Sunrise, Fla. — Who would have thought that a taut, elbow-to-elbow tussle would determine the outcome in a race of over five hours, nearly 50 miles and 13 time zones? But, indeed, that is how the 1st annual Wings For Life World Run came down today as Ethiopia’s Lemawork Ketama sprinted past Ukraine’s Evgenii Glyva as the Catcher Car finish line bore down on the two runners in Donautal, Austria, one of 34 cities on six continents that simultaneously hosted the uniquely formatted, no-set-distance, no-set-finish-line run to raise awareness for spinal cord injury research.
In the end, Ketama notched 78.57 kilometers (48+ miles) over 5:01;48 before being overtaken by the Catcher Car, the de facto finish line, in an event determined by distance not time. Evgenii Glyva was caught 28-seconds earlier after 78.40 km. Hard as it may be to believe, another runner in Peru, Remigo Huaman Quispe, actually wedged in between the two Austrian-based runners in total distance to claim second place world-wide at 78.48 km.
In Stavanger, Norway Elise Selvikvag Molvik won the women’s global title in a less contested run of 54.79 kilometers (34+ miles).
In all 35,397 runners from 164 nations around the globe began simultaneously in 32 countries at 10 UTC (6 a.m. eastern in the U.S.). The goal was to run as far as you could before being overtaken by the Wings For Life Catcher Cars, as each runner’s race would end when they got caught by the catcher car which began chasing down the runners a half-hour after the event’s start. Therefore, the last man and woman running before being caught would be the champions.
In a wild finish in Donautal, Austria, Ukraine’s Evgenii Glyva, sensing the Ethiopian Ketama was just waiting to pounce as the Catcher Car bore down on them after 48 miles of continuous running, first tried to run his opponent off the road, then in a last ditch effort to hold onto the lead, threw a nasty elbow at his opponent as Ketema accelerated to pass. The move was in evident frustration at Glyva having done so much of the leading only to lose out to a faster man in the final few strides.
In the USA three cities took part in the WFL World Run: Santa Clarita, California; Denver, Colorado; and Sunrise, Florida. For much of the day Sunrise leader Michael Wardian of Arlington, Virginia held the world lead as he chased early front-runner Bryan Huberty of Miami Beach, a chi running instructor and marathoner with a 2:36:27 best. But after passing Huberty around 30 km Wardian began slowing dramatically as the rising heat, wind and humidity took its toll as the Florida course headed north into the swampy Everglades.
“It was kind of brutal,” said Wardian, a three-time U.S. 50 Km champion who made it to 35.88 miles (57+ km) in 3:59:51 before being caught by the Catcher Car. “I would have liked to have gone farther, but my stomach wasn’t cooperating, I couldn’t process anything. I was hoping to win the world title, but this gives me something to shoot for next year.”
Wardian thought he could pass the marathon in 2:28, as he did last week in winning the Big Sur Marathon (2:27:45) — and six days before that at the Boston Marathon (2:23:32). But under high 70s temps and a blanketing humidity, he could only manage a 2:40 through 26.2 miles, and then continued to slow as the course turned north into a headwind before the inevitable catch at 35.88 miles.
Under the unique no-finish-line format, the Catcher Car began its pursuit of the runners at 9.94 mph before ramping up each subsequent hour until it reached 21.75 mph in hour four.
In Santa Clarita, California just north of Los Angeles, ultra marathoner Calum Neff finally out-distanced Wardian in Florida by just under a half-mile to take the U.S. title. Neff totaled 36.36 miles. Colorado’s top runner was Hunter Paris who posted a 34.41 mile total in Denver. Three-time World Ultra Marathon 100 km champion Giorgio Calcaterra of Italy posted the fourth best distance world-wide, hitting 72.96 kilometers (45+miles) in Verona, Italy before the Catcher Car ended his day. New Zealand’s Paul Marteletti ran 69.37 km (43+ miles) in Silverstone, England before slumping to the high grass along the side of the road utterly spent by his effort in fifth place overall.
The women’s race was never in question as Norway’s Elise Selvikvag Molvik bested France’s Nathalie Vasseur 54.79 km to 51.26 km. In the U.S., Haley Chura was never challenged in Sunrise, Florida. The former University of Georgia Bulldog swimmer and professional triathlete spun out a winning 28.34 miles before the Catcher Car ran her down. Jeannie Rutherford prevailed in Santa Clarita at 22.15 miles, and Erlena Josifi ran 20.83 miles in Denver.
“My goal was to run 13 miles,” Hayley told Juli Benson of Universal Sports, which covered the WFL World Run live in the U.S. from 5:30 a.m. to 11:25. “I went through the marathon in 3:02(:51). My previous PR was 3:17. I thought a lot about the cause, and just kept telling myself, ‘one more mile, one more mile’. I think the cause gives you a lot to relate to, and the new format with no finish line does play on your head. But when I got to 23 miles I told myself, ‘I didn’t come this far not to win.”
It was a day of competition, celebration, and dedication, utilizing a wonderfully innovative concept which was brought off on a global scale. In a world seemingly intent on tearing itself apart based on arbitrary declarations of difference, the Wings For Life World Run showcased the qualities which link us all into a global village. Millions of dollars were raised for the Wings For Life Foundation, and with the success of the inaugural event, one suspects the Wings For Life World Run will bring even more people to their feet around the world in 2015 and beyond.