Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chicago Men's Health Urbanathlon

Last year competing in the Chicago Men's Health Urbanathlon reignited a lost passion in me for competing and running.  That drive remains strong today after a year of consistent training.   I returned with my wife this past weekend to compete again.  I was initially reluctant when she first wanted to do the event last year and took some convincing.  I am glad I came around and am thankful for her in that she pushes me and brings out the best in me.

The love of my life in green on her way to a PR.  Race day photos from BazuSports.
The Urbanathlon is a unique and very fun race that combines 9.75 miles of running with numerous obstacles that test strength and smarts.  The obstacles are no joke ranging from tires, barricades, hurdles (low, high and marine), monkey bars, walls, and a massive stair climb that all serve to equalize the competition.  The race attracts a wide range of people more traditional road races do not for which I love it.  The backdrop along Chicago’s lakefront is beautiful.  The organizers fixed many of the problems from 2010 and put on a great event for all.

I was a bit nervous for my love because she had stitches in her side from a mountain biking wreck the week prior.  This was her first run since but in the end there was no trouble outside of some soreness.  I was happy because she was more excited about this event than me, strength training junkie she is.  I had my own problems from a touch of food poisoning the night before.  I was dehydrated and a touch hungry.  I can’t say it impacted my performance much if any outside of manageable discomfort.

We started the race in wave one.  I took off quick fast at the start and even led the race for ten seconds or so.  Turns out these things are not about how you start but how you finish.  I eased into a comfortably brisk pace and watched as the top of the field passed me by over the next two miles.  The air was cold and I felt a chill in my lungs pushing it in and out.  I was desperately thirsty by the first water stop two miles in and drank up.  I typically don’t need to hydrate during efforts safely under two hours but today was different.  I felt refreshed and pushed on.
The event is heavily male dominated.   
I felt strong going into the first obstacle a bit past the first 5k, even passed a few of the competition.  The first obstacle was a rude wake up.  The tires, and police barricades quickly sent my heart pounding to its max.  Every obstacle was like similarly like this with the key being able to recover on the run.  The obstacles were where I passed and was passed the most.  Like I mentioned earlier they are equalizers and everyone has specific strengths.  After the first round of obstacles it was another 5k to the next.  I kicked it up a notch in this flat stretch and traded positions several times with some of my evenly matched competition.  The lead woman passed me here with a quickness.

Coming out of the second set of obstacles I was no longer thirsty but had side aches.  It could have been caused by anything but it was mental.  My calves were sore but I still had an amazing performance left in me.  Triathlon, intervals, and hill training have all taught me how to get an amazing performance out of a reluctant body.  This was a short anaerobic effort for the most part and the discomfort was not cause for alarm.  I used to fear that pain but now embrace it.  I pushed it quite successfully for the last 5k before the stair climb.  I passed some of the competition on the stairs and some of them passed me.  I trained hills a lot but stairs are different animals.  I sprinted them when I could, maxing out my heart, and briskly walked them at times too.
The entire field was on average faster than the year before and the top two finished in under 1 hour.
Coming out of the stairs I punched it, odd as it sounds the stairs served as a recovery from running.  Probably recruit different muscle groups.  A nice big downhill awaited and no one I have met has ever out downhill raced me.  I passed a gentleman and kept pushing.  There was something like a mile left and I was exhausted and close to failure.  Close does not mean failure though and I gave my last big push.  I suspect my last mile was a minute faster than the rest.  I picked up a few more spots and didn’t believe my eyes turning the final quarter mile.  Ahead of me was the lead female who I had not seen since mile 3.  The gap between us looked implausible to cover but I made a go for it anyways, almost caught up too.

She made it into the finish line obstacles a couple seconds ahead of me.  I gained time on her over the taxis and bus but she proved quicker going over the wall and beat me by a few seconds into the finish.  Congratulations to her, and I must thank her for the motivation in the final push.  I felt like throwing up at the finish, a sensation with little precedent.  A year of consistent training paid off big, my finish time was 18 minutes (21%) faster than the year before.  My wife finished shortly later with similar year over year improvements.  We rounded out the day with some deep dish pizza and shopping.  The Chicago weekend was a lot of fun and I look forward to next year.              


  1. Donna is your wife?!?! How did I not put two and two together?!?! That's so fun! Thanks for this recap. It's good to know people that have already done this race. My boyfriend and I were supposed to run it in Chicago but we had to switch to the race next weekend in NYC. I hope it's as good! I'm still a bit worried about the 5-foot hurdles. There is no way I'm getting up those things alone!

  2. I did the first leg of this race several years ago, total blast!