With the Chicago Men’s Health Urbanathlon 2011 coming up this weekend, I thought I might rehash my 2010 attempt–not only to enlighten those of you who haven’t run it, but to get my thoughts on paper and improve for this year. Fast ‘backward’ to 2010 where I wandered, half asleep, through the darkness of a uncomfortably brisk October morning…
I was coming off a pretty good performance from my first obstacle course race ever, the 2010 Midwest Warrior Dash, and was ready to prove myself against what promised to be a harder mental and physical challenge. Overconfident and underprepared, I wandered along with a trickle of sleepy participants who were probably wondering, like I was, why they would start the race so early. I was immediately impressed, however, by the organization of the event. Gear check was clearly labeled and adequately staffed (packet pickup was required prior to the race, and wasn’t too bad for horribly-packed Navy Pier) as I stripped off my long pants and jacket, stuffing them into the provided bag. I then proceeded to stare blankly at the final two obstacles, which involved climbing over taxis and jumping over a wall.
More participants trickled in while an overly joyful announcer directed racers to the gear check and sponsor locations. Just as my bare legs began feeling numb, that same joyful voice announced that the event’s training partner, Equinox, was hosting a pre-race warmup! What followed was a blood-pumping, invigorating exercise program… you could see everyone’s faces brighten and I could feel my legs coming to life. It makes me wonder why other races don’t provide the same service (oh wait, that’s right… fun runs don’t start at 7:30am).
About 30 minutes before race-time, we began to file into our respective corrals, determined by age group. After a great rendition of the National Anthem, the race began and I stupidly sprinted out ahead of the pack looking to destroy the course. After a breathtakingly beautiful run along Lake Shore Drive and through Navy Pier, we arrived at our first obstacle: Tires and more tires. Racers were required to jump and climb over a vertical monster-truck tire (which was surprisingly difficult) and then complete the obstacle with a length of tire runs. No problem.
Obstacle two involved alternating climbs over and under a seemingly endless series of barricades, and everything started to run together at this point as I tried to keep my mind from self-destructing. Following obstacles including monkey bars and a brutal series of marine hurdles. It was as this point that I had a take a short break at a water station–something I had never done in a race before. After my short break, I continued to follow the course around the back of the Shedd Aquarium and began to pick up speed again at Mile 7… and then we ran into Soldier Field.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Chicago Men’s Health Urbanathlon, all you need to know that one of the obstalces involves running up and down over 400 stairs at Soldier Field. Not only are the steps unusually steep, the organizers decide to throw this obstacle in at Mile 9. Before the steps, my legs were starting to feel the distance; AFTER the 400+ steps, they were pretty much jello. With only sheer willpower left in my body, I forced my legs to turn over (albiet slowly) for the remaining mile. My quads burned, my calves felt like they were about to explode, and my ankles and hamstrings were barely hanging on. Crowds had now formed along the sidewalks and streets over the final stretch, and the cheering helped keep my mind focused on finishing strong. The last series of obstacles arrived and I easily hopped the cabs I stared down earlier. I was so exhausted at this point that I needed a 10 second rest before I could even attempt to climb over the final wall that laid ahead of me. I mustered up the courage, using up any energy I had left and crossed the finish line with a well-deserved fist pump.
Relieved, I wandered the event grounds to find an impressive assortment of sports drinks, granola bars, bananas, bagels and more. To this day, this is the most impressive post-race spread I have found at an obstacle course race.
Overall, I was disappointed in my time, but left motivated to push myself to new levels of fitness. If I had never run this race (and had instead stuck with Warrior Dash-type races), I would have never been the running enthusiast I am today. So thank you, Men’s Health, for creating a truly challenging and inspring race for us to enjoy! I can only hope that this year’s race will be even more rewarding.
This organization of this event is top notch, and you notice it from the second you walk on to the event grounds. While the event advertises six obstacles, there are actually more by other race standards. For example, the sixth obstacle in the Urbanathlon was jumping over taxis, followed by climbing a net over a bus, followed by climbing over a wall. They make up for large spacing between obstacles with incredible obstacle quality. If you’re looking to test your fitness rather than party or drink beer, this is an event you NEED to experience. On a side note, women CAN run the race too, and I encourage you ladies out there to try it!
With such an early start, there isn’t much to do pre-race except for check your gear and look at the final obstacles. The pre-race warm-up provided by Equinox was incredible though, and nearly makes up for that fact. General organization was top-notch, and they even provide a free training program.
This is an absolutely beautiful course around/through some great Chicago landmarks. A challenging race distance with great obstacles adds to the fun. I have few qualms about the layout other than the stairs at Soldier Field get backed up, even with two routes.
Men’s Health hosts this race and it is very obvious by the post-race event grounds. There are piles of healthy foods for consumption, vendors giving away protein drinks, and fitness/nutrition companies handing out discounts. Don’t expect to find yourself eating a turkey leg while listening to a bad cover band.
You get a little black gear check back, a plain cotton t-shirt (which I surprisingly wear A LOT), and a finisher medal. Packets include some nutrition products and advertisements for races and health/fitness companies… pretty standard for most road races.