Saturday, September 18, 2010

Urbanathlon – The day before

As I look out at the foyer of the hostel and try to get myself back into “race mode” for tomorrow I muse to myself about the irony of what I’m about to do. It was only a few short months ago that I was telling anyone that would listen that I was “officially retired” from the sport of running. No more getting up and thinking “I have to run 12 miles today”, no more Sunday morning 16-mile long runs, no more having Monday nights dictated by the need to get a good night’s sleep for Tuesday’s workout, and no more getting up at the crack of dawn for breakfast on race day in order to digest before the race.

Now sitting in a hostel in Glasgow the night before my first “independent” race in 4 years I realize that despite all that talk I’m racing again. Except that this race is different. Yes, it’s a 10k, but it’s a 10k with a twist. This type of race, called an “urbanathlon” is probably best described as the unique offspring that would be created if cross-country were to get with parkour. Take your typical cross country race, and in addition to the normal puddles, hills and mud; add some 8-foot walls, water slides, military style obstacle courses, monkey bars, and some “surprises” unique to each course…

The link to the race site.

I found out about these races (there are 4 of them over the next month and a half) in early August and the idea bounced around in my head for a while before I decided to suck it up and sign up. My reservations weren’t for the parkour part, but for the 10k part. If you’ve followed my running career over the last 12 years, you probably know that XC was not my favorite season (Note to non-runners: XC = cross-country). I’ve always disliked the longer race, and combining that with the “it’s getting colder and darker” seasonal factor made for a tough combo. So, when I saw the words 10k my mind immediately jumped to the long runs and grinding workouts in semi-darkness that XC has come to mean for me. I did a tentative 10-mile “test-run”, throwing in some hills and surges as I started feeling better, and by the end of the run I decided that I actually enjoyed running again. Since then I’ve been gradually increasing the mileage and intensity of the runs, which I’ve been treating as cross-training twice a week.

XC pic from back in the day- Does it look like I’m enjoying this experience?

Despite the fact that I’m doing this “for fun”; I’ve realized that these events are also useful to my research. Not only do they let me get outside of London to see some more of Britain (namely Glasgow, Cardiff, Nottingham, and Edinburgh), but they are also another sort of offshoot from parkour. Initially started by a group that does “urban fitness training” that is very similar to parkour training, the urbanathlon race has some of the same goals of parkour- useful fitness for everyday life while exploring and exploiting one’s environment. I know that there are quite a few traceurs that compete in these events, so I’m hoping to get a chance to talk to some of my fellow competitors to learn about their motivations for the doing the event- are there other runners like me that wanted something more “challenging” than XC? (No, I’m not say that XC isn’t challenging, just that it’s not the type of challenge I’m looking for right now).

I also have to admit that I’m looking forward to this event for a purely selfish reason. I’m feeling the need to compete. As most of my close friends and family know, I’m pretty competitive, so the last few months have definitely been a learning experience. One of the things that I’ve found most challenging with parkour is that I find it difficult to gauge my progress if I’m not competing. With track I was always running against teammates or against the clock. With parkour I’m always competing against myself, which is not always the most uplifting experience, since no matter how well I do, I can never “win” (something that is not necessarily valued by everyone, although I’ve found that Americans tend to prize “winning” more than the Europeans I’ve met- another subject for another post). So I’m curious to see what happens when I line up at the line tomorrow…

Not quite what I’m expecting but who knows? One thing is clear- I'll definitely miss running in the "pack".

Results and (hopefully) pictures to come in the next post...

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