At a time of the year where most people are talking about marathons, the Wings For Life World run is a refreshingly different event. Runners make their way around a 100km course that begins at Silverstone race track. After 30 minutes a catcher car (driven by David Coulthard) sets off in pursuit along the route. If he overtakes you then that’s it, you’re out of the event and you have to get on a shuttlebus that takes you back to the start. The winner is the person who gets the furthest distance, it’s that simple. He drives pretty slowly by the way, in case you had an image of him hurtling past in a Formula 1 car (a warning from one of the team’s mums via text stated “It sound far too dangerous, do you know how fast they go?”).
The event, ran by spinal cord injury charity Wings For Life, takes place in 35 cities across the world, each setting off at 11am UTC (12pm if you live in the UK). 73,360 runners completed the race internationally, with 1,201 taking part in the Silverstone course. So it’s a pretty big deal as an international event.
With finishing the London Marathon just seven days before, we weren’t holding out for much in terms of distance, but the novelty of the race meant it was too interesting to turn down. We’d run at Silverstone on multiple occasions for the half marathon and loved the atmosphere. It’s also an impressively fast course, which is probably what you’d expect from something purpose-built for objects moving at ridiculously high speed.
We were invited to the event along with a team of other bloggers by our awesome friends over at Freestak. Which not only meant we got to spend the weekend hanging out with some our favourite fitness people, but also had the opportunity to stay overnight in storage containers at the Silverstone race track. Something we were initially apprehensive about, until we stepped inside. We’re in the market for one of our own now.
After a morning of cloud, rain and chilling winds things started to look up by the time the race started. The clouds began to move away resulting in almost perfect running conditions, which was lucky as it’s not often a race starts at 12pm. The 100km route began in the centre of the race track and took an 8k loop around the course before heading out into the surrounding countryside. When we initially heard it was at Silverstone we had a rush of fear at the thought the whole thing would take place on the track, memories flooding back of running previous races there.
Although the first section was relatively flat, things began to get tougher as we headed out onto the country lanes. If you’ve never been around Silverstone, it’s pretty hilly, far more than we thought it would be. After a few more kilometres the field began to spread out, picking off those that weren’t quite ready to take on the undulating terrain, until the sound of David Coulthard’s engine appeared in the distance ready to send people back.
For us, with our weakened limbs, that was at 14k. We picked up a banana, six party sized bags of Haribo and made our way to find some refreshments. However for many of the others runners the race was far from over and we continued to watch from the TV screen in the bar area, where, incidentally, the race organizers served everyone free beer. That’s right, free beer. You don’t get that at the London Marathon.
For the next two hours we watched the field clear as Coulthard swept the country roads like some sort of Discovery-driving grim reaper. Until finally there were just a handful of people left. This was when the race really started to get interesting, it was as if it had evolved from a all-inclusive mid-distance race to a world-class ultra.
We watched excitedly as the lead runners tried to maintain their pace. Cheering them on as they clocked kilometre after kilometre, anxiously expecting the sight of David Coulthard over the horizon. Eventually it was time for the last female to be picked off. Kate Carter, fresh from London Marathon just seven days before, held her position to finish at 35k. For the males it was Tom Payn who won, pushing it on until the 61k mark. It was at this point we took off our finishers medal and popped in our back pocket.
Races pop up ever week across the UK, but you’d be hard pressed to find one that offers something to such a diverse range of runners. With the abilities spanning just a few kilometres to a the distances up to 80k (the international winner was an Austrian man who reached 79k), it’s a race that s open to everyone. In its second year it’s seen an enormous increase in participants, and with runners looking for alternatives to races like the London Marathon, it’s set to pick up in popularity into 2016. Oh, and did we mention that the full entry fee goes directly to the charity? That’s right, all of it.
Free beer as well.
Details of the 2015 event, including results, photo galleries and videos can be found here.
Photo credits: Red Bull