Red Bull’s Wings for Life World Run will once again collect valuable donations for spinal cord research in 2024. Our author is also at the start in Munich. Because of the cause, the initiative, the people. The only problem: He doesn’t like running or run well.

When I see the sign with the number “5” I collapse inside. Five kilometers. The drizzle that fell over Munich’s Olympic Park just in time for the starting signal for the Wings for Life World Run 2024 has given way to a small shower, the wind is swirling around, drops of rain and sweat are mixing on your face. Must look pretty heroic, I think and imagine the scene in slow motion, my distorted facial expressions, the open mouth, the tortured expression, plus wind and rain, all accompanied by “Conquest of Paradise”.

That feels good, especially since there are a lot of people standing on the side of the track, cheering, clapping and whistling. Some hold up banners emblazoned with first-class meaningful and motivational sayings such as “Run with you!” or the request “Push here!” above a hand painted on cardboard. A few actually hit. I lower my head, listen to my breathing and want it to finally be over.

Then the sign, on the right. Five kilometers. Only five kilometers.

There should actually be ten, after I was a ridiculous 200 meters short of the round mark on my personal Wings for Life World Run debut last year. This race does not have a classic finish line. Rather, the goal is to get as far as possible before the so-called catcher car catches up with you. Top and amateur athletes of all ages come together to do something good. Because that’s what it’s all about: The Wings for Life World Run is a charity event that takes place worldwide at the same time, at 11 a.m. UTC. This means that in England it starts at 12 p.m., in Germany at 1 p.m. and, for example, in Japan at 8 p.m.

The most important thing: All donations go to Red Bull’s non-profit Wings for Life Foundation, which supports spinal cord research to cure paraplegia. As a result, an incredible 299 projects in 20 countries have been funded since 2004, and there are currently 62 projects.

“We run for those who can’t”: The motto of the Wings for Life World Run is one that could hardly be more apt. In the men’s race, the Japanese Tomoya Watanabe runs 70 kilometers for those who can’t and further than anyone else; In the women’s race, Dominika Stelmach from Poland won with 55 kilometers. Sensational. In total, the donation amount in 2024 will be a spectacular 8.1 million euros.

This year exactly 265,818 people are taking part, either in the flagship runs like in Munich or privately via app. I am one of them, for the second time, because the initiative means something to me and because I am impressed by the incredible enthusiasm of those for whom this is all intended: people who live a life in a wheelchair. 1,578 of them are part of the masses around the world, in the middle of the runners, sometimes pushing them forward, sometimes fully committed themselves. In short: incredibly inspiring. There was more than one moment when I wanted to spontaneously stop and applaud.

Stop, a nice keyword. Because apart from the big, serious topic of the day, I have a problem: Unfortunately, I have never become a passionate runner, quite the opposite. I like and need exercise, I almost never take the escalator and I used to play football a lot – I didn’t like the racing either, but at least it followed a logic. On the other hand, I was always horrified by the dull and seemingly endless tracks on the orange tartan track. School sports to break the habit.

I’ve never really understood the appeal that so many see when they rush on two legs to end up where they started in a daring course through unsuspecting passers-by. I just go for a walk along the same route. Even worse: jogging on the treadmill, where you don’t physically gain a meter and only inhale the stuffy gym charm. But because I, as someone who doesn’t like running to some extent, am of course also a fair-weather athlete, anything below 10 degrees outside temperature is a case for the gym. Maximum. And when the recommended time period and/or number of calories is reached, I immediately declare the unit completed.

So that was my prerequisite for the Wings for Life World Run in Munich, with 12,000 participants in yellow shirts and lots of black pants, giving the impression of a beehive on a company outing or an oversized Borussia Dortmund training camp. As my running partner Dirk abseils (the calf!), I turn alone through the sea of ​​people, which is not so easy in the busy traffic jams that require a constant attentive look over my shoulder when pulling out and overtaking.

You don’t have to prove anything, the one voice inside me insists at some point. Yes!, the other voice promptly counters. Hmm. Ten kilometers can be done, I had trained extra, not very ambitiously, but continuously. At some point, when breathing gives way to wheezing, I try to trick my brain. In the form of distraction. Thoughts about work, friends, the household, about this text, for which a few phrases are floating around in my mind’s eye. Just don’t think about how little air there is left. How little fun it is. How annoying the new blisters on the ball of my foot are. Simply. Not. Think.

Kilometers six to nine are the worst, they seem disillusioning, like back then on the orange tartan track: no end in sight. The rain has now stopped, the sun is shining, but not thundering as mercilessly as it did a year ago. At least that.

I know at what point along the route – from the Olympic Park north, over closed public roads – I was caught by the catcher car in 2023 (and thanked numerous higher powers). Suddenly I see the spot. Approach me. Listen. No car noise. And then it gets strange, my legs move faster as if by magic, past the 10 kilometer sign, a truly great feeling, honest, almost intoxicating, this unexpected release of happiness hormones.

Run. A great invention.

The rest is a bonus. When the catcher car – this time driven by German ski jumper Andreas Wellinger – announces itself with a motorcycle escort, I have the 11 kilometers behind me and even the 12-kilometer peg in sight. Learning effect from the previous year and the 9.9 kilometers: Don’t let it coast, tighten it again! A final spurt that is certainly not particularly fast, but oh well. The car, the relief, the exhaustion. 12 kilometers and two meters. Absolute life record.

Dear readers, if you have similar running awakening experiences in mind, please register for the Wings for Life World Run 2025. Support spinal cord research. And run for those who can’t. If I can do it, then you can easily do it. It is worth it .. In the spirit of the matter.

You can find more information about the Wings for Life World Run here.