Men’s Health Urbanathlon 2014: Stairway to Heaving

If I know one thing about the Men’s Health Urbanathlon it’s that it will expose your weakness. Swiftly.

You might rip through 5:45 mile splits, but the Marine hurdles or monkey bars will exploit those long forgotten about biceps and shoulders. Maybe you eat parallel bars for lunch and wash ’em down with police barricades, but three miles in to a 10-plus mile run and you’ll think you inhaled a carton of Marlboro Reds at the last water stop. And if you do find that rarefied balance of speed and strength, the stadium steps will set you straight.

In that regard it’s almost the perfect race. Pick your poison.

I’ve experienced varying levels of those scenarios in my three Chicago attempts. And in real time out on the course it’s devastating. Physically and mentally.

In 2011 I had a field day throughout the obstacles, but was reduced to the Ickey Shuffle by mile 7 and had to gather myself for an eight-count before attempting the final wall. 2012 my running endurance was strong, as was my obstacle fitness, but I got log-jammed at the stadium. Feeling shafted by the crowd the previous year I ran with wave 1 in 2013 and declared it ‘my time’ at Soldier Field. I set up the table nicely with a smartly run first half and nothing but open steps when we arrived in Soldier Field. Stopped in my tracks by step 4. Weakness exposed.

I’ve said it before, the pitch and volume of the Soldier field upper deck stairs are otherworldly. And if you go in to the event not having put in the training on actual stairs a world of hurt awaits. I imagine this holds for Citi Field and AT&T Park, too.

That I missed first place in my age group in 2013 by a scant 23 seconds, well, if there are 23 seconds along the course to be had, it’s here on the steps. But they won’t come easy.

So that’s where I am today. And where I’ll be once a week for the foreseeable future. Back at my old stomping ground at the stunning James J. Hill Mansion steps, grinding through multiple sets of 186 up, 186 down. They hurt. Hands-on-knees hurt. Heaving is-my-phone-nearby-in case-I-have-to-call-911 hurt. But among the 1500 steps come race day, thanks to my efforts today, I know I’ll be able to find 23 seconds in there somewhere. Maybe more. Or maybe I’ll get exposed … again.

Men's Health Urbanathlon Stair Climb

Putting in the time now might save me some time later. A painful reminder of the diabolical Soldier Field stair climb.

Men's Health Urbanathlon Stair Climb

In this together … a little help from Team Bunker.

I encourage you to find steps of your own. Run ’em ragged. I can’t promise you that you won’t get stopped in your tracks come Urbanathlon time, but I do know you don’t stand much of a chance without putting in the real work right now. On real stairs. Resist the urge to rely on squats or hills to account for your stairs training. Get out there.

I also think the stairs are a great equalizer, as probably 95% of Urbanathletes have difficulty with them. Train hard here, then flip the script and create a competitive advantage.

There’s still plenty of time.