I’m a Dad, and I Have One Small Request for Playground Designers

playground designers
It wouldn’t take much for playground designers to work adult fitness into their plans.

This is a small request to playground designers from a dad doing his best to stay fit: Remember that adults spend a lot of time at the playgrounds you build, and we could also use a little something to burn some calories.

Every single day, I see some news headline screaming about the nation’s obesity rate. Which is odd, because I also can’t escape people on their way to Crossfit, hot yoga, pilates or whatever classes. A good chunk of those people are parents -- parents who happen to spend a lot of time watching their kids go wild on playgrounds.

There is no better way to help parents get fit (or fitter) than by making a few modest additions to your playgrounds. For example, the city of Mesa recently renovated Pioneer Park to the tune of more than $7 million. That’s money well-spent – it’s a terrific example of a playground and park that looks great and keeps kids occupied. It’s beautiful and modern and flat-out awesome.

playground designers
Not all parents are content to sit around – they’re training for Spartan and other obstacle course races. Maybe playground designers can help them out.

But how much more would it cost if the playground designers had put in some adult-sized pull-up bars and monkey bars? Maybe a bouldering wall? Or even just a simple rope-climbing station or three. Something tells me that would be just a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of the Pioneer Park overhaul. And these additions would promote and enhance functional fitness.

Let’s go back to the so-called "obesity epidemic." American sports culture isn’t really about participation – it’s all about passive watching. I don’t even know where to find the statistics, but I would bet that most of the time allotted for sports leagues at public parks goes to youth sports. The message here is clear: You play sports when you’re a kid, then you turn 21 and start going to "sports bars" to watch other people sports, and then you become a parent and never raise your heart rate past 100 again. Then researchers and public officials wag their collective finger at us while simultaneously taking zero substantive steps to address the problem.

Not even with something simple, like putting some adult-sized fitness apparatus (apparati? What’s the plural there?) on the playgrounds where we spend a good chunk of time with our kids. It’s a simple, low-key, relatively low-cost addition for playground designers. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as this adult playground … not that I would mind having this near me!

playground designers fitness adult
Races like this are great for functional fitness. And adult-sized obstacles are an easy addition to existing kids’ playgrounds.

Let’s think about the example that sets: If the kids see their parents cranking out pullups, box jumps, pushups and whatnot, staying physically active becomes their norm. We shift the thinking from the current "go to the gym because New Year’s resolutions to lose some of that fat" to "lifelong healthy lifestyle."

Remember, this doesn’t need to be extensive or expensive – but it can be, and I’m absolutely salivating over the GameTime Challenge Course. But even just a few small features could create a huge shift in the way we think of fitness. Over the past year, I’ve moved to chipping away at a few calories everywhere possible rather than just saving it for the gym, even if it’s just a few push-ups or turning a low wall or park bench into a box-jump station. I would be thrilled for a place where I could do a few things I can’t do at home, especially monkey bars and a rope-climbing station. I’m sure every parent who does Warrior Dash, Spartan, Tough Mudder or other obstacle course races would agree. Even parents who don’t get into that stuff could have some fun with these challenges.

So, playground designers, next time you plan a playground, remember that there are parents out there who could really use that time to get some exercise along with their kids. It’s already starting to happen in some cities – the expertise and desire are there. So get onboard!

Hi Seoul 10K Race – A Running Adventure Abroad

Seoul - a really cool place for a good marathon, half-marathon or 10K.

Being a large Caucasian guy in South Korea is a weird experience. As I warm up for the Hi Seoul 10K run, a TV news crew fixates on me. The camera sweeps over me. Records every move. Captures every lunge, backbend, hamstring stretch.

It’s been like this since I stepped off the bus from Incheon to Seoul. I’ve caught so many glances from the corner of someone’s eye. The Koreans have been discrete. And no look has been hostile. Just -- curious.

The 10k race (and the marathon and half-marathon) brings out the few other Caucasian types – ex-pats who make their living as a English teachers. They stick together in their own cluster before the race.

I’m by myself, though. Sarah went to line up with the half-marathon crew. At 6’2 with a long mop of hair, it’s no wonder the camera hovers inches from a lone white guy like me.

If the TV crew expected me to be fast, they were mistaken. The gun goes off to start the 10K race. I thread my way through the crowd. As the theme from Star Trek Voyager plays, I’m penned into the pack. After about a mile, I can finally reach a natural stride.

The 6-mile route takes me to parts of workaday Seoul. I move to pass someone -- and discover that I’m about to plow over a lad who comes up to my solar plexus. His dad notices that I’ve revved up to pass, and pulls him out of the way.

"Who is this long-haired guy, and what is he doing here?"

Soon, I’m at the finish line. I paw through my race goodie bag -- I find canned spicy chicken and chopsticks. My sweat and the morning breeze make me shiver.

I wait for Sarah to finish her 13.1 miles – and just enjoy being an oddity in Seoul.

Views from North Scottsdale – Third Annual McDowell Sonoran Challenge

McDowell Sonoran Challenge, examiner.com, phoenix mountain bike examiner
This is a look I call “Blue Steele”

I was hanging around having a hot dog at the Weenie Wagon; then I heard the phrase of the day from a guy who works at Sunday Cycles in Phoenix:

"I felt like I was getting seasick!"

It might sound like a complaint, but it wasn’t. Having just finished the 20-mile bike course of the Third-Annual McDowell Sonoran Challenge, I knew what he meant. The course is filled with big rollers made by years of use from off-road motorcycles. They’re part of what makes the trail network running through the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and bits of State Trust Land one of the best outdoor recreational sites in Scottsdale.

Big Bumps, Lots of Challenge

McDowell Sonoran Challenge, unicycle
Yes, this madman’s ready to rock a unicycle!

But boy, there was an awful lot of these rollers. How many? So many that I often had a hard time finding a long-enough stretch of trail to drink from a water bottle or slurp down an energy gel. Each time I took a gel, I’d wind up riding for a few minutes with a half-empty package of Chocolate Outrage-flavored Gu clenched in my teeth, waiting for a chance to finish it off.

And that is better than riding flat, straight, way-too-wide trails. This was real desert mountain biking, with the occasional steep pitch and super-hard turn. There was also so much sand that I suspected David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson were course volunteers – not so much fun, but that’s mountain biking for ya.

McDowell Sonoran Challenge
Numero Uno Cinco Cinco

I also loved the really complete, thorough, clear trail markings. I was never in danger of veering off-course. Gotta love that! After the race, the expo area was not the usual explosion of commercial hoopla – just a few vendor tents and people hanging out. I also liked the swag bags. My favorite bits were the t-shirt with the event logo and the reusable shopping bag with the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy (the event was a fundraiser for the conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving open spaces as part of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve).

McDowell Sonoran Challenge
Nice scenery

Smart Set-up at the Starting Line

The starting area was pretty cool. There were chutes for each event. Course marshals asked everybody to do a reality check and line up accordingly – that prevent fast people from getting stuck behind the newbies. Good thing, since it’s a narrow course without a lot of room to pass! Another great idea: Riders "launched" in a fashion similar to a time trial. Two riders would leave every 10 seconds. It really prevented the angst, drama and frustration of a mass start.

Here’s what I can’t figure out: There’s a place in the plaza where organizers had the expo called Rare Earth Wine and Coffee Bar. I had an hour to kill before the race started, and I locked onto the words "Coffee Bar," anticipating a nice americano to warm me up. But no – Rare Earth is apparently far too leisurely to be up at 8 a.m. Not until 11 a.m. most days, and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Huh?

McDowell Sonoran Challenge, Sunday Cycles, hot dogs, Weenie Wagon
Questionable for all the right reasons.

Other Stuff

I guess it was a show of solidarity for people doing cool things for outdoor recreation and preserving open space: Rand Hubbell, supervisor of McDowell Mountain Regional Park, was out spreading the word.

Without meaning to, I’ve put together an unprecedented-for-me streak: I’ve done three races in the past few months: The McDowell Dust Devil series race, the Four Peaks12 Hours in the Papago and the McDowell Sonoran Challenge. And I’ll be in the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo later this month. That’s a lot of racing in a short time -- for me, anyway!

See results for the Third Annual McDowell Sonoran Challenge.