The Go Urban Adventure Race Comes to D.C., Following the Footsteps of Other Hyprid Fitness Events

By Vicky Hallett
Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When thinking about the ideal partner for the GO Urban adventure race, Ryan Porter, 23, knew he had to pick his University of Maryland buddy Michael Hoffman, 22.

Was it Hoffman's speedy gait that made him the obvious choice? Nope. It was his obsession with treasure hunts.

Such an interest comes in handy when reaching the finish line requires following 12 location clues (An example: "Visit the man that said, 'The earth belongs to the living' "), hauling your rear end every which way to get there and then snapping a photo for proof. Which is exactly the deal with GO Urban, a multi-city race series that kicked off with a D.C. edition this month.

"The idea is they're doing something healthy that's outside, but they don't need to prepare like they would for a marathon," explains Matt Lewis, one of the race directors. "They can choose to run or take the bus, so anyone can race."

Taxis, bikes and Segways are forbidden. The only acceptable ways to get around are by public transportation and your own two feet.

One team of Marines limited themselves to two Metro rides and ended up logging more than 15 miles on foot, while Georgetown neighbors Eileen Kurtz, 42, and Katherine Molloy, 44, had a decidedly less hard-core strategy that would include serious breaks. "We're stopping for beer along the way," Molloy promised me.

GO Urban joins a growing field of scavenger-hunt/obstacle-course hybrid events inspired by the CBS series "The Amazing Race." On the show, telegenic couples trek around the globe for weeks, completing silly tasks and frantically asking for directions. The copycat races scale that action down to one day in one city and open them to all comers for about $50 per person.

One of the most established series, Urban Dare, got its start in Washington. In 2005, then-Arlington resident Kevin Keefe wanted to design a triathlon course. "It ended up being such a pain to get permits. But I still wanted to do some sort of race," he says.

Keefe instead developed what he calls "the race where smarts can beat speed," and it turned out to be a winning idea. He has gone from organizing two events that first year (in Washington and Boston) to a list of 30. One is in San Diego, where he has relocated to live as a self-described beach bum while planning out his riddles and routes.

The key word in Keefe's slogan is, of course, the "can." Just ask Francoise Galleto, 27, and David Brown, 26, two Washingtonians whose first Urban Dare in 2007 didn't turn out quite as they'd hoped: They finished sweaty, sore and sunburned after 4 1/2 hours. "The day after, I went back to the gym. It was a wake-up call," Galleto says.

They already had the smarts part down. After all, Galleto bills her blog (at http://www.dc365.blogspot.com) as "an exploration of DC's restaurants, bars, tourist traps, and the places only the locals know about." She organizes an annual birthday scavenger hunt. And as Brown notes, "We're both nerds."

After two years of training, which included running the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, they entered the Urban Dare event again this spring with a very different result: Conditioned for sprinting and armed with sunscreen, they came in first, finishing in just over two hours.


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