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City Spree debuts this weekend as 'race without a course'

| Thursday, May 16, 2013, 7:26 p.m.
Lindsay Dill
Becky Lessner of Oakland checks her time.
Lindsay Dill
City Spree is billed as a race without a course.

Those who can think on their feet may have the most success — and fun — as City Spree debuts this weekend.

Entrants in this unique 5K run and walk and 10K run, billed as “a race without a course,” are challenged to forge their own path through the city, running or walking to a variety of checkpoints, collecting points along the way. Unlike a regular road run, they start and finish on Penn Avenue, East Liberty, in the middle of the action, surrounded by checkpoints.

“From what we can tell, there are no other races quite like it anywhere in the world,” says Adam Nelson, director of the nonprofit City of Play (www.cityofplay.org), which has produced numerous one-of-a-kind events over the past several years, such as new sports, pervasive games and board games.

City Spree might be unique, but it has a lot of competition for those who seek more unusual and entertaining races. Some examples:

• Urban Dare Pittsburgh, “the race where smarts can beat speed,“ is set for June 8. Likened to “a half-day Amazing Race,” two-person teams are invited to “get ready for the best challenge you'll ever take,” and to “rid yourself of all inhibition — throw a bull's-eye, scale climbing walls, complete a puzzle or eat something weird” while covering about five to seven miles.

Like City Spree, there is no set course. Organizers describe it as “part trivia, part photo hunt, part mental and physical” and all fun. Teams solve a set of 12 clues to find checkpoints where they must take photos or perform dares in a race to the finish. Entrants may phone friends or use smart phones to help solve questions. It is up to each team to decide the best order to complete the checkpoints. Winners usually complete the Urban Dare in less than two hours and most people finish in less than four hours.

Urban Dare begins at noon at McFadden's, North Shore.

Details: 703-937-1769 or www.urbandare.com

• LibertyFest 500 Outhouse Race is planned for 2 p.m. June 29 in Franklin. At this wacky event, contestants pull or push homemade outhouses 500 feet. The Franklin Rotary Club and Franklin Fine Arts Council are spearheading the effort, which benefits community festivals, activities and events.

Details: 814-437-1619, ext. 123, or rbeith@franklinpa.gov

• The Run for Your Lives race is back for its second year in Western Pennsylvania on Aug. 3 at Mines & Meadows Resort in Wampum, Lawrence County. You can register as a runner or a zombie — one chases the other, as you might have expected, in this 5K race. The goal is to make it to the Safe Zone, where the Apocalypse Party will be going strong into the night to celebrate the end of the world.

Details: www.runforyourlives.com

• Run or Dye's website (www.runordye.com) says an event is planned in Pittsburgh, but no date or location has been chosen yet. In this fun 5K, color crews shower runners in safe, eco-friendly, technicolor powdered dye. Wearing white is heavily advised.

• Grass Roots Racing and Western Pennsylvania Orienteering Club also stage their own challenges.

Details: www.grradventureraces.com; www.wpoc.org

Nelson applauds the trend he sees across the nation with the arrival of an increasing number of creative races, which de-emphasize serious competition and are designed to celebrate the fun of getting out and being active together.

“It breaks down the perceived barriers to engaging in these kind of activities,” he says, “as well as encourages racers not just to focus on running the course, but on seeing the city.”

For City Spree, the idea is to combine the joy of discovering new and secret places in neighborhoods with the fulfillment of physical activity.

“That creates a unique hybrid event that is part fun run, part geo-cache, part city tour and all fun,” says Nelson, of East Liberty.

Racer Alexis Rzewski of Point Breeze, a game and interaction designer who suggested one of the checkpoints, describes City Spree as a map-based scavenger hunt, a form of land navigation.

“It engages the mind into orienteering and provides small mental rewards of finding things as the event progresses,” he says.

Even the fastest runner could be thwarted by a slower entrant who is more cunning in his or her route choices when connecting the checkpoints, he says.

“You are constantly re-adjusting, recalibrating, stopping, starting, slowing and deciding on the run what is best to do,” Rzewski says.

“A runner may begin the race with a course in mind, but the actions of other runners may cause him or her to change the path on-the-fly and choose a different destination,” Nelson says.

Ben Shulman of Hampton believes such activities are “great for our communities.”

“We all come from different places and do different things,” he says, “but when we meet new people for games on the weekends, our family grows.”

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or rrutkoski@tribweb.com.

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