Concrete Hero

Clamber over the parked-car pile-up of “Carmageddon.” Get into the swing of the “Tar Pit Traverse.” Tackle the “Hollywood Sign Climb.” Stunt training for the latest summer action-hero blockbuster? Not exactly. These are some of the scaled-down replicas of Los Angeles landmarks that stand between you and the finish line if you sign up for Concrete Hero–The Ultimate Urban Obstacle Challenge, a one-day competitive course that is sure to be more grit than glamour.

“We’re going to be using downtown Los Angeles streets and alleys, parking lots, the rooftop garages of buildings,” says Craig E. Thompson, executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA). “You can imagine [how challenging] those obstacles are going to be because, to get to a rooftop garage, you’ve got to go up five or six or seven flights of stairs!” More L.A.-iconic obstacles, over ten in total, that make up the course, which begins and ends downtown at L.A. LIVE, will be revealed as the July 15th event approaches.

The broader goal is to raise money for APLA, a nonprofit that provides services to individuals living with and affected by HIV/AIDS so that they can conquer the obstacles that they face every day.

The idea for the “rigorous but doable” 5K course was sparked, in part, by the growing popularity of extreme-sport obstacle courses offered by the Spartan Race or the Mud Run. But events like these occur beyond the suburbs of L.A., outside in a field, points out Thompson. Now, Angelenos who are obstacle-course enthusiasts need not travel out to Malibu or Temecula to work up a sweat. Says Thompson about Concrete Hero, the first event APLA has developed in over a decade: “Our take on this was to have the first one that’s an urban event in Los Angeles and also have the first one that would be a fundraiser.”

APLA had been talking for several years about developing an event that found an athletic middle ground between its Team To End AIDS, which involves almost six months of training for participation in its half-marathon, marathon, or triathlon, and the city’s AIDS Walk, which accommodates all levels of abilities. Adds Thompson: “We were also looking for something that might appeal to a younger demographic, too, and some folks that we’re not reaching now [in hopes of bringing] in some new supporters to APLA.”

Excitement has been building in leaps and bounds among runners in anticipation of the event, but, as with any new event, Thompson says that APLA is being open-minded about how big it’s going to be. As the event does not require a long lead time for training, organizers expect even more participants will sign up in the coming month and even at the last minute. The final fundraising totals and participant numbers will be announced moments before the first heat begins on the morning of the event.

The event will culminate in an urban-themed block party that will welcome rehydrated course runners, supporters, and event organizers.

Asked about funding challenges, Thompson responds: “The recession continues here to be pretty strong. All across the board—AIDS charities, cancer charities—everybody has seen their numbers stabilize and/or decline in the last few years. So I think there’s a generally accepted idea that we need to continue to find new ways to raise private dollars.

“We’re very committed to the approach that the best way to provide the best AIDS services to people are to combine both government programming and programming that’s supported by private fundraising so that we can create the most comprehensive programs and programs that do what we get paid to do, if you will, by the government—but also do more.”

Alongside advocacy work and prevention programs, APLA provides a myriad of services for individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS, including the Vance North Necessities of Life Program food pantries, APLA Dental Services, and the Benefits & Work Services Program. APLA is also currently seeking to expand some of its services.

“We’re doubling our HIV testing programs. And we’d like to grow those even more,” notes Thompson. “We’ve opened a new health and wellness center for gay men and transgendered individuals in South Los Angeles, serving primarily gay men of color. We’re building the programming out there—right now we do HIV testing and HIV prevention, so we’re adding STD screening and treatment and we’d like to provide more and more health and wellness services out of that center.”

Like APLA’s services, Concrete Hero is an event that could run in many directions in the coming years.

“After this year, to keep it fresh and new we can look at making it longer or changing the obstacles up and/or adding a couple of courses, so that there’s one that’s more rigorous and timed and one that is not.”

Adds Thompson: “We really are building this to last.”

Visit for more information. To learn more about APLA, visit

June 2012