Scaling cabs and buses, jumping over sawhorses, crawling under fencing and high-stepping through a maze of tires, all while covering 10 to 12 miles on foot -- this isn't your average road race.
It's the Men's Health Urbanathlon, a nine-year-old global event held in 22 cities on six continents, and it's billed as the "ultimate test of endurance, strength, mobility and pure toughness." This fall, nearly 10,000 participants will take part in various Urbanathlon challenges, and a portion of those will hail from Madison Avenue. The New York event on Oct. 25, for example, will include some 330 racers representing more than 30 advertising agencies.
The Agency Challenge, created three years ago, pits creative and media agency employees against one another as they compete to win a free page in the January or February issue of Men's Health for an ad dedicated to a cause or aid organization of the agency's choosing. The winners will also have a group photo featured in the issue. Past winners include Aegis' media arm Carat, Omnicom's OMD and Sausalito, Calif.-based agency BSSP.
Men's Health VP-Publisher Ronan Gardiner said the Agency Challenge was born out of conversations with advertising and media partners who had heard of or taken part in an Urbanathlon. It's also a way for the magazine to promote the race, which is a big component of its growing events business, to agency and media execs who work closely with potential sponsors and partners.
At the New York event -- the Agency Challenge also takes place in San Francisco and Chicago -- Universal McCann, Karlen Williams, GroupM, Carat, Mediacom, Harmelin, Mindshare, Razorfish and Starcom, among others, will compete for bragging rights. Unlike previous years, the ad page will be awarded to the agency with the most participation, with individual awards for fastest male and female race times.
To get the agencies road-ready, Men's Health began its first Urbanathlon Boot Camp earlier this month. Each boot camp is run by professional trainer and ex-military man Larry "Bishop" Garland, who leads 50 "Urb athletes" through a variety of weekly challenges around a two-mile loop in Central Park.
In mid-September, Mr. Gardiner and Men's Health Advertising Director Chris Peel joined a training session. Mr. Gardiner has competed in every Urbanathlon since 2006, meaning 24 to date, with three more to come this year. Upon arriving at Central Park, the two disperse to greet and stretch with familiar faces.
Jessica Vassello, an associate director at OMD, is part of a team of 17, six of whom are in attendance that evening. GroupM Associate Director Meredith DeLuca is part of a team of 12, and her account, Volkswagen, is a first-time Urbanathlon auto sponsor. Havas Media VP-Account Director Kristin Hammelin is preparing to compete along with six of her colleagues.
At 6:40 p.m., the Urb athletes line up.
"Anybody not exercised in a long time?" asks Mr. Garland. One hand goes up. "All right, you're all pretty good!" he responds. "Now let's go. I will be singing cadence."
And they're off.
Looking back on the session, Mr. Peel said, "A special bond is created when folks sweat together, suffer together and count on each other to move onto the next exercise."
"That is the experience we thrive for at boot camp," he said. "Teamwork of this nature, often with folks you've only previously met in a boardroom, is a tremendous way to spend an hour and 15 minutes."