The Rapidian

Urban Adventure Race: The real deal

One participant's perspective on running the ArtPrize Edition of the Grand Rapids Urban Adventure race
Young bucks with energy

Young bucks with energy /Michael Cook - Stellafly Media

Underwriting support from:

Get Your Snowpants Ready

The organizers of the Grand Rapids have a winter event set for Febraury 11, 2012 at Cannonsburg Ski Area.

Roberta King and Laura Caprara

Roberta King and Laura Caprara /Michael Cook - Stellafly Media

Our friend at Steepletown Center

Our friend at Steepletown Center /Michael Cook - Stellafly Media

Saturday, October 8 was a perfect day for running and biking, cool and crisp with the promise of sun. My partner Laura Caprara and I were ready for the Grand Rapids Urban Adventure Race ArtPrize edition. We're fit and ambitious; we're smart and clever. We planned to "own" this event. I had no doubt we'd do well, since I run distances and she's a gym rat and we have energy.

At 7:30 a.m. on race day we stood at Founders with 710 other people for instructions. With maps in hand, we looked at the stops and determined we should run first and bike second. It had to do with energy conservation, the biking was further out, around by Reeds Lake and Calvin College. The running was in town and seemed doable. 

An Urban Adventure race consists of multiple checkpoints and challenges. The running had 16 checkpoints and 6 challenges. A checkpoint involves finding a fixed flag, punching your card and moving on. A challenge is a skill activity related to the stop. The bike section had 23 checkpoints and four challenges. Participants have four hours to complete as many checkpoints and challenges as possible.The winner completes the most checkpoints and challenges in the least amount of time.

At the first shout of "go" for the female teams we were off to WMCAT for the first checkpoint and challenge. We cut across two parking lots, saving precious seconds as others ran down Grandville and up Fulton. We arrived at WMCAT in record time.  We dashed into WMCAT and up the steps, made a card for kids at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital and were off to the next stop. With a heavy duty "passport" in hand, we punched in at the VanAndel Arena and were off to the Blue Bridge. As we ran I read the directions. Reading directions is a key element in success in an Adventure Race, in life for that matter. You have to read the directions and determine before your next stop how you're going to get there and what you have to do. Lots of the racers did this before the race with highlighters and Sharpies. We did this as we moved along the course: not easy, but very efficient.

The Blue Bridge had the first real Challenge: counting the steel monkeys hanging from the bridge. We split up and counted monkeys, added them up and dashed to the volunteer whispering"94!" "No, that's not right." We ran back for a recount. This time it was 91. Dang, there were a lot of monkeys up there. Another recount. 96. Wrong again. A guy walking by sensed our frustration or perhaps heard me using salty language. "Did you read the directions?" "Sure we read the directions," I said not so nicely. At this point we were the only people on the bridge, except for ArtPrize gawkers. "I mean did you really read the directions?" "Yes," I said as I pulled the paper from the backpack I was wearing. "I really read the directions." Uh oh. The directions asked us to count the monkeys hanging upside down. I delivered the news to my partner. We counted the monkeys right, got the punch and ran around the Van Andel Museum for another punch and over to GVSU.

We were all alone. We ran into the Commons, taking care to avoid the fragile artwork, as the directions noted. The flag was nowhere to be found. We searched the Commons from end to end. There was no one else in the Commons from the race. Outside, we looked at the directions and then the map. The mark on the map wasn't in the Commons at all. It was out on the street. They tricked us! After running up and down Winter and Mount Vernon, we found the flag. Next on the list was DeVos Place. We ran along, laughing about the mistake. It was now 9:30 a.m. We had three hours left and 36 checkpoints and eight challenges left. 

DeVos Place offered a checkpoint and challenge that gave us great hope. We finally were reunited with other racers. With an Adventure Race, participants can do the checkpoints/challenges in any order and so there's never a big crowd at a checkpoint, or at least where we were there wasn't!

We were given a slip of paper that held an image of a detail of a work of art and we needed to find the art. We searched the main floor of DeVos Place. We stopped at every piece of artwork on the second floor. Nothing matched. We hit the main floor again."I think it is the Jesus picture. I just have a feeling," said Laura. We gazed upon The Lord. Nothing. We should have prayed for a miracle. We went back upstairs and circled the gallery for a second time. I tried to peek at the slips held but other racers who were dashing off to have their details validated. We trash-talked Jeff and Laura Hill, telling them we'd already completed the bike part of the race. Snickering, we continued to search. We'd been in the hall for about 20 minutes. In desperation we wrote down the Sudan photograph series. The volunteer told us no. And she would not give us another slip. I went to the bathroom while Laura searched. We searched some more. People were filling DeVos Place and the number of racers had trickled to us and another team. They found their detail on a giant portrait of a woman. So did we.

It was now 10:15. That Challenge had taken about 40 minutes. All checkpoints and challenges in an Adventure race are optional. If one checkpoint is too far away, or a challenge too vexing, you can leave it behind. We couldn't do it that. Without ever talking about quitting a challenge, we kept on trying. We just couldn't move on until we figured it out.

We ran out behind DeVos Place, saving precious moments by using the back door onto the promenade. Over to Ah-Nab-Awen Park we knocked off a quick checkpoint and headed to the West side. We ran post O'Tooles Pub which wasn't yet open. Had it been, we might have stopped. I wished for it. We did a couple of fun artwork challenges, one in which we needed to draw a picture. I created a cute likeness of Laura, but only after I asked her to sit for the portrait. We chatted it up with a sweet man in the art studio at Steepletown and wandered outside. It was getting hot now at 11 a.m. We had five checkpoints to go.  Both of us agreed that not too many people could be completing all the checkpoints if we weren't. 

"I think we're not going to get much of the biking done," I said. "Doesn't look like it," said Laura. "We just need to complete this part of the race really well. You have to decide if it's better to be really good at one thing, or sort of good at many things." We agreed that being really good at  one thing was the best strategy. We also felt we weren't doing too badly for two old women who at times had a hard time reading the tiny print on the map. We walked and ran toward the next checkpoint atop Belknap Park. We found some nasty broken up cement stairs and started to ascend. Two guys came down the hill. "Hey, did you do the bike part yet?" I shouted. "Yes!" one of them shouted back. (Now, I have to leave out what I said back, it was rude and started with the letter f. My mother would slap me if she were alive. I would deserve it.)  

Hearts beating like a drumline we hit the top of the hill. Other racers were running to the left, so did we. We took another checkpoint and headed off. Fairbanks stairs were next. We found them and much to our dismay, the flag was almost at the bottom. Had we come up the correct stairs as noted on the directions this would not have been an issue. Laura (taking one for the team) went down the steps to punch our card and ascended again. We walked on, examining the notes and determined that a checkpoint at Carpe Diem volleyball would have to be sacrificed. "One missed punch isn't so bad," she said hopefully. We ran to Coit School for a punch, down Michigan Avenue to Michigan State Medical School for another punch. Noon. We had time to spare! Looking at the card, there was a blank spot on checkpoint 14: the Blue Bridge. In addition to the monkey count there was a punch we'd missed. We got to the Bridge (and taking one for the team) I ran down to the end, did the punch and ran back. Urban Adventure rules prohibit teams splitting up, but we felt as long as we maintained visual contact with each other that would suffice.

We mustered our energy, passed a couple of racers on Grandville Avenue and dashed into Founder's back parking area. 12:21 p.m. We made it just under the four hour time limit. We posed for a photo and went inside for a beer. We never even touched our bikes, which were still locked to each other, all alone in the bike corral at 2 p.m. when we left Founders.

"It was very fun, very challenging and very humbling. I'm hooked," said Laura. Addicting, yes. I can see where we went wrong and what we did right. I know why people were strategizing before the race. I don't know, though, if they had as much fun or laughed as much as we did. 

Congratulations to the winners and if you scroll down far enough, you'll find the Red Hares team results.






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