Sunday, May 14, 2017

Wings For Life World Run Cambridge: Race Report & Photo Diary

Because what else do you do on a Sunday afternoon but line up in the middle of a major UK city to be chased through the streets by a car driven by ex-F1 driver David Coulthard?

The Wings For Life World Run happens globally which is no mean feat in itself, but the biggest catch of all is that there's no finish line. Whether your run starts in the middle of the night (like it doesn't in LA) or the middle of the day as it did for us in most of Europe, your job is to keep running until the catcher car catches up with you. Before you panic with visions of being mown down by an F1 driver who has had all his Christmases come at once, let me explain- runners get a 30m head start on the car and it moves at a dictated pace, speeding up incrementally at specific points on the course.

So that's why I found myself on the start line in Cambridge on Sunday 7th May- although to be fair, it was always touch and go if I would make it. My job requires me to be on call when my parents are away (we work together) and when I booked myself into this event on a dark December night after a bottle (or 2) of wine, I forgot to check the calendar first, so my attendance was always going to be a maybe. But as luck would have it, I made it.

Race number, shiny new shorts, far too clean trainers

First job of the day was collection race numbers. Although I received a magazine and a can of Redbull (title sponsor) in the post no race numbers are sent out. Given the volume of other stuff that was posted, the need to be at the start so early was a bit rubbish- especially as registration closed an hour before the race start time. Race number collected, baggage dropped, we attempted to join the queue for the toilets, and easier said than done as there definitely weren't enough to go around!

But, formalities out of the way, the start line was fizzing with a couple of thousand people wondering how far they might get.  Some lucky people, like Tom (and this is his smug face) even got a high five from Mr Coulthard himself...

Smug mode engaged!

The first part of the course takes you through Cambridge city centre which is brilliant for crowd support and it also means you can't get too much speed up too soon either as the streets are quite narrow, especially with a few thousand of us stampeding through them!

And so we were off. I found the idea of a race with no finish line quite intimidating- running is often as much about your mindset as it is about putting one foot in front of the other. I know some thrive on the idea of being chased, personally I work best with a goal to reach, I like to know what's coming in order to plan for it, so this was always going to be a challenge for me. I decided to treat it as a steady long run rather than a race as I've not done much distance in the last month or so and it took the pressure off for me.

Helpfully, there were regular water stations which given the sunshine were wholly necessary and so we pushed on through the villages surrounding Cambridge where we were welcomed by lots of people spectating- always nice!

I hit the 10km mark feeling pretty good, I knew I was unlikely to make much more than 12-13km at my preferred pace but I knew I should have been able to make the 10k mark without too much trouble.

And just after I passed the next km marker, we got our warning. Lots of us had started looking over our shoulders at the sound of vehicles- the numerous photography & assistance bikes on the course shooting past us all, but we knew the car must be somewhere coming up to us. A friend of mine also doing the event had found me and we picked up the pace...
Wings For Life Cambridge Race Number

The catcher car convoy

I made it to 11.87km according to my Garmin- had I realised just how close to 12km I was, I might have had a bit more in the tank for my sprint finish! Luckily for us, there was a drinks station at the 12km marker- a very sociable way to finish, and then a walk to the bus stop- there are numerous bus stop points along the course to get runners back to the finish line. Naturally we finished right in the middle of the 2 nearest one, but decided a walk to the stop was a good cool down after our efforts. The buses were well organised and plentiful at the stop we used, and we were on our way back to Parker's Piece in under half an hour.

View post on imgur.com


And what a reception back at the start- call me shallow, but I was excited to see a decent goodie bag- the finishers t-shirts, free beer token, running water bottle & snacks all going down well, the medals were a bit naff, but I'm afraid (shock horror) running 'bling' doesn't really do it for me. I was more pleased to see a few friendly faces- Lou (front right) & I hooked up with some other runners we know, many of whom I hadn't seen for a few months for a catch up over our freebie beers and to hit up the queue for baggage reclaim- that took some time as it was a free for all rather than a numbered system, thank goodness for the beers!

Overall- not a bad day out. I love the concept for something different, however challenging it is for me as a psychological shift. Getting out of your comfort zone can only be good. The event was well managed on the course itself with regular markers, water stations, toilets & enthusiastic marshals. The start/finish needs work- given the volume of postage for the rest of the race info, it really would have been easier to have had race numbers before the day and the same system allocated to bag drop.

Would I do it again? I wouldn't avoid this race, but I'm not sure how far out of my way I'd go to get a place. It might be fun to see how much further I can get next time though, so never say never I suppose.






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