Race Review: 2016 Wings For Life World Run (Sunrise, FL — 5/8/2016), or: “Spread your little wings and fly away…”

wings-for-life-world-runSo here we are in May of 2016, which can only mean that it’s time for another go-around with the Wings For Life World Run. And this also means it’s time for another go-around for me to find a way to absolutely gush about this outstanding race and insanely positive experience without repeating myself for the third year in a row.

This ain’t gonna be easy. But man will it be worth it. I’ve run this race every year since its inception in 2014, and I’m already registered for next year. Committing to an event a year in advance is a no-brainer when it comes to the Wings For Life World Run.

At this point you’re probably asking yourself what’s the BIG. FREAKIN’. DEAL. about this race. You’ve got a lot of gumption. I like that. If you want you can check out my reviews of the 2014 race and the 2015 race, but that involves a lot of extra clicking and scrolling and since I’ve already got you here, I’ll give you the elevator pitch version right here and now.

The Wings For Life World Run is insanely awesome because of the following, presented in nifty bullet point thanks to a grant from the Ford Motor Company and Earl Penske’s House of Ham Cookies:

  • 100% of your race entry fees go directly to fund spinal cord research. None of this “minus administrative fees” and “proceeds but only after profit point” nonsense. I paid $30 to get in. My entire $30 went directly to fund research. Sweet.
  • The event is held simultaneously in 34 countries around the world. The exact moment you cross that start line, so does every other runner participating in the event worldwide. Sweden, Turkey, India, Poland, France, Taiwan, Ireland, Dubai… we’re all doing this together.
  • Speaking of other people, did I mention over 130,000 runners registered for this event? That’s a sizable increase of the 69,000 runners from 2015 and 34,000 runners from 2014.
  • Over $7 million was raised as a result of the 2016 Wings For Life World Run.
  • This was a true multi-media world event. Almost seven hours of live coverage was broadcast from the race headquarters in London.
  • The nature of the race is truly unique in the world of running events; simply put, THERE IS NO FINISH LINE. Every runner started running at the same time (7:00AM Eastern Standard Time) to much fanfare and excitement, along a pre-defined course. Exactly 30 minutes after race start, a Catcher Car (outfitted with a sensor array) takes off from the Start Line, cruising at roughly 9 mph along the same course the runners are on. Every ten minutes, it slightly increases its pace. As soon as the car passes a runner, it registers the runner’s total distance by reading the timing chip off the runner’s bib. That runner’s race is then finished, and they are returned to the Start Area by a fleet of shuttles running behind the Catcher Car.
  • And it will catch you.
  • Muahahahaha…
  • While the event is held in 34 cities around the world, there are only two locations in all of the good ol’ United States of America.
  • One location is in California; the other is in Florida.
  • The exact same city in which your loyal and intrepid narrator and loyal blogger-dude lives, not five minutes from the Start Line.
  • Bitchin’…

OK the utilization of bullet points bordered on the excessive, so we won’t be having any more of that. But as you can tell from that brief… briefing, the Wings For Life World Run is a really special event that is not only entirely unique in the world of races, but it also an insane amount of fun. I’m not kidding when I say I’ve never seen so many people so goshdarn happy and enjoying themselves before, during, and after a race. Run Disney ain’t got NOTHING on the Wings For Life World Run. This is perhaps an entirely hyperbolic anecdotal observation but I didn’t even sniff a single enraged sparkle-skirted monstrosity bludgeoning another runner to death with a pair of overpriced and brand-appropriate New Balance kicks they bought at the expo the day before the race.

Nope, people seemed to be in great spirits, because it was a fun race for a great cause on an amazing morning in South Florida, and we here at Hokeyblog are pleased as pigeons to report on the 2016 Wings For Life World Run, having attended for the third year running and are ready to come back for more. So let’s start off with the usual bit, in a little number we’d like to call…

Packet Pick-Up

On Saturday, the morning before the race, Awesome Running Buddy Kristi and I decided to do a little shakeout run up the New River Greenway and a full lap around Markham Park, doing about 6.2 miles total. It was about 61 degrees and low humidity in South Florida, which is insanely unheard-of in May, so we were taking advantage of it. Afterward we killed time until 11:00 AM, which was when packet pick-up for the race was available at the BB&T Center (site of the race Start Area).


Pick-up was a breeze. You simply needed to sign a waiver with your vital stats, walk over to the tent, and grab your bib, shirt, and other race swag. If you didn’t have your bib number, there was a board on which you could look it up. Thankfully, they emailed everyone their numbers days before, so we were good to go pretty quickly.



What a nozzle. Hrmph. Anyway, that was basically it, but me being me, this meant posing for dozens of pointless photo ops, like this one with Kristi and I in front of the course map…


Or this one by the catcher car:


Or this one at the Start Line:


Not to mention a little bit of disco:


Then there’s that pensive moment of contemplative reflection:


… which was then ruined by more disco:


Well anyway…

The rest of the day was spent putzing around, laying out the flat runner thing that I didn’t take a picture of because we’ve had enough of that nonsense, and crashing around 8PM. I was planning to be up at 4 the next morning, and thanks to my favorite palindromic sleep aid, I was out pretty quickly and ready for the following day.

Race Day

As I previously alluded, we live a mere 4-5 minutes from BB&T, but last year it took 40 minutes from front door to parked at the race site, thanks to race-day traffic. I could have walked there in less time. Since I was coordinating a bunch of team pics and meetups and whatever, I decided to leave the house a bit earlier and was out the door by 5 AM. The race was scheduled to begin at 7 AM, which meant getting ourselves into the start chute by 6:30 (earlier is better; while the race starts everywhere around the world at exactly the same time, you might not cross the actual start line until seconds or even minutes later, so it pays to get as close to the start as you can), which meant I wanted to meet up with everyone by 6:15. Leaving early worked pretty well; I was parked at the BB&T Center with plenty of time to spare.




Already I could see the massive increase in popularity of the event. Back in 2014, 800 runners participated in Sunrise, and the only other local runner I knew was my buddy Katarina. In 2015, that number increased to 1,200 and there were a handful of local friends participating in the race. This year, though, the runner total in Sunrise ballooned to 1,900 and dozens of my local running buddies were participating, including friends from such local run clubs as 1000 Miles Run Club, Friends In Training, and Hollywood Run Club. Many of us were members than more than one (or all three, or even more). South Florida has a pretty tight-knit running community, and to have everyone there participating in the event made it that much more fun.


Boots showed up with her camera and we ended up taking a ton of pics in the pre-race excitement, some of which I’ll share with you in this gallery right here:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But I gotta love being part of a Jose Selfie:


Otherwise, there was plenty of excitement in the Start Area. The large video monitor was broadcasting live footage of Start Areas around the world, with commentary from announcers in the UK. That sense of togetherness and being part of something ginormously awesome was so palpable, you could thump it with an oboe! Soon enough though, it was time to load into the corral. Boots kissed me goodbye, leaving to drive over to her photo spot at the 5K mark (on the corner of Oakland and Hiatus). Heading into the corral and knowing that getting closer to the front gave you just a little bit of a slight advantage, we (meaning myself, Kristi, Katarina, Jackie, and Katarina’s work buddy whose name eludes me) managed to squirm our way reasonably near the Start Line.


Here’s the view ahead of us:


Thankfully you will be spared my usual start line selfie, because I forgot to take one, and we’re all better off for it. Anyway, the minutes ticked away and we were go for launch. Unlike previous years (as far as I remembered, anyhow), they played the national anthem just before race start, and then the countdown began. We all hugged and high-fived for good luck, and then it was a matter of making sure the Garmin was good to go, the Zombies, Run mission was loaded up (“Love Is A Stranger”, Season 3 Mission 43), and at exactly 7:00 AM Eastern Standard Time, 1,900 runners in Sunrise, Florida joined a hundred thousand other runners around the world, crossing the start line to begin the race. Our own version of “The Most Dangerous Game” was afoot, as we had precisely 30 minutes to get moving before the Catcher Car started to hunt us down like the prey we were.

The 2016 Wings For Life World Run!


You know what comes next, right? Yes, we’re talking a view of the race course (or at least my time spent on it), courtesy of Google Maps and my trusty, dusty Garmin 920 XT watch:


You can see that we looped the perimeter of the BB&T Center and exited via Pat Salerno Drive. Turning left on Flamingo and curving south on Oakland, the course took us down to Nob Hill. North on Nob Hill we went, turning on 50th St to Hiatus Road. There we turned southbound and — passing the very home of Hokeyblog Enterprises! — we reached Oakland again, turning west and then south on Flamingo. Past the Sawgrass Mills mall we went until we reached Sunrise, where we turned west. And it was here on Sunrise where I was caught by the Catcher Car. Curses!

It behooves me to reiterate how nice the weather was this morning. At race start, it was all of 63 degrees, cool and breezy. Humidity was somewhere in the 80% range which felt quite fine to me. I have to also reiterate that for three years in a row, we have had perfect South Florida weather for this race. This can’t be stressed enough. The month of May in South Florida can be (and usually is) oppressively hot, humid, muggy, and nasty. Not so on race day, for three years running. Awesome.

Now as far as the race itself, it was enjoyable and roomy enough (at least once we exited BB&T, where it was just a bit cramped, but that’s the first mile of almost any race). Every now and then you could hear the Wings For Life helicopter above us, taking video of runners on the course to be broadcast throughout the world. Markers were set up the entirety of the course to mark your progress, but of course they were all in Kilometers. Thankfully, I had my Garmin to translate that into American, because ‘MURICA!

I usually enjoy running this one with buddies, but I decided I really wanted to challenge myself this time around, so I plugged in my headphones and ran my own race at my own pace. I used my usual half-marathon intervals of running one mile and then walking one minute, and that seemed to work out well for me. My PR was 7.78 miles. I wanted to soundly beat that distance this year. My goal was to hit at least 9 miles. Let’s see if that was do-able…

By the time I got to the 5K mark Boots was already there and waiting with her camera:


Boots captured a ton of pics of our running buddies at her waiting spot. She definitely retained her “I’m Much More Popular And Adored Among South Florida Runners Than My Dorky Husband” crown. It’s well-deserved.

Just after the 5K mark I checked my watch dutifully until it reached the 30 minute mark. “THIS IS IT!” I cried out to nobody, “THE HUNT IS AFOOT!!” Nobody cared, except my pal Nurit and her running buddy, both of whom were right by me and cheered accordingly. Thanks guys. Staying behind at the 5K mark, Boots remained taking pictures, even capturing the Catcher Car as it finally passed by:


I thundered on, maintaining pace and slowing down only for walk intervals or hydration stops (of which there were plenty, stocking both water and Gatorade). By around Mile 5 I noticed that my buddy Rich and I were keeping roughly about the same pace, so we stayed together for most of the remainder of the race. I saw more buddies along the course, including Nia and Meredith, so the encouragement and camaraderie was definitely welcome.

Past Casa Hokeyboy we went between 44th and Oakland on Hiatus, until we turned back onto Oakland and started the southwesterly portion of the course right around Mile 7. Since this was on the other side of the road from the 5K marker, Boots was there snapping more pics:


Rich and Nia in the front, me bringing up the rear.


Oh there I am!

It was definitely getting hotter; by the time I reached Mile 8 (around 120th Way on Oakland), it was already up around 70 degrees. At least the humidity was low and the breeze was cool, so there was that… but WAIT, WHAT?? I made it to Mile 8? Given that my previous best was 7.78 miles, I had just PR’ed! Now this was no time for complacency; I wanted to make it to at least Mile 9… which I did, minutes later. Rich and I were greeted by our pals Robyn, Kelly, Jose, and Mishele. We gave everyone big nasty sweaty high-fives while Robyn cheered us on with loud, semi-foulmouthed words of encouragement from her megaphone, and Jose grabbed some action snapshots of us:


I’ll be honest with you all: as much as I told people my goal was to hit Mile 9, I really wanted to hit 10 miles. I figured anything between 9 and 10 would be acceptable. So you can imagine the look of surprise on my face when I made that right turn onto Sunrise and passed Mile 10 without flagging pace. I nervously peered behind me and the Catcher Car was nowhere to be found. Nowhere!

Elation isn’t quite as strong as a description as I’d like to use at this point to describe my state of mind, but I was definitely excessively pleased.

Rich and I stayed together until two Wings For Life volunteers on bicycles passed us, warning runners to move to the right. I knew what this meant. I turned around again and there they were: the Catcher Cars (they always use two, in case one of them breaks down). Rich took off like a bandit trying to squeeze those last few bits of distance out of the race; I kept pace and was glad that my race was about to end. It was getting freakin’ HOT out, yo. The Catcher Car passed me with thanks and congratulations emanating from its sound system.

My race was done.

Total distance: 10.34 miles in 1 hour, 35 minutes, or about a 9:18 minute mile on average throughout the entirety of my race. That would make this one a PR for me. Righteous.

I probably should have gotten a pic of the Catcher Car as it passed me, but I was too busy enjoying the moment. So I took this dorky selfie after being passed (on Sunrise adjacent to Sawgrass Mills):

Hot. Jungle hot. Super hot. The outdoor temperature was pretty elevated, too.

Hot. Jungle hot. Super hot. The outdoor temperature was pretty elevated, too.

While we were supposed to walk to the next hydration station to get picked up by shuttles that would return us to the Start Area, most realized that it would take a lot less time to just walk back to the BB&T Center on their own, so that’s exactly what I did. I caught up with Rich and we celebrated our success (and lamented our lack of beer — to be resolved soon) and talked excitedly about the race on our way back to the Start Area. It was definitely hot out, but still comfortable. Within ten minutes we were back at the BB&T, and we walked up to get our medals. You’re greeted at the medal station by the very people you’re running for: people living with spinal cord injuries and hoping for an eventual cure. It’s always heartwarming to receive your medal from them, and as always I insist upon posing for a pic:


The endless mountain of fresh Publix cookies wasn’t there this year, which made me a little sad, but there was plenty of fruit, water, Powerade, Red Bull, and other replenishing substances. There was also free hot food for runners, as well as all the Michelob Ultra you could drink… which meant all the water you could drink, but that’s just nitpicking isn’t it? Feh! I was just excited to be at the After Party!


Since it was also Mothers Day, many people couldn’t stay too long — yours truly included. By the time I met up with my buddies by the video monitor (we were able to secure comfy chairs and endless beer, thanks to assigned beer runners) it was 9 AM, and I was due for brunch in Coral Gables by noon, which meant I had to leave there by around 10ish. Still plenty of time for post-race shenanigans! Boots came by to check out the post-race party, and we all ended up sitting around, drinking beers, laughing, celebrating, watching the live race coverage on the video monitor, and enjoying the festive atmosphere and overall positivity that permeated the atmosphere.

Then Kristi, Jackie, Mishele, and Nurit started dancing to try to win a free hat. Really:




And in case you’re wondering if I was going to join in…



None of them won any, of course. Robyn almost did, but some knob snatched it away from her at the last moment she was not pleased. “THIS IS MOTHERS DAY!!” she yelled after him. I wish I had a picture…

Some more post-race pics:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Everyone seemed to be in a great mood. Kristi had also PR’ed, going from 7.8 last year to over 9 miles this year, so she was super happy. She and Jackie ended up staying long after Boots and I had to leave, actually closing the place down roughly around 12:30 PM. They watched the male and female Sunrise winners return to big cheers at the Start Area, and saw the Overall Race Winners achieve their victories on the video screen.

Speaking of which, the overall winners were Giorgio Calcaterra of Italy and Kaori Yoshida of Japan. Calcaterra ran in Milano with a total distance of 54.94 Miles/88.44 Kilometers, and Yoshida ran in Takashima with a total distance of 40.83 Miles/65.74 Kilometers. Meanwhile here in Sunrise, the local winners were both French, Simon Munyutu and Nathalie Vasseur. Both of them finished on Route 27 heading towards Clewiston, with Munyutu reaching 38.24 Miles/61.54 Kilometers and Vasseur hitting 33.88 Miles/54.53 Kilometers.

Now THAT is some serious running. Good show, guys.

Well it was that magic time, unfortunately, and Boots and I had to leave, but not before I grabbed a pic with this hottie right here:

Me and Brooke Thabit

Me and Brooke Thabit

I’m posing with race ambassador Brooke Thabit. You can find out more about her here.

Anyway, as you can tell the 2016 Wings For Life World Run was an unqualified success. But more than that, it was just a whole lot of fun for a super amazing cause. Every year I keep running this race, every year it attracts more and more runners around the world, and every year I end up loving it a whole lot more. It’s just that amazing an experience. So of course what does this mean for next year?


Join me and thousands upon thousands of runners around the world to take part in something uniquely amazing and totally awesome. Click here to register. You won’t regret it for a second. And of course, here’s the video. Take it away, Freddie and company:

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Matthew Millheiser