I really wanted to start this post by saying how I used to run away from cars in my rebellious teenage years, but unfortunately I didn’t really have quite that juicy a childhood to dig into. Despite my lack of experience being chased by white cars with flashing lights on top, this was still a race that, on paper, reminded me of a Police chase.
What am I talking about?
The Red Bull Wings For Life Race, of course.
The worldwide race, the UK instance of which was held at the legendary Silverstone Race Circuit in Northampton, was one with a very unique format – in 35 locations worldwide, thousands of runners would set off at 12:00 BST, and 30 minutes later a car would start its pursuit – first at 15km/hour, but picking up speed until all athletes are caught… an ever-chasing finish line. A few weeks before the race the exciting news was revealed that David Coulthard, retired Formula 1 driver, would be driving the UK catcher car. Epic.
The race website had a really useful predictor page where you could enter your planned pace and it told you how far you could run before the catcher car would reach you. My rough pace of 8:45-9:00 min/mile churned out a 12-13 mile predicted finish and I excitedly decided to try and aim for a half marathon.
The excitement soon dwindled, though, as driving up to Northampton with Lauren (aka Powered by PB) we saw nothing but heavy rain and spray on the motorway. I’d decided earlier that morning to run with a small Camelbak in order to be able to carry a light jacket to throw on at the finish, as I’d heard it can be a bit of a walk to the buses, depending on where you get caught by the car. As the sky cleared and the race was about to begin I started to regret my decision, but it was too late by this stage – I was committed.
On the track
Meeting up with the blogging and journalist friends pre-race was really nice (thanks to Freestak for organising the places and getting such a great crew together!) – it’s always a much more fun experience going to a race in a group and we all posed for photos and chatted excitedly before the race. In fact, all the runners seemed in high spirits after pre-race interviews with David Coulthard (who’s advice to runners for when he drives up behind them was “Squeeze your bum and look your best”, lolz) and Mark Webber, who was also running the race, and as we got off to running there was a lot of waving to the cameramen on motorbikes who were live-streaming the race.
The first 8k of the course is constrained to the Silverstone track, which has its good and bad points. There’s plenty of space for the masses to spread out, which means very little weaving and dodging, and you can also get a nice racing line round the bends (“vroom” noises optional), but it does feel perhaps a little lonely and boring as you make your way around the track. Before too long we were heading out onto the country lanes, and that’s when the race really comes into its own.
Hot and hilly
On the drive to the race Lauren had asked me if it was likely to be hilly, to which I’d replied “no, I don’t think so… Northampton’s not that hilly really”. Oh how wrong I was. It wasn’t long before the first climb hit us and my legs started to complain. Not only that but, in true contrast to the morning, the heat had really started to turn up and I was getting pretty hot. I supped on the water (flavoured with a Zero tab from a mini tube I picked up in my goody bag at Be:Fit) from my Camelbak, perhaps taking on more than I would have had I not been carrying anything.
The first 8 miles or so had been brilliant; I’d stuck to my target pace of around 8:40 min/mile and felt great, but then the wheels started to fall off. The heat was getting to me, and I was starting to feel a little sick from the amount of water I’d taken on. I was making my way up one of the hills when I had to stop and walk… something I very rarely do – mainly because I really struggle to start running again once I’ve walked. At the top of the hill I let my legs recover a bit before starting to run again, but sure enough another hill came along and I walked again. This pattern of running on the flats and down-hills and walking the up-hills continued for the rest of my race, dropping my overall pace to roughly 9:30 min/mile and I was willing the catcher car to reach me.
Eventually though, when the leading cyclists rode past warning that the catcher car was coming, my attitude changed and I wished I had just a few more minutes. As I heard the car approach I grabbed my phone and run-posed for a selfie with Mr C. I’d made it just over 11 miles before being caught.
After the race I collected my finishers’ medal and goody bag (with a very nice Buff, towel and t-shirt – see below!) and my bag and headed off to the after party. Unfortunately it was one in:one out at this point, but soon enough we were let in and up to the balcony to look out on the big screen still showing the leading runners. We were given a bottle of beer (which unfortunately I had to decline as designated driver!) and a bag of Propercorn to enjoy as we finished watching the race.
This was exciting in itself as both the male and female winners were known to me! Tom Payn from Run Fast, who I’d met at the Amba Hotels City of London Mile launch event, covered 61.09km in 4 hours 10 minutes and Kate Carter, editor of the Guardian Running Blog, who I met at Reading Half Marathon and who had run the London Marathon with a 3:04 PB only the week before, was caught at 34.73km after 2 hours 39 minutes. Cheering as they were caught by David Coulthard (Tom even got an F1 hug!) and handed their sashes and glass globe trophies was an honour. The male and female winner of each race gets to pick any other Red Bull Wings For Life Race in the world to take part in next year – all expenses paid. Now that’s a winners’ prize worth shooting for! Read Kate’s recount of her race here.
Facilities and organisation
I have to say that, overall, the Red Bull Wings For Life Race is a very well organised race. From the ponchos that were given out as we collected our race numbers, to the boxes of water bottles on the buses that took us back to the start, almost everything was like clockwork. I say almost because a few things stood out to me:
- The first was the race number printed with two tear-off tabs for your luggage… that were the wrong way round. No-one was clear on what to do with them.
- Secondly was that there were only large and extra-large t-shirts left when I got back to the finisher’s collection area… with a lot of faster runners still to come.
- And finally the can of Red Bull and race information booklet… that arrived two days after the race! I was very grateful for the energy drink any time, but the booklet might have come in handy before the race!
Would I do it again?
Hell yes! I really hope to be able to do this one again next year and get a half marathon in.
The blips in organisation were minor enough not to have been mentioned (had everything else not have been so well organised) and the smooth running of everything else made it a pleasure to be part of. That and the pure excitement of such a different race format are enough to get me back again. Plus, I need to represent for the women! Perhaps unsurprisingly, being held at an F1 venue, the majority of runners seemed to be male, so let’s get that female ratio up, shall we?!
Pre-entry is already open for Red Bull Wings For Life 2016, get your name down here.
About Wings For Life
Worldwide, millions of people are dependent on a wheelchair after having sustained a spinal cord injury, most often as the result of a traffic accident or a fall. Wings for Life is a not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation with a mission to find a cure for spinal cord injury. Since 2004, Wings for Life has funded life-changing research projects and clinical trials around the globe. While the cure is still to be found, steady progress has been made. The €3 million raised in the inaugural Wings for Life World Run and all future entry fees and sponsorship of this global running event will help work towards their ultimate goal.