“But, but…why?” you ask again. Lots of things understandably occur in the middle of the night without making people feel compelled to climb out of bed and run around.
To this version of the question, the answer is a little more complex.
Let’s start with charity. Each of the people assembled in the chilly night air at the Valencia Town Center understand that they will be running specifically because there are those that would dearly love to, but can’t. Their entry fees and other contributions, down to the last dime, have all been earmarked for the Wings Of Life Foundation, whose mission it is to find a cure for spinal cord injuries.
And then there’s the novelty of it all. I mean, who goes out for a run at 4:00 AM? Well, those that know that at precisely the same time, they’ll be joined by over 90,000 kindred spirits in countries spread across the globe.
I remember first reading about the Wings For Life World Run during the run-up to the inaugural event in 2014. And I distinctly recall thinking that the idea was brilliant, even without the overlay of a tremendous charitable cause. Who wouldn’t want to take part in an athletic event shared by like-minded individuals around the world?
But the most common reason for the overflow attendance in the starting chute at this pre-dawn hour? Well, it’s because they’re runners. This is what they do.
Running is one of those sports that people start off doing by themselves so that they can then do it with other people. Or vice-versa. But no matter how you come to it, running is the quintessential community sport, with one’s definition of “community” being anything from friend/neighbor/running partner, to local running club, to regional event, to national gathering…and now to worldwide spectacle. And with a relatively healthy lifestyle and a little luck in avoiding injury, you can do it almost all of your life.
Unfortunately, I don’t fall into the “little luck in avoiding injury” category, so I haven’t been a part of the society of runners. But since my wife is a runner, I’m a member by proxy. I’ve witnessed the dynamic, watching her gradually traverse the community curve until she was running in a major event with thousands of compatriots alongside.
Another such convert to the sport is Kimberly Delafuente, who started off…well, I’ll let her tell you herself, in the audio conversation in Related Stuff.
My fascination with the Wings For Life World Run concept had come up in conversation with a mutual friend, who tipped me off to the fact that Kimberly was running the event with a friend from Slovakia. Which, by itself, wasn’t necessarily noteworthy. Except that her friend was running in Bratislava, and she was running here in Santa Clarita. They’d be starting at the same time, and had listed the same pre-race goal on the W4LWR website—to finish a 10k by the time the Catcher Car had tracked them down. Two separate continents, same everything else. I was intrigued.
Both Kimberly and her long-distance running mate, Martin Stohl, were kind enough to share their pre-race thoughts with me, which led to the first mixed-media, real time/virtual time interview that I’ve done. See what they had to say in Related Stuff.
When it came to gathering immediate post-race reactions, though, I had to settle for capturing those of just one of my test team. And since I live a lot closer to Santa Clarita than I do to Bratislava, I went with meeting Kimberly for onsite insight. I’m lazy that way.
We arranged to meet at a predetermined spot near the starting chute, eventually resulting in a text that I’ll likely never type again: OK, see you at 3:15 tomorrow morning! I had cobbled together a few hours of sleep, but Kimberly is an avowed night owl who opted to just let Saturday night roll into Sunday morning. Understandably, she arrived looking a little bewildered, albeit full of the energy supplied by jolts of pre-race adrenaline. It was slowly starting to dawn on her (no pun intended) that this would be a race experience like no other, as she stood momentarily transfixed in front of the huge video board that was displaying live feeds from starting lines around the world. I could literally watch the enormity of the event start to wash over her.
She shared with me that she had gone out with her running club “yesterday”—which really was today, given that she’d not slept at any point in between—and was starting to second-guess that decision. But she’s a runner, and that’s what runners do. Plus, she still hadn’t fully decided whether this was a run…or a race. That indecision was starting to play havoc with her mindset.
I snapped a photo for posterity, wished her luck, and watched as she and another friend from her local running team began weaving their way through the burgeoning crowd assembling in the starting chute.
Nine time zones away, Martin was doing the exact same thing.