With my triathlon season coming to a close at the end of August (thanks to not having a car and living in the middle of Chicago), my focus switched to obstacle racing! As soon as I made the decision to move to Chicago, I immediately signed up for my 4th Men’s Health Urbanathlon. I had done this race 3 times previously, here in Chicago, and it’s by far one of my favorite races. Plus, it’s in downtown Chicago, so I can get there.
I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was doing this race and he told me he was doing a Spartan Race two weeks before the Urbanathlon. I desperately wanted to do this Spartan Race, but even though it was in “Chicago”, it was over an hour away and I didn’t have a way to get there. Luckily, my awesome friend wasn’t doing the race with anyone, so we were able to carpool and get a hotel.
The race was a Spartan Super: 8+ miles of trail running and obstacles! Our wave got pushed back to 1:45 pm, which actually turned out perfect for me because I hate morning races. My body doesn’t really wake up till 1 pm or so, and therefore I was able to really feel awake and ready to rock.
Within half a mile of starting the race, we were submerged in chest deep mud and water. There was no avoiding it. The keys to this race were being a strong runner, being agile and swift, being strong, and being alright with getting hurt. Also, being able to run in soaked and muddy shoes.
For every obstacle you weren’t able to complete, the punishment was 30 burpees. I ended up doing somewhere between 90-150 burpees, but mostly for avoidable reasons (messed up the spear throw by having the cord wrapped around my leg, falling off a 6-inch high balance beam, and slipping off the monkey bars, to name a few). I was really pleased with ability on a number of the obstacles though, mainly the rope climb. For this obstacle, you started in chest-deep water, then had to grab a rope above you, climb 20 feet into the air and ring a bell at the top, then climb down. I’m very grateful now that I taught myself to climb a rope back at my old gym in Tampa.
I finished the race in just over 2 hours. I was really happy with this time, but was frustrated because I would have at least 20 minutes faster were it not for a huge jam up where at least 100 people were all trying to get up an impossible mudbank. It’s all good, but I’ll remember that for next time!
A while later, I saw my friend making his way toward the finish line, but he was struggling by this point after a long day. I knew how hard the last obstacle were and that he wouldn’t be able to (as I wasn’t) get over the last couple without someone to help. So I asked the staff if I could go back in, which they let me do! Together, we pulled him over the last hurdle (which was a slippery, sloped wall, covered in water and mud) and crossed the finish line together! It was such a great finish and amazing race!
I can’t wait for my next race and am already planning a lot of obstacle racing for next year. With my strength being running, plus my willingness to suffer and my love of lifting, this type of race caters much more to me. Here are some tips that I will remember for my next race and hopefully will help you in you in your next race:
- Know your strengths! I knew that some of the strength obstacles would take me longer, but that I could make up ground with my running. Therefore, every time I got the chance, I would run hard.
- Learn how to run downhill. I’ve been lucky enough to do a fair amount of trail running and have had some good friends who’ve taught me to run downhill well. You basically swing your arms out wide and take big steps and just barrel down the hill. It looks super dangerous, but its safe if you know how to do it right.
- Lift! You have to be strong to be competitive in these races. Lifting strengthens your both physically and mentally and those are key factors in this race.
- Help other racers and allow yourself to receive help. The only reason I made it up that mudbank I mentioned above was due to working with a few other guys and basically making a ladder out of ourselves to take turns climbing up. When we reached the top, we each instinctively turned around and started pulling other people up who were struggling. While I wanted to do well, the camaraderie is more rewarding than the podium in a race like this.
- However, if you do want the podium, like I would like to see in the future, chose the right wave. I’d like to go elite at obstacle racing next year and will be signing up for races to be in the first pack of elite racers who are the first on the course.
Two weeks after the Spartan was the Men’s Health Urbanathlon, which takes place right in downtown Chicago. I had absolutely no expectation going into this race since i had no idea where my fitness level would be. I always train hard, but had been doing less running mileage.
The race, as always, was fantastic. The obstacles weren’t nearly as hard as the Spartan, but this race was 10.6 miles, colder, and had the added “fun” of Chicago winds. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like I was going “with” the wind since I’ve moved to this city… The obstacles in this race were more of crawling under obstacles, jumping over obstacles, and some more challenging tasks like 5 foot military hurdles, which aren’t difficult if you approach them correctly.
The killer in this race, though, is the 1-mile worth of stairs you climb inside Soldier Field! (The Bears stadium). The portion consisted of running up, over, and down, the top tier of the stadium over and over. Talk about a quad burner.
The race ran North up Lake Shore, around Navy Pier, and back down Lake Shore past the Museum Campus, through Soldier Field, then around the Convention Center, before finishing in the parking lot of Soldier Field (If you’ve read Divergent, I know you’re picturing this…)
The last obstacle of the race is what has killed me each previous year–the 9 foot wall. In past years, I’ve been so close to getting over, but having someone grab a leg and help me at the end. Feeling much stronger this year, I took a much more aggressive approach and flung myself up the wall! One of the race staff started to reach for my leg to help me out and I just remember screaming “NOOOOO! Don’t touch me!” to make sure I got over all on my own : )
As for results, I finished 37th of 1,500, 8th in my age group of 227, and had the 13th fastest split overall on the Stairs! I was really happy with this!
I’m looking forward to writing again soon about a ton of other fun stuff that’s been going on mixed with plenty of personal things I’ve been working on. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!