Breakdown: With 10.8 miles to cover and eleven sets of obstacles to overcome, the Men’s Health Urbanathlon is a pretty tough event. In fact, it’s tough enough that there’s an option to break the course into three legs and run it as a relay race (which around a third of the roughly 3,000 participants did). This is the sixth year that the Urbanathlon has taken place in Chicago and the first time it’s started south of Soldier Field (typically it starts and finishes in Grant Park), and despite some uncertain weather before the race, things ran pretty smoothly, with the overcast sky providing near-ideal running conditions.
The obstacles vary in size and scope, from repeatedly hiking stairs to the top of Soldier Field to hopping over (and then under) structures on 31st Street Beach to simply swinging across a few monkey bars. But the final obstacle (a massive wooden wall that must be scaled) is perhaps the toughest, if only because of the knowledge that the finish line is just out of reach on the other side. There are a number of volunteers stationed here to offer assistance to upper-body strength-impaired and/or exhausted racers.
Although the impressive obstacles attract plenty of what might be considered “non-running” athletes, this race lends itself to a runner’s strengths—there’s some hopping and crawling, but the biggest challenge is just covering the nearly eleven-miles of ground between start and finish. A number of participants seemed to be learning this the hard way, flying through the obstacles on sheer brute strength and then stopping for a breather or slowing to a jog immediately afterward.
Price: $125 for a solo runner, $200 for a three-person relay team
Course: Starting south of Soldier Field, this 10.8 mile course goes as far north as Navy Pier and as far south as 31st Street Beach, with all kinds of obstacles in between, including some grueling climbing up and down the stairs on the upper level of Soldier Field. There were two relay-team transition stations that seemed well-run.
Organization (gear check, etc.): Lots of volunteers on the course and at base camp (though none handing out medals which seemed odd). Gear check could have moved a little quicker and a tighter hold on the waved starts would have been beneficial. Great vendor booths at the finish line, especially Emergen-C, Hugo Boss and REI.
Goodie Bag (includes shirt): I’m into these new virtual goodie bags (where you get a link to online offers rather than a slew of paper), but the race shirts were a little disappointing for a race this hyped: black cotton with a logo? Not good enough. A free Jockey crewneck tee was a pleasant surprise, though.
Weather: Fifty-four degrees at starting time felt too chilly with the threat of rain hanging over the race, but ended up being the ideal conditions for such a long, intense race. (Zach Freeman)