"I wanna give a shout out ... to Dasani!"

So we showed up at Webster Hall for the opening of CityChase New York, along with around a literal thousand other competitors, all of us wearing the required white shirts, all of us swimming in the humid and faintly sour-beer smell of what looked like it’s probably quite the happening club, weekend nights.

Of course, at 8 in the morning, even the clubs that look coolest at midnight look a little the worse for wear. (Or maybe it’s just that one isn’t drinking.)

After Ryan suggested that Kate and I form a team and join in, we hadn’t heard many details about what to expect (save from Dolsen, who’d run the Boston Chase). When I picked up our bag of crap very useful supplies on Thursday night, I got an inkling:

  * A running hat, orange, sponsored by Palm and their "Centro" line of phones.  "If you're photographed during the Chase wearing this hat, you'll be entered in a drawing to win some phones!", promised the text on a small card.
  * An orange balloon, deflated.  "Find another balloon and cross the finish line with both inflated and over your head, and you'll be entered in a drawing to win some ... etc."

  * Brochures for area gyms.  Okay, this made a modicum of sense, as most of the people doing the Chase looked pretty fit.

  * A photocopied sheet advertising ... Kaplan Test Prep?  Really? How could test prep be relevant to an obstacle course / scavenger hunt?  (answer: more than we thought.)

  * Clif "Shot Bloks", i.e. vaguely gelatinous cubes of something sweet and lemony which promised to give our bodies what they wanted while exercising.  (A lie, as it turned out.  By 2 p.m., I  mostly wanted a tall glass of ice water.)  And some other Clif product which seemed to be a chocolate bar with some crunchies in the middle.  Delicious.  Didn't, to my knowledge, promise me a damn thing.

So it was a bunch of branded crap from sponsors. No real surprise there. Events like this run on sponsorships, and every additional sponsor means more of our entrance fees go to charity… or so I’m going to keep thinking.

The organizers encouraged us to pick up a Metro on Friday, which turned out to contain a list of ten things:

  1. A tan line
  2. Both teammates with their shirts and bottoms on backwards
  3. A tattoo or piercing that is not on someone’s head/face
  4. 2 coins - one from each year you and your partner were born (id proof required)
  5. Who was the original architect of Webster Hall?
  6. Today’s (Sat, Sep 13th) temperature in the 2008 City Chase World Championship location
  7. A non participant the same height as one member of your team
  8. A live animal - humans do not count
  9. Both team members in a creative and unique costume - no repeats allowed
  10. What were the names of the Crunch Warm Up Crew?

After some attempts at warming up a thousand-person crowd by some very energetic fly girlsCrunch Warm Up Crew members, we were directed out onto the street, where we were told that we would get the clue sheet which would lead us to the various ChasePoints around the city… only after producing nine of the ten items on the list.

We ourselves skipped the ‘live animal’ item, though we saw a number of teams bringing ants, worms, or charitable dog-walkers to the green-shirted CityChase volunteers. Armed with Google (God bless our little iPhones), we had the various data; armed with a quick trip to Walgreen’s before the event, we had two “costumes” which were easy to deploy and easier to ditch: Kate taped candy all over her shirt and called herself a vending machine, and I taped crumpled newspaper to myself at several points and announced to the man checking our results that I was “white trash.” This made him chuckle enough that he forgot to ask for our birthyear coins. Which was a pity, because we had them.

Then we sat to puzzle out the clues, which ranged from very easy to totally opaque. On Dolsen’s advice, we tried to figure the locations of as many as we could ahead of time. Working on the traveling salesman problem before starting to subway all over Manhattan helped a lot. We burned too much time waiting in line at the ChasePoint closest to the starting line, since everyone else was figuring they’d get it out of the way first, too. Eventually we ditched out of the line and did what we should have done first: gone to the point farthest away and worked our way back down.

First stop: Kaplan Test Prep, where each member of the team, unassisted, needed to score 75% correct on a math and logic test. Having taken the GRE within the last three years, I thought this would be easy. Nope. Haven’t done any real logic puzzles since high school. Same for negative/fractional exponents. Same for permutations. Eventually worked our way through, but felt pretty dumb, doing it.

Then it was off to an afternoon of other challenges: rock wall climbing (Awesome!); tandem biking (took a little bit to get the hang of it); taking cell-phone pictures of us interacting in various ways with passersby (e.g. swapping shirts with one team member, eating a bite of something simultaneously with a team member, team member shaking hands with someone in uniform); writing, choreographing, memorizing, and performing a group cheer; playing pingpong while standing behind your partner; and my personal favorite, which was going to an art gallery, looking at a large piece on the wall, and then having to a) paint something inspired by it and b) sell your concept to the gallery owner. That was a lot of fun.

Then it was about a 2 mile walk back to the location we’d skipped out on in the morning, where we arrived sweaty and tired … to do a Pilates class. Whee! We left there at 3:45 and walked/jogged the three blocks back to the finish line, getting in the long entry line queue several minutes before the official close at 4. Ryan and Max, our faithful companions all day long, arrived barely a minute after us, and also got in queue line.

The race officially ran for six hours. Kate and I clocked in at 05:59:13. Ryan and Max, six or eight people behind us, didn’t make the cutoff, despite all of us having arrived in line about simultaneously. Bogus.

We hung out at the after “party” long enough to have a plate of decent food and half a “beer.” (Amstel light requires scare quotes, in my book.) We heard a trio of really good beatboxers give shouts out to entities which did not, I felt, require shouts: Palm Centro cell phones, to Dasani water, to Crunch gyms… and this was the point that we decided that we’d had our fun for the day and would be taking our branded shirts and hats away from the WHEN I SAY “PALM,” YOU SAY “CENTRO” call-and-response whooping and back home.

Mistakes were made:

  * Shouldn't have waited in line at the first point.  Lost time, there.
  * Later in the afternoon, misinterpreted a clue to indicate a ChasePoint at Madison Square Garden.  No such point existed, and we figured out what the clue probably really meant, as we left.
  * Kate drew up a fantastic route plan for the first 6-7 points, and then we figured we'd "play it by ear."  Playing it by ear meant that we forgot to check our notes later in the afternoon, and missed a point very close to one at which we stopped.  Could have saved time, there.
  * Could almost certainly have made better use of buses.  Did a lot of cross-town walking, subway-riders that we are, and likely could have saved ourselves some blisters and minutes.

We left before hearing the winning teams’ recounting what they’d done to finish in 03:13:00. As near as I can figure, even if we hadn’t made the mistakes I mentioned, we would have taken maybe an hour off our time, tops. How the hell they made it around that fast I don’t know.

And now: a well deserved night’s sleep for me, and about ten minutes of sleep for Kate, who’s getting up tomorrow morning in the oh-god hours to run a half-marathon, in Queens. Let me say it again, in case you missed it: having done all this running around today, Kate’s going to go run 13.1 miles as a training exercise tomorrow. Seriously, my wife awes me.