While some of my runner buddies and fitness enthusiasts are nervous to admit this out loud, I can honestly say that at times, I need a break from running miles on top of miles. For four years, I find ways to cheat on my loyal sports bae, running, for a dirty adventure with obstacle course racing. I had an incredible opportunity to try an obstacle course race with a different venue--City Challenge Race in Jersey City, NJ.
Prior to taking on the Saturday, April 14th event, my obstacle course racing experience was almost exclusively done through chasing the world known Spartan venue. Most times, I’m conflicted on how I will travel to remote areas throughout the US just to enjoy anywhere from 3 to even 30 miles in the woods. Hearing about the City Challenge Race being located in accessible areas of different cities that I can gain entry to by public transportation made me excited to take on a new journey.
What an Obstacle Course Race and Why the City Challenge Race?
For those who aren’t an OCR enthusiast like me, an obstacle course race is a competitive or fun sport that an athlete navigates by foot through a multitude of physical obstacles/challenges throughout a race. If you’re a runner, this is a great way to put your footwork into action while incorporating some upper body work. Think American Grit or American Ninja Warrior but not as intense. Levels can vary between super approachable challenges for children to mind boggling obstacles that can push you to your absolute end.
Unique in its own right, the City Challenge Race has some of the staples like the infamous rope climb and dysfunctional monkey bars/rig contraption on the course but if you want to jump over a police car or taxi cab like me, you have to step onto this playground for some action. While my adventure took place one stop on the New Jersey Path train, City Challenge is located in other places like New York City and Boston--events that you can sign up for right now if you dare. And just because you’re not coated in mud doesn’t mean that you will not have to hustle as hard as the dirty venues.
A Day on the Jersey City Course
Despite the indecisive weather conditions, Mother Nature granted us an unusually warm April day-- close to 80 degrees and gave me a suntan that hasn’t left since. I knew I wanted to arrive a few hours before and I popped across the Jersey waters around 10AM. By this point, the flow of traffic was smooth and the Elite Waves already cleared the course. A large stage took over the boardwalk and the morale was high from a bunch of bee swarming attendees awaiting their wave.
My fellow athlete and buddy in crime, Justin Manning of Medal Addicts, was the master of events; he energetically set the tone for hundreds of athletes to embark on their respective 3 mile journeys throughout the adventurous course. Alongside him, Founder Elvi Guzman oversaw the start of the events with a solemn face that I’ve seen from dozens of race directors prior to this event; he held the demeanor of a man who was determined to see his vision come to light and approachable enough to make sure everyone had a great time on the course. Since 2013, his venue raised over a half million dollars and is one of the fastest growing OCRs in the country. On a personal note, he is probably one of the few race directors of color that I ever met in the OCR or any running related venue--I must admit that it gave me a sense of pride as I find myself trying to encourage people of all backgrounds to participate in these events.
Corporate and personal interest teams looked amazing as they ventured off together like a wolf pack. If you’re looking for a venue that caters to a fun filled environment to watch your coworkers squirm for a hour, this is certainly the place.
After linking up with familiar faces, I stood in the looped line a bit after 11:30 for my 12 Noon wave. Linking up with one of my favorite runner buddies Dara, we hit the course on time for our waves, vowing to complete it together. Justin hyped up the participants in our wave as he already did for hours as we climbed up what I imagine an eight to ten foot wall and he announced the countdown. Elvi caught me before I made it off the wall, wishing me good luck on the course and telling me to be safe as I moved along.
Once the countdown ended, Dara and I hit the course at an easy pace--I am a slower runner and she is recovering from an injury. Somehow her injury and my sciatica kept us in good company. About a quarter mile in, we were greeted by a photographer who awaited for us to take a leap over some blockades and to take the infamous picture jumping over a police car and a Jersey cab. Personally, I had no idea on how I’d pose for the picture because my focus was on not breaking my neck--in afterthought, my picture is so great that I made it my Facebook profile icon.
Shortly after, we made our way over to another wall that led us to testing our balance. We walked across a balance beam that shook as other participants made their way through and darted to the next set of obstacles. Before hitting the mile marker, Dara and I climbed a rope wall and then greeted by heavy ropes. Numerous people had mixed feelings at this point but this was one of the personal joys of the course--I love lifting heavy items and my gym fitness routine is a ridiculous regimen of jump ropes drills and battle ropes. 30 reps allowed you to move on to climb another wall and the cargo net.
Met with more walls on the course, around the 1 ½ to 2 mile marker, Dara and I reached the kettlebell swing; at times I felt like this course spoke to the gym rat in me. Of course I loved this section! Swinging back around, I encountered an obstacle that I never saw on any course: An A-shaped contraption that I had to grip green stairs that I propelled myself across utilizing mostly my upper body. I surprised myself and did spectacularly well. And then Dara and I chuckled at the next section: The Fireman Carry. I didn’t want to subject Dara to lifting up my 220+ pound frame and volunteered on carrying her across both of our sections. Somehow I managed to muster energy to run with her for a third of this section. As if we didn’t exhaust our upper bodies enough, we were met with both a Sandbag carry and a brick. In dozens of my race day photos from Spartan, I learned how to balance sandbags on my head and I practiced a recipe that hasn’t failed me thus far. Another run led us to an inverted wall and eventually a decent stretch on the boardwalk to the remaining three obstacles: The infamous rope climb, monkey bar rig and the CKO bag run-through. Unfortunately I haven’t mastered the rope climb due to a lack of practice and my arms weren’t happy with the idea of doing anything monkey bar related. It’s helpful to have gloves for these events to prevent blisters or bruising from surfacing on your hands. Dara insisted on trying and at points, I helped her across. If you’re not able to perform an obstacle, 30 jump squats are your penalty.
Once Dara finished the rig, we ran through the heavy CKO bags and pranced across the finish line. Refreshed, sun kissed and embracing a bottle of water with a finisher’s medal nearby, I can honestly say that this venue is easy to fall in love with. And if my schedule permits, I’ll be signing up for the NYC/Randall’s Island City Challenge Race.
Dara and I relished in the moment of adding another medal to our respective collections and I had a slight panic knowing that I wouldn’t make it in time for my swimming course. I reserved a bit of my energy, knowing that I would pace my best friend Sydney on the New York Road Runner’s Women’s Half Marathon (13.1) course the very next day. Unfortunately plans didn’t permit me to hang out with my fellow athletes and I headed back on the New Jersey Path train. I linked up with my family, checked in with my son and eventually did a family swim to practice for my triathlon. Would I do this race again? You bet your ass I will--just give a few to check my pretentious race calendar.