The race with no finish line has a winner. In a unique ultra marathon staged simultaneously over 32 countries across six continents and 13 time zones on May 4, Lemawork Ketema of Ethiopia, running along the Donau river valley in Austria, edged Remigio Huaman Quispe running at altitude nearly 7,000 miles away in his native Peru to win the inaugural Wings for Life World Run.
The charity event raised more than $4 million to support spinal cord injury research. Runners had to get as far from the start line as they could before being passed by a catcher car that set off in slow pursuit 30 mins later, and then upped its pace after three and a half hours. Once passed, a runner’s race was over.
All races were run simultaneously, starting at 6 a.m. EST. That meant dawn or predawn starts for the more than 2,500 participants running one of the four courses in North America in Denver, Colo., Santa Clarita, Calif., Sunrise, Fla., and Saskatoon, Canada.
Ketema covered 78.57 kilometers (48.82 miles) in a little over 5 hours before being the last of the more than 35,000 competitors worldwide to be caught by a catcher car. Quispe was deemed to have been hauled in 90 meters short of Ketema’s distance following a judges' review after Quispe had been declared the provisional winner. Ukraine’s Evgeni Glyva, also running in Austria, was third with 78.4 kilometers covered.
The greatest distance covered in a North American race was 58.2 kilometers by Houston-based Canadian elite trail runner Calum Neff running in Santa Clarita, Calif.
Elise Selvikvåg Molvik, an 18-year-old Norwegian high school student, covered 54.79km in Stavanger to win the women’s race, ahead of Nathalie Vasseur of France (51.26km) and Moldova’s Svetlana Shepuleva (48.29km) who ran in Turkey. In Sunrise, Fla., Haley Chura, a profressional triathlete, logged 45.61 kilometers, the greatest distance covered by a woman in a North American race.
The winning men and women in the North American races were:
Santa Clarita, Calif: Calum Neff (58.52 kilometers) and Jeannie Rutherford (35.64 kilometers)
Sunrise, Fla.: Michael Wardian (57.75 kilometers) and Haley Chura (45.61 kilometers)
Denver, Colo.: Hunter Paris (55.37 kilometers) and Erlena Josifi (33.53 kilometers)
Saskatoon, Canada: Ryan King (46.79 kilometers) and Chrissy Magneson (32.97 kilometers)
The event will be held again next year on May 3, 2015.
Update: Race organizers say 233 participants reached at least the marathon distance of 42.2 kilometers before being caught, while the average run was 15 kilometers.