Wings For Life: How to Join The World’s Largest Running Event

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual races have become increasingly popular. And even though the Wings for Life run started in 2014, it gained massive popularity in 2021 and 2022, with the latter seeing more than 180,000 participants from 195 countries all around the world.

This charity race is quite unusual – there’s no finish line (no, not like a Backyard race, but you get the idea). There’s no set distance, and participants are “chased” by a Catcher Car. It sounds a bit crazy, but we’ll explain everything below. Let’s get into everything you need to know about Wings for Life and how you can join the world’s largest running event.

What Is The Wings for Life World Run?

Wings For Life run

This exciting annual run connects runners, athletes, and wheelchair users worldwide with a unique, fun running format and a humble, compelling charity objective.

The best part about this race is that everyone – no matter where they are in the world – starts the run at the same time (11 a.m. UTC). Everyone runs at their own pace with their own goals. 100% of the entry fee goes to spinal cord injury research.

How the Wings for Life Run Works

This race has no finish line, and you don’t register for a certain distance. So, how exactly does it work then? Before the race, all participants must download and sign into the Wings for Life World Run app. The app plays background music, has commentary, and lets you know how far away the Catcher Car is during the run.

You can choose a commentator from the options; their voice will keep you company as you run. They’ll count you down to the start of the run, and at 11 a.m. UTC on the first Sunday of May, every participant starts running.

30 minutes after participants set off, the Catcher Car starts chasing runners. The race is over once the Catcher Car catches a participant. The winner of the race is the person who can run the furthest before the Catcher Car reaches them.

Download the app from the App Store or Google Play.

Wings for Life Run Locations

While anyone can participate from anywhere, the Wings for Life World Run also offers a few Flagship runs in several cities worldwide. You can join thousands of other runners at these locations and take on the real-life Catcher Car together.

Flagship locations include:

  • Poznań, Poland
  • Vienna, Australia
  • Munich, Germany
  • Kakheti, Georgia
  • Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Zadar, Croatia
  • Zug, Switzerland

Additionally, there are several locations where you can meet up with other runners and run with the virtual Catcher Car. 

In-person app locations include:

  • Baku, Azerbaijan
  • Ankara, Turkey
  • Beirut, Lebanon
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Varna, Bulgaria
  • Bucharest, Romania
  • Cairo, Egypt
  • Doha, Qatar
  • Tirana, Albania
  • Oslo, Norway

These are just a few of the dozens of options where you can meet up with other like-minded individuals and support a great cause.

Preparing for the Wings for Life Run

So you’ve signed up and downloaded the app. Another great thing about this race is that there’s plenty for you to do before the day of the race to get yourself ready to be chased down like a gazelle in the plains of Africa. Here are 4 tips to prepare:

1. Use the “Run” Feature

If you’re ready to lace up your running shoes to log a few training miles before the big day, the Run feature is a great way to keep you pumped and get you ready to take down the Chaser Car. The challenge is to run as far as you can without being caught by the Chaser Car – just like on race day. This is a great feature to use on your long runs to see how far you can get.

2. Check Your Running Gear

As you know, the race starts at the same time for everyone, no matter where you are in the world. For those in the UK, Europe, and Africa, this means noon to the afternoon. Asian countries and Australia will run in the afternoon, evening, and possibly even later at night. Those in the US and South America may see themselves running the race early in the morning.

Confirm when the race starts in your time zone and check the conditions you’ll contend with – will it be dark? Are you running in the midday sun? Is rain predicted? Once you know what you’re dealing with, prepare all the gear you need to get you as far into the race as possible.

3. Leave Time to Warm Up

When the race starts, you have to run. With the Catcher Car chasing you, there’s no time to waste. This means you must be warmed up and ready to go by the time the commentator counts you down. 

A warm-up will get your muscles warm and ready for the run, so ensure you arrive at the place you’ll be running the race with enough time to warm up. A 10- to 15-minute jog will be enough.

4. Run at a Steady Pace

No matter what run you’re doing – race or training session – you always need to ensure you don’t go out the block too fast. This is even more true with the Wings for Life run. The Catcher Car starts 30 minutes after you, so you have a head start. 

If you hear the car approaching, you can speed up. Until then, save your energy and bide your time. Run at a steady pace and keep this consistency as long as possible.

You can use the goal planner on the Wings For Life site to set a distance target for Race Day:

Distance planner on Wings For Life
How far can you run before you meet the Catcher car? Set a target on the Wings For Life site

Why Support Wings for Life

Millions of people depend on wheelchairs for independence and movement after sustaining a spinal cord injury. In fact, over 250,000 people sustain spinal cord injuries annually – one person every 2 minutes!

Scientists have found that injured neurons can regenerate, so spinal cord injuries will one day be curable. Wings for Life’s non-profit organization is on a mission to assist in finding this cure. To realize this vision, Wings for Life supports world-class clinical trials and scientific research working toward healing spinal cord injuries.

Since starting the fundraising run in 2004, Wings for Life has financed 239 clinical trials and research projects in several countries. They’re currently funding over 20 projects, and 10 US-based research projects have been recently approved.

Although the cure hasn’t yet been found, progress is made every year. Wings for Life guarantees that all entry funds from the race and all donations are spent on this critical research, helping scientists reach their goals.

Interesting Facts About the Wings for Life Run

Participants can run, walk, crutch, or roll (in their wheelchair) their way along their chosen route. In 2019, David Mzee from Switzerland walked across the start line in Zug and was caught by the Catcher Car after 390 meters. The exciting part about this achievement is that Mzee suffered a spinal cord injury and had been paralyzed for several years. Due to a clinical trial, he could walk almost an entire lap of an athletics track.

In 2021, not only did Wings for Life raise over $4 million for spinal cord research, participants covered an average distance of 12.3 kilometers each. Russia’s Nina Zarina ran 60.2 km before the Catcher Car caught up to her. Aron Anderson from Sweden outran the car for a whopping 66.8 km.

Get Ready to Race!

The Wings for Life World Run is held on the first Sunday of May each year. It’s a worthwhile cause to support while literally “running for those who can’t.” We’ve covered everything you need to know about this wonderful event – all that’s left is for you to register, download the app, lace up your shoes, and start running to get away from the Catcher Car.

Good luck!

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

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