Summer Streets 2012 & Great Urban Race

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Yoga at Summer Streets

Summer Streets is 5-year old tradition in New York City that is eagerly anticipated by many New Yorkers. The first three Saturdays in August, a 7-mile stretch of Park Ave and Lafayette St. from 7 am to 1 pm is closed to cars; pedestrians, cyclists, and runners take over. The city hosts several great activities, such as zip lining, rock wall climbing, and yoga. There are also massage areas, bike rentals, and a bike helmet giveaway. The city gives a free bike helmet to anyone who shows up  to their 51st location. But you need to get there early because the bike helmets run out quickly. All of the activities are free.

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Ben at Summer Streets 2012

Ben and I dropped by Summer Streets for about an hour. We enjoyed walking on the street, especially the tunnel through the MetLife Building on Park Ave. We weren’t the only ones as the street was teeming with runners and cyclists. Many runners were using Summer Streets to do a little marathon training.

We made it to the bike helmet giveaway just in the nick of time. We each got one of the last few XL helmets before they ran out. Apparently we have really big heads. I was happy that we got our helmets, especially since Ben needed a new helmet. Now we have matching helmets for when we go biking.

We couldn’t do the entire Summer Streets because we were entered in the Great Urban Race (GUR), a scavenger hunt-like race around Manhattan. In the Great Urban Race, teams of 2-4 solve 11 of the 12 clues (you’re allowed to skip one) as fast as possible. Each clue gives you information about where the checkpoint is. You can go to the checkpoints in any order, so figuring out the most efficient path is a part of the strategy. At each checkpoint, there might be other puzzles to solve or a challenge to do. The course was open for 5 hours.The fee to enter was $60/person.

I was eagerly looking forward to GUR because I had entered in races like this in the past and always had a great time. Ben hadn’t done one before, but he was game to try. It was a grueling 5 hours, especially because GUR was so poorly organized. They committed a cardinal error in not checking the accuracy of the clues. Our frustrations began at the start where there was confusion about when we could open our envelope containing the clues. We couldn’t hear any of the announcements. Then we wasted a lot of time trying to find the locations of two checkpoints because the clues were incorrect. In fact, several teams couldn’t find those checkpoints and the ones who did found it more by dumb luck (something they admitted to) than actual skill. At one of the checkpoints, even though the course wasn’t closed, participants were no longer allowed inside to do the challenge. When we vocalized our dissatisfaction with how the checkpoints were handled, the woman in charge of verifying the answers to the clues gave a very unsatisfactory response of “some of the other teams got it.” That statement was not an appropriate response.

1) With a race entry fee of $60/person, I expect a professionally-run race. There were far too many errors, especially with two clues directing you to the wrong location.

2) If a checkpoint was going to close early, then that needed to stated on the clue sheet so that participants could plan for it. Not knowing this, we had made the decision to hit it last and we got there even later than we had expected because we had wasted so much time looking for the two checkpoints at the wrong place.

3) Ben was displeased that we had to buy something in order to complete a checkpoint. This was not disclosed ahead of time. Because we paid a race entry fee, he assumed that everything we needed to complete a checkpoint would be provided to us.

Although in general, I’m a huge fan of scavenger hunts like this, I was not enthusiastic about our experience with the Great Urban Race. With a not-insignificant race entry fee and  poor management of the course logistics, we experienced too much frustration and trouble that detracted from the experience and potential fun. As someone who has participated in other races like this AND also as someone who has organized such races, I know these types of races require tremendous amount of organization and resources. Nevertheless, it’s dreadful how a business where this is what they *do* for a living can’t pull off a race as well as the ones that I’ve experienced that were organized by a volunteer who did it for fun. I don’t recommend the Great Urban Race at all. We weren’t the only ones who feel this way, as GUR’s Facebook page and Twitter is littered with people expressing their discontent.

We had quite a long day under the sun and today was only Saturday.

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At a checkpoint

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