Taylorsville • It's not often that a person can dress up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle on a March Saturday and then race around town attached to a shopping cart along with four close friends.
But that's the experience Michelle Schmidt had last year as a member of one of the two YMCA teams that participated in Taylorsville's second Urban Iditarod. And her team is already plotting to come up with a plan to beat the other YMCA team that won the title as "best cart" dressed as Oompa Loompas from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory at last year's event.
Taylorsville will host its version of the Urban Iditarod Saturday at 10 a.m. Though a participant has to be at least 18 to enter, Taylorsville's bills itself as a family-friendly event. Salt Lake City also will hold its sixth annual Urban Iditarod event, starting its four-mile course at 2 p.m. from 400 S. West Temple.
According to Rhetta McIff, who is organizing the event for Taylorsville, the idea began more than 20 years ago in San Francisco and has spread to cities throughout the United States. The events are usually held at the same time as the traditional Alaskan Iditarod sled dog race. That means the first Saturday in March.
"It is essentially a fun takeoff from the Alaska Iditarod," said McIff. "Instead of sled dogs, we use buddies and friends. And, instead of a sled, we use a shopping cart. Every event runs differently. Some are social events or bar crawls. We try to have fun with it."
In Taylorsville, teams do not find out where they are even meeting until a day or two before the event. In fact, potential participants have until Friday to pay their $40 registration fee. Information is available at 801-915-9519.
"Our teams have to go to five different challenge locations and compete in challenges as a team," explained McIff. "They are scored with each challenge. When they come back to the finish line, we evaluate the score."
Last year, one of the stops was at Leatherby's Family Creamery, which makes its own ice cream. That day, the business made eight flavors of ice cream, all of which were white. Competitors had to guess the flavor. The 'Bout Time Pub and Grill offered a 20-question trivia game. At the YMCA, competitors were given two minutes to pick a song and go through a huge box of props to be used in a dance-off promoting physical fitness. At a fire station, participants used hoses to knock over obstacles.
Awards are given for the highest score, fastest time, team with most enthusiasm, best cart decorations, best costumes and even the team that came in dead last.
Part of the fun is that sabotage is allowed and encouraged. Last year, one group zip-tied all its competitors' carts to a flagpole. Another had friends create a fake security checkpoint doing cart checks, a ploy that every team fell for.
"What we didn't anticipate is the families and friends all drove in cars and chased the team as they ran to competitions," said McIff. "We have to plan for adequate spectator areas and provide spectator maps so they know where to go to enjoy the fun."
Last year, 11 teams and 55 individuals participated in the event.
There are a couple of more serious parts of the competition.
"The race is a way to promote health, fun and economic development for the city," said Taylorsville Mayor Jerry Rechtenbach.
The idea is to give local businesses a chance to introduce themselves to the community and to encourage a healthy activity to groups that might not regularly run in road races.
This year, teams must bring at least 25 pounds of food in their carts to the finish line. That food is donated to the Taylorsville food pantry, a facility that, even as a Taylorsville resident, I had no idea existed.
Proceeds from the race will go to the YMCA's Healthy Kids Day, which the YMCA's community family center in Taylorsville hosts as part of a national event.
"Anyone can run or walk a 5K, but it takes real bravery to run down the street dressed as a chicken," said McIff. "We hope that supporting our food pantries makes dressing up a little easier."
It sounds like an event worth checking out.