever arrived! We ended up walking the entire way back, which was just over a mile. I found this to be a little curious, as last year it was only about a 5-minute wait until the shuttle arrived to take us back. I suppose I could levy this as a “criticism” of the race, but neither of us minded at all. The walk provided for a nice cool-down, and we even passed a hydration stop to grab some water and Gatorade. It was a beautiful morning. The walk felt like a breeze.
We finally arrived back at the BB&T Center, where we received our race medals from people in wheelchairs, many of them former athletes themselves. A most cathartic moment if there ever was one. A look of gratitude filled their eyes, the enthusiasm and support they showed us was so genuine. So naturally we had to grab a picture:
Afterward, we were afforded complimentary water, Gatorade, Red Bull energy drinks, bananas, oranges… and this wondrous vision of delights right here:
I can sum up my response with one image:
I might have had a “few” of those soft, chewy, magical circles of awesomeness.
As we exited the chute and entered the Party Zone, we were handed a beer coupon and a coupon for some complimentary Food Truck eats. We beelined it for the beer, which (predictably) turned out to be Michelob Ultra. Again. We drank it anyway. Afterward we spent some time watching the giant video monitor, which was providing live footage of race coverage from around the world.
The good news was that they set up rows of chairs for people to watch the live coverage! The bad news was, they were mostly filled by non-runners. Hey no problem guys, not like we just ran a whole bunch of miles and then had to walk back when no shuttles picked us up or anything. Sheesh!
We still were having fun anyhow. Lolo Jones was a no-show this year, which was a little disappointing. Oh well. I got my pic with her last year, hopefully I’ll get another one again soon. She’s more than a little dreamy… but at least those cookies made up for it!
So overall, the 2015 Wings For Life World Run was another rousing success! I didn’t think it was possible to have a better time this year than I did last year, but I really did. And for what a great cause! There were over twice as many runners worldwide in 2015 as there were in 2014, and even Sunrise managed to register 1,700 runners (although only about 1,300 showed up). As far as my own stats go, I placed 558th out of 1,293 runners in Sunrise. Globally, I was 40,263 out of 68,742. But this race wasn’t about pace and performance, but about being part of a really magical moment that was being celebrated around the world, to raise money for Wings For Life, and as they put it, to “run for those who can’t”.
So the only unanswered question right now is, “Would I do it again?”
May 8th, 2016 — count on it. Here’s the video: