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Great Urban Race Sends Teams on Chase Around the City

 Nearly 300 teams competed in the Great Urban Race Chicago 2013.
Great Urban Race Chicago 2013
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CHICAGO — If you saw a band of bawdy pirates or a bunch of life-sized bananas roaming Chicago over the weekend, no need to have your eyesight or sanity checked — they were among the nearly 300 teams participating in the seventh annual Great Urban Race Chicago.

The race kicked off at noon on Saturday from Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison St., as teams were handed a sheet of a dozen clues, to be solved in no particular order, and sent scrambling.

Each clue, once decoded, led competitors to another location — from Lincoln's statue in Lincoln Park to Brew Camp in Ravenswood — where yet another challenge awaited.

Teams were tested mentally and physically — and in their ability to make fools of themselves. Among the goofier activities: catching marshmallows with a nose slathered in frosting, and attacking a dummy named "Bob" with a sword at Forteza Fitness, the kind of gym where — who knew? — the knightly arts are still practiced.

"It seemed like a fun way to see the city," said Kelly Foyle. "I didn't realize how competitive I was."

Along with twin sister Marisa Foyle, Julie Garcia and Cassandra Santiago, the Lakeview resident formed Team Sherlock, decked out in faux mustaches and sporting plastic pipes (Foyle being just a letter away from Sherlock Holmes' creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's surname).

Though the team momentarily feared that Santiago had been swept out to sea during a paddleboard challenge on Lake Michigan, Garcia said the toughest part, once they'd settled on a strategy for tackling the clues, was convincing a passer-by to take her up on the offer of a piggy-back ride.

"He thought he was going to crush me," she recalled.

Race rules limited teams to traveling by foot or via public transportation — no taxis or Divvy bikes allowed.

A dauntless foursome from Kalamazoo, Mich., hoofed it all the way from Cubby Bear to North and Sedgwick avenues to complete a task rather than ride CTA. Why?

"Because we're stupid," teammates confessed. "We didn't know any better."

The Dream Team of Madi Hike and Sarah Pittman — easy to spot in their matching pajamas, sleep masks and hair curlers — treated the event like a warm-up for the award-winning reality show, "The Amazing Race," of which they're both fans.

"It's good training," said Pittman. She praised the paddle board challenge — competitors had to navigate a buoy course off of a North Avenue pier in choppy water on a blustery day — as the closest to "Amazing Race"'s renowned physical stunts.

"The Amazing Race" is actually what inspired Joe Reynolds to found the Great Urban Race Chicago in 2007. His vision of replicating the show's adventures on a smaller scale for a larger number of participants met with quick success and has since expanded to 20 cities.

Over the years, the contest has adapted to incorporate advances in technology, allowing competitors to take full advantage of smartphone capabilities as well as apps like Instagram and Vine.

Clues involving musical staff notes and cellphone pioneer Martin Cooper all but demanded access to Google.

Repeat champions Chris Zamierowski and Yong Cho, who took first place in Saturday's race with a time of 2 hours and 1 minute, admitted that an army of friends ready and willing to fire up their browsers has been the key to their success.

"We have a good support team that helps us out — friends at home on couches" solving clues and helping the pair map the best route from one challenge to the next, Zamierowski said.

"We're just their running minions."

The Top 25 teams in each city move onto the championship race, which will be held in Puerto Rico.

Dream Team-ers Hike and Pittman didn't make the cut but vowed to try again in 2014.

"We're already making plans for next year," they said.