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home > races/results > usa: massachusetts > verizon wireless urban challenge brings a new challenge and exhilaration to racers

Verizon Wireless Urban Challenge brings a new challenge and exhilaration to racers
In its third year, with Verizon Wireless as a new sponsor, the Urban Challenge brings its unique mania to jaded runners in twenty one cities across the US this summer.

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By Christopher Russell
Posted Monday, 3 May, 2004

“My favorite thing about the Urban Challenge is that it’s the only race where I really feel I have a chance to win,” says Helen Tillger, a Philadelphia participant I talked with. “I’m never going to come anywhere close to winning a 5K or a marathon, but I know that I have a real chance to come close to winning an Urban Challenge,” she told me.

The Urban Challenge is a two person team event. It is the approximate distance equivalent of a 10K in a city, but it has no set course. Racers are tasked with finding a series of check points and getting back with the best time. It’s a combination road race, treasure hunt, adventure race, photo-rally and roving party.

When I asked how it compares to other events she has run her reply was, “It’s by far my favorite. The race is completely exhausting, but the thrill of finishing with the right answers is just as pleasurable as finishing a marathon.”


“My favorite thing about the Urban Challenge is that it’s the only race where I really feel I have a chance to win.”


Strong words from an obviously excited partisan for this new form of racing. The evidence would suggest that this event is more of an ‘experience’ than a race. What is it about this challenge that makes jaded runners gush with praise?

First, the race requires using your mind as much as your physique. The entire event is seeded with trivia and clues that allow racers to exercise their gray matter as they are exercising their legs. For example, the seeding of the starting times is decided by how well your team does on a trivia test at the start. If you score well, you get to start sooner!

Strategy plays a big part in your potential for success. Teams have to solve clues to find the next checkpoint and decide whether it is better to ‘hoof it’ or use public transportation.

Don’t think that you runners get off the hook that easily. Even with the mental challenge built in you still have a 10k to run and it can be quite physically challenging as well. Being in race shape is a definite plus for those who hope to be contenders in this challenge.

The mental aspect evens the playing field a bit, keeping it fun for all contestants. The result is a race that is more exciting by combining the physical with the mental, that gets the ‘whole person’ involved and is ultimately that much more fulfilling.

Second, the challenge is definitely not a solo activity. The course is tackled by two person teams and you can have as many smart friends on an extended support team as you want. While you’re out running the race you can have your friends searching for clues on the internet for you and sending answers to your phone.

This involvement of teams and support crews gives the race a sense of community that you won’t get pounding out a solo 10K. The support crew gives people a way to get involved without actually having to race. In this way it fosters a ‘team’ and ‘community’ aspect that heightens the experience for all. Anyone who has ever had their family and friends drop them off at a race will appreciate the advantage.

Third, you get to use cool technology toys. What started as a treasure hunt with disposable cameras has been upgraded to deploy hundreds of cool new Verizon Wireless camera phones. Each team gets an LG VX6000 camera phone to use during the race to capture the ‘proof’ that they found the check points, access the Net and send text messages.

Fourth, you get to celebrate your city. The Urban Challenge celebrates urban living and the city community. Participants get to explore and learn new things about their cities. The event becomes a positive reinforcement of the vibrant city communities that we live in and around but seldom take the time to reflect on.

Finally, probably the biggest reason the Urban Challenge is turning heads is that it is definitely not boring! Kevin McCarthy, founder of the Urban Challenge continues to come up with new and crazy ways to keep the game interesting.

You get to meet crazy people, you get to explore your city and you get to have a blast. The event includes costume categories for the artistic and other race day shenanigans. There is always a ‘Skip Man’ or ‘Skip Chick’ wandering around that will allow you to skip a check point if your find him/her. Kevin sends text message clues and teasers to the participants during the event on their new phones. Definitely not boring!

Oh yeah, there’s a $50,000 grand prize for winning national championships.

Where did this Urban Challenge come from?

The Urban challenge was the brain child of Kevin McCarthy who at the time of creation was a Phoenix business owner with an impish sense of adventure. He created the Urban Challenge as an event for his daughter’s birthday party. The partygoers had such a hoot with this frantically fun competition that he decided to make a career move and bring it to the nation.

The next summer he sold his cabinet making business and on a shoe-string budget put on Urban Challenges across the country. Response has been amazingly positive. Kevin has definitely struck a chord with this combination of brains, brawn and technology. The participation has exploded over the last three years.

This year Verizon Wireless has signed on as a sponsor. This is a match made in heaven for the event. Kevin’s racers get access to the technology, marketing muscle and support of a blue chip sponsor. Verizon Wireless gets to demonstrate its technology and services to participants and also lend visible support to the urban environs where it does business.

No more disposable cameras. Cutting edge wireless hardware and services now add to the experience. This gives the race imps even more tools with which to devise insidious hilarity among its followers.

The event has created a rabid partisan following. Independent web sites and chat rooms have sprung up across the nation as the Urban Challenge community builds. Followers trade strategies and tips as the celebration moves online.

The Urban Challenge continues to spread waves of enthusiasm. Like ripples from a stone dropped in a pond, Kevin’s birthday party idea is taking the national racing community by storm.

Find out why Helen Tillger told me the race is “…a lot more fun than any other running event I’ve ever done.”

Bored with your life? Jaded by your standard road race calendar? Looking for a way to get some jump back in your weekend endeavors? Need a way to pull your friends and family back into the orbit of your racing? Want to ‘experience’ your fair city like you have never done before?

Grab your buddies and find out what all these people are rejoicing about. Get yourselves signed up for the Urban Challenge this summer!



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