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The Worldwide Charity Run Where The Finish Line Chases You

The Wings For Life World Run takes place this Sunday and raises money for spinal cord injuries.

Wings For Life World RunThe 2016 Wings for Life World Run in Bratislava, Slovakia. Photo: Jan Kasl for Wings for Life World Run

Fresh off his win last month at the 100 Miles of Istria in Croatia, ultrarunner Dylan Bowman is ready to test his legs on pavement. Bowman admits he’s fired up for a road race after recently watching the Boston Marathon. However, he’s not racing a traditional event. Bowman is toeing the line with more than 100,000 other runners worldwide at the fourth annual Wings for Life World Run on May 7, 2017.

For this race, all runners begin at the same time at 25 different locations around the world. And there is another twist. The distance each participant runs varies because the finish line is actually moving. “Catcher cars” start 30 minutes after the runners, and each catcher car will travel at 10 miles per hour when they start, and gradually go faster as the race progresses. When the car catches you, your race is complete.

“With most races, it’s a predetermined length of a course that you complete in as little time as possible. In this case you are trying to extend the course as long as possible,” says Bowman, 31, a resident of Mill Valley, Calif., who is running the event in Santa Clarita, Calif. “It’s rare that I do a road race, but this format is exciting.”

Wings for Life World Run raises money and awareness for research around spinal cord injuries, with the goal of finding a cure. Red Bull Company covers costs for the run, as well as administrative costs for the foundation. All money raised through the event goes to fund research campaigns.

RELATED: Red Bull’s 400-Meter Uphill Race

“It’s cool having a footrace as a celebration of human powered movement to provide support and funds for people in that situation to potentially be able to walk and run again,” Bowman says. “I’m inspired by the cause and it intrigues me for running and professionally.”

Dylan BowmanDylan Bowman, Photo: Cameron Baird

Bowman works for Hypoxico, Inc., a company that makes high altitude training tools. The products were created to improve performance by giving athletes, military members and others access to the benefits of high altitude without having to be at higher elevations. They are also used for general wellness. Bowman is interested in the equipment being tested in rehabilitative applications, including spinal cord injuries.

“Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation supported a study at Liberty University that looked at using Hypoxico’s equipment with incomplete spinal cord injuries,” says Bowman, who is the Director of Endurance at Hypoxico. “By depriving the user of oxygen, the system we sell stimulates the nervous system in a way that helps with endurance and the ability to move.”

Over the past three years, more than 280,000 people from 193 nations have run the Wings for Life World Run, raising more than $16 million dollars in the process. The current Global Champion distance record is 88.44K (54.9 miles), set by Calcaterra Giorgio in Milan, Italy, in 2016. Bowman, a Red Bull athlete, expects plenty of road running specialists to be at the event. However, he is still showing up to win. When asked about the record, Bowman says he’ll have to see what the day brings. He’s also using the race to jump-start his training for the 103-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc trail race in France on Sept. 1.

“This is a return to faster, flatter running for me,” says Bowman who is looking forward to racing against runners both in California and worldwide. “I get burnt out doing the same training over and over, changes like this keeps me stimulated and interested.”

Athletes may participate on foot and in wheelchairs, individually or as part of a team. If you can’t make it to an event, but still want to “run for those who can’t,” there’s an iOS and Android app. With the Wings for Life World Run App, a virtual catcher car follows behind, similar to all the runners at the races around the globe. If you are part of a running group or club, or simply want to run with friends, you can start your own group run. There are also organized app runs for participants to join. Your name will even appear on the official global finishers’ list.

All races begin at 11 a.m. UTC (Universal Coordinated Time). That means 4 a.m. for runners in Santa Clarita and 7 a.m. for runners in Sunrise, Fla., the other U.S. race location.

Tune in on Sunday, May 7 for a livestream video of the event worldwide here: