Several companies have tried the “urban” Obstacle Course Racer (OCR), but only one has been successful. The last man standing in the string of urban OCRs is City Challenge. I was in New York visiting family, and I had one weekend in the area to race. With an opportunity to race an Ultra-OCR (my specialty) or try something new, City Challenge’s New York City event on Randall’s Island, I chose City Challenge and here is what I thought:
Parking was free, something you rarely see at OCRs, which was a nice change of pace.
City Challenge had one of the best festival areas I have ever seen. At some other big brands, they charge spectators to enter the festival area. At City Challenge it was free, despite it being contained and would have been easily modified to allow for charging of spectators. The number of vendors inside reminded me of big road marathons I have attended more than other OCRs. The vendors gave me so many free drinks, I had to take a second trip to my car to put them all away. This including C4 pre-workout carbonated Ready To Drink (RTD) cans, Reign energy drinks, Refix recovery drink, Harmless Harvest Coconut Water and more.
There were also several other brands there selling products, offering free samples and supporting our sport. It was great to see. If you wanted to put some of those drinks to good use but didn’t want to run the full 5k course, Epic Hybrid Championships was also there. The functional fitness test (8 minutes total consisting of 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off counting reps of eight different exercises) is run by Epic owner Alexander Nicholas and his wife, Broken Skull Challenge Champion/former Spartan Pro, Cassidy Watton. Both are familiar faces in the OCR world.
With no mud on the course, it was a nice change of pace for an obstacle course race. The courses were run largely on concrete with a couple of small dirt sections. Since it is run on the waterfront, it was mostly flat, minus the final obstacle “Endless Stairs”.
If I had taken a moment to look up instead of maxing out my heart rate running, I would have noticed the scenic NYC skyline, something you don’t get to see in the middle of an OCR ever. To accommodate the number of competitive athletes, it was run in a similar format to the 3k OCR World Championships. Elite heats were sent off in waves of ten, which meant you had to race as hard as you could towards the line because you don’t know how fast the other waves were moving.
The obstacles were spaced perfectly. I know because over the course I didn’t look at my watch once. This meant every time I finished an obstacle, there was another one in eyesight or just around the corner. With 27 obstacles over the 5k course, it was dense with fun.
There were plenty of walls, inverted walls, cargo nets, teetering balance beams, and even a punching bag gauntlet. However, what stood out most were the heavy carries and the final set of grip focused obstacles. Heavy carries included a cinderblock carry, water can carry and sandbag carry (elites carried two of each). In the middle of the course was their signature Carjacked obstacle (jumping over a police car and taxi), which always makes for cool photos as well as a rope climb and a set of monkey bars. Right at the end was Urban Cliffhanger (which you may know as the Force 5 rig from 2018’s North American OCR Championships), a traverse wall and Tricky Swiss (a rig consisting of rings and plastic boards, which you may know from 2019’s North American OCR Championships). All these grip obstacles were made more challenging by their proximity to each other as well as the double water can carry.
What stood out most for the obstacles was the double sandbag carry up the eight sets of stadium stairs. I was running for about 47 minutes and I’m pretty sure I spent at least 15 of those minutes suffering on the stairs. While I walked into the race expecting an easy race, that last obstacle really took its toll on the elite field as placements changed and athletes struggled to carry both bags.
The atmosphere was great with Justin T. Manning, the announcer from 2018-2019 North American OCR Championships, killing it sounding wave after wave off onto the course. Add in a moving live singing of the National Anthem prior to the start, which might have been the best version I’ve ever heard at an OCR, and it made it a great time.
City Challenge is the last urban OCR series standing and after attending their event, it is not hard to see why. The obstacles and course layout were fantastic. If you like the Spartan Stadion series but want something that has more obstacles and fewer workout stations, this is definitely for you. The only “obstacle” that was a workout station was 30 kettlebell swings. With around five events annually, all within driving distance of major cities in the northeast, attending their events should be a no brainer for locals and good race-cation to a major city if you live outside the area. Plus, if you attend three you get a special tri-city medal, as a nice reward for your persistence. I’m looking forward to my next City Challenge race but should probably work on my stadium stair climbing in the meantime.
Want to know more about City Challenge and other unique OCRs? Pick up a copy of Mud Run Guide’s Ultimate OCR Bucket List. Written by a dozen contributors from Mud Run Guide and encompassing 100+ different event types. Pick up a copy today and start checking races off your list.
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This author is part of the Mud Run Crew and received a free race entry in return for an independent review. All opinions are those of the author and were not influenced by the race sponsor or Mud Run Guide.