Men’s Health Urbanathlon (Chicago): Fun for the family, too

I have but a few pet peeves in life, and being late is one of them. I’m just wired that way. So no surprise that I was up at around 5:00 a.m. to slink across the street to McDonalds for breakfast before hoofing it to the pre-race activities. Meanwhile my family stayed behind and approached their preparation like normal citizens.

And because I checked in my ‘race bag’ (with phone) plenty early (at the race), I couldn’t pass along any insight to help them navigate the scene when they actually arrived. Had I taken my time, drank in the environment, and relayed some logistics, here is some of what I would have said (along with a mix of what they actually experienced throughout the day):

  • Earlier we addressed transportation to the actual event. My family walked the seven or so blocks from our hotel to Michigan Avenue and then took a Metro to the start. Shrewd move.
  • A modest amount of freebies to be had, if you want them, so have your spouse/friend bring a small bag. I walked away with nearly 12 gallons of Gillette body wash (good stuff, by the way). You can dump goodies in your race backpack afterward, too, but if your family plans to mingle while the race is going on then they may want their own bag to hold a gallon or two of body wash, Gatorade stuff, and other light swag.


It’s been six months since the 2011 Urbanathlon and it’s still raining Gillette Body Wash
  • The start area is really informal (and in the back with the 40+ crowd, it’s quite tame and self-deprecating), and it’s cool for family and friends to hang out with you. As I bobbed around in place like a pre-fight prize fighter, a guy behind me had his wife taking all sorts of pictures as he warmed up and surveyed the crowd, and I thought at the time, ‘oh yeah, he’s going to have some sweet pictures when this is all done.’ This kind of scene played out in a lot of ways, with runners and family/friends just kind of lingering about the start area and keeping it light. Other family members just relaxed on the boulevard and sent their runner off with a hearty cheer.
  • If as an observer you don’t want to get caught up in all of the pre-race hype, the first half mile is a great place to watch from. The runners are excited, there is more than enough room on either side for onlookers (surprisingly so), and it’s close to base camp if you don’t want to wander too far away. Running past loud cheers and fun signs I made a mental note to tell my crew about this spot for 2012.
  • I didn’t do this in 2011, but will in 2012, and that is sign up for in-race text updates for my wife. That way she will receive text alerts when I hit certain check points and can better gauge just where the hell I am. They probably spent a lot of time sitting and waiting, mixed with annoying ‘wait is that him… no, wait there he is… no, is that him… no, I see him… no,’ moments.
  • I think Men’s Health recommends a few key viewing areas along the course, but it’s safe to say that, save for blocking a stairway, you can watch comfortably from pretty much any location. The Lake Shore Drive stretch, not surprising, seemed to be the most popular section with small pockets of onlookers peppered throughout. I met up with my family on East Balboa (again, a shrewd move on their part), which is just a block or so off of the start/finish, and a good 4.5 miles into the run (which gave me a much needed morale boost). They then walked back to the finish area, found a spot in the bleachers, and waited (can’t underscore enough how useful the text alerts would have been here).
  • If you cheer, we will hear. At the final obstacles I cleared the cabs and started to ascend the bus when I clearly heard ‘Go Dad!’ I looked to the left at the bleachers and immediately spotted my crew. What fun. I gave them a wave (perhaps my assurance to them that I’d actually make it) and then finished strong. The bleachers aren’t massive, but with people coming and going as their runners finished, there is a fresh revolving door of seats to be had. There is also space to stand along the fence between the bus climb and the final wall, as well as 20 yards between the wall and the finish line.
  • While I overheard a few people complain ‘why are they serving Miller Lite, man, this sucks?’ to me it was more an atmosphere of fun than being served chilled pints of Goose Island IPA. Relax people. Having said that, the line for free Miller Lite was long (took us about 20 minutes to get through), and most people coming the opposite way were balancing 4 very full cups, so there’s a good chance you’ll get some collateral suds. Because of an unplanned bathroom break with my 10 year old, I had my 12 year old with me in line. It’s a tame group under the beer tent, but it’s crowded, and there is a lot of beer inadvertently spilling, and a lot of people bumping into people, and it’s slow going, so we’ll approach this differently in 2012.


Team Bunker drinking in the post Urbanathlon atmosphere
  • Think about having $7 per person on hand. There was free post-race grub (bananas, water, and bagels), but for $2 a bowl you could nab some tasty (and warm) soup from Chipotle (very hardy, and reaaaaaly good), and there were at least three food trucks offering hot food and desserts, so having a few extra dollars on hand just gives you some flexibility if you want to expand beyond the free Miller Lite and bagels. I can’t say what food options will be available in 2012, but you can probably bet on having a combo of light free snacks, a sponsored booth with small portions for a small price, and hopefully more foods truck. Bring a bottle of water while you’re at it.
  • If you are keeping score on where to watch, while having the most fun, I recommend being a part of the start (either in or around the start of the wave until the wave is on deck to run, or along the first quarter mile), then walking a few blocks to Lake Shore Drive (just cop a spot) for a mid-run cheer, and then saunter back and hang out in the festival area or lock down a spot on the bleachers. You’ll catch the most amount of race while covering the least amount of ground.


After the race their is a lot of this going on (and if you expand the photo you’ll see people in the far back posing on the wall).
  • The post-race festival was kind of nebulous. There is a live band (80’s classics in 2011, much to my delight, and they had great costumes that my kids loved), but it’s mostly just time spent mingling about until the awards are announced. I didn’t really want to leave, yet, I wouldn’t have missed anything had we bolted right away. My kids climbed the two climbing walls available, and the lines were pretty quick. The emcee constantly worked the mike. An odd Jeep exercise demo went off every so often. We snacked on Chipotle soup, my wife and I swilled the four Miller Lites we had vouchers for, we kind of sat around for 40 minutes, watched the awards announcements, and then caught a Metro a half block away on Michigan Avenue to Navy Pier and took on the rest of the day.

    Short lines at the wall made for an enjoyable climb

    Short lines at the wall made for an enjoyable climb

Overall ranking for family involvement: B-. Plenty of viewing options, easy to catch a few different on-course spots of the race, just enough food options to quiet any immediate pangs, and a general air of unorganized fun (so you can kind of do what you want and not feel locked in to a formal program of sorts).


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