I admit I was at first a little apprehensive about an obstacle race. I mean, I guess it always sounded fun in theory, kind of like when the office coworker you hardly know suggests a play date for your dogs.
“Yeah! That sounds fun, we should do that sometime…”
But the truth is, I don’t like being constantly interrupted when I run. I get irritated when I have to maneuver around casual walkers monopolizing the whole width of the trail, or slow my pace to duck under a low hanging tree branch.
This one was Brad’s idea. Although he doesn’t much care for running, he was willing to forgive the Urbanathlon for serving up 11 miles of it, since there would be plenty of obstacles and strength challenges to keep him entertained. I, on the other hand, was less confident about my abilities to navigate through an obstructed race course.
Once upon a playground, I was master of the monkey bars, and a habitual climber of fences and trees (usually in my fanciest dresses, much to my parents’ bewilderment).
But those days have long since passed, and I have now developed an irrational fear of heights, or perhaps more specifically, a fear of gravity. My adult attempts at reliving my grade school glory on the jungle gym have been thwarted by a disturbing awareness that I could easily dislocate a shoulder or throw out my back with the most basic of acrobatics.
Most of my training leading up to this event was simply focused on all-around functional strength, and a fairly traditional gym regimen, despite Brad’s insistence that I learn to do 30 consecutive pull-ups, so that I could be strong like him.
In the final week before the race, we devised a practice course at a local playground – a training circuit that included running, pull-ups, monkey bars, stair climb repeats, army crawling under the swing set, and of course hurdling over the 5 foot fence surrounding the playground (rather than walking through the gate like normal people).
This dress rehearsal was a huge confidence builder for me, and it turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected. I finally got my groove back on the monkey bars, zipping back and forth effortlessly. I definitely need more monkey bars in my life.
Race day I was pumped and ready. I knew I could manage all the obstacles, and I figured the running in between would be my chance to rest.
We started the race at a casual jog, and encountered the first obstacle about a mile in. We had to hop through a few rows of tires, then climb over several stacks of wooden pallets. Simple, but so strangely satisfying!
Alright, what’s next?!
We ran along the quiet morning streets of San Francisco for another mile before hitting a series of waist high barricades. I swung my leg over with ease and felt a little bit like an action hero bounding past other racers.
Next we encountered, not an obstacle, but a giant, giant hill. The kind San Francisco is known for. It was probably about a 45% grade. And at the top, around the corner, more hill! And at the top of that hill, around the corner, more hill! We hiked up that thing for what seemed like an eternity, but of course, I then got to enjoy rocketing back down at top speed. I heard someone say, “Wow, I thought for sure you were going to do a faceplant on that downhill!”
Yeah right. I know what I’m doing.
After the hills it was a few miles before we found another obstacle. What’s with all this running? Let’s get to the fun stuff!
Finally we hit the balance beams. Not as easy as they appear, but we completed the task without falling off!
Next it was the Over/Under/Through obstacles. Easy, fun, a little muddy. Then soon after that, the monkey bars, the parallel bars, and more objects to climb over, jump off of, or leap over.
By mile 9, our legs ached and AT&T Park loomed ahead of us. Suddenly the idea of sprinting up and down bleachers didn’t sound like a thing my legs wanted to do. Stair climb at the end of the race?! Whose brilliant idea of torture was that? This was one of the obstacles I had been dreading all along, climbing stairs is hard on a normal day. Tacking it on to the end of a long run was just unnecessary punishment.
But the Urbanathlon did a funny thing.
They set up timing mats to capture a specific split just for the stair climb. They had hyped this up before the start of the race, boasting about how ultrarunner badass Dean Karnazes had won the stair climb challenge last year. As we approached the ballpark, we passed a series of signs that said:
Oh, come on now. How can I resist that?
I took off in a top speed sprint. Up the ramp, up, up, up, up 7 floors? 8? I lost count. And then out into the stands. Up, across, down, up, across, down, my feet moving as quick as they could. I never looked up to see how many stairs still to go, or how high up we were, but I know I passed a lot of dudes like they were standing still.
I ended up claiming the fastest Stair Climb split of the females, beating Dean Karnazes by six seconds! But he let me and 36 other guys slide in ahead of him, so I suspect he wasn’t gunning for the win this time around.
There were only 350 female competitors, out of more than 1300 in all. This probably isn’t that unusual, since the title sponsor is Men’s Health Magazine so it automatically sounds like it’s a race just for men. But I wish we had more ladies representing out there!
After the race a volunteer asked, “Which obstacle was your favorite?”
Well, obviously the monkey bars but surprisingly the stair climb, too! And also everything we had to climb over. So…pretty much all of them. Brad agreed, his favorite obstacle was, “everything besides the running.”
Would I do it again?
Only maybe next time I’ll win it. Or maybe I’ll go back to my roots and do it in a dress. Or maybe both.
Yes. The giraffe beat us.