The 2017 edition of the Men’s Health Urbanathlon took place yesterday, with the first wave being flagged off at 9am and subsequent waves spreading out throughout the day at half-hour intervals.
This year’s race, now into its eighth edition, had marked several changes from previous years. The biggest of these changes was that instead of a fixed race route, it consisted of “free form running” where runners choose their own running race route, in order to get to the four compulsory obstacle zones.
These four obstacle zones had been located at Tanjong Pagar Guoco Tower, Marina Bay Financial Centre, Golden Landmark, and Ngee Ann City respectively. The approximate route was about 12km, but runners may have ended up doing more or less, depending on the running route that they had chosen to go. The different obstacle zones had tested different aspects of fitness, such as endurance, agility and strength.
I had been part of the 3pm wave, which meant that I did not need to wake up early for the event. And due to a heavy downpour and lighting alert in the morning, some of the earlier waves had been delayed.
Runners who had been taking part in the morning flag offs, had mixed views about whether the rain had been managed well.
Bastian Salim, 28, working in Logistics Operations, who was pleased with the way things had been done. He said, “It was drizzling when I was flagged off. The rain helped to cool my body down. I thought the rain was managed well; they stopped us from running until the conditions had subsided, and I was grateful for that because we would otherwise be waiting at the obstacles in the rain and that would dampen our mood.”
Added Jay Jay Minder, 26, a business analyst, who also agreed, “We ran in the rain and it was not too bad. You cannot control the weather and I think that the organisers did the best that they could.”
But Nel Tulsiani felt that things could have been improved. Said the 45 year old Administrator, “I thought the rain had affected our race; the ground was slippery and the obstacles were wet. It was also harder to do the obstacles in the rain because it would be easier to get injured if we were not careful. I felt that the organisers should have considered the consequences and had a better backup plan for the rainy weather.”
In my case, thanks to the earlier rain, which had stopped by the time my turn arrived, I had a cool afternoon run that had been thankfully not as hot as I had originally expected.
Free Form Running
The start point of the Urbanathlon had been at Ngee Ann City and we were supposed to have made our way to the obstacle zones in the order that they were numbered – even though we were supposed to be doing “free form running.” However this instruction was not relayed clearly. In fact, a number of participants had headed to Zone 3 at Golden Landmark first, instead of to Zone 1 at the Tanjong Pagar Guoco Tower when they started their run.
And these people were immediately turned away from Zone 3 when they arrived and asked to make their way to Tanjong Pagar – in order to continue with the race. If this point could have been mentioned perhaps on the event’s Facebook page, or else through an SMS to participants, then it would have helped runners tremendously.
But this issue aside, the “free form running” aspect of the race had helped to make the whole race more fun and interesting, and to some extent, had reminded me a little bit of the Amazing Race reality TV show. It was also a great way to make new friends and find other runners to team up with. And not forgetting Google Maps, which had quickly become my “best friend” throughout the entire Urbanathlon – so it was a good thing that I usually run with my phone.
Emily Astiz Black, 27 and working in the customer service line, also liked the “free form running” concept. She said, “We did it as a team and it was great to have everyone’s support. The running was cool; we didn’t get lost because we had one guy who knew all the secret back ways with us, and he told us where to turn. So we didn’t need to think about where we were going.”
Added Jared Bildfelo, 45, a Teacher at the Singapore American School, “The free form running was a nice challenge because it makes people think about where they are going and so there is more teamwork involved as well.”
Zone 1: Vertical Heights
(Tanjong Pagar Guoco Tower)
At this zone, endurance was the skill set tested, as participants were required to climb all 37 storeys of the Guoco Tower at Tanjong Pagar, in the heart of the Singapore Central Business District. I had never thought climbing stairs would be so difficult. I should have focused some more of my training on this aspect of the race.
Just over 10 storeys up, I was already beginning to gasp for breath. By the time I had reached 20 storeys, my legs were starting to seize up and beginning to feel like jelly. It took sheer effort and willpower to keep on climbing, and not constantly looking at the storey numbers plastered on the walls of the stairwell, which had been passing by way too slowly for my comfort.
I had to pause often to catch my breath during the climb.
It also didn’t really help that the stairwell was quite hot and stuffy, and there didn’t seem to be much ventilation there either.
But finally I reached the top, and that had felt like sheer relief, more than anything else.
Agreed Thomas Rindlisbacher, 40, a Director at a manufacturing company, “The stairs were tough in terms of cardiovascular conditioning, as we could really not breathe much in the stairwell.”
Zone 2: Road Block
(Marina Bay Financial Centre)
This zone had tested agility, requiring participants to navigate through shipping containers and barricades. Personally I had found this to be the easiest zone and the climbing and jumping had been quite okay. In fact it was quite fun and had made me feel like a kid again, to be able to jump over railings and other things. As such, it had brought me back to my childhood days, when I had loved to climb over everything without any fears!
For other runners, this zone also seemed to be the easiest. Said Emily, “The whole road block area was super easy; it was just climbing over things.”
Zone 3: Maze Runner
This zone had required both strength and flexibility from participants, consisting of obstacles, such as the Monkey Bars, Tyre Grab and Pole Traverse.
From the race guide, the Monkey Bars and Tyre Grab had both looked as though they were not that far off the ground and as such, seemed to be quite manageable. The idea of climbing monkey bars had also reminded me of ‘playtime’ when I was a child. But when I had actually attempted these, I found them to be a real challenge. As I am short and small built and don’t exactly have the flexibility of a gymnast, the obstacles were difficult for me. But I did give both of these a shot.
The Pole Traverse was also challenging for me as I didn’t really have the flexibility to wrap myself around the horizontally positioned pole and then propel myself from one end of the pole to the other. But at least I can say that I tried, and gave it my best shot, though.
This zone was also particularly muddy, thanks to the morning downpour – and that didn’t really help in terms of my grip when I was taking on these obstacles, either.
Zone 4: The Urban Warrior
(Ngee Ann City)
This zone was supposed to be the showpiece of the whole event and comprised of four different obstacles.
The first one, named Quad Steps, had required us to hop on angled boards without touching the ground. A lot of male participants had seemed to find this easy, but I thought this had been quite challenging, due to my short height. As such, I struggled with this one.
The second obstacle in this zone required us to use two wooden pegs to traverse across the board. This one required a lot of upper body strength but was easy in comparison to the next obstacle – where we had to raise a metal bar by doing chin-ups. This would be easy for National Service guys, for whom it is mandatory to do these types of exercises, but I have never been a fan of doing chin-ups. I gave it a go though.
The final obstacle had been the “showpiece” of the Urban Warrior Course, where we had to run up and jump over a 3.6m high wall. However due to an unfortunate accident that had taken place earlier, this obstacle had been closed off by the time that I had got back to Ngee Ann City.
I’m not sure whether I should have felt relieved that I didn’t need to attempt this, or disappointed that I did not have the chance to at least give it a shot – even if I might not have succeeded at it.
I had later heard that only one female participant had managed to clear this wall. This was Emily, who said, “I was happy and surprised to have cleared the wall. I didn’t expect to be able to do it.”
And this particular “showpiece” obstacle was organiser Adrian Mok’s favourite.
Adrian, 42, the founder of HiVelocity – the company which had put together the Mens’ Health Urbanathlon and who had also decided to participate in the race himself, said, “I did not have a go at this obstacle before today and in my mind, I thought, just do it at the race and see how I feel. I did not expect myself to clear the wall in one go, but I did, so I was surprised. It’s not an easy obstacle.”
Organisers may consider adding more obstacles
Adrian had also shared that the change of the race route to a “free form running” concept was refreshing. He said, “In the past we had a fixed course and a lot of fast runners were winning. This time was interesting even for myself; when I reached a few junctions I had a plan in mind but that changed; I kept switching and changing my mind to find the shortest way.”
For future editions, Adrian is considering adding more obstacles. He said, “We could put in some more obstacles and maybe something that challenges the upper body a bit more.”
This idea is in line with what some of the participants had felt about the race too. Said Jared, “The race was great but perhaps a few more obstacles and additional zones would be good.”
My main takeaways
Personally though, my main takeaways from the race was that it was definitely an interesting experience that I would never forget.
It was also the first time I was taking part in a running event where there is no set route. As such, I suppose that getting lost could have been considered as part of the fun!
The end point
At the end point, there was a free flow of healthy snacks and beer awaiting the participants. It was good to be able to reward ourselves after coming back after a tough race.
As well, those with extra energy left, could take part in some simple contests to win some prizes, for example, if you could complete 15 push-ups within 30 seconds, you will walk away with a free cap. Thankfully this was still manageable, though my arms were already aching after completing the Urbanathlon.
Thank you Men’s Health Singapore for the opportunity.