The feeling of being chased can help people run faster and further than they ever thought possible. That's the experience of thousands of participants who have taken part in Wings for Life World Run around the world, a charity running race with a unique moving finish line format – and it's backed up by sports psychology, which suggests simulating the -fear factor' could be a fun way to help runners improve.
On Sunday May 7th 2017, the whole world will run at the same time for as long as they can to raise funds and awareness for spinal cord injury. Participants run as far as they can until they are passed by a moving finish line, the 'Catcher Car," which chases runners along the course, gradually getting faster until each runner has been caught. This year, the event will take place in Melbourne at 9pm.
More than 2,400 people responded to a Facebook poll asking for their experiences in the Wings for Life World Run. The chase factor is a powerful motivation for many runners in the event, which is run simultaneously in different cities all over the world and draws thousands of runners of all abilities.
Of those participants reporting better than expected results:
24.3% ran 5 km further than their original target
38.1% ran 5-15 km further
28.7% ran an extra 15-30 km
8.9% ran more than 30 km beyond their expectations
In a smaller local Facebook poll, targeted at Australian runners who participated in the 2016 Wings for Life World Run, similar results were observed:
30% ran close to their original target
26.7% ran 1km further
6.7% ran 2km further
Athletes and scientists agree that adding a chase element into races and training sessions can be a great way to motivate runners.
Courtney Atkinson, Red Bull athlete and this year's live event host explained, "Have you ever run through a dog park only to find the biggest German Shepard decide to come charging at you? That's motivation! As fear hits you the body becomes primal and you find speed and adrenline you normal don't have."
"There's an old runners saying when it comes to pushing yourself in a race, 'run like you stole it!' Nothing motivates you to run faster than when being chased and if there's a consequence you-re going to find you can run very fast. The Wings for Life World Run has a car chasing you, the police might not be there but there is bragging rights between your mates.
"I don't know what it is about being chased but when running in Melbourne and you see the lights of the Catcher Car behind you in the distance, something in the body changes. Suddenly there's urgency, adrenaline. You can't do anything to stop that thing coming at you but you sure can put in the big ones to stay in the game or run a little longer."
Leading psychologist Dr. Rhonda Cohen of Middlesex University and author of Sport Psychology: Optimising Human Performance, said, 'Research identifies fear as a tool within our evolutionary survival kit. Being chased creates fear, which in turn acts as a powerful motivator.
'Adding a chase simulation enables people to use the powerful motivator of fear in a safe environment. And because this is a -safe fear' it can not only be motivating but also a lot of fun."
These findings also reflect the astonishing result of Elise Molvik, the Norwegian amateur runner who won the women's race in Norway in 2014.
Molvik, then only 18 and a medical student, shocked everyone – and most of all herself – by clocking 54.79 km before being hauled back by the Catcher Car in Stavanger.
'I'd never run more than 30 km before so it was a huge surprise to go so far," said Molvik. 'The Catcher Car makes it really exciting and gives you an extra motivation. When you see it, you get the feeling of -run like you stole something' and you give it everything you have."
Barney Miller, a Wings for Life World Run Ambassador, suffers from spinal cord injury from a car accident while he was driving to work as a white water rafting guide, but he has not let that stop him from pursuing his surfing dreams.
When reflecting on what keeps him motivated to go further in every aspect of his life, he said, 'I'm motivated by seeing people push the limits of what is humanly possible. Seeing people accomplish things they never thought they could shows me that no matter what obstacles are in the way, we all have the power inside to overcome anything."
All entry fees for the Wings for Life World Run go to spinal cord research. More than 130,000 people took part in 2016.
As of 1 March 2017, the registration price will increase from $55 to $66. Join the world in running for those who can't and sign up for the Wings for Life World Run at www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com
For those who can't make it to Melbourne, the Wings for Life World Run APP allows anyone, anywhere in the world, to join in. www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com/au/en/organized-app-runs/