Ketema, who won the maiden edition last year, was again the last man standing, improving on his 78.57km performance of 2014 with a winning mark of 79.9km. As the Catcher Car finally passed him in St Polten, Austria, Ketema fell to the floor and kissed the tarmac in exhausted celebration.
Second was Chile’s César Andrés Díaz Hernández running in Santiago while Peru’s Remigio Quispe, who was second behind Ketema last year, was third after pacesetting with the Ethiopian in Austria for much of the race.
Watanabe, 27, won the women’s title after a dramatic finish which saw her and South Africa’s Riana van Niekerk both eclipse the 54.79km mark set by champion Elisa Molvik in Norway last year.
Van Niekerk, pounding the tarmac in the bright Cape Town sunshine, and Watanabe in the darkness of Takashima matched each other step for step but the South African succumbed first and Watanabe punched the air when news of her victory came through.
“It doesn’t feel real,” said Watanabe after she was caught after 56.33km. “It seems like a dream, this is unlike any race I’ve been in. The Catcher Car coming up behind me meant I could run at my own pace. I was actually running slower than in training so I could run longer.”
Anderson became the first wheelchair athlete to win a national title when he was last to be caught in Kalmar-Oeland, Sweden after 64.82km.
The day proved a festival of colour and physical endeavour for the 101,280 registered athletes: the costumes on show varied from a pink fairy tutu in the United Kingdom to countless Ironman and Superman outfits.
The Catcher Car drivers played their part too with David Coulthard treating onlookers with some eye-watering stretching exercises before he climbed into his car, while multiple Olympic ski champion Aksel Lund Svindal had to do a spot of off-roading onto the grass to catch some of the runners in Stavanger, Norway.
The weather obviously played its part with the rain hammering down on the unfortunate runners in Porto while the searing heat in Dubai meant one runner was carrying a black umbrella to shade him from the sun’s rays as he was caught by the Catcher Car.
The temperature ranged from a chilly two degrees Celsius in Kolomna, Moscow to the steamy 33 degree heat of Gurgaon, India.
It was a day truly for athletes of all types with Infiniti Red Bull Racing drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat doing Selfie Runs in Monaco and Lugano respectively.
The title of the happiest national winner surely went to Croatia’s Nikolina Slonica Šustić who danced and even ran backwards looking back at the Catcher Car as all her rivals were eliminated. Most committed celebration came in Melbourne when Michael Wardian did a defiant press-up as the Catcher Car swept past him.
Hundreds of athletes took up the option of doing a Selfie Run if they were unable to compete at one of the main venues. From Sri Lanka to Uzbekistan and from South Korea to the Lofotes Islands in the Norwegian Arctic. The strong runners came close to the Marathon Distance before they got caught.
Anita Gerhardter, CEO of the Wings for Life Foundation, said it had been an unforgettable day.
“It was a great day for Wings for Life and a great day for spinal cord research with 4.2 million Euros raised and donations are still coming in,” she said.
“It exceeded all my expectations. There were so many thrilling, touching moments today but my personal highlight was the Swedish wheelchair competitor Aron Anderson.”
1. Lemawork Ketema (ETH) km 79.9 (Venue AUT)
2. Cesar Hernandez (CHI) km 78.3 (Venue CHI)
3. Remigio Huaman (PER) km 78.2 (Venue AUT)
1. Yuko Watanabe (JPN) km 56.3 (Venue Japan)
2. Riana van Niekerk (RSA) km 55,2 (Venue RSA)
3. Nathalie Vasseur (FRA) km 52,2 (Venue USA, Fl)
Find out more at www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com.