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The Wings For Life World Run is a global charity event that takes place all around the world at 23 different locations with runners starting simultaneously at 11 AM UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). 100% of the entry fees are committed to the Wings for Life spinal cord injury research foundation. In a unique format, there is a moving finish line called the “Catcher Car” that essentially chases the competitors one by one from behind until the last man and woman are caught. The “Catcher Car” gives the runners a 30-minute head start and begins at a pace of 15km/hr at 11:30 and incrementally increases its speed around the world at the same time to 16km/hr at 12:30, 17 km/hr at 13:30, 20 km/hr at 14:30 and 35 km/hr at 16:30 until the last runners, the winners, are eventually caught.
Canadian ultra runner Calum Neff, who is heading to the World 50k Trail Championships in Italy next month, tells his story of running 66 miles in 4:22:58 to win and break the Florida course record.
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This was my 4th Wings for Life World Run, competing in every year of the race and at a different location each time (California, Turkey, Canada, and Florida). The race is particularly important to me as 100% of the entry fee goes to the Wings for Life spinal cord injury research foundation. I have two friends that have had accidents leading to spinal cord injuries that now live in a wheelchair. I would like to think this is not a permanent injury and Wings for Life hopes to make that a reality. I couldn’t imagine not being able to run, never mind all the other daily implications my friends go through as quadriplegics. Out on course it gives me a new perspective when the going gets tough, I just think to myself how lucky I am to be able to actually feel those things.
The race is so unique in that not only was I racing everyone in Florida but also runners around the world. While the courses and conditions are completely different- some races are hot, some at night, some hilly, etc. we are all racing each other at exactly the same time to see who can run the furthest before being eliminated by the globally synchronized catcher car. Some top names were in the race including Italian Giorgio Calcaterra (3 x world 100k champion, ran 20 marathons under 2:20 in 2000), British 100k record holder Steve Way, and many other top ultra runners and Olympian marathoners.
I decided on this race both because of the fundraising and awareness for Wings for Life and because of the unique format. It’s fun to mix up the race distances rather than focus on a particular event, it keeps me motivated. I was also part of the Trail Racing Over Texas team which sent 4 athletes to the Florida location and 4 to the California race. Looks like I will be back for my 5th Wings for Life World Run next year as each winner gets to choose which country they will compete at the next year.
Throughout my training leading up to this event, I have been using the OptygenHP and MultiV supplements to stay healthy and recover – not an easy thing to do with a 6-week old baby in the house and two other kids under 5. The morning of the race I sipped on a serving of EFS PRO about an hour before the start. Out on course nutrition was my main focus other than pace control. I carried a handheld bottle with 1 hour of EFS PRO mixed up which I then refilled with a second hour (two servings) of EFS PRO – it was interesting pouring powder into a bottle running down the road but it all worked out! I also had a 2-hour high concentrate version of EFS PRO in my waist belt bottle which I saved for the final half of the race. I took in water, Gatorade, gels, and salt tabs along the course as well. As usual, I wasn’t up for eating much the next day or two so I was really happy to get home to the new First Endurance EVO1 meal replacement shakes which have been a key part of my recovery.
Heading into the race, my main goals were to win in Florida and break 40 miles which would also break the course record from the event which has seen some amazing athletes like Michael Wardian compete. Florida is a harsh environment for endurance sports with the high heat and humidity, extreme UV, and the strong headwind. It was very uplifting to pass over the finishing marks of previous year’s champions and still feel good. I was in 4th place for about the first hour of the race with the leader almost completely out of site. I trusted my pace and stayed patient and slowly closed the gap, it wasn’t until over 21 miles into the race, 2 hours 11 minutes, that I passed first place. It would turn out that at that moment, I was only at the halfway point. I knew 40 miles would be tough to hit in Florida with a headwind and heat. I was thrilled I was able to reach my goal and hold off the chase car for 4:22:58, running 41.2 miles, surpassing the European athletes that had won the previous year competing in Florida and also set a new course record.