Friday, November 07, 2014

[Travel, Health and Fitness] Urbanathlon

After last month's Tough Mudder you'd think I'd lay off the damn obstacle races for awhile. Nope. The Urbanathlon was up next. Actually, I had targeted this race for a few years but this was the never managed to get it together enough to pull the trigger until this year, mostly because friends announced they were doing it and once I committed I couldn't back out. Plus, the race was in Chicago, giving me a chance to visit my home city.

Yes, that's right. I called Chicago my home city. I was born in Detroit, raised in the Detroit suburbs, and have lived in and around Ann Arbor for the 35 years since, yet I am officially adopting Chicago, or rather I am forcing the city to adopt me. It only makes sense. In the past fifteen years I have been to Detroit exactly twice, maybe three more times into the suburbs. As a general rule for life, I don't like to go east of U.S. 23 (except to get to the airport). On the other hand I have probably been to Chicago at least ten times, despite the 4 hour trip. So that's that. Chicago is my Big City.

Although one of the downsides to going to Chicago for a race is that there is usually a good deal of walking involved beforehand. When I ran the Chicago 10K last year I estimate I probably walked five miles between hoofing it around to pick up my race packet the day before then walking to the race the next morning. For the urbanathlon there was a bit less walking involve but still a disruptive amount. For whatever reason, I am constructed such that walking and standing take a greater toll on my legs for a comparable distance. Aerobically running is much harder of course, but I can come in after a five mile hike and my feet and joints feel like they have really taken a beating as if I ran twice as far.

The race itself is about ten miles long with obstacles peppered throughout the course, getting more frequent towards the end. Most are pretty standard over/under sequences. It's run right along the lakeshore path from the Museum Campus to Navy field and back, roughly. There is no mud, no fire, no electricity. There was a cold and wind and rain. And the signature "obstacle" was Soldier Field. At about mile 6 you enter Soldier Field and run the steps. Not all the steps of course but I would estimate the sequence required consists of a good 750. Now, I had done step running prior to the race, but I had not done step running after running 6 miles. Very different. Step running devolved to step walking rather quickly.

Anyway, it was a good and challenging race. I finished in a touch over 2 hours, of course the folks I was with were much more hardcore than me and finished about 15 minutes ahead of me, but that's fine. Overall I would do the race again, hopefully with better weather. It could stand to be a little more conveniently organized, but the minor hassles fade from memory quickly and good experience lingers.

Part of that good experience is just being in Chicago -- the restaurants, the parks, the museums. It's just about the perfect place for a long weekend. I used to take the train there, but I'm thinking now that driving is better. Partly because I appreciate the luxury of setting my own timetable, but also because it seems the whole pain-in-the-ass parking problem has been solved. Spot Hero to the rescue. You enter your destination, your check-in and check-out time, and it spits out "reservation" options at nearby parking garages. The prices are good. For example: Embassy Suites was going to charge me $60/night for four nights to park, Spot Hero kicked out a quote for a parking garage a half block away at $96 total, a savings of $144. Now, there are caveats: 1) You can't check-in to your parking space early or check out late. In fact, you should give yourself a good cushion on your in and out times. If you enter or leave outside the specified time, your reservation is killed and you will end up paying full price at the garage. I foolish did not give myself enough lead time to account for the time change and had to kill an hour before parking the car. (Luckily, there's a casino in between here and Chicago.) 2) No in and out privileges. In other words this is only for folks who are going to stay parked, which is fine with me. The net result of this is that it brings driving in to the same financial range as the train. Much goodness, this Spot Hero.

Given that it was cold and wet, I didn't do the extensive trolling about that I usually do in Chicago. I hit the main tourist centers -- Navy Pier, Millenium Park, The Art Institute -- and had numerous good meals. Eataly is now open since last I was there. Joe's Stone Crab made me a terrific filet after the race. I snagged one of the world famous, dry-aged burgers at David Burke's Primehouse but was unimpressed. But Chicago is really better in warm weather, when you can bike up the lakeshore to the Lincoln Park Zoo and Wrigleyville, and the fireworks are going off on Navy Pier and the face monoliths at Millenium Park are spitting fountains of water for the kids.

So the first warm weather of 2015 will see me in Chi-town for a three day weekend. Mark it down. But maybe no race this time.