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“The woman you just overtook was in the lead,” a biker says to Astrid Kaltenböck. She’s surprised but digs deep to keep running until the Catcher Car chases her down.Unexpectedly, she comes top of the national’s female ranking 2014 in Verona, Italy. The following year, the situation is similar: at the Wings for Life World Run 2015, she does it again and becomes the female winner of Brazil. When we meet the 42-year-old pharmamanager who lives in Vienna, she talks about goose bumps, unexpected winners’ rostrums and her personal connection with Wings for Life.

Astrid, what does running mean to you?
Originally I come from Bischofshofen near Salzburg, and outdoor sports like ski touring, cycling and hiking have always been a big deal for me. In 2002, I started running. First it was just to clear my mind, but after some time, I started putting together my own training schedules and taking part in marathons. My motivation just kept growing and growing, and now my base marathon time is 2:55. I love running but sports don’t dictate my entire life.

Why did you run the Wings for Life World Run in Italy?
I’ve known of Wings for Life and their mission since the beginning. Many years ago, I started donating to spinal cord research and Wings for Life because I know Wings for Life genuinely wants to make a difference. My personal belief in this foundation and my passion for running made the Wings for Life World Run a no-brainer for me. I simply had to do it. It was my brother who registered us to run in Italy.

How did you prepare for the run in Verona?
My motivation was clear: I was running for those who can’t. I wasn’t out there to win; I didn’t go out with my marathon focus. I was fit, sure, but I took time to enjoy the wonderful food and drink Italy has to offer. It was more about the ambiance that first time.

How was the run?
Awesome! Everyone commented on the positive atmosphere and how great it was to be running 100% for a good cause. At 14km, someone shouted that I was about to pass the leading female runner. At 35.7km, the Catcher Car got me. When I realised that I’d won the Italy race, I got goose bumps.

What happened after that?
My unexpected win was unbelievable. I didn’t know that the national winners choose where they wanted to run in the next Wings for Life World Run. I was excited and decided to head for Brazil in 2015. My friend and I liked the idea of running on another continent in a different culture. So in May 2015, we travelled to South America. Privately, I was a bit more driven than in 2014 and had my eyes on getting to the marathon distance, 42km. 

How was Brazil?
The atmosphere was as special as the year before. Brazilians are passionate runners; they’re passionate about enjoying themselves, too, so there were a lot of running clubs all out for a good day of running and having fun. When we started, it was clear I surrounded by some very strong runners. I figured that, as an Austrian, I didn’t stand much of a chance. But I was surprised when many of them gave up at 15km. At 22km, the same thing as 2014 happened: I passed the only woman in front of me and took the lead.

What was it like to run in Brazil?
It was so hot, and I was thirsty all the time. Running at 30° in such high humidity is unusual for me. I got very tired. When the Catcher Car got me at 44km, I teared up. I really hadn’t expected to win again.

And then?
I was famous! (laughs) My Facebook was flooded with friend requests; people wanted to take pictures with me after the run. I felt like a star. They really made a big deal of me, and I was proud to have done such a good job for Wings for Life. 

How present is spinal cord injury in your life?
I try to live very consciously; I enjoy the here and now. I do know people with spinal cord injury, and I am very aware of how suddenly life can change. You just have to cross the street at the wrong second or take your eye off the road for an instant – in just one tiny moment, everything changes. We need to celebrate every moment and live life to its fullest. 

Is that why you’ll take part in the Wings for Life World Run 2016?
For sure. As a winner I’m able to choose again where I’ll run next year. Maybe I’ll head to Taiwan and run in the dark ...

Would you like to win again?
Well. Why not!? I have to say winning three times would be quite cool, wouldn’t it?!

We’ve got our fingers crossed for you :-)