Sunday 6 May 2018

Wings For Life World Run [App run]

Image rights: Wings For Life World Run

I'm out of breath. Somehow I find the strength to speed up and cross the street, barely checking if it's clear. I cannot stop, or the car will catch me. 300m... It's right behind me, I can feel it, almost hear it, as the distance separating us is decreasing every second. If it gets me, I'm done, end of story. I fly over some stairs and miraculously avoid getting hit by a bike driving on the opposite lane. Loud swearing, finger raised, I'm already gone. 200m... It's the final straight line. Maybe I'm safe if I reach the bridge. I'll win some precious seconds running down hill, enough to make it home. But it's too late already, I'm just fooling myself.

100m... My lungs are burning, tears in my eyes. I'm so thirsty but I drank my last drops of life long ago. I can't fly anymore, it's time to face my fate. I turn around, as the terrible vibration runs through my guts. I'm screaming, a long cry of despair. But no trace of a car or anything of the like rushing on me. Instead, an old lame grandma is pushing her trolley, looking at me like I was coming straight out of hell. My phone vibrates again and the robotic voice says: "The catchup car has caught you, you are out of the race. Thank you for running the Wings For Life World Run".

Let's go back in time (now you have the music in your head too) and have a look at this amazing race runners rarely know about. The Wings For Life World Run (WFL) is an annual event organised by the Austrian brand Red Bull, mostly famous from their toxic energy drink and their regular extreme races. This one is held every year in May, and its concept is unique: people are gathering in many hosting town all around the world, they start running at the same time (11am UTC, 1pm Berlin time) and the best part is that there is no finish line. A catcher car starts 30 min after you and follows the same route, speeding up progressively. When it overtakes you, you are out of the race, you can stop running and join the other "finishers" in the following bus.

It's also a charity event. The entry fee is around 35€ and (according to Red Bull) the money goes entirely to the research for spinal cord injuries. The race attracts more and more participants every year from all levels. You can be an absolute beginner, even a walker, knowing you will be at least 30min in the race. Or you can be a champion, a fast runner, who covers a very long distance with the shadow of the catcher car right behind you. The world record is around 90km!

Image rights: Wings For Life World Run

I've been looking up to enter the race for a few years now, even subscribed once to run it in Verona (Italy) but I had to cancel my trip at the last minute. Unfortunately, I live in Berlin (Germany), which is not one of the hosting cities. The closest would be Poznan (Poland), which it is still a 3h drive. Therefore, I watch the live feed every year, crying that I couldn't be part of the show :( But that was before the rising of App runners. Participants can now enter the race and run anywhere in the world using the WFL app. You just need a smartphone with a GPS chip and you are good to go. You simply install the app, pay the entry fee (20€) and start it on race day, at the world wide starting time. The app simulates a catcher car and tells you when it's overtaking you, hence when your race is done. You can even organise your own app run, by choosing a route and gathering people. This makes the WFL event truly unique: you can run just anywhere, providing that you get a satellite coverage: Sahara, rain forest, Grand Canyon, Antartica, you name it!

It's a bit late for me to organise anything but I can run on my own. That's how I end up in front of my block, phone in the hand, glazing at the countdown. Battery charged, earbuds on to hear the notifications, GPS watch ready... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... GO! Wait, no... The app is not starting, my phone is too old! After rushing back home and stealing the wife's phone without permission, I start the race with 2 min delay. I choose a trail route that I know well, so I can picture easily where the catcher car is. The WFL app is a simple tracking one, displaying distance, time, pace and speed, as well as a little schematic of how far behind you the catcher car is. Overall it's clear and works like a charm. The only complaint I could think of would be the audio notifications. A woman's sleepy voice is marking each kilometre, with so much motivation that I just want to lie down and nap! After the granted 30min head start, the sleepy voice warns me that the catcher car has just started. I look at the watch, 5km. Let's see how long I can keep it behind.

I started quite fast, pace around 5'20, and I am struggling now to keep it steady. The WFL website is offering a goal calculator, to get an estimation of how far you can run before getting caught. It is based on your average pace. If I stick to my usual 6:00, I shall reach 15km, or 19km with a pace of 5'30. Let's give it a try.

The app is kind of lazy and I don't get notified on where the car is behind me, I need to check my phone for that. I see the original 5km distance decrease slowly but surely. I know this route by heart so I can imagine where the car is. It's way more fun this way, than running around a closed loop, as they advise you to do if you are organising your own app run. I keep a steady 5'40 pace, but for how long?

The gap is closing up... I reach the 15th kilometer I was aiming for. But my pace is up to 6'20 now. I'm not a fast runner anymore, since I spent the last few years recovering from an injury and taking it easy. When I reach 16k, the sleepy voice finally wakes up to warn me that the chaser car is 500m behind me. But no countdown, no stressful music or any sign that it's coming closer and closer. Come on lazy developers, this is not motivating me at all!

You already know about my epic sprint over the last few hundreds meters, that would make Tom Cruise overly jealous! The virtual car overtakes me after 17,5 km and 1:45 hours on the road.

Overall it's a fun race, as you never really know how far you will go. But I'm sure the app run its nothing compared to the adrenalina of a real catcher car swooping on you. I just think the app could be a bit more exciting, with regular updates on where the car is, maybe some sounds or music to motivate you, and definitely a better voice! I will run again for sure, this time in a hosting city. I put you the link below, if you are interested. It's not just a race but also a wonderful charity event.

Next year, let's all run for those who can't :)
Event website: