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home > races/results > usa: massachusetts > the great urban race – coming to a city near you!

The Great Urban Race – Coming to a City Near You!
It’s new, and very different; it could be the most fun you have ever had while racing. And you will get to know terrific cities and see places you always wanted to see—an alternative type of competition and touring.

The Great Urban Race – Coming to a City Near You!
Michelle Boisvert

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By Michelle Boisvert
Posted Monday, 18 February, 2008

It's one part Amazing Race, one part scavenger hunt, and a whole lot of fun. Touring 20 cities in 2008, the Great Urban Race provides the perfect opportunity to visit a new city, learn some interesting facts about your hometown, or race through the streets with other pairs of costumed hopefuls all vying to cross that finish line first. Coming to a city near you in 2008 – it's the Great Urban Race. All are terrific, so plan on your own personal or team series tour.

On Your Mark... Get Set... Sit Down?
Ah... there's nothing like the buzz in the air on race-day morning. You head to registration, check in and get your packet. You check out the cool event shirt; pin on your number; and power up, sync and neatly arrange all your necessary high-tech gadgets. C'mon, it is the 21st Century, isn't it? Those are often Steps One, Two, and Three (and sometimes Four) of every race. What comes next, however, is a little different.

A team in 2007's San Francisco race takes a few minutes at the start to read all of their clues and set a race strategy.

The anticipation grows as teams line up at the starting line. The starting gun goes off, and the teams quickly... sit down and strategize. The Great Urban Race is not your typical road or adventure race. Teams of two (or family teams of two to four) follow a series of clues that lead them, scrambling, around a city: answering trivia questions, solving riddles and puzzles, discovering landmarks, and often, eating local cuisine in a battle against the clock. Held throughout eight cities in 2007, the race series has expanded this year – covering 20 cities throughout the U.S. from February to November, and adding a National Championship in Las Vegas with a $10,000 purse.

At noon, teams head to the starting line and are each given an envelope containing 12 clues – in no particular order. Teams literally have no idea where they're going when they start out. When the gun goes off, says race director Joe Reynolds, most people will just sit down to carefully read each clue and then get on their cell phones with friends who are tethered to computers and possess strong search engine skills. A good strategy and strong sense of logistics can be more helpful race-day tactics than pacing and a good hydration plan. Teams are allowed to skip one clue out of the pack, and must choose wisely to determine which clue may be the most difficult or take the longest to complete. Most teams also come to the Great Urban Race equipped with laptops with wireless Internet, smartphones, GPS, bus schedules, subway maps, and tour books for that city. Because some of the clues require teams to supply proof that they did a particular task or visited a particular landmark, the race is also BYODC – Bring Your Own Digital Camera.

Food challenge clues have teams eating their way through the Great Urban Race.

The Great Urban Race is the brainchild of Joe Reynolds, a marathon runner and long-distance cyclist who has developed into an innovative race director. Reynolds hoped to create a race that was challenging, but had a main focus on fun; a race that would have people looking forward to the event year-after-year, and from city-to-city. This is the way it's turned out for some competitors.

Reynolds' affinity for reality TV helped spark the idea of a road race/scavenger hunt. In 2007, the race was held in eight U.S. cities. The last event in 2007, held in San Diego, turned out 131 teams. With interest in the series growing, Reynolds decided to “go for it in 2008.” The Great Urban Race averaged about 75 teams per city last year, but those numbers are expected to be much higher this year.

Logistics, Logistics, Logistics
Once teams get their clues and set their course, they then head off for a day of race fun on foot, by bus, or subway answering clue after clue. One race rule is that the use of personal or private transportation, such as a car, taxi, bike, or inline skates is forbidden. The public transit portion really adds an interesting element to the race. Teams can save a lot of time if they play it smart and map out their day according to public transportation. But some cities are easier to navigate than others. Austin, Texas, for example, has buses, but no subway system, notes Reynolds. So that changes the game a bit. Teams have until 5 p.m. to finish the race; most teams finish in an average of three hours, he says. Each race concludes with an awards ceremony and party at a local restaurant or bar.

Race cities for the 2008 Great Urban Race include:

2/2/2008 - Tampa Bay
2/9/2008 - Phoenix
3/8/2008 - Los Angeles
3/29/2008 – Atlanta
4/5/2008 – Dallas
4/19/2008 – Cincinnati
5/3/2008 – San Francisco
5/17/2008 – Philadelphia
5/31/2008 – Boston
6/7/2008 – Seattle
6/21/2008 – New York City
6/28/2008 – Madison, WI
7/26/2008 – Denver
8/2/2008 – Washington, D.C.
9/6/2008 – Chicago
9/13/2008 – Portland
9/27/2008 – Twin Cities
10/5/2008 – Austin
10/18/2008 – San Diego
11/18/2008 – National Championship in Las Vegas

Vegas, Baby!
Race prizes for local races will definitely have some teams scrambling to be first or second across the finish line. First place winners of each of the 19 local races receive $300, and 2nd place finishers garner $150. The top three teams from every local race will receive free entry into the National Championship race in Las Vegas. Additionally, teams finishing in 4th through 25th place are qualified to compete in the National Championship as well. First place winners in the Family Division receive a gift card, as do teams awarded “Best Uniform” and “Best Overall Photos.”

The 2008 Great Urban Race season will conclude with the Championship on November 8th in Las Vegas. The National Championship preliminary race begins at 7:00 a.m., and follows the same rules and format as local races, but with an added degree of difficulty. The top eight teams to finish the preliminary race, or “the Elite Eight,” will compete later that day, at 1:00 p.m., for the whole enchilada - a $10,000 grand prize.

A ninja team in San Diego stayed in costume throughout the entire day.

A Three (to Five) Hour Tour
The Great Urban Race isn't just for local travel agents and history buffs. You don't even need to be familiar with the city that you're competing in to do well on race day. “If you think fast, try hard, and run fast, you could easily win this race,” says Reynolds. This was exactly the case last year when a Chicago participant flew to Boston and teamed up with a friend from New York City. The two out-of-towners finished the Boston race in first place. Several “repeat customers” competed in the Great Urban Race series last year. The winner of the Chicago race flew to Denver to compete in that city; one woman from San Diego flew to San Francisco to compete there. People are even using the Great Urban Race as a destination, not just a pit stop. “I've been getting emails over the last couple months from people who plan to travel around the country to do a lot of races because they think it's a great way to see different cities,” comments Reynolds.

Reynolds and his crew create the races so that teams can easily finish in 2-5 hours, but the pace that each team takes can vary. While the average team covers about six miles on foot during the race, that mileage is spread out over a few hours. The difference between this race and an average road race is that teams are running from point-to-point faster than you would in a road race of that distance. Most top-half race finishers look like they've just run a 5K or 10K race, said Reynolds. “We also have teams walk the whole race because they're just looking to have fun for the day.” Some teams even begin their celebrations before crossing the finish line, and detour to different inviting bars along the course.

One team sprints to the finish in Boston.

The best finish time was 1:39 in the Denver race; the record time for beating the field was 30 minutes by a father/daughter team in Cincinnati. Several races have been close, with teams crossing the finish line within five to ten minutes of each other. “In Chicago, there was a woman who was five months pregnant and walked the whole race,” said Reynolds. “She finished in the top half of the race because she routed her course well. Anything can happen!” Reynolds does, however, suspect much more heated and competitive field this year, especially with that $10,000 grand prize at stake.

An Adventure in Fun
The organizers of the Great Urban Race have created a unique and fun urban adventure series that challenges your organizational, tactical, and road running skills – all while maintaining a great sense of humor. Whether you want to race around a nearby city, run your hometown, or travel to a new U.S. city to test your adventure race skills, the Great Urban Race provides an excellent chance to get out there and have some fun! And you can add a new and different race to your running/event resume.



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