TRUE to the slogan of the 2013 Men’s Health Urbanathlon, an estimated 2,700 people took up the challenge to “run, jump, crawl, climb, slide and finish” last Sunday at the Mall of Asia grounds in Pasay City.
The number far exceeded expectations in the seventh edition of the unique racing event that combines the rigors of a run with the challenge of traversing several obstacle courses in an urban setting, more so since heavy rains on Saturday nearly forced the race's cancellation.
“Our target was 2,500 but I think we got 2,700,” said Men’s Health associate publisher Arlo Vicencio, who added they could have accommodated up to 3,000 participants.
For this year’s Urbanathlon, organizers added a 21-kilometer event as the long distance option to go along with the regular 5k and 10k categories.
“This is the second year we did the 21K. You can see in the registration that people are getting stronger. Before 5K ang pinakamataas. Five years ago 5K ang pinakamaraming nagre register, unang nauubos. Last year 10k ang unang naubos. This year 21k ang unang naubos,” Vicencio said.
Organizers said this development is an indication that the fitness level of runners is improving and their number is simultaneously growing.
“It’s increasing so you have to adapt. We might still be doing 5K but then we find out that no one’s interested in it any more. But then again, we have first-timers in Urbanathlon who can do 10K but choose to do 5K because of the obstacles,” Vicencio explained.
Men’s Health and 360° created a workout precisely to help runners overcome the obstacles. Organizers staged two legs of boot camps where coaches and the race director taught participants workouts they can do two months prior to the Urbanathlon.
The students also got a chance to try out the wall and the tower so they could get an idea of what to expect on race day.
Seasonal monsoon rains on Saturday from late afternoon to early evening threatened to ruin the annual event.
“With the heavy rains last night, people on Facebook were asking what time were we going to announce if the race was proceeding as scheduled. We were coming out with an announcement at 9pm but as early as 7:30 the rains finally stopped. We got off lucky,” said Vicencio.
Even with the good weather early Sunday morning, the racers still had to overcome seven obstacles designed to test their physical strength and endurance: The Tower, The Barricade, The Gatorade Runner’s Wall, The Network, Container Van, Monkey Bars and the Scaffolding.
“The ropes on the tower got wet because of the rains so they were pretty slippery and add to that the sweat from the hands of hundreds of people. For safety reasons we didn’t want to risk them climbing the ropes so we modified the rules and made them hang on the ropes for three seconds instead,” Vicencio explained.
Vicencio said they wanted to make it more difficult for the runners this year, the reason for the addition of the new towers and walls.
“Gatorade placed a five-foot wall before the eight-foot wall so you’re tired from all that running and then you have to go climb two walls at the final part of the race. The obstacles are the most challenging but they’re the reason people are joining – you don’t get it from other races so it’s one of our signature events.”
One of the participants, Men’s Health Wayne assistant section editor Joseph Tulio, took note of the number of this year’s urbanathletes.
“Every year, the event gets bigger. The initial event started with only 600 runners. It’s a growing community because a lot of the runners are getting stronger in running so they’re trying to find a different challenge. In our social media pages, people look forward to (Urbanathlon)”, he said.
He knew of people from as far away as Cebu and Ilocos who arrived in Manila just to take part. He even had relatives who flew in from Singapore just to run in the race.
The Men’s Health editor, a veteran of past Urbanathlons, said: “It’s amazing how it grew into an event that people look forward to.”
Tulio, who has run four races, explained the 2013 race is one of the more challenging ones because of the spacing of the obstacles.
“Before, it’s one obstacle, then you run. Now the running parts are more spaced out so you really need to run a certain distance then the obstacles are practically right next to each other so you need to push yourself then you have to go back to running. This is the difference that I saw.”
“For me, a lot of the obstacles require a lot of upper body strength, for example at the container van you have to prop yourself up; the monkey bars you have to be able to hold and at the same time move with each bar and of course as always there’s the wall.
"Imagine in the last 100 meters you have to get past the wall. There’s a twist actually - we didn’t announce there was going to be a five-foot wall before the eight-foot wall so it was something unexpected. We had it last year but it was announced, this year medyo surprise siya - the really difficult ones are the ones you’re not psyched up for," he shared.
He also observed that the latest edition of the race has lesser lines because they organized the different categories to run in waves to address the issue, more so with the field growing in number.
“We now have competitive athletes who really want to do well with their time. To some degree we achieved some success in that part,” Tulio said.
For the second straight year, the Urbanathlon was held at the sprawling MOA grounds to accommodate the growing number of participants and to increase the size of the obstacle courses to address complaints of lines forming at the walls which slow down the race.
After the race, Tulio said a lot of his fellow runners told him the race was “bitin” and wanted a longer one next time around.
“I guess because of the ‘start-stop' nature of the race where you have to go through an obstacle (then) run. When you’re at a certain physical fitness level you’ll wanna want more which is a good thing because it gives us more room to work with for next year.”
More than opting for a faster finish, Tulio said that in Urbanathlon, “We just encourage everyone to just finish the race. The achievement is to really conquer the obstacles and at the same time run. It’s really a holistic test of fitness. Marami malakas tumakbo, marami malakas magbuhat but if you combine both, that’s the challenge.”