Sunrise, Fla. — The state of running is on display every weekend throughout the globe. From the very tip-top of world-class competition, to the most fun-loving, no-pressure escapades on foot, the panoply of running’s diversity gives vivid testimony to the sport’s age-old ability to confer happiness, health, and a much needed sense of camaraderie to all who join her ranks.
Last weekend the 118th Boston Marathon gave us an unforgettable memory with the victory of Meb Keflezighi, the first American male champion at the grand old race in 31 years. But this weekend the carnival moves ahead.
In Bloomington, Indiana the fledgling American Track League debuts while out in Palo Alto, California the Payton Jordan Invitational goes off at Stanford, with distance events taking center stage. In Pittsburgh the revitalized DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon Boasts Deep Elite Field and Record Prize Purse . But I will be in Sunrise, Florida to broadcast another of the unique new events which have come to define what some are calling the third running boom.
On May 4th, nearly 50,000 runners worldwide will simultaneously take off on a journey that none will know the final distance for or finish line of.
Called The Wings For Life World Run the event has no set distance or finish line. Instead, participants in 34 locations world-wide will begin their challenge at the same time knowing that a half-hour later a “catcher car” will begin chasing them down at a set speed. When the “catcher car” overtakes a runner, his/her day is through. Thus, the last man and woman to be caught at each location will be crowned local champions, while the final male and female running anywhere in the world will be the global champs.
Since the “catcher car” will give ghe runners a half-hour headstart, and begin at a moderate pace — 15 km/hour, or 6:00/mile — the contenders for the WFL crown will likely come from the ranks of ultra-marathoners. And though significant ultra events have recently been contested in Japan, New Zealand, and the Canary Islands, while the prestigious Western States 100 looms at the end of June in California, the WFL fields are littered with many of the world’s notable distance runners.
One of the favorites in Sunrise, Florida will be 40 year-old Mike Wardian of Arlington, Virginia, the kind of athlete who defines the ultra world. Not that Mike is purely an ultra man. In fact, he just won the Big Sur Marathon last weekend in 2:27:45, six days after racing the Boston Marathon in 2:23:32 (44th place). But you see the pattern, two hilly marathons in one week on opposite coasts, then an undefined flat-coursed ultra in Florida the following Sunday.
“I’ll try to win it,” Mike told me in a phone interview. “I actually had an idea like this, multiple sites running simultaneously, but I didn’t know how to execute it.”
While not officially a Red Bull sponsored event, the WFL World Run is so connected to the energy drink company via its Wings For Life Foundation, that for all intents and purposes it is a Red Bull event. And since Red Bull is well-known for the expansiveness of its sports promotions – like the Stratos skydive from space! – the WFL World Run will be a truly global spectacle.
In the USA there will be three host locations: Santa Clarita, California (outside L.A.), Denver, Colorado, and Sunrise, Florida. Another 31 global sites will also take part. And since running a far distance is the goal, the ultra-marathon contingent will be particularly strong.
“I can run six-minute pace till the cows come home,” boasted Wardian, who some might recall led the 2007 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in New York for the first third of the race until the contenders got cranking. “The 100 Km World Championships are usually run on flat courses, and the goal there is to hold pace till people blow up like popcorn. I want to see how far I can go.”
The Wings For Life World Run will begin simultaneously at 34 locations worldwide at 10:00 UTC (that is 6 a.m. in Florida, 3 a. m. in Cali). At exactly 10:30 UTC, the Catcher Car will begin at 15 Km/hour. Every hour after the Catcher Car will increase its speed (16 Km/hour; 17 Km/ hour; 20 Km/hour; 35 Km/hour) until it chases down every competitor.
As conceived, the Catcher Car will reach 50 Km in 3:36:00. To give some perspective, the world road record for 50 Km is 2:43:38, set by the late Thompson Magawana of South Africa in 1988. The American record is just seven seconds shy of that, run by (new dad) Josh Cox in conjunction with the Rock `n` Roll Arizona Marathon in 2011 (congrats to Josh and wife Carrie on the arrival of SkylarLily).
A runner will have to run a 3:08 marathon just to make it to the full marathon distance. Experts expect the winning male may have to push past 35 miles (57 Km) to claim the win. Some 200 WFL ambassadors will also compete, including Olympic hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones, who will come from the inaugural American Track League meet in Indiana, newly-signed Denver Broncos D-lineman DeMarcus Ware, and Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn.
The Wings For Life Foundation was begun 10 years ago after the son of a friend of Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz suffered a spinal cord injury. The idea for the World Run was then hatched in a Moscow bar in 2007. With Red Bull’s assistance, 100% of the registration fees will go to WFL to fund research into curing spinal cord injury.
You can watch the race live from Sunrise, Florida live on Universal Sports beginning at 5:30 a.m. eastern time. The show will run till noon. I will be joined by host Trace Worthington, a former world champion freestyle skier, plus Olympic runners Ed Eyestone and Juli Benson.
Nearly 50,000 competitors will participate world-wide. Only two will be the last running. And you thought staging one marathon was a tough job.