The 2017 Wings For Life World Run in Santa Clarita, California is finally beginning to sink in. For those who don’t know what the race is, it is an event with a very unique concept. 30+ race locations in 18+ countries begin at exactly the same time around the world (ex: Santa Clarita went off at 4AM Pacific and Sunrise, FL started at 7AM Eastern). 30 minutes after you start, a catcher car begins to travel along the same route you are running, beginning at 15K/hour, and picks up speed as it goes. You are essentially racing to see how many miles you can run before the car passes you and your run comes to an end. Making the event even more unique is the fact that not only are you racing against everyone else in your race location, but also against every single person running in every single race location globally. On top of this one-of-a-kind racing experience, all proceeds from the event go directly towards spinal cord research. The whole point of the race is to run for those who can’t. And that is just what I did on May 7th.
My training in the months leading up to the Wings For Life World Run was entirely focused on my build up towards the Western States Endurance Run 100 Mile race at the end of June. I did one 10K trail race in the beginning of April, a week after a 50 Mile trail race, and only one or two other tempo runs around the pace I would need to run to compete for a top spot or win the WFL race. None of those efforts surpassed 8 miles, so I was a bit nervous about my goal of 65K/40 Miles which would need to be completed at a pace of 6:28/mile. That being said, I was hoping that I had gained strength and speed through high mileage/elevation gain weeks on the trails and did not want to shoot for anything less.
I arrived in Los Angeles on the Friday afternoon before the race after 12 hours of travel, coming straight from Virginia where I had been for work the entire week/end prior and met up with Tracie who had flown in from Dallas. We grabbed the rental car, headed for the hotel near Santa Clarita, got a quick run in and kicked back for some relaxation after a long day of travel. On Saturday, we went sight-seeing in Santa Monica and ran along the boardwalk before heading to packet pickup and meeting up with fellow Team Trail Racing Over Texas members Dan Bucci and Patrick Sweeney who were both competing in the race as well (there was also a Team TROT contingent racing in the Sunrise, Florida location; Jeff Miller, Lauren Ross, Cal Neff and Katie Graff—all Team TROT had excellent days and placements). We shared some laughs and stories before grabbing an early dinner and promptly going to sleep as we had to wake up at 2:30AM the following morning.
Race morning came quick. We arrived near the start around 3:30AM and parked, staying in the heated car as it was a bit chilly outside. At 3:45, Tracie and I jogged over to the start to do a short warmup and then headed to a few tents looking for the bag check area. We were surprised and worried when the staff told us that there was no bag check for the event, despite there being two tags on our bibs, one for bag drop off and one for bag pick up. It was now 3:55AM and we had to run to the car to throw our belongings in and then back to the start area, squeezing between the fencing near the start arch and lining up somewhere in the 4th or 5th row of people. This was not the easy start to the morning we had planned for, but we made it with a minute to spare and wished each other well as the announcer started counting down from 10.
The starting siren went off and some 2,500 participants in Santa Clarita, California along with more than 155,000+ others competing globally started. Within the first 200 meters I found myself in second place with Patrick Sweeney in first a few meters ahead. There were sporadic street lights and patches of darkness as we ran down the deserted early morning streets of Santa Clarita. After a short while, someone came up beside me and said my name. I was pleased to see that it was Dylan Bowman (The North Face and Red Bull Athlete). We caught up briefly and after the first mile clicked by, a pack of 7 runners formed, including Dylan and myself. My legs felt like they were made of lead and I was already laboring with each stride. I allowed the pack to slowly pull away as they began to pick up the pace, as I held onto a 6:15-25 pace. After 6 miles in I was running alone in the darkness with nothing but my thoughts, the pack 30-60 seconds ahead. This proved to be a dangerous situation as I began to get into my own head. Can you really sustain this pace? You’re not trained for this kind of race/speed. How did you ever think you could get to 40 miles? You’re on the easy part of the course, you haven’t even hit the hills.
Shortly after this patch, I took my Nathan SpeedDraw Plus Bottle out of my VaporKrar Vest and had my first drink of Outlast Sports Nutrition mix. I made the decision then and there that despite feeling off on the day to hold it together as long as I possibly could and keep running around my goal pace of 6:28 and see how it played out. At mile 8 or 9, Dan Berteletti came up beside me and I said hi. Dan was a familiar face that I’ve seen at several of The North Face Endurance Challenge races. He was looking strong and although I wanted nothing more than to roll with him, I was stuck in my pace and wished him well (big congrats to Dan as he went on to win the California location). At this point, I was running in 8th place, but could see a few runners up ahead. I ended up passing Patrick around this point and a few miles later another runner. Then I was alone for a long stretch. Around mile 18, I could see the next runner up ahead and Dan just ahead of him. I stopped at one of the aid stations along the course to take cup of water and Red Bull and continued onward.
A gradual climb began around Mile 18 and I focused on catching the next runner ahead of me. I was still feeling sluggish and was hitting a low patch. It wasn’t until Mile 22 that I started to feel better and passed Dylan as he was stopped at an aid station (he had planned to stop there for good, but ended up starting again and getting to 54K). After Dylan, I passed the runner I had been trailing for the past 8 miles as the climb steepened. Within the next mile I caught another runner, giving me a boost in energy. I ran the rest of this climbing section which ended somewhere around mile 27-28 (I came through the marathon in 2:49:52, just 50 seconds slower than my best on a pancake flat Brazos Bend trail course), before descending all the way to mile 30 or so where the largest climb of the day waited. Roughly a mile and 300 feet laid ahead. I started running up, but my legs were already in bad shape, requiring me to take a few walk breaks as I made my way to the top. It was also at this point that the route reconnected with a busy highway and a police cruiser began to follow me as my personal escort, ensuring my safety from traffic.
After what felt like forever, I made it to the top of the hill and passed through 50K in 3:23 (a near 10-minute PR from my 50K at Brazos Bend a few years ago). With the way my body was feeling and not holding up the way I had hoped, I changed my goal to hit at least 60K. I knew it was going to be close and took advantage of a mile or two of downhill before the real suffering began. The toughest part of the day for me was between Mile 33 and when I finished at 36.7 Miles. I ran the majority of this stretch, but fatigue and overall exhaustion got the best of me as my pace slowed drastically. I began to walk for 10 seconds and run for a count of 100 in an attempt to trick myself into pushing forward. My favorite part of the day was when I would approach major traffic signal intersections and several police officers would stop all of the traffic just so I could run through. It was a crazy feeling and seeing all of them out there, just for us runners made me want to continue as best as I could. Eventually, an official biker with the race pulled up next to me and let me know that the catcher car was only a few hundred yards behind. I picked up my pace and fought for every step until I was eventually passed, reaching just over 59K, 4th place overall in California, and 69th out of 150,000+ participants globally. Although I didn’t reach my goal and my legs never truly felt like they warmed up throughout the race, I am honored to have been a part of such a world class event and help raise money for spinal cord research.
If anyone is thinking about doing this race in the future, I highly recommend it. This was one of the coolest race experiences of my life and I would gladly do it again. I would like to thank Trail Racing Over Texas for affording me the opportunity to travel to California to race this event. I would not be the runner I am today without the support that I’ve received from Rob Goyen and Rachel Goyen of Trail Racing Over Texas, my teammates, and the community that TROT has built. I would also like to thank Nathan for providing me with hydration essential that got me through the event, Altra Running for providing me with amazing shoes (I wore the Paradigms for WFL) that kept my feet from being beat up on the roads, Victory SportDesign for the best travel/gear bags around and Outlast Sports Nutrition for keeping me fueled all day. I am truly grateful to have experiences like this and cannot understate their importance in my life. Now, I’ll turn my sights on a quick recovery and get back to training for Western States and another life changing adventure!