Portland's Eastern Prom to be scene of adventure-style race

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PORTLAND — The Eastern Promenade has long been a favorite place for people to spend lazy afternoons, lounging on nearly 70 acres of lush, grassy slopes with soothing views of Casco Bay.

But on Saturday, the popular place will be transformed into an adventurous, 4.5-mile obstacle course.

Nicole Pisani, race director for Tri-Maine, said more than 100 participants are registered for the New Urban Epic Challenge, which is being run instead of the organization’s annual triathlon.

“We have a great venue for it,” Pisani said. “With the huge popularity in adventure-style races that we’ve seen popping up around the country, there’s a definite interest by people to have fun and work on their fitness.”

Events have names like the Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and the Toughen Up Challenge.

Tri-Maine has offered an urban triathlon in Portland since 2007. But founder Will Thomas said in a statement posted online that the triathlon was too much for the organization, city and residents to handle.

Thomas said last year’s triathlon required more than 100 barriers, 50 safety cones and more than 50 volunteers. It also put a strain on local and state police, fire and medical resources.

“And there were still very close calls with reckless drivers,” he said.

Thomas said many private donations for the triathlon dried up with the 2008 recession. Also, there are several road construction projects underway that would undermine the course and the safety of participants.

“We can’t knowingly press ahead with a race unless we are 100 percent confident that it is going to be safe, fun and exciting,” he said. “In this case, we did not feel that way, so it became clear that we needed to find a new event concept that maximized the parts of the Urban Epic that we think are awesome, and alleviate the parts that are too much of a risk.”

Enter the New Urban Epic Challenge, with 17 obstacles on a course that crisscrosses and weaves its way through the Eastern Prom.

The course will send racers up and down the prom and through obstacles designed with the input from experts in fitness, outdoor recreation, mountain operations and the military.

“It’s not just the man-made obstacles that are the challenge,” Pisani said. “It’s the natural features of the Eastern Prom.”

Racers will start running on the paved trail near East End Beach before hitting their first two obstacles, tire hoops and a technical rock run along the rugged shoreline.

Then, it’s up a steep rocky trail, back across the prom and up two hills. After another run across the hill, racers encounter a squat run, a rock trail, a wooded trail, and an encore squat walk.

Once racers are warmed up, they will tackle a strength camp, beach crawl, hurdles, slalom and steep trail before taking a ride down a more than 50-foot long slip-and-slide.

The race concludes with another dash, hill climb and journey through a chute of powerful fan guns to the finish line near the Narrow Gauge Railroad.

“They definitely put out a strong breeze,” Pisani said of the fan guns. “You’re going to feel like you’re being blown around.”

Racers will also be able to enjoy food and beer, of course, in the Smuttynose Brewing beer garden on the Maine State Pier.

Registration costs $45 a person, with proceeds benefiting the Center for Grieving Children. Medical care, if needed, will be provided by OA Centers for Orthopaedics.

The race is expected to attract a wider range of participants than a triathlon. Pisani said obstacle runners tend to be thrill-seekers, as well as health-and-fitness enthusiasts.

She also said the race is less about competition than about doing something new and challenging with your friends and family.

“The whole idea is to have fun and do something different with your friends and family, and build camaraderie,” Pisani said. “It’s definitely a fun chance for an adult to be a kid again.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.

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Epic event

To register for the New Urban Epic Challenge, log onto: www.urban-epic.com/urbanepicchallenge/index.php

Racers must sign in on either Friday, July 8, from 5-6:30 p.m. at the Maine Running Co. on Forest Avenue, or Saturday, July 9, from 8-9:30 a.m. at East End Beach in Portland.

The race begins near East End Beach at 10 a.m. Participants will be released in pairs at established intervals based on gender and age.