After five hours and close to 50 miles, Ethiopian runner Lemawork Ketema finished a mere 295 feet (90 meters) ahead of Remigo Huaman Quispe, from Peru, to win the first annual Wings for Life World Run, a global event that attracted some of the best long-distance athletes in the world.
At its heart, the World Run, which was broadcast live around the world, is a charity event to raise money for research to cure spinal cord injury. But in the end, the race, which attracted close to 36,000 amateur and professsional athletes, was exactly that -- a fierce competition.
At times, it was a competition between runners, especially between Ketema and Ukranian ultra-marathoner Evgenii Glyva, who were neck-and-neck for more than 20 miles. But because the race is held simultaneously in 34 locations in 32 countries, the World Run was often an individual struggle.
Another element unique to World Run is the absence of a set finish line. Instead, the race employs what's called a "catcher car." The catcher car leaves the starting line 30 minutes after the runners at a pace of 15 km/h (9.32 mph), slowly increasing its speed every hour. When the catcher car passes a runner, that runner's race is over.
Ketema finished at 48.82 miles (78.57 km), Quispe at 48.76 miles (78.48 km). And neither Ketema, who started in Donautal, Austria, nor Quispe, who was running out of Lima, Peru, knew how close he was to winning.
Norwegian Elise Selvikvåg Molvik, running in Oslo, won the global women's title, finishing at 34.04 miles (54.79 km). The women's runner-up Natalie Vasseur, in France, finished at 31.8 miles (51.2 km).
In the United States, the race began from three locations: Sunrise, Florida; Santa Clarita, California; and Denver. Haley Chura, running in Florida, won the women's race, finishing at 28.34 miles (45.61 km). Michael Wardian, a three-time US 50-km champion) was first for the American men at 35.8 miles (57.7 km).
The day began with runners of all levels at starting lines in various settings in various seasons around the world, from India, where runners wore identical white T-shirts and red scarves, to Argentina, where it was nighttime, to Australia, where it was winter, to Italy, where the setting, naturally, was romantic and beautiful.
There were celebrity ambassadors in the mix. Mark Webber, the former F1 driver, finished at an impressive 17.62 miles (28.36 km) out of Silverstone, England. Snowboarder Louie Vito, running in Denver, hit 13.22 miles (21.27). Canadian Snowboarder Mark McMorris finished at 8.73 miles (14.05 km)out of Prairie, Canada. Hurdler (and member of the US Bobsled team) Lolo Jones hit 11.46 miles (18.44 km) in Florida.
At the two-hour mark, there were around 6,500 runners remaining. Fifteen minutes later, there were 2,000 fewer. The remaining runners were no doubt of the serious sort, but there were many signs that the event was equal parts fun. In Peru, a runner proposed to his spectating girlfriend. Elsewhere, a runner rescued a stray dog without breaking stride, just as the catcher car ended his (the runner's) race.
After four hours, the World Run was down to six competitors. Paul Martelletti in England, Giorgio Calcaterra in Italy, Quispe in Peru, and three runners in Austria, Ketema, Glyva and Wolfgang Walner.
Martelletti was the first of the six to drop out. Then Walner and Calcaterra. In Austria, Glyva and Ketema pushed each other through most of the race, with Glyva running point and Ketema in his slipstream.
Ketema's strategy prevailed, and then the World Run was just down to him and Quispe running alone several thousand miles away, both united by a similar cause. Just before the start of the race, it was announced that the second Wings for Life World Run will be held May 3, 2015.