Tag Archives: flinty chicago toughness

Race Report and Review: 2009 Urbanathlon.

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:

IMG_0147

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.

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Spring (HAH!) Sunday Stats #2: I Still Have All 9 Toes.

Since today’s stats will be mostly taken up with my race report on the 2009 Shamrock Shuffle 8k race this morning, I’m going to get the writing report out of the way.  Here goes:

On Writing: I got through another 35 pages of Meet the Larssons (to 311), re-reading and marking up on the train.  I have had no time at all to work on it in the evenings or even at lunch, but even so, it’s moving along a little.  I didn’t do anything on it this weekend; Saturday was taken up with personal business stuff, and today was the race and then Junior’s 5-1/4th birthday party (he turned 5 at the end of December but we put off his party to get past the holidays and in hopes of warmer weather, ha ha), so no room for writing. Maybe this week will be better, but I think I’ve got another 2-3 weeks at this level of intensity before things even out.

On Running: The weather report last night looked pretty bad, and for once the predictions were spot on. It started snowing around midnight, and by 7:30am (two hours before race start), this is what it looked like in our backyard. It was about 30 degrees.

I got downtown early enough and trudged half a mile through the slush to the C0ngress H0tel, where CARA (the Chicago Area Runners Association) had its indoor, members-only gear check. By the time I got there, my shoes were already soaked through from the enormous puddles of slush everywhere.  I ducked into the Starbucks at the Blackstone Hotel on the next block for a quick espresso (which I think helps my time), and this is what it looked like on Michigan Avenue just before 9am:

Michigan at Balbo, 30 minutes to start

Michigan at Balbo, 30 minutes to start

I trudged through more icy slush to my start corral, and was in place by 9:15, 15 minutes before the start of the race.  I had earned a preferred starting position by time last year, which in a race with 30,000+ entrants, is a big deal — if you’re stuck at the back, it can take 20 minutes just to get across the starting line, and you’re backed up for most of the race. The price is that you have to be in your corral early, which today meant 15 minutes of standing in place with my feet slowly numbing.  Here I am at the start:

Why is this man smiling?

Why is this man smiling?

I was smiling because my toes had stopped hurting; I couldn’t feel them at all.  And I didn’t for the rest of the race.

My goal was to finish in less than 38 minutes, since I’m pretty sure that’s the time I need to get the same starting position next year.  Since I did more than 2 minutes better than that last year, I thought it was possible, but considering the weather and my inconsistent running over the winter, I wasn’t sure.

There was no let up in the snow, wind, or the slush for the whole race.  The Sun-Times has pictures here; the Tribune has pictures here.  Race conditions were miserable to outright shitty, worse than the torrential rain during the 2008 Chicago Half Marathon, since the temperature was 30 degrees lower.

I missed the first two mile markers and I wasn’t wearing a watch (still need a new battery), so I was shocked when I got to the 3-mile mark and saw that I’d been running much faster than I thought.  I was able to finish in 36:48, almost exactly a minute slower than last year but comfortably under my goal time.  Here I am at the finish; you can see that the weather didn’t get any better.  At this point, I was happy about my time but seriously concerned about frostbite on my toes and possibly the soles of my feet.

It's all over but the screaming.

It's all over but the screaming.

I hurried through the finisher chutes, got more coffee, and grabbed my dry clothes.  I considered changing at the hotel, but was worried that my feet would just get wet again by the time I got to the garage, so I waited until I was in my car and got out of my wet tights, socks, and shoes and into dry things.  My feet felt better in new wool socks and dry running shoes, but the feeling didn’t really start to come back until I got into the shower an hour later, and then the pins and needles were almost excrutiating.  It’s almost 9pm as I write this, and my feet still feel tingly and weird.

I was really surprised at my time, considering that my shoes alone must each have been carrying an extra 5 pounds of water with every step.  And the running I did on the treadmill this winter did a better job of maintaining my speed than I thought it would; I’m really glad we bought it.  Thank you, Craigslist.

All in all, I’m glad I did it, but it was pretty stupid.  I think 33,000 people registered for the race, and just over 13,000 finished.  There’s always a little attrition at races, but two-thirds?  Where’s that flinty Chicago toughness we’re known for?