Sorry in advance for the long post. It was a long race.
Yesterday, I ran the Men’s Health Urbanathlon, an 11.76 mile run and obstacle course along the Chicago lakefront. This is the third year they’ve held the race in Chicago (it started in New York, and I think they are adding London and Singapore as well), and I have registered each year and then had some last minute problem — I think work-related, in both cases — that prevented me from participating. This year, nothing came up, and off I went.
The course: The Urbanathlon is an 11.76 mile run mostly along the lakefront path – not much in the way of closed streets after the loop around Navy Pier in the first few miles. Here’s a map of the course. As you can see, spread out along the course are six “Urban Obstacles”:
- the tire obstacle at Navy Pier, two columns of tires, seven deep, you have to step into each one, then jump onto a monster truck tire, then move onto the next set of tires, for three sets;
- monkey bars around Roosevelt Road, you have to go hand over hand for all 12 bars – if you fall, you have to start over, if you still can’t do it, you have to do push ups;
- marine hurdles on the 31st Street beach, three 5-foot high hurdles (the picture shows five, but that’s wrong), you have to jump up and pull yourself over each one;
- Soldier Field stair climb, (I did the yellow route in the picture), the equivalent of climbing 52 stories up and then back down;
- taxi hurdle, about 20 feet before the finish, over the hood of a Yellow Cab;
- the wall, between the taxis and the finish line, about 8 feet tall. The picture is misleading, in that the ropes were not anchored at the top but a little below.
Here’s a picture I took (before the race started) of the final two obstacles and the finish line:
From what I can see of the photos of past Urbanathlons, the Soldier Field steps, taxi hurdle, and wall are the same every year, and the others change.
The weather: Cold, although not as cold as last weekend. It was about 40 degrees when I left the house, and a few degrees warmer at the start. In the 90 minutes I was at the race site before the start, the weather went from overcast, to hail, to rain, until finally, just as we lined up at the starting line, the sun broke through and stayed out all through the race.
On to the race report:
I didn’t really know what to expect from the obstacles. I hadn’t specifically trained for them, and was a little concerned about the Soldier Field stairs.
We hit the tire obstacle about two miles in to the race out on Navy Pier. I didn’t do any specific training for this one — it’s not like I can easily pull together 21 car tires and three monster truck tires in the backyard — but thanks to our taekwondo instructor’s agility drills, I managed to get through them without tripping and falling on my face. I finished the first 4 mile leg of the race in 32:05, just over 8:00 minutes/mile, a pretty good pace considering it included the tires.
The next 4 mile leg started just before the monkey bars and ended with the marine hurdles. The monkey bars were no trouble, thanks to following Unfocused Girl on the monkey bars at every playground we’ve been to for years. The marine hurdles took a little more effort – it took me two tries to get over the second one — but still weren’t too bad. I was a few seconds faster in the second leg as the crowd on the path thinned a little (a very little), finishing in 31:43.
The first three obstacles were pure fun. It was energizing to work different muscles in the middle of a race, and they even gave my legs a little (very little) rest from the repetitive pounding of the road.
Then, two miles into the final leg (a little shorter than the first two at 3.76 miles), we got to Soldier Field. As we neared the stadium, we went through a water stop. One goateed runner with the hunched, rounded shoulders of a guy who spends way too much time doing bench presses loudly complained that there was only water and no Gatorade. Like the volunteers freezing their keisters off to hand us drinks had anything to do with the decision.
We entered the stadium for the stair-climb obstacle: four times up and down the stadium steps, the equivalent of running up and down a 52 story building. There was a logjam at the entrance, and goatee man kvetched loudly and bitterly until we were directed to the entrance to the alternate route and the real obstacle began.
How’d I do? The stairs kicked. My. Ass. There’s no other way to say it. I was completely unprepared for this obstacle — I live in America’s Flatland, a landscape so featureless that the Park District had to build toboggan slides because there are so few decent sledding hills. I don’t use the stairclimbers at the gym, and I don’t do nearly enough hill work on the treadmill. In a burst of optimism, I ran up the first 3/4 of the first trip up the stairs, and from then on it was a long, plodding walk.
Up. Up. Up.
Over to the next section.
Down. Down. Down.
It was like a Fritz Lang silent picture from the 1920s about the dehumanizing repetition of the industrial revolution, with long lines of us trudging up and down the stairs in an endless snake of polyester-clad humanity. I did, however, manage a smile when I ended up next to the loud-mouthed goatee man, and he was CRAWLING.
There were chip readers at the entrance and exit, so we got our time for Soldier Field separate from Leg 3. It took me 14:05 just to do the stairs, including the stop at the end to stretch out my spasming calves. I had to stop and stretch again 50 yards out of the stadium as they kept cramping, but once I started running again they loosened up enough for me to slog through to the finish.
I finally made it to the taxi and did the Starsky and Hutch slide across the hood, and then there was the wall. Watching the guy in front of up try to climb the wall with the rope and slide down because his shoes were too muddy, I decided the ropes were a red herring. It took me a couple of tries, but I got over in what I think was really the only way to do it, by jumping up, grabbing the top, and pulling myself over. Kind of like this:
Luckily, the finish line was only a few feet away. I staggered across and my legs immediately started shivering, and didn’t really stop until I got something to eat. I finished Leg 3 in 38:35 (including the time spent in Soldier Field), and my final time was 1:42:22.
Final impressions: This race was a lot of fun, and offered a terrific change from pure long-distance running. It pointed up a couple of things I think I’m doing right, like the box-jumps during my too-infrequent strength workouts at the gym. Even more clear, though, was the main deficiency in my training: lack of hill and stair work. Almost 36 hours after the race, my calves are killing me, and going up or down a flight of stairs is excruciating unless I do it backwards. If I’m going to do this race again — and I’m going to do this race again — I need to incorporate a little stairclimbing and hill work into my routine.
If you’re used to distance running and you’d like something a little different, I really recommend this race.