There are tons of races hosted in Dallas with varying themes and causes on almost any given weekend. With so much variety, it’s easy to overlook a race like Challenge Nation. The theme “urban scavenger race” or “urban exploration” isn’t the most marketably appealing for those who may be more inclined to do fun color runs, glow runs, beer runs, or the more competitive mud or Spartan races. After they reached out to me, I did some research and I thought I’d give them a chance and run the race myself.
Challenge Nation races take place in 35 cities and this would be the fifth season they would be back in Dallas. Up until they reached out to me, I have never heard of them before. The website said the race would be part similar to the hit TV series Amazing Race and was part 5K, part urban exploration, and part scavenger hunt.
Leading Up to the Race: The websites aren’t very glamorous. They are pretty basic with all the pertinent info. In marketing, I unintentionally judge places based on how well their websites are put together and it wasn’t fantastic, but oh well. The instructions were clear. Sign up was easy with options to edit and change team member names and shirt sizes after registration. They used Evenbrite, which I really liked. I didn’t have to bring a print out of my confirmation or anything with me on race day and I didn’t have to pick up anything either. Loved the convenience of that and the flexibility team captains have when it comes to recruiting team members. I thought the date and time were kind of strange. The race would take place at 2pm, on a Sunday in downtown Dallas. I’m used to Saturday morning races, so I just hoped it wouldn’t be too hot.
First Impressions: Since the race would start at Iron Cactus off Main Street, I thought it would be a fun opportunity to grab lunch (and a few margaritas) before the race. It was kind of cool to get a restaurant to partner with Challenge Nation. There were drink and food specials just for participants. I enjoyed $3 margaritas inside the cool restaurant while my friend and I waited for race time. We also lucked out on the weather. It wasn’t very hot considering it was already 1pm when we got there and I was very grateful for that reprieve. Running around downtown in the heat does not sound fun to me at all. Check-in was seamless and I give them the biggest props for making this so easy. In previous runs, check-ins and pick ups were always a headache and an inconvenience that required extra time out of my day. With Challenge Nation, I got in line, grabbed a bib number, signed a waiver, and picked up my free t-shirt and some temporary tattoos. It was painless and over in a matter of minutes.
The “swag bag” wasn’t very impressive. It was really just a plain white t-shirt with the red Challenge Nation logo on it. The staff were all very friendly and helpful and they didn’t seem to get overwhelmed or flustered at any point, which is a good sign in my book. As more groups and runners showed up, there were some awesome costumes to be seen. There was a mix of age groups and families. Since I was one of the first to show up and check in, I did get to see all the teams trickle in. The turnout didn’t seem to be as much as I would expect. Thought they were kind of on the low side.
The Race: A quarter before the race started, the head staff person asked all the team leaders to stand in a circle while he made his announcements and some common sense rules. Ya know…don’t run into the street without looking, don’t trample the small children, be safe and have fun…
We would all be given a sheet of clues and we only had to complete 11 out of 12. We all kept our hands up as they were passed out so there wouldn’t be any cheating. While it did seem like a smaller group, I kind of liked how small it was. It felt more friendly and I wasn’t just lost in the masses. Once we did the countdown to start, my friend and I darted off to complete the first clues.
The Clues: The clues aren’t super hard. My team consisted of just me and a girlfriend. I’ve lived in Dallas all my life and make it a habit to get to know my city better so I’m pretty familiar with downtown and the history. My friend is from Rowlett and isn’t as familiar as I am, but the both of us were able to complete the clues without too much trouble. Before the race, we were told to bring a camera or phone with a camera to help us during the race. The rules allowed us to use the internet to solve clues or even call a friend to look things up for us. Our only concern before taking off was reserving as much battery life as possible. Anyone can easily figure out the clues simply by Googling simple phrases or keywords listed in the clues. Before the race, participants received Facebook and Twitter hints that could help, but I forgot about the hints and never got to use them.
For examples, some of the clues asked us to take pictures at certain places or act out something silly (Challenge Nation staff also made it easy and gave us ideas too), or find and talk to random strangers. One asked us to find someone in a 49ers fan gear and take a picture with them, so it was nothing creepy or too ridiculous.
One of the great parts about this race and the people who participated is it also allowed teams to work with each other on clues. People were willing to collaborate or point us in the right direction and we did the same too. While I am a competitive person, I also appreciate good sportsmanship and I really enjoyed running into and working with the teams that participated. Not every team tackled the list of clues in the same order, so I think that made it easier to spread out.
Some of my favorite clues involved taking a photo from at least 100ft off the ground and make it obvious in the photo. I was able to convince an officer manager to do us a solid and escort us to the 35th floor of a building. We took a photo next to a window to show how really far up we were. Being creative and outgoing definitely helped us.
My friend and I walked/ran/jogged/sped walked all over downtown and clocked in more than a 5K without realizing it. I think we did more of a 10K so that was a win. Burned off those margaritas for sure.
End of the Race: So the top 5 teams received free entry into the National Championship Race in Las Vegas. Teams thats placed 6th to 50th, qualify to enter the race, so in essence they would still have to pay for their entry fee. If you doubted the competitive element to this race, there you go! We were able to complete the clues in about on hour and a half but were a little too late. We were 61st, but super proud of ourselves nonetheless. The race started and ended at Iron Cactus and once we checked in, they recorded our time and had a leader check the photos to make sure we completed all the clues. That process was also very seamless. We were rewarded with water and a place to take photos of the “Finish Line”.
The bib numbers don’t have the chip in them, so it’s more about placing instead of just time. This race in particular is more group based and the minimum sized teams can comprise of two people. No loners allowed.
There is also an award ceremony after the race, but we didn’t stick around for that since it was a few hours later. I don’t think there were too many people who attended that. At the award ceremony, they would announce contest winners for best team name, best costumes, and the like.
What I Loved: I loved walking around my city. That was the whole point of this race and it nailed that. My friend who isn’t as familiar loved it just as much and was so glad she was able to visit places she never would have thought to go. We completed clues at Main Street Garden, Klyde Warren Park, Crow Collection at Trammell Crow building, Nasher, Belo Garden, The Majestic Theatre, and so much more. It was incredibly fun and one of the most fun races I have participated in.
I also loved the clear communication and the organization of the event. For habitual racers, this is definitely something to appreciate. Most dinky races I’ve attended have been wrought with mistakes or chaos and I was glad this was such a fun and easy event to attend.
What I Disliked: Downtown Dallas can be kind of challenging for a race like this. There’s not a ton of walking traffic so it can seem kind of empty. I wish there were more teams running the race. I would have liked to see more people running the streets.
The Verdict: The Challenge Nation race is possibly one of my favorite races. I don’t remember having this much fun in any of the other races I’ve participated in. The organization of the event was fantastic. If you’re looking for something more competitive this isn’t it. I can’t stress enough it’s more for groups and families and just for fun.
Since Challenge Nation is one of the bigger races, they have the whole process down. Race dates and registration are already available for next year. Check them out!