Urbanathlon Is The Ultimate Fitness Challenge
Can you run 12km in 41 minutes? Check that: can you run those 12km the Men’s Health way? Before you answer, you should know that “the Men’s Health way” consists of more than simply running the distance at a just-faster-than-four-minutes-per-kilometre clip. It means running 10 to 12 kilometres while completing five muscle-burning fitness challenges along the way. Factor in all the obstacles, and now we’re talking about a pretty blistering pace. Sound doable? Tough? Insane?
Well, 41:34 was the finishing time for 32-year-old Florian Reichert, who won the 2014 Men’s Health Urbanathlon in the streets of Hamburg, Germany, this past July. In June, Gerco de Koning completed the event’s Amsterdam edition in 45:45.
In Hamburg the event covered 12km and nine obstacles, including container climbs and stairways, while in Amsterdam the 10km route took in monkey bars, sandbags, tunnels and a endurance-testing under-over-through obstacle.
Across the globe, Men’s Health is rewriting the dictionary definition of the word “fit”. In Singapore this March, 3 500 Urbanathletes took on 14km and nine obstacles. Later this year, New York City, San Francisco and Chicago will each get their turn. And on 30 November, the race returns to Johannesburg. (You want in? Sign up here!)
In preparing for and finishing the Urbanathlon – which takes endurance, strength, mobility and pure toughness – runners must prove they have the guts to lose their gut. And really, that’s what the Men’s Health Urbanathlon is all about. You don’t have to be the fittest, fastest
or strongest; you just have to be better
come race time than you were when you started training.
In fact, we created the event in order to challenge Men’s Health readers – or more accurately, flat-out dare them – to set new personal standards for what it means to be fit. That is, to become Urbanathletes.
Now you can join them, even if you never take part in our race. That’s because we’ve created three Urbanathlon-inspired workouts that you can do just about anywhere and at any time – to fight fat, sweat buckets and put yourself in the best shape of your life. Are you up for the challenge?
The Urbanathlete Workout
We asked California-based sports-performance coach Alwyn Cosgrove to design three mini-workouts, each one inspired by the international blueprint of the Men’s Health Urbanathlon, which features long runs interspersed with muscle challenges. Workout 1 will train you for sustained effort, while the other two will build aerobic capacity and stimulate fat loss. Complete each routine once a week. Also, add one challenge – described on this and the next page – to workouts 2 and 3. You’ll inject variety into your training time as you have more fun and achieve better results.
Step 1 Run 3km.
Step 2 Find a hill and run up 50 metres at about 80% of your sprinting pace. Walk back to the starting point. Do this a total of 10 times.
Step 3 Run another 3km.
Each week, add a half-kay to Step 1 and to Step 3 until you build up to 10km total.
Step 1 Do a 350m sprint, timing yourself with a stopwatch. Try to run at the fastest pace you can maintain from start to finish.
Step 2 Rest for the same amount of time it took you to do the sprint.
Step 3 Add in Challenge 1, 2 or 3 (at right).
Step 4 Rest for the same amount of time you rested in Step 2.
Step 5 Repeat three times, for a total of four rounds.
Each week, add one round (including challenge) until you build up to eight rounds.
Step 1 Do a 750m sprint, timing yourself with a stopwatch. Try to run at the fastest pace you can maintain from start to finish.
Step 2 Rest for twice the amount of time it took you to do the sprint.
Step 3 Add in Challenge 1, 2 or 3.
Step 4 Rest for 60 seconds.
Step 5 Repeat three times, for a total of four rounds.
Each week, add one round until you build up to eight rounds.
As they crawl, climb and clamber across the concrete jungle, Urbanathlon competitors must prove that they can maintain their agility and balance as they blast along at peak aerobic capacity. This year’s Joburg event includes high school gym class classics like rope climbs (off Braamfontein’s iconic Nelson Mandela Bridge, nogal) and climbing walls. In the 2010 Chicago event, Urbanathletes had to make their way along a concrete highway barrier (sort of like a balance beam), crawl over an upright monster-truck tyre, bound in and out of a series of oversized tyres and then navigate over and under traffic barricades. Sound simple? Ask race winner, Shane Logan: “This kicked the crap out of me. I think it took a half mile or so to even get my legs back.” A little perspective: the guy runs a marathon in under 02:30.
Train for it:
Perform 1 set of each exercise below, and then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat once, until you’ve done a total of 2 sets of each exercise.
Exercise 1 Jumping chin-up
Stand beneath a chin-up bar and, in one movement, jump up, grab the bar with an underhand grip and pull your chest to the bar. (The momentum of your jump will help pull you up.) Do 2 reps.
Exercise 2 Reverse burpee
From a standing position, simultaneously squat down and lean forward, and then move straight into a push-up position. Lower your chest to the floor and, in one fluid movement, explosively push yourself back up and into a standing position. Do 10 reps.
In Kiev, Ukraine, the first obstacle was an alleyway filled with old car tyres. In Sydney, Australia (where a few locals called the Urbanathlon “a mud run without the mud”), they had to deal with wires instead. The first obstacle in Sydney – a mere 650m into the course, outside the Australian National Maritime Museum – was a spider’s web of wires stretched across the course at various heights and angles. Over, under, through… how you get through is up to you. This November’s Johannesburg event has something similar in store: an over/under obstacle at the servitude. Are you up (or down) for it?
Train for it:
Do 1 set of each of the following exercises. Then go back to your workout.
Exercise 1 Walking lunge
Start with your hands behind your head – sort of as if you’re being arrested (out-of-towners can work in their own Joburg jokes right here). Keeping your torso upright, step forward with your left leg and lower your body straight down until your left knee is bent at least 90 degrees. Push your left heel into the ground and step forward to a standing position. Then repeat with your right leg. Continue until you’ve travelled a total of 50 metres.
Exercise 2 Bear crawl
Assume a push-up position with your body in a straight line from your head to your ankles. (If this feels more like a lizard position to you, feel free to call it the iguana crawl.) Now move your right hand forwards a few centimetres and bring your left knee as close to your chest as you can without allowing the position of your torso to change or your lower back to round. That’s the starting position. Crawl forwards by switching the positions of your arms and feet, moving your opposite arm and leg with each “step”. Continue until you’ve travelled a total of 50 metres.
In Hamburg they called it “Wall Street”. In Barcelona it was, simply, “El Muro”. In Amsterdam, it was “The Wall”. No Men’s Health Urbanathlon (heck, no proper obstacle race) is complete without a climbing wall. This year’s Joburg edition will force competitors to scale the dreaded apex wall, but honestly, your legs will thank your arms for picking up the slack. Running at around 11.5km through the city, scrambling over a series of urban-inspired obstacles, you’ll reach the end of the Urbanathlon feeling the same way your fellow Urbanathletes from across the world have felt: like your legs are going to explode.
Train for it:
Do 1 set of each exercise. Then rest 60 seconds and repeat. Once you’ve done two rounds, return to your sprints.
Exercise 1 Step-up
Stand facing the seat of a park bench. Place your left foot on it – or on another object of similar height – and put your hands behind your head. Push your heel into the bench as you push your body up onto the bench until your left leg is straight. (Don’t rest your right leg on the bench at the top; instead, hold it in the air.) Lower yourself to the ground. That’s 1 rep. Do 20 reps, and then repeat with your right leg.
Exercise 2 Bulgarian split squat
Stand a couple of feet from a park bench with your back to the seat. Bend your right leg and place the top of your right foot on the bench as you place your hands behind your head. This is the starting position. Keeping your torso upright, bend your left leg and lower your body until your left leg is bent at least 90 degrees. Push your body back to the starting position. That’s 1 rep. Do 20 reps, and then switch legs and repeat.