There are few things in life that I enjoy more than a local early-morning obstacle race… getting up at the crack of dawn, preheating the car, and driving through deserted roads while blasting the car stereo. This race was no exception, and the view of the final series of obstacles under a 6:30am spotlight was absolutely breathtaking. Here I was in Chicago again, ready to take revenge on the Men’s Health Urbanathlon…
Our corral is finally released as most of the racers (as usual) started off sprinting, only to fall off a mile or two into the race. This particular run through the streets of Chicago is one I think I will look forward to every year, and includes sections along Lakeshore Drive, through tunnels, and over bridges. Around mile 2.5 I arrived at Navy Pier as the course takes a turn through the heart of the city landmark, and emerged to the first obstacle of the race: tires and more tires. A slight variation of last year’s obstacle, the first part of the obstacle involved scaling a vertical monster truck tire. This was particularly difficult compared to last year, as the tires seemed very slick… there was little to grab on to and it took me two tries to scale this first section after sliding off the side of a tire on my first attempt. The following tire steps were trivial in comparison, though you could tell that many of the racers were starting to get winded. The second obstacle involved hurdling a series or barricades and crawling under cargo nets and I breezed through the section without batting an eye.
Although the previous two obstacles took little out of me and I was still keeping up a strong pace, I noticed that there were several racers flying by me at this point (most of which should not have been in the shape to do so). It was at this point I realized that the first leg of the relay was complete and runners with fresh legs were coming out of the gate. It was a slight morale crusher at the moment, but after mile 5, I was re-passing most of the runners. That’s when we hit the next two obstacles.
The third obstacle consisted of hurdling traffic cones (which were awkwardly spaced in a way that you couldn’t get a full stride in between jumps) followed by crate stacks that racers had to climb over. Having some freerunning experience, I was able to clear these crates with relative ease… while my friend, who has had several years of freerunning practice, absolutely destroyed this section. The fourth obstacle was a parallel bars and monkey bars combination that was so easy it was pathetic. These could have been 2-3x longer and they would have been a reasonable difficulty.
At this point the course takes a turn through another tunnel and I emerge with Soldier Field in front of me. This was the moment of truth… I knew I had to take revenge on this section after it destroyed me last year. After the first few climbs, I could tell my hard work way paying off. Instead of using the railing to help myself up many of the flights, I was taking them two at a time and blowing by other competitors. I was so unaffected by the stairs at the beginning, I was starting to think I was doing something wrong. Then I hit the final flights in the upper deck and roughly halfway up the final series, I had to slow to a single-step-at-a-time run to keep the burn in my quads at bay. I sprinted down the exit ramp with a massive grin on my face… my legs and mind felt refreshed as I pushed it the last mile to the finish line.
Exhausting all the energy left in my body on the final obstacles, I found myself nearly hurdling the taxi cabs, flying up the cargo net bus climb and under a fence crawl. I jumped up to the final wall and pulled myself up, swinging my leg over the top with one final effort. A volunteer started to walk over to help until he realized I was already over the wall and was jumping down the other side. I made one last all-out sprint to the finish line and passed one last racer in the process. I grabbed a G-series recover, a water, and my medal as I headed toward the food table, exhausted but utterly accomplished. It had been my goal for an entire year to come back and prove myself on this course, and I had done it in impressive fashion. After some post-race pictures and a few celebratory beers, I made my way back to my car, already itching for next year’s Urbanathlon.
Organization/Pre-Race – 89/100
There were some changes from last year (mainly location of gear check) that spread out crowds before the final obstacles, but not all of the changes were good. Water buildup and stage position made it hard for some of the later racers to get out of the finish area. The pre-race warmup was lackluster compared to the year before, so this section isn’t rated quite as highly as the year prior.
This course never ceases to amaze me and will continue to be one of my favorites. Once you run this race, you’ll appreciate the beauty, technicality, and variety that this course provides… it’s tough to put in words. The only things that don’t keep this from being 100 are the monkeybars (too short) and the Jeep (trivial/repetitive) obstacles.
This is one area I need to harp on… Men’s Health, stick with a DJ, not a horrible 80s cover band! Or at least drop some money for a great cover band like Chicago’s own Seventh Heaven. The goofiness somewhat killed the “badass” mood post-race. Other than that, the food spread and crowd was great as usual.
Men’s Health stepped it up this year with a slightly improved shirt, solid finishers medal, promotional swag (water bottle, deodorant), and gear bag.