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Great Urban Race - Denver

July 26, 2008
By Marcy Beard - Team Vignette

John and I enjoy scouting and racing in new cities. We have fun finding lots of interesting public art, checking out new restaurants, and learning the transit system. We spent several days in Denver with help from our friend and tour guide, Danny. Now Danny sees statues and bus stops wherever he goes - don't worry Danny, it's a temporary condition unless you do these races all the time!

The race started and ended in a small park in downtown Denver. There were almost 200 (!) teams racing, and Danny had fun taking photos of the many interesting and unique costumes. People took the costume contest very seriously. I might consider that odd, except they probably think we're just as nuts for all the scouting work we did.

At noon there was a short race briefing, as John followed around the woman with the clue envelopes. Envelopes were handed out, John poised himself ready to run, then at the "go!" he took off toward our truck. We had practiced taking photos to move to the laptop to send to our crew. Unfortunately, our Juice adapter (which plugs into the power port) chose that morning to start causing power glitches and zapping our laptop. We spent a couple chaotic moments with John reading clues into Jim (our phone contact) while I reset the laptop battery and rebooted the computer. We managed to get the photos sent on battery power. Ok, so that system needs a bit of work. On the bright side, our Sprint broadband card is still working great.

Here are the photos we took of the clue sheet (front and back of one piece of paper):

During the moments of madness I had assembled the paper puzzle for clue #1 and told Jim that we needed to find Wahoo's Fish Taco place:

We also conveyed to Danny that we could use help with checkpoints #2 (getting 8 people together under "The Yearling" statue as one option) and #8 (going to get a receipt for gasoline for $10 or less). We spent a couple more minutes trying to strategize, finally deciding we couldn't sit still any longer since we knew where to go for clue #7.

During our scouting we made sure to locate the large king and queen chess pieces on 16th Street after Danny told us about them. We ran over to 16th and Market, only a couple blocks away, while John queried Jim about how many fingers we needed to hold up to answer the Colorado sports question. Luckily our crew was already working on the question, and they told us "5". While we were taking the photo, John noticed another team holding up 7 fingers, so he told Jim about this development. Kip had Jim tell us to take two photos and they would figure out which one was right (the other photo to be deleted later). I verified that BOTH of us needed to have the correct # of fingers displayed (not the total between the two of us) and we snapped two photos.

We are learning that it pays to read these clue sheets very, very carefully...

In the meantime, we were given the location of a Wahoo's taco place around the corner. We ran over there, but they told us we probably wanted the location at 20th and Grant. It was awful nice of them to tell us the location we wanted. I checked the clue sheet and realized I had neglected to tell the crew about the "20th Avenue" specification when I told them about Wahoo's earlier. My bad.

Well, hardly any time wasted. Next we were off and running north to Lodo's Bar and Grill on Market Street. When we arrived I recognized it as the location of the awards party later that afternoon. John got instructions from Jim about finding a clown and getting photos with balloon hats on our heads (with the clown in the picture). We didn't find the clown right away, but the lady behind the bar discreetly pointed up the stairs (that was really cute). We ran up and queued up for our turn with the two clowns blowing up long balloons.

After less than a minute, one team asked if the next team in line wanted their balloon hats and we exclaimed "heck yes, thanks!" We got our photo and then handed the hats off to the next team in line.

Time to run again. We left the building, swung around the corner onto 20th Street, and John took off. I heard one nearby racer say "hey, those guys are sprinting," and you know what, John really is fast. I yelled at him to stop for a second so I could catch up and grab the end of the towrope to attach to my belt. That's better. Now I could yell questions and he might actually hear me only 6 feet behind him instead of half a block.

Along the way, we questioned Jim about the possibility of any other checkpoints along the way toward the 20th Avenue Wahoo's location. We weren't certain of a couple clue answers, especially #4. The rest of the clues all had approximate spots on the map (16th St, Yuma Court way down south, the Capitol, and the Performing Arts Complex). Jim and I had discussed possibly skipping the Yuma Court checkpoint, but along 20th Street we all realized that it was the sole mandatory clue so we would have to find a way down there.

After the race, John had the excellent thought that we should have gone to Yuma Court first out of the gates. It was mandatory, a long ways away, and would have taken some time to get there. That would have given our crew plenty of time to solve all the clues and plot a nice route for us, instead of trying to do things on the fly. The one drawback would have been if there were a better route that didn't involve going there first (which I don't think was the case this time, but you never know). Something to think about for future races.

Anyway, after running a few blocks we arrived at the correct Wahoo's, grabbed a taco, and asked the guy manning the table to take a photo of me pretending to feed the taco to John.

Benedict Fountain Park (clue #6) was right next door. On our way over, a couple racers asked us whether we had gotten our "GUR" photo yet. Having not read all the clues yet, we didn't understand the question, shook our heads, apologized, and ran off. I asked John for the clue sheet to figure out the question. In the park we asked the group of racers if they wanted to take the GUR photo, but they said they had just done it. Oh well, it was a nice thought.

I had a freak-out moment when I saw a bunch of other racers carrying/wearing their balloon hats. Were we supposed to bring the hats to the finish line? Did we need to go back to get them? Quickly I checked the clue sheet and verified that no, we didn't need anything beyond the photo with the clown. Phew! Gotta keep paying attention to the clue sheet. And the number of teams running around town with balloons was rather amazing.

For clue #6 we needed to "Leap Frog" from one set of cones to another. We dropped our stuff and John crouched down so I could hop over him. I dropped into a tight crouch and John took a flying leap, landing a good ways in front of me. Great idea! I tried the same thing, with less success but at least it was further than my first try. We took turns pretty much making running starts and getting as much air as possible. Some bystanders seemed to think this was pretty funny.

We got our clue sheet stamped, collected the waistbelt and pack, and went on our way, going south now. We were headed toward the Capitol, asking again to find out if there were any checkpoints we might be missing along the way. John reported that clue #11 (within two blocks of the Capitol) wasn't solved yet, but the crew was working hard on it. I theorized maybe the Molly Brown house?

While trying to figure out exactly which street we were running along, John asked a biker who seemed to be riding right next to us. I theorized it might be someone else's ground support person, but we'll never know for sure. At least he tried to answer our question about which street we were on.

I asked John again for the clue sheet, at which point he told me maybe I should hang onto it? Great idea! I ran the rest of the race with a smaller version of the map plus the clue sheet, and I was very happy having those things to look at while John conferred with Jim on the phone.

Right when we got to Colfax across from the Capitol building, Jim was on the line with directions to the granite historical monument we were looking for. I heard John mention "Broadway at Colfax", so we turned west, crossed to the south side of Colfax, and ran toward some statues on the lawn. We quickly checked the statues of a soldier and the Ten Commandments before spotting the small stone statue with the exact wording from the clue written on the plaque. Nice work, clue solvers! Apparently this one was difficult to find on the internet.

We started heading west again, but when I asked about the grand plan for finishing up the course, John didn't have a ready answer. I made him stop in the shade and we had a pow-wow with the maps. John copied over the locations that I had on my map, I went through the clue sheet and crossed off the ones we had completed, and we got an answer from Jim on clue #4 - Coors Field. Coors Field! Right near clue #3 with the clowns. Bummer. Maybe we'll skip that one. If we can get a photo for #2 (GUR with 10 people).

John had the great idea of using light rail to get from the Performing Arts Complex down close to #9, then taking it again to get close to Coors Field/downtown. We would hit #5 on 16th Street on the way to #9, which would give us everything we needed plus the option to skip Coors Field if we could complete the #2 scavenger hunt. Maybe we would get lucky and find a riding lawnmower on our travels.

OK, time to move again. John towed me up 14th Street (we had slightly overshot the optimal route before we decided to stop), diagonally across a parking lot, and up Stout Street to find the Mad Greens restaurant which satisfied one of the options for clue #5.

Now heading southwest, we ran toward the Performing Arts Complex. John was going for the giant white dancer statues called "The Dancers," but I glanced at the clue sheet and asked if we needed to verify that this was the right place since our clue sheet said something about "Let's Dance" and not "The Dancers." When I got a good look at the clue sheet I realized that it actually made sense, but by then John was questioning whether it was right.

While we were discussing this, a woman was standing there ready to take our photo. I got John to forget the question for a moment so she could do just that. She got the camera backwards for her first attempt, and I will never forget the photo she took instead:

We are STILL laughing about that one. I couldn't bear to delete it, in hopes that the GUR photo checkers would understand (they did!).

So here is the actual photo of us trying to mimic the dancers:

After that, we finished our clue sheet analysis and discussion, John realized he could hear the song "Let's Dance" playing on the speakers, and we were good to go.

John got back on the phone with Jim while I tried to steer us toward the lightrail stop under the Convention Center next door. John told me that the number "5" was verified to be correct for clue #7, so I deleted the 7-finger photo and checked the rest of the pictures so far. A woman at the light rail stop came up to ask about the race and John graciously answered her questions while I poured over the clue sheet.

Rereading clue #2, we suddenly noticed that we would need photos for TWO of the three options, not just one! Well, that did it. We were definitely skipping that clue. Danny was now waiting for us (with people at the ready) at the Yearling statue, but we had passed that area back at the Capitol so it was too late for that one. Without a riding lawmower, it didn't make sense to try to complete that checkpoint. So we would skip it and go to Coors Field for clue #4 instead.

Then John noticed on his aerial map that there was a huge rail yard in between our intended light rail stop and the Yuma address. Getting around it might require quite a bit of running. And there was no train in sight. We decided to hoof it instead.

Off we went! John got directions from Jim, we ran down Colfax, and I watched the map while also trying to watch my feet. We went down Mariposa and cut over on 13th Avenue. Crossing the light rail tracks was easy, but then we saw that a train going across the next set of tracks. We passed other racers as John kept hauling butt down the street. Finally I questioned the wisdom of running so fast when the train was still in the way; John had been hoping it would end soon, but no such luck.

So we pulled up and I huffed and puffed. It was a nice break, anyway! I showed John the route to the gym and checkpoint #9, then we reviewed the instructions for clues #9 and #10 right next door. Teams started piling up on both sides of the tracks, waiting for this really, really long train to finish crossing 13th Avenue.

Finally the train was gone and racers flooded both ways across the tracks. We got a good lead running down the streets and were the first to arrive at Shape Plus. Some personal trainers took over, instructing us to do about 50 "mountain climbers," 10 push-up and then jump in the air things, and 20 squats. I tried to recover while John pushed a heavy sled about 30 feet, then I had to push it back. Phew. We got our cluesheet stamped and then headed out the back alley.

John jumped on a trike bike and I stepped on the back of it. He did an excellent racecar driver impression, weaving through the cones. I got the hang of it and started some "whee!"s going, including some arm-waving that almost pulled us over sideways during our final corner. At least I was breathing again!

John got a drink of water as I headed out the door and jogged down the street. When he caught up we got back on tow and ran north. We were aiming for a lightrail stop just north of Colfax. We checked for a shortcut under the road but found everything fenced in (or out, I guess).

As we crossed the train tracks (no train this time), my foot caught on an edge and I took a roll. I managed to inform John that he should stop before he started dragging me, then I rolled some more while I clutched my cramping calves. Guess I was a bit dehydrated! Ow. Finally I got up and was able to run again. And no trains appeared, so that was a bonus.

However, there was a light rail train at the stop when we turned the corner - too late! It was a block away and already leaving. Oh man, I was sorely disappointed by that sight. John confirmed that the next train would probably be another 15-20 minutes. So we would have to run. About 2 miles, according to Jim. Oh. My. Goodness.

John looked over toward the stadium and told Jim he could see it, no problem. I rather-loudly informed John that he was looking at the Pepsi Center and there was no way he could see Coors Field from there. It was a long ways away!

So we ran. And ran. I provided an unnecessary detour by insisting that we run to Chopper Circle instead of staying on Auraria Parkway (trust your crew!). After crossing Speer onto Wewatta, we worked our way back east one block at a time, mostly heading northeast toward Coors Field.

John told me we would take a picture at "The Player" and I thought that was the mural at 22nd Avenue. I was SO happy to find out that I was wrong and we actually could stop at 20th Avenue/Blake for the statue we were looking for. John was still fresh, but I was having great difficulty determining that there really is oxygen in the air in Denver.

Only a few more blocks to go! John called Danny and set up a hand-off for the gas receipt that Danny had acquired for us. We ran through our parking garage, around a corner, found Danny waving the receipt for John to grab (thanks Danny!!), and headed across the street and through a construction tunnel. We popped out at the finish line park and crossed the line in 1:46.

The winning team from last year, team On the Rocks!, crossed the line 15 minutes before we did, but they had neglected to get two photos for clue #2. I totally understand how that could have happened! They had skipped #11 at the Capitol. With a 30-minute penalty, they ended up in 5th place. The next 3 teams appeared less than 10 minutes after we did, so that felt like a close finish.

We had fun watching teams cross the line and then chatting with racers at the awards ceremony. All the Denver folks are so friendly and cheerful! And what a fun race, we really enjoyed it. Well-designed, well-run, and with interesting challenges.

We're looking forward to racing in Las Vegas! Go Austin teams!

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