Friday, December 16, 2016


After Willis (aka Sears) I was a mess. First off, my lungs took nearly a week and a half to recover. Heavy breathing during strenuous exercise made my lungs hurt and I had to tone down the intensity of my workouts. Secondly, the race really took its toll on my mental health. I was simply numb to the World and had zero will power to continue dieting. During the next week or two I gained nearly 5 pounds. To top things off, I got sick the week of Thanksgiving resulting in 5 days without exercise and several more “active recovery” days to ensure I wouldn’t relapse. If time travel were possible, I’d like a redo for the entire month of November.

I headed to the Pan-American Championships at the Torre Colpatria in Bogota, Columbia 100% healthy, but a few pounds overweight and a bit undertrained.

A lot of mixed emotions were going through my head. Under normal circumstances, I’d never choose to go to Bogota on my own dime. Bogota sits at 8700 feet above sea level which puts low-landers like me at a pretty severe disadvantage compared to the local athletes (for comparative purposes, Mile High stadium in Denver sits at a paltry 5280 feet). But as I qualified for a travel package that covered most of my expenses (I still had to shell out $250) I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

As I was only in decent, yet not great shape and was worried about that altitude, my confidence going into the race was pretty low. On the bright side, I didn’t really have much to lose as the race was pretty stacked so I didn’t have much of a target on my back. If anything, my goal was simply to not embarrass myself on the international stage. That meant treating the race with a healthy dose of fear and respect and climbing an ultra-conservative race.

I took a puddle jumper from Albany to EWR on Wednesday morning, killing about 4 hours in the terminal awaiting my international flight*. While lining up to board the flight I ran into Sproule. At least I wouldn’t be making the trip by myself**.

*The Kindle Fire is my new best friend (Terry Pratchett’s “Hogfather”)
**We’d later learn that Cindy missed her connection flight and wouldn’t be joining us on our adventure.

After a 5+ hour flight*, we touched down just after 10:00 PM (no change in time zone) and we met our ride to the hotel around 11:00.

*The Kindle Fire is my new best friend (William Gibson’s “Shadowrun” “Neuromancer”)

Bogota sits at 8,700 feet above sea level, which means it holds considerably less oxygen. I was worried that I’d feel lightheaded or get altitude sickness since I’ve never been at high elevation (Mount Marcy’s peak is a shade over 5000 feet).  The air felt fairly dry, but otherwise I couldn’t tell the difference.

We  checked into the IBIS hotel shortly before midnight and found out I’d be rooming with Sproule. The room was decent, but fairly small. Although we had two separate beds they were sandwiched together, so it appeared to be a single queen sized bed. At least we each had separate blankets.

Lights out at a little past midnight, but as it was a national holiday in Columbia, random fireworks kept me up for another 45 minutes or so. Next time, I’ll bring my ear plugs.

As the elite wave didn’t start until about 11:00 AM, we were able to sleep in till about 8:30 before heading downstairs for breakfast. There I ran into Mishca (Towerrunning Executive Director) my Canadian friends Napoleon and Veronica, and met a few of the competitive Mexican athletes (Gustavo, Roberto, etc.). I only ate a couple pieces of bread and some fruit as I hate racing on a full stomach.

After breakfast I headed back to the room to change and gather my gear. At 9:30, I met up with all the other Towerrrunning athletes and our guides escorted us ot the start line and VIP waiting area.

Our hotel was only a 5 minute walk to the Colpatria. The road was closed off from vehicle traffic and the closer we got to the building, the more crowded it became with cyclists, spectators, and runners (presumably warming up). By the time we got to the start line, people were standing nearly shoulder to shoulder.

We were led to the gated VIP area which was also fairly crowded. After receiving my racing bib we were introduced to the race sponsors. Everything was spoken is Spanish so I didn’t have a clue what was really going on, so I just shook hands and smiled.

We dropped our stuff off at a private tent behind the VIP area and as we still had an hour or so to kill*, I decided to head back to the hotel to rest.

*The start time wasn’t exactly clear, but appeared to be somewhere between 11:00 AM and noon.

Right around 10:50 our minders met us in the hotel lobby and we headed back to the tent behind the VIP zone to warm up.

Right before I finished my active stretches, they brought us to the VIP area to finish our warm-ups. While everyone was jogging, I did several round of burpees. It was my first exertion at altitude. Truth be told, I didn’t feel any difference.

A few minutes before the official start, we were corralled to the actual start line. I finished my last round of burpees as everyone else completed laps along the long straight away behind the start line. Fans and cameras were everywhere! With a couple minutes ago, they lined us up somewhat randomly (not by bib number) although last year’s winner (Frank Carreno) was positioned last.

Other than last year’s finishing times I had very little information about the race course and only a vague idea how the attitude might impact my performance. Sproule finished in about 6:01 last year so I figured I’d ought to be within 20 seconds. From that, I gave myself a goal of 6:30 with a stretch goal of 6:15. However, executing that pace with my metronome was going to be a shot in the dark because I knew very little about the stairwell (e.g. step heights) and how much the altitude would affect my performance.

I did a quick back-of-the envelope calculation to figure out my target pace. I read online that above 5000 feet, performance drops about 3% for every additional 1000 feet*. As the race starts at ~8700 feet and ends at  ~9300 feet (taking into account the height of the tower) the average elevation of the climb is about 9000 feet. As such, I estimated that I’d need to go ~12% slower than normal. I figured the race should be comparable with One Penn Plaza (time wise) where I typically go out at 95 BPM. Assuming similar step heights (a fairly large leap of faith) that would mean I’d need to set my metronome at roughly 85 BPM – which is even slower than my Sears Tower pace. It seemed insanely slow for such a short race, but I wasn’t going to argue with physics.

*I doubt the performance drop is linear with respect to altitude, but that is a topic for another day.

I was 5th in line* and they gave a 20 second gap in between climbers. When it was my turn, I ran toward the tower. It is about a 20 seconds run to the building entrance and maybe another 5 seconds to get to the stairwell.

*right behind Franklin Saenz, the guy who cheated at the World Championships in Doha back in 2015. Just sayin’.

Once inside, I kept up to the beat of my metronome fairly easily for the first few floors. It seemed incredibly slow, but I didn’t dare adjust my pace for fear of the altitude.

The stairwell turns to the right and appears to use a 10/10 pattern. I tried using both rails for the first few flights but eventually just stuck to the inside rail. The rails were slightly too far apart for my tastes. The inside rail was the tubular metal kind, but was of a larger diameter than what I’m accustomed to. The other thing I remember about the stairwell is that the landings are fairly easy to turn. The first step juts out a bit and the railing only extends to the 2nd step. This means that there isn’t much impediment when you happen to turn on your outside foot.

By the time I reached the 5th or 6th floor, I was passed by the racer who started just behind me. I was perhaps a minute or two into the race and he passed me like I was standing still. I was feeling like a fish out of water. Was I really going that slow?

By now I was feeling the pace. It didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks (which I was dreading). Instead it was as if the pace dialed up from “easy” to “medium-hard”. Fortunately, I could tolerate “medium-hard”.

I crossed into the double digits and then into the teens. I was a bit more than a quarter of the way through the race (considering all the running) and I was feeling fairly good. I felt like I still had something in reserve, but still didn’t know if the altitude was going to wreak havoc on the upper floors.

I cruised into the 20s and checked my watch on the 24th floor (the presumed mid-point).  I can’t remember my split, but I remember thinking I was on track for a sub-7:00 climb. Not very competitive, but not embarrassing either.

I readjusted my pace and climbed ahead of my metronome. To break 6:30 I knew I’d need a strong 2nd half.

I climbed into the 30s. The 10/10 pattern was broken only twice with sets of spiral stairs (don’t ask me what floors). Before I knew it I had less than 10 more floors to go. I was right at the red line by this point, meaning that I was hurting and could keep up the pace for only a few more minutes before bonking.. But with only 10 more floors (a minute or two at most) I should’ve dropped the hammer. Instead, I just maintained my  pace; I lacked the drive, that special “fire” that comes wanting to win.

As I climbed I could hear another climber ahead of me; probably the guy who sprinted past me in the beginning. By the 46th floor I could hear him just a floor or so above. At first I was like, “Ha! Serves him right for going out so fast!” But then I realized I had only a few floors to go. Even if I did manage to re-pass, I wouldn’t be able to make up the 20 second deficit. I redoubled my efforts for the next couple floors. Too little too late. On the 48th  floor I became a little disoriented. Suddenly I was out of the main stairwell and directed up a concrete ramp to the outside of the building. Around the next turn I could see my opponent climbing the final flight of outdoor metal steps. At that point I knew I wasn’t going to catch him as the finish line was likely just beyond view. I climbed the last flight a little dejected, but determined to finish strong. I glanced at my watch. It was approaching 6:30. Shit, I had to hurry!  I dashed to finish line a couple of seconds shy of 6:30.

I was out of breath (of course) but I quickly walked it off. I had come under my goal time, but knew I left way too much in the tank.

The other climbers finished one by one. I was pretty much fully recovered by the time Sproule crossed the line. I walked around a bit waiting for the guys to recover and the ladies to finish. The view on top of the roof was spectacular. Mountains form a ring around the city and because of the climate, everything is green year-round.

I walked over to Sproule and Gustavo who were sitting on a mat recovering. They both came under the 6 minute mark, which left me feeling a little bit depressed (last year they finished in ~6:01 and ~6:15 respectively). I shouldn’t be 30+ seconds behind either of them.

By now the roof was filled with athletes and camera crews were interviewing some of the top athletes. Eventually, we were herded back down the tower for the award ceremony.

At the bottom, I could barely see & hear the awards ceremony because there were so many people (not to mention the language barrier). The podium was dominated by the Colombians, although one of the Mexican climbers managed to earn 4th place (and snag some decent prize money).

I later found out that Sproule came in 7th, just a couple seconds shy of 5th place. I came in 11th place for the men and 12th overall (yes, I hate getting chicked). Here is a copy of the results. Keep in mind that the elite wave is a separate race. The other 3000 athletes climbed the same building, but ended on the 48th floor rather than the roof. I’m guessing the extra distance would have taken perhaps ~15 seconds, so there were probably a dozen or so other climbers in the regular race who would have been faster than me.

After the race we walked back to the hotel and I had lunch with Sproule in the dining room. As other racers filtered in, I made plans with Napoleon, Mischa, and another girl to hike up to the church overlooking the city atop the nearby mountain (I later learned it’s called Monserrate Mountain).

The journey started out fairly well as we navigated through the city to get to the base of the mountain. At one point we meandered our way through a local public park. It was quite beautiful, but what struck me as out of place was all the graffiti covering nearly every available surface.

We eventually found ourselves on a road which snakes its way across the base of the mountain. At this point it appeared we were on the outskirts of the city as all the commercial buildings lay beneath us and only a few clusters of colorful shacks (which can be appropriately described as “favelas”) separated us from the steep slope of the mountain.

As we walked along the sidewalk, I noticed a group of men coming down from the residential slum across the street going in more or less the same direction as we were. My spider sense started to tingle, but I didn’t think much of it. After all, it was in the middle of the day and we were on a somewhat busy road. But I remained slightly cautious and hung back a few paces  behind my companions.

Suddenly, the men rushed across the street directly towards us. I didn’t even have time to warm my companions as I sidestepped out of their way. They appeared to be four young men in their late teens or early 20s. One of them grabbed at Mischa and his backpack. Another one stood next to him with a knife in hand. Shit! At this point I was on the balls of my feet and I backed up another few paces. I glanced behind me to make sure we weren’t going to be surrounded. As I turned my head towards the scuffle, the four men took off and ran back to the slums. Incredulously, the girl who was with us chased after the thieves. She was running full tilt up the hill and was going to catch up to one of the stragglers. Knowing the men were armed, I called out to her from across the street to come back. She didn’t heed my warning until the thief turned and pulled out a wicked looking blade. She reluctantly stopped pursuit.

By this time a small crowd had gathered and folks were leaning out of their windows to see what was going on. We flagged down what appeared to be a police officer with a police dog, but he told us he couldn’t help (we later learned that some of the “police officers” are just private security guards). Finally, one of the locals pointed down the hillside and told us there was a police station nearby. As we walked, we compared notes. Mischa lost his backpack and phone and had his shirt pocket ripped (as he was carrying his phone in his breast pocket). The girl suffered a similar fate - sans ripped clothing. A man with a club came after Napoleon, but he managed to duck out of the way. As he turned back toward the scuffle, he tripped and fell to the ground. Luckily the attackers were already fleeing and didn’t take anything from him (other than wounded pride).

After a short walk down a public staircase, we arrived at the police station and told the officers what had happened. They couldn’t do much about the attack since the inhabitants of the slums usually cover for one another. In fact, it appeared the police rarely try to venture into that particular district. That said, the police took a report and met us back at the crime scene and then did a cursory look inside the heart of the shanty town on motor bike. Unfortunately, the didn’t turn up any leads but offered to escort us back to our hotel. We took them up on their offer.

Back at the hotel, I *finally* took a shower and then told Sproule about our ordeal. He told me he was bummed he couldn’t go with us (due to work commitments) but when he learned about the attack, he was thankful he wasn’t involved.

By now it was dinner time. None of my other friend were in the mood to go out (because of the attack) but Sproule and I ventured out on our own. He knew of a nice little restaurant (Restaurant “Bruno”) in the city that he enjoyed the last time he was in the city. We took a cab and shared a nice quiet meal, talking about a range of topics including politics, family life, and of course stair racing.

By the time we got back to the hotel it was almost time for bed. Although our flight left at 9:30 AM, our ride to the airport was picking us up at 5:00 AM (yikes!) to avoid traffic delays.

Other than having to wake up super early, the next day was uneventful. Sproule, Napoleon and I hung out at the airport for a few hours* and on the plane ride home, I managed to make a few seat exchanges so the three of us could sit together.

*Fun Fact: The money exchange kiosk at the airport is a pretty good deal. I exchanged nearly $400 worth of pesos for only $7.

Effort B- ;  This race scared me so I went out very conservatively. When I had excess energy in the latter half, I didn’t push the pace hard enough.
Strategy: B+; I set the bar fairly low and didn’t screw up. That has to count for something, especially with so many unknown factors in play.
Execution: B ; Even though I didn’t know the course, I still climbed pretty efficiently. I did push the pace in the latter half, albeit not to my full capacity.
Overall: B ; Considering all the unknowns, I did a fair job. If I had to repeat the race today and ended up the same splits/results, I’d give myself a C+.

Final Thoughts: It’s funny how my perspective changed before, during, and after the race. Had you told me I’d race a 6:28 beforehand*, I’d have been fairly pleased with my time. But now that I know what kind of energy expenditure is needed at 9000 feet altitude, I would have set my goals a bit higher (say 6:15 goal and 6:00 stretch). All-in-all, I’m not pleased with my performance, but I also think I set myself up for a solid race the next time I’m in Bogota (yes, there will be a next time). Now that I’ve raced at altitude, I know how my body will respond. I still respect 9000 feet, but I’m no longer afraid of it. The next time around I’d likely go out at 90 BPM and start cranking at either the 24th floor or the 40th (depending on how I feel).

*Note: We’d rule the world together with your supernatural powers.

Last note: While on the plane ride home, Sproule showed me a comparison of his splits at Torre Colpatria between 2015 and 2016. He just presses a button on his stopwatch to record the data on a given floor during a race and his watch records the splits for use later. I’m going to have to see if my stop watch has the same functionality. I often check my splits manually, but I often forget my exact time in the middle of the race.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?"

After US Bank, I had 4 amazing weeks of training.

Everything clicked together and each time I stepped into the stairwell or got on my Precor Stepper, I set a new PB.

I attribute my fortune to three things;
1) I dropped weight
2) The weather
3) Hard Work

I had so many workouts during the summer where I had to bail out early that it became my new normal. Back then, I weighed in at 178 (at my heaviest) and the summer heat and humidity was brutal. You know it’s a hot outside when the rails of your practice stairwell are slippery because of your own sweat.

However, once I dropped the excess weight, things started to get easier and once the temperature dropped, I felt like a new man.

As difficult & depressing as those Summer workouts were, I know they helped me get into the best shape of my life.

So yeah, I had pretty high expectations for Sears Tower.

I’d like to say my trip to Chicago was uneventful considering all the drama I’ve witnessed on prior trips (you can read about my earlier misadventures elsewhere in my blog).

No such luck.

I planned to give my friend David a jar of homemade jam since he would be hosting me over the weekend. I placed the jam carefully in my carry-on luggage so it wouldn’t break.

But of course it was confiscated during check in. In my defense, didn’t know that jam was considered a liquid.

The TSA officer gave me a bunch of poor options, like checking in my bag, mailing it to myself, or giving it to a waiting friend. None of them made any real sense as I only had 15 minutes until boarding. After a few choice words I told them to just keep it. So much for David’s present.

On my way to the gate, I filled up my water bottle and opened my pack of gum in preparation for boarding. However, when I finally arrived at the gate, I found out that the plane would be delayed for another 75 minutes.

I might not be able to bring the jam to Chicago, but I was determined not to let it go to waste. I hatched a plan…

I marched back to the TSA checkpoint and asked for my jam back.

TSA Agent: Sorry, its gone.
Me: I was here less than five minutes ago, what do you mean it’s gone?
TSA Agent: Once you leave an object with TSA it is considered forfeit.
Me: Give me back my jam.
TSA Agent: We have a rule where blah blah blah (I’m not listening at this point)
Me: Give me back my jam. It’s probably in that small trash can. <pointing>
TSA Agent: <picks up jam and hands it back once I’m past the security checkpoint>

I made my way across the bridge and headed to the parking garage.

Phone booth? Nope – too out in the open.
Gap in guard rail? Nope – won’t fit
Back corner? Getting warmer...
I-beam Post near car ramp? Yes!

I found my hiding spot for the jam. No casual observer would be able to find it and it would be out of the sun. Perfect.

I hastily got back in line for my 2nd screening.

“Is this water bottle yours, sir?”

Damn it, I forgot I refilled my water bottle. It’s an 8 oz. mini-bottle and it’s small enough not to notice.

Me: Crap, I totally forgot my bottle. Can I just drink it? (remember it is only 8 oz.)
TSA Agent: No sorry.
Me: I literally just filled it up just a few minutes ago right there  <pointing to the fountain near the bathroom>. Can I just dump it?
TSA Agent: No sorry.
Me: Seriously? Fine. Whatever.

I march out of the security zone, dump the water out into the garbage can literally three paces away from the security zone, and get back into line.

3rd time was the charm, though TSA decided to go through my luggage by hand. Again.

Once on the ground in Chicago, David picked me up in his Porsche. Sweet ride. After pickup up a few groceries, we headed back to his place to eat dinner and chat.

The next morning, we spent way more time than was necessary ordering a Towerrunning Banner online from Staples. Afterwards we headed down town to hang out.

After parking the car, we headed toward Monadnock, the tallest brick building in Chicago. We were going to check out it’s fancy staircase, but security kicked us out*.

*Note: Next time tell the guard you are there to see the doctor on the 9th floor. Bring a girl with you just in case the doctor is an OBGYN (we didn’t check).

Next, we walked toward Millennium Park, the site of last night’s White Sox celebration*.

*It must have been a huge event; cleaning crews were hauling away porto-potties by the dozens.

Next stop was the Adler Planetarium. During out stay, we learned about dark matter,  read about the history of the Universe, and saw a movie about the 9th planet*.

*Hint: it’s not Pluto 

After the planetarium we picked up Roxanne and took an Uber to the Willis (Sears) Tower to pick up our bibs. We stayed there for nearly an hour as I needed to speak with the RIC & Skydeck folks to make final arrangements for tomorrow’s race*.

*In case you didn’t know – I’m the President of Towerrunning USA and was responsible for managing the competitive Towerrunning/World Federation of Great Towers wave of climbers. It is a shitty job, but someone has to do it.

After Sears we headed to the Chicago Public Library for a very quick tour of the indoor garden and to meet up with our pal Jason Larson.

Finally, we headed to the Flattop Grill for our pre-race dinner and meet and greet. I just ordered an iced tea and ate the salad I brought from home (why change what works?).

After dinner, David, Roxanne, Sue, Daryl, and I headed piled into David’s car (the Outback, not the Porsche) to head back home. Along the way we stopped by Trader Joe’s to pick up more groceries as well as Staples to pick up our poster*.

*Note to self: Why bother submitting the poster to online for same-day pick up if they’re just going to make you wait and print the stuff out when you get there? 

At David’s house we chatted for a bit before I heading to bed. I stayed up reading till about 10:20 before turning out the lights. Although I was nervous, I managed to get a good night’s sleep. The extra hour due to daylight savings was an added bonus.

The next morning, we were up by 5:15 AM, out the door by 6:00 AM, and in the lobby by 6:30 AM. Several people were already looking for me because I had the box of bibs.

At 6:40, I began my round of active stretches in earnest. Then at 6:45 I started my rounds of burpees, though I only got in 2 or 3 rounds before heading to the front of the start line.

We had several strong climbers drop out of the race over the last few weeks including Sproule Love and Jesse Berg who’ve both won the race in the past. Still, there were several good climbers in the line-up. Here were my top picks:

  1. Frank Carreno (COL): Ranked 7th in the World. Definitely someone who could challenge Sproule’s record of 13:03. Despite racing in Boston on Saturday, he was still my favorite
  2. Matjas Miklosa (SLO): Ranked 6th in the World. Another one who could challenge the record.
  3. Eric Lenninger (USA): He’s probably the 2nd fastest American actively on the circuit and he’s won Sears before. He’s the only American left on the roster who has gone sub-14 at Sears. 
  4. Alex Workman (USA): I gotta give myself at least *some* credit. 
  5. Dennis Curran (USA): He’s come close to beating Eric in the past, so he’s probably a little faster than I am. I only give myself the nod because I have a bit more experience in this building (103 floors is tough)
  6. Daniel Walters (USA): Another good athlete from Chicago. He’s done the Hancock in 10:12, which is right around my goal pace. Again I give myself the nod because I have more experience at Sears.
  7. Dr. Scott & Jason Larson (USA): Tie - I’d spot them 30 seconds at most.

Last year I did the race in 14:19, leaving only a handful of seconds on the table. This year’s official goal would be 14:10 with a stretch goal of sub 14. Unofficially, anything more than 13:49 would be considered a failure.

I was ready to break 14. I was in the best shape of my life and a couple pounds lighter than last year. It wasn’t going to be easy; sub-14 would require a pretty good race. In my internal scoring system, I’d need at least a B+ or A- kind of race to come under 14:00. Certainly doable, but not guaranteed.

Last year I set my metronome to 83 BPM, so this time I set it a couple clicks higher to 85 BPM. If I had the same kind of race as last year, those extra two beats should put me just under 14:00.

I finished my last set of burpees a couple minutes before the start and then I got in line behind Frank, Matjaz, and Eric. Once Frank was through the door they gave us each a 10 second gap.

When it was my turn I took a quick drink of water and set my metronome. As I crossed the timing mat I started my stop watch.

The first few floors felt like they were in slow motion, but I knew my pace was solid; it’s supposed to feel easy this early in the race.

I took each turn quickly, making sure I kept up to the beat of my metronome. At first, I tried single stepping the landings (i.e. keeping just a single foot on the landing when turning) but it felt too awkward. I soon switched over to double stepping the landings (i.e two footfalls on the landing). However, to make sure I kept the same pace, I made sure to have two footfalls per beat on the landing.

I got to maybe the 10th floor and caught sight of Eric. By the time we hit the teens we were climbing together at the same pace.

Things went fairly smoothly for the next dozen floors. When we hit the 26th floor (about 25% into the race) I glanced at my stopwatch. 3:20, which meant I was about 10 seconds faster than my goal. That seemed like good news!

If I had stopped to think about it for a moment, it really wasn’t good news. A 3:20 meant I was on track for a 13:20, which is about 30 seconds beyond my capabilities.

Anyway, my mind was solely focused on climbing, so up the stairs I went. I was getting tired, but I knew that I wasn’t at my limit.

For the next 25 floors I followed behind Eric, steadily climbing to the beat of my metronome. He remained about half a flight ahead of me. At each turn I seemed to gain half a step and in the middle of the flights Eric would gain it right back.

We hit the 52nd floor still going at a fast clip with a split time of 6:45 if I remember correctly. In the back of my mind I thinking I’m on pace for a 13:45, but in reality I’m on pace for a 13:30 which is still a bit faster than my capabilities.

At this point I’m basically right on top of Eric and we’re bumping hands on every turn. I could tell he was struggling, but I wasn’t in much better condition; I was close to my limit, too. I knew I could keep up the pace for another dozen or so floors… but there were still 50 more to go.

A few floors later, Eric moved out of the way to let me pass. Part of me was screaming “YES!” but the other part of me was in too much pain to care.

I pushed on for another half-dozen floors. Nothing is worse than letting someone pass only to have that person suddenly slow down in front of you. I didn’t want to be that guy.

Now I was at my limit. If this was the end of the race I could probably hammer out maybe ten more floors, but I still had over 40 floors to go. Immediately I started taking two beats on the landings instead of just one beat. Hopefully my 15 second cushion would sustain me until the end.

I climbed into the 70s by myself. The stairwell changed direction (from right to left turns) and the sudden change in pattern seemed to sap what little energy I had left. Although I’m stronger at turning right, for the last 14 months, I’ve been practicing in a left turn stairwell to overcome this imbalance. “I’ve got this!”, I reassured myself.

Through the 70s, I kept up to the beat of my metronome on the flights, but my turns were getting sloppier with each landing. I crossed the 77th floor (about 75% the way through) to see how close I was to hitting my goal of 10:30. My watch was stuck at 9:04. I must have accidently stopped it. Damn.

Nothing to do but keep climbing. Perhaps it was better *not* knowing my split. After all, I knew I was bleeding time.

I was truly in pain crossing into the 80s. At one point I paused for a beat, ready to throw in the towel. No, I *must* finish this I told myself. Just another few minutes!

At floor 83 I told myself that from this point onwards, each floor is 5% of the remainder. I counted down 5%. 10%, 15% 20%, 25% complete...

Eventually I hit the 90th floor and entered the final section of the race. Each floor had three flights of seven steps (7/7/7) with handrails close enough to grip both at the same time. This is one of the most efficient configurations I could ask for since turning in a 7/7/7 is usually easy and fast. This is where I planned to dig deep to finish strong, but I had nothing left. I tried single stepping the landings on a couple flights, but found it impossibly difficult. I just couldn’t find the strength to pull it off.

Somehow I managed to continue my ascent. If you’ve ever bonked in the middle of race, you’ll appreciate how I felt: absolutely miserable.

Time simultaneously slowed down and sped up: On one hand each flight seemed like an eternity of punishment. On the other hand, I was barely conscious and I scarcely remember anything but the pain.

I finally hit the 100th floor. Only a few more to go. Up ahead I could hear another climber. Could someone be just up ahead of me? Sure enough I could hear cheering as I crossed 101, yet it seemed improbable that I could have caught up to Matjaz let alone Frank, who had started 20 & 30 seconds ahead of me and were better athletes to boot. Plus, I definitely was going at a much slower pace this late in the race.

I tried to pick up the pace on the final two floors, which means I climbed slightly ahead of my metronome on the flights, but still slogged through the turns as if were standing in molasses. I had nothing left to offer.

I crossed the line and glanced up at the main timing clock. It had just crossed 15 minutes. I crumpled to the floor. As three people started ahead of me in ten second increments, II likely finished in about 14:30, about 30 seconds slower than I had anticipated. I would have been disappointed, but I was in too much pain to think. At any rate, 14:30 was still a fairly good result especially considering I bled so much time from 70 onward. It could have been *a lot* worse.

I lay on the floor for at least 8 minutes*. I was completely wiped and my heart rate was having trouble coming down. Eventually I felt well enough to stand but I was still woozy. One of the volunteers asked me if I wanted to take my finisher’s medal. I just gave her a blank stare, not really processing the question. In fact, I don’t really know how the medal got around my neck. Did I pick it up off the floor or did someone else? And how did it finally get around my neck?

*Honestly, I don’t remember being on the floor that long, but I have photographic evidence which proves otherwise.

I shuffled around the corner. By now there were a lot of climbers who had finished the race. I briefly congratulated Frank and Matjaz for their climbs. Both had used stopwatches and knew their approximate times. Frank came in about 13:10 and Matjaz finished about 14:25 or so – quite a bit slower than I initially expected, but still probably enough for 2nd place.

I was still wiped but back on my feet. I congratulated a few of my friends and met up with Laurie from the RIC. She pointed me towards the Towerrunning and World Federation of Towers banner where we would be able to hold our awards ceremony. I shuffled my way around the Skydeck to find it. I found the banner hanging just past the elevator bank, away from the crowd at the finish line.

Now that I was alone, I decided to take a rest. I was still pretty messed up from the climb. My heart rate was no longer racing, but I still felt woozy and my lungs felt like I had breathed in hot ash. I crawled over to one of the binocular stations and lay myself down on the floor. I closed my eyes.

I was still on the floor when David stopped by and asked if I was okay. I looked up and murmured that I was fine and then closed my eyes again. He had the preliminary results in hand and I really didn’t want to see the damage; I was already in rough shape and I was dreading this moment.

But David was upbeat: “Guess what? You came in 2nd place!”.

Impossible, I thought.

I propped myself up and looked at the sheet. There it was: Alexander Workman – 2nd place – 14:08

I had clipped Majik by about 15 seconds. Apparently the person I sensed just ahead of me at the finish line *wasn’t* a figment of my imagination.

I was in disbelief. I lay back down and started sobbing uncontrollably with my both hands over my face to cover my tears.

Some of the tears were of those of sadness; watching my sub-14 race slip away on the upper floors was a rough experience, both physically and mentally.

Some of the tears were of those of joy;  2nd place at Sears in such a deep field is something to be proud of.

Some of the tears were those of relief; I was thankful just to survive this race intact.

A couple people (volunteers I assume) noticed me crying and asked if I was okay. Between sobs I waved them away.

After a minute or so I pulled myself together and stood up. The tears seemed to have washed away some of the fatigue and I was feeling oddly refreshed. That was fortunate, because I still had a job to do.

Now that we had the results in hand, it was time to kick-off the award ceremony. But first, I wanted to take a closer look at the results. My 2nd place seemed legit, but my time of 14:08 appeared to be fast. If only my stopwatch hadn’t conked out!

David and I consulted a few other climbers who had used stopwatches and it appeared that times were off 10-15 seconds across the board, which meant I had likely climbed the race in about 14:20 or so. Ugh! At least that didn’t impact the order of the climbers. The awards ceremony would go on!

For the next few minutes we gathered all the competitive climbers together and herded them towards the TWA/WFGT banner.

I didn’t have a microphone and my voice was hoarse, but I’m pleased to say that the ceremony went off without a hitch. Typically I’m nervous when giving a speech, but considering all I had been through over the past 30 minutes, public speaking was a piece of cake. Plus I was thrilled to actually receive an award.

After the ceremony we snapped a bunch of group photos and since I was next to the elevator bank, I made my way back to the lobby. I could finally relax.

I chatted for a bit with other climbers as David spoke to the timing folks to figure out what was wrong with the race results. All he learned was that the times were off, likely because the upstairs/downstairs clocks weren’t in sync – presumably because of daylight savings time (which I find to be a fairly weak explanation)*

*as I’m editing this, we *still* don’t have a good answer and posted results are still incorrect.

That left me with the rest of the day to relax. I hung out with a bunch of other climbers (Steve, Jason, David, Jeff, Bob, Sue, Daryl, Roxanne, and Will). Before heading to the airport, we decided to get some deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s, but as luck would have it the location we chose was take-out only. Instead we ended up at a nearby Italian restaurant. Jason and I split a pizza. It may not have been deep dish, but it was still pretty damn good.

The flight back home was fairly easy and yes, my jar of jam was waiting right where I left it.

Race Grades:
Effort: A+ ; I pushed myself beyond what is normally safe. I bonked somewhere around the 80th floor and still pushed myself until the end. My lungs are still feeling the aftereffects a week later (as I’m editing this). This ranks up there with US Bank 2013.
Strategy: C ; I went out too fast and kept pushing the pace until it was too late. This is a recipe for disaster.
Technique: B- ; I climbed fairly efficiently until just over the halfway point. In the end I was very sloppy.
Overall: B- ; I did not have a good race, but somehow I kept pushing and limited my losses.

Final Thoughts:
I’m happy to have come in 2nd place at Sears Tower. I attribute my placement to equal parts luck, perseverance, and experience.

I did not have a very good race, but neither did Eric nor Majik. In essence we all bonked in the latter half of the stairwell. I was fortunate to have it happen relatively late in the race and pushed myself closer to my limits. In addition, there were several first time climbers (i.e. Matjaz, Dennis, & Dan) who are near my level or even better. Because the building is so tall it is hard to give the building the respect it deserves the first time around. In my own rookie experience I raced nearly a minute slower than my capabilities. I imagine this year’s rookies will experience a similar drop in time their sophomore year. Good news for me this year… but bad news for me next.

The effort I put into the race couldn’t have come about if I wasn’t in the best shape of my life. I knew I was capable of going sub 14 and when I saw it start slipping away, I was able to push through the pain. My attitude near the end was: “Even if I’m not going to break 14:00, I’m still going to put up a respectable time. Even if it kills me.” If I wasn’t so set on (and confident of) breaking 14:00, I would have limped to the top considerably slower.

That effort came with a steep a price. My lungs are still hurting more than a week after the climb and I’ve been binge eating all week (post-race) despite my better judgement. It took  a lot out of me both physically and emotionally and it is a price I’d rather not pay. I honestly hope I never have another race like this ever again. It is performances like this one which make me dread racing.

Lastly, here is my analysis of what when wrong:

First off, my 85 BPM pace wasn’t what did me in. It was the fact that I kept up to the beat of my metronome on the turns so far into the race which did me in. In prior years, I gave up on the turns far earlier, but in my quest for sub-14, I refused to let off the gas pedal.

Let me do a back-of-the-envelope calculation to illustrate:
When keeping up to my metronome, I take essentially 5 footfalls per flight as each flight is typically 10 steps. Compare that with 6 footfalls per flight when I’m taking two steps on the landing (each to the beat of my metronome). That is a difference of roughly 17%.

In other words I (foolishly) pushed myself ~17% harder than last year for maybe 20-30 floors.

No wonder I bonked!

Secondly, I did not heed the warning bells when I checked my pace at the quarter and halfway points. Heck, I didn’t even realize they were warning bells! When I saw 3:20 instead of 3:30, it never occurred to me that I was going way too fast. I kept pushing the pace even though I was already 10 seconds (40 seconds overall) ahead of my goal pace.

Next year I’m going to re-tool entire strategy.

  • First, I’m going to come into the race slimmer and in better shape. Hopefully. 
  • Next, I’m going to re-tool my entire race strategy. I’m going to scrap my standard 5-beat climbing pattern and go with a (theoretically) more efficient 6 beat climbing pattern. I will likely have to increase my metronome’s pace to account for the extra climbing beat (say 96 BPM) but the two “rest beats” on the turn should help mitigate the higher cadence. It sure sounds suicidal… but on paper it might just work.
  • Lastly, I’m going to pay close attention to my pace at the 26th floor and adjust accordingly if I’m ahead or behind my goal pace.

Moral of the story: Confidence is a good, but don’t let it turn into foolhardiness.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring

The crescendo of excitement had been building since January. It reached its climax in the wee hours of Sunday, May 15th atop the tallest building in the United States.

It’s been a tough road.

After an awful performance at Empire in early February (which still stings) I set the record in Boston despite having a meltdown on the final few floors. It was a gusty -  if not foolhardy - win and I paid the price for it in the form of a severe climbers cough… which turned into a nasty protracted lung infection.

The following month, I set a solid PB at the Stratosphere despite my lingering lung infection and fighting off a fever. I developed a cold while flying back from Vegas * and for the next month I struggled to find the right balance between exercise and recovery. I kept most of my fitness, but by the end of the month I was feeling half a step slower. I’m thankful because it could have been far worse.

*My left ear sucks at flying. Since I was so congested on the flight home from Vegas, my ear never adjusted to the pressure changes and filled up with fluid. Believe it or not, my ear is still recovering from that incident and I’ve been partially deaf for the better part of two months.

I had three races in April. In each case I went out too slow and had to play catch up in the 2nd half.  None of them were records, but fortunately they were all wins*. During the course of the month I felt stronger with each race as my regular training resumed. By the end of the month my lungs were finally back to normal.

*Philly was a particularly competitive race with both David Tromp and Thomas Scott in the lineup.

I finally hit my stride in May. My times in the stairwell approached (yet not quite reached) my 2015 peak and I managed to set a personal record on my Precor stepper even though I’ve gained a few pounds.  Fit but heavy. The story of my life.

The 1WTC race almost never happened. The Durst Organization (who have a stake in 1WTC) lobbied to cancel the race (in a really dick move) but the Governor’s office stepped in at the last minute and convinced them to reconsider and work with the Tunnels to Towers (T2T) race organizer to make it happen.

The race was finally greenlighted and it created a significant buzz in the climbing community. Last year’s inaugural race was very competitive but it ended “only” on the 90th floor. This year the race was going to go all the way up to the observation deck on the 102nd floor. Despite a hefty price tag ($100 registration + $250 fundraising requirement) it attracts climbers from all around the country. Since I lived so close by and  it was worth 150 points on the US climbing circuit, I quickly signed up.

A couple days before the race T2T published the start list.

To my surprise the men’s field was missing last year’s winner (Tim Donahue) and runner up (Sproule Love). On one hand, I’d miss an opportunity to measure up to my rivals/idols. On the other hand, it left the keys to the race dangling within reach since I was now the #1 contender.

Despite a weakened men’s field, the pressure was enormous. Not only was there a $300 cash prize (sponsored by Travel Pak and the WCL team) but there was significant media presence covering the race. After all, that building has serious mojo; a phoenix rising from the ashes of 9-11 and (arguably) the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere.

Winning was not going to be easy despite being the #1 contender. Dr. Thomas Scott was in the lineup and he has been nipping at my heels for the last two seasons. He was right behind me at the U.S. Championships in Las Vegas in March and he beat me at Empire in February. Also in the hunt would be Norbert Lechner a well-known climber from Austria, although I knew from experience that he doesn’t excel in taller buildings. Plus (as in any other race) there was always the possibility of a top-caliber athlete from a related discipline (like cycling or rowing) showing up.

With less than 48 hours to climb, I did my final tune-up workout in the stairwell. I tried to use the exact same pace I planned to use at 1WTC*. I climbed my practice building a total of 12 times. Half of the climbs were done using my metronome to get a feel for the pace. The six remaining climbs were done without the aid of a metronome to get accustomed to climbing without electronics (since electronics weren’t allowed during the 1WTC climb). When climbing without a metronome, I kept the melody of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” in my head. Although it is usually performed at a much slower pace, I enjoy playing this tune a little faster and it just so happens that my preferred playing tempo matches that of my planned 1WTC pace. Much to my satisfaction, all my climbs were completed within a fairly narrow band of times (between 55-57 seconds) so I knew the technique worked.

*I planned to use 90 BPM at 1WTC but since the stairs at 1WTC are shorter than my practice building, I used 84 BPM (roughly my Sears pace).

The day before the race started out as a fairly typical Saturday. I hit gym early with a light upper body & core workout and did my weekly grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. After that I packed my bags and made my dinner (salad and oatmeal) and placed them in  to-go containers. I should have been out the door by 3:00 PM to catch the 4:50 train to Grand Central, but time slipped by without me noticing. Not only was it already 3:20 PM by the time I got in my car, but I realized I had less than half a tank of gas!


I drove to the train station in record time - including a quick pit stop for a single gallon of gas once the dashboard’s low fuel light popped up. It was all for naught. I saw the train leave just as I pulled into the station. I was bummed, but I didn’t lose my temper. It gave me time to eat my salad and catch up on the latest Sci-Fi novel I’m reading (Tad William’s “Otherland” Series).

I caught the next train an hour later. I hit Grand Central around 8:00 PM and eventually made it to my friend Michael’s place sometime after 9:00 PM. My friend Ken was also staying over, but since it was already quite late and the race was horrifically early (5:00 AM) we quickly turned in for the night.

I slept for perhaps 4 hours and I must have checked my clock half a dozen times throughout the night. Ken’s alarm clock went off at 3:00 AM although I stayed in bed for another ten minutes. We were out the door by 3:40 AM and picked up the subway before 4:00 AM with plenty of time to spare.

Then the train stopped.

Apparently there was an “unauthorized person” on the track and the driver suggested that we find other means of transportation. We were lucky that we stopped at a fairly big stop and there was another subway line that could get us fairly close to 1WTC. We waited for a good 10 minutes, but at 4:12 AM with no sign of an approaching train and time running out, we decided to leave the station and find a cab. Fortunately, it was easy to flag one down and we were soon on our way to 1WTC*.

*Although we had to listen to the cabbie complain that we were his last ride for the night and he was on his way back to Queens.

4:30 AM. Seriously!?
We arrived at 1WTC just after 4:30 AM and it was cold, dark, and windy.

I quickly changed out of my warmups and received my racing bib & timing chip. To my surprise they also gave us an armband and told us to slide our id’s into the plastic pocket.

I ran to last year’s start starting corral to use the outdoor porto-pottie, but the security wouldn’t let me bring along my water bottle. Seriously? We weren’t even inside the building!

I could see the porto-pottie station, but there was a labyrinth of portable barriers in the way. I attempted to cut some corners (as the queue was completely empty) but got yelled at by security. I threw a few generic curse words but complied with the law.

Have you ever used a porto-potie in complete darkness? I have.

After dropping trow, I ran back to have my last sip of water and then through yet another labyrinth of portable barriers and into the building. Apparently the start line was indoors this year - which was a relief since it was freaking cold outside.

As soon as I entered the building, the 1WTC staff stopped me from going downstairs to the security line since it was too crowded. I was literally next in line.

In frustration I tried to explain that I was the #1 contender and I needed to get to the front of the line. They looked at me like I was crazy and wouldn’t let me go citing "rules & regulations" and stuff.

I watched as the downstairs queue slowly thinned, seeing many familiar faces get past security while I stood by helplessly.

I did a couple rounds of burpees while waiting and in between sets, I asked another staff member if I could cut in line once downstairs and he looked at me sternly (as if I were some kind of criminal) and said it wouldn’t be appropriate, but admitted that he has no control over the matter once I was past the checkpoint.

Once the herd downstairs had thinned, I was allowed to descend the escalator. Downstairs, I met my friend Jack in the security line. We chatted for a few moments and then he suggested that I get my butt up to the front of the line since the race had already started.

I passed a bunch of people. Some folks gave me a dirty glares but I balanced that by shaking hands and saying hi to my other climbing friends*.

*If you’re going to cut in line, you have to do it with style.

I finally got through security and jogged down another long hallway to the actual starting queue. It was tightly packed, but that didn’t stop me from passing folks –fortunately I knew a many of climbers and I remained unmolested as I made my way to the front. There I met up with Stephanie as well as my friend and rival Dr. Scott.

Sure enough the race had already started, but the elite wave still hadn’t entered only the stairwell. Only the (slower) firefighters were climbing and the organizers were giving them a good head start to make sure the stairwell wouldn’t become congested.

My throat was parched but of course nobody else had water since water bottles had been confiscated by security. However, apparently oranges were allowed and Stephanie Hucko graciously shared a few slices with me.

The race organizer manning the doorway told me we had another 6-7 minutes of waiting before the elite wave would begin, so I began my final set of burpees in earnest. Moments after I had finished, the same race organizer indicated he was ready to let the elite wave start.

What the heck? A moment ago you told me we had 6-7 minutes! Are you kidding me?

My heartrate was sky high after my set of burpees so I motioned to my friend Kamen and his daughter to start the elite wave. Dr. Scott was waiting for me to go next, but I pushed him through instead. Then I gave him a 10-15 second head start before entering the stairwell myself. I would have preferred another minute or two of rest, but I didn’t want to let Dr. Scott out of my sight.

I started the long climb up with “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” playing in my head.

The first few floors were weird. For some reason, the landings turn to the left (as opposed to the right - like all the upper floors), but what surprised me most were the long sets of hallways we had to pass through. Last year had some lengthy hallways, but this year there appeared to be even more. Completely different stairwell I guess, not to mention we were starting one floor underground.

I didn’t really look up until I hit floor 20. From last year, I knew the floor numbers up until this point didn’t make sense anyway either repeating, missing, or skipping numbers.

By this point I was climbing smoothly, even keeping one foot on the landing whenever it felt convenient.

I crossed into the 30s still feeling okay and soon enough I began to catch the slower fire fighters. All of them let me go by on the inside (right) lane. I was still feeling nervous and had a dry mouth so I grabbed a cup of water at the next aid station. I had one sip and then set the cup back down on the next flight. Hopefully someone picked it up before it was spilled.

I hit the 40s in reasonably good shape, but now the climb was starting to take its toll. My march was steady and “Jesu” was no longer needed. In fact, I couldn’t spare the energy to even think about the tune.

I hit 45, which was last year’s midpoint and it became clear to me that this race was going to be a struggle. I was already tiring and I still had a few more floors before hitting the half.

I climbed through the 50’s and 60’s doggedly. I was close to my limit but unwilling to slow down  - although I suspect that I unconsciously did. Every few floors I’d hear someone up ahead. I hoped it was Dr. Scott, but each and every time it turned out to be another firefighter.

In the upper 60s I could hear another climber up ahead. Unlike the last few climbers, this climber was managing to keep ahead of me. A few floors later, just a single floor separated us. On one of the landings I risked a glance up. It was Dr. Scott and I could see the whites of his eyes peering at me from above.

I got to within a single flight, but no closer. We were in the lower 70’s and I was inching towards my limit. At this point last year I was in dire straits. This year I was merely in trouble; the boat was still floating, but had sprung a couple of leaks.

Half of my brain told me to pass and seal the win, but the other half was screaming to slow down. Eventually I settled in about a floor behind. As long as I kept Dr. Scott in view I knew I would be able to eke out the win.

Together we climbed into the 80s. Slowly Dr. Scot pulled away and I struggled to keep up. The Doctor was no longer in sight but I could still hear his heavy breathing up ahead.

I crossed the 90th floor, last year’s finish, and  I remembered staggering over the finish  line fully spent. If the race ended here again, I’d be standing (or lying down as the case may be) in  the winner’s circle. This time around I still had a little bit of energy left in reserve, but unfortunately, I still had a dozen floors to climb.

I started counting down the floors. With less than two minutes left in the race I somehow had to keep my body moving.

I crossed floor 93. I had less than 10 floors left to climb – the equivalent of my practice building. However I was nearing my limit. I could still hear Dr. Scott up ahead but the sounds of his breathing were growing fainter. He had me on the ropes and I knew that I was in serious trouble.

I crossed the next floor. I expected to see the number 94, but instead the number “93M” appeared.


Another floor had been tacked on to the race? I felt like I had been punched in the gut.

My odds of winning were quickly dropping but at that point I was in so much pain the statistics it barely registered.  I was going to completely bonk within the next few floors. I simply didn’t have anything left to give and there were still a bunch* of floors left. I was pretty much toast but I knew Dr. Scott couldn’t be in much better condition. I wouldn’t concede the race quite yet.

*I could no longer do simple math at this point so I’ve left out the specific number of floors remaining.

I crossed the next floor and looked for the floor marker. 

I was half expecting to see floor “93N” because let’s face it - my luck had been pretty shitty up until this point. Yesterday I missed my train. This morning the subway stopped because of some random dude on the tracks and when I finally made it to the race, I got held up by security. To top it off, they started the elite wave a few minutes too early and I didn’t get a chance to properly recover from my last round of burpees. What’s next, an endless stairwell?

Then a miracle happened: The marker said I was on the 100th floor!

I wouldn’t have been able to handle a small-yet-significant number of floors*, but I could certainly handle two more**. My heart soared in joy***.

*Again, simple math escaped me.
**I still could handle 102 – 100 = 2 without thinking.
***Figuratively as my heart couldn’t handle anything more.

I bounded up the two remaining floors running on fumes, but with the finish line so close I pushed with everything I could muster. It wasn’t pretty. I escaped the stairwell on floor 102. Only a short hallway remained between me and the finish line. I glanced around hoping to catch a glimpse of Dr. Scott, but he was nowhere in sight. With one final push I dashed forward knowing that each second would count.

I crossed the finish line completely spent and I spent the next minute or so hunched over with my hands on my thighs for support. I eventually staggered to the water station and collapsed to the ground. It would take several more minutes to get my heartrate down to a manageable level.

My mind was a complete blank as I lay on the ground. I was simply thankful that I had survived the climb in one piece.

Slowly I came back to my senses and a volunteer helped me up off the ground. I wasn’t completely ready to stand, but I knew I ought to move away from growing throng of climbers. One question still remained unanswered. Did I win the race?

I had built up nearly a 10 second lead in the 70s, but I knew I lost some of it  in the 80s and 90s when the Doctor climbed out of sight. The fact that I could still hear him up ahead in the 90s meant I couldn’t have been too far behind, but was it enough?

I didn’t have to wait long to find out. A volunteer approached me and told me I had won the race by 8 seconds and sure enough, there was a flat screen monitor with the preliminary results with my name at the very top of the list! You can see the final results here.

For the next ten minutes or so, various news agencies came over to interview me and I had my picture taken with Stephanie Hucko, the winner on the woman’s side. I’ve never had so much media exposure in my life and I was a little bit starry eyed as I traveled from one news program to the next.

The Winners!

Notice how the sun hasn't yet risen?
When the media buzz was over, I had a few minutes to chat and take photos with my Tower Masters and WCL Teammates before heading down tower to change into warmer clothes.
Does it even end??

Hanging with the Doc
At the bottom, I met up with Thomas and Chuck and since we didn’t have anything else planned for the morning (as there was neither an after climb buffet or awards party) we decided to go find a place to have breakfast. After climbing up ~100 floors* we were all hungry.

*Damned if I know the actual floor count.

After stopping by Thomas’ and Chuck’s hotels, we eventually made our way to “Georgia’s Dinner” and sat down for a breakfast of French toast, eggs, and bacon. We talked at length about our the duel on the upper stories of the building (among other things) and it appears I was pushing Dr. Scott as hard as he was pushing me. What a dogfight!

Finally it was time to go. I said goodbye to my climbing friends and then meandered through downtown Manhattan to pick up subway back to Michael’s place. Along the way I took a stroll through Battery Park and took a detour through Wall Street.

^ I climbed this ^
The Wall Street "Charging Bull"
(edit: I just noticed that I accidentally photographed some random Chinese dude fondling the statue's testicles whilst his wife snaps a photo to commemorate the moment)
I took a shower at Michael's place and afterwards took the subway back to Grand Central. While waiting for the train, I stopped by Shake Shack (conveniently located downstairs) for a coffee milkshake*.

*As their location is peanut free, my preferred peanut butter option wasn’t available.

This time, I didn’t miss the train.

Final Thoughts:
1WTC may be the tallest skyscraper in the U.S., but the tallest race course still belongs to Sears. According to Chuck’s altimeter, the race course is approximately 70 feet (21.3 meters) shorter than Sears. That height is equal to 4 stories of my practice building. Climbing at 1WTC race pace, it would take me about 40 seconds. However the 1WTC course has a bunch of running;  I’m guessing perhaps 20 seconds of running more than Sears.  Therefore, I estimate that WTC1 should be about 20 seconds faster than Sears (at my pace). Maybe less. Remember, Sears has a sweet upper third (changes direction & close rails) and is much easier to pace since you can wear a watch, mp3 player, or even a metronome.

There is a lot to like about 1WTC:
·          - The tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere
·          - A competitive race with lots of media attention
·          - It is in NYC*

Unfortunately, there is also a lot to dislike about 1WTC:
·         - 5:00 AM start time. Even if you lived Queens or Brooklyn, you’d still have to wake up by 3:00 AM
·         - No after climb party or buffet
·         - No electronics and over-the-top security (two checkpoints + we had to climb with our ids)
·         - Porto-potties
·         - Having to pass a bunch of slow firefighters
·         - $100 registration and $250 fundraising -  It is the most expensive race I’ve ever climbed
·         - It is in NYC*

* Feel free to debate

Some of my dislikes are not The Tunnels to Towers fault. In fact, I bet $10 that the 5:00 AM start time was the Durst Organization’s way of flipping off T2T. Classy move Durst. Classy move.

In closing, I will say that letting slower firefighters climb in front of the competitive climbers is typically a bad idea. Fortunately there were fewer firefighters this year and  all of them got out of the way - unlike last year - and having them go first didn’t slow me down. Plus, I totally get why the T2T chose to let the firefighters start the race. Respect.

Race Grades:
Effort: A+ ; There are only a handful of races where I’ve pushed myself harder. Most notably Strat (2015), Boston (2016), US Bank (2013). In those three races I physically bonked. I came very close to bonking in this race.
Strategy: B ; Clearly I went out too fast and suffered in the latter half of the race, but at least my “Jesu” technique kept me honest during the first 20 floors or so. Considering I didn’t have access to a stop watch or a metronome, I can’t give myself a lower score than a B.
Technique: B ; Average. The stairs are wide I could only grip the inner (right) rail. The rails themselves aren’t the best – one of those double rail systems with a smaller diameter inner rail. After floor 70, my right shoulder started to tire, but I continued using good form until the very end. Lastly, I didn’t focus on single stepping the landings, so I’m giving myself an average score in an average stairwell.  
Overall: B+/A-;. This was a tough win both physically and mentally and I’m proud to have ground this one out. That said, 14:26 isn’t a really super-fast time for me. This courses should be climbed faster than Sears and my PB at Sears is 14:19.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"Baby, What a Big Surprise"

My fifth Sears (Willis) Skyrise Chicago climb is in the books.

This was probably the most stressful event in my racing career because I organized the elite wave. 

My friend Dano, the Towerrunning World Association (TWA) Vice President, is a member of the World Federation of Great Towers (WFGT). This year he cut a deal with the Willis Tower, who is also a WFGT member, to provide free registration and waive the fundraising requirement to 40 competitive athletes.

Since I’m the Towerrunning USA President*, Dano asked me to organize the elite wave.

* Towerrunning USA - as the name suggests - is affiliated with the Towerrunning World Association.

In theory it should have been pretty easy to recruit the top athletes. After all, I know most of the top climbers personally and have a fairly robust ranking system in place. But in practice, it took a lot of effort. Not only did I have to handle the application process,  but I had to track down people to get registration completed and waivers signed. Suffice it to say, handling 40 climbers was like herding cats, but in the end I managed to attract an extremely talented field.

But that wasn’t the end of it. I was also expected to host a pre-race dinner, coordinate packet pick-up, purchase trophies, and manage the awards ceremony. Without help from my friend David Hanley (who lives in the burbs of Chicago) I wouldn’t have been able to get everything completed in time.

I steeled myself for the overnight train ride to Chicago. Every time I’ve taken the train to Chicago I’ve had to deal with a crazy lady keeping me awake at night. Keeping the tradition alive, some poor fool  accidentally spilled water on a  crazy lady’s laptop and she completely flipped out. Not only did she berate her seatmate for 30+ minutes (loud enough so the entire car could hear her), but she wouldn’t let the conductor do his job and collect the appropriate information from her hapless seatmate.

Eventually the crazy lady escalated the situation and threatened her seatmate with a lawsuit. She even requested told the conductor to stop the train in Utica to wait for police (which would have sucked for the hundreds of other passengers). Fortunately the conductor wasn’t a pushover. He finally separated the crazy lady from her poor seatmate and told her to find a seat up front.  I hope her hard drive is completely fried and all her important documents unrecoverable.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful and I managed to get a fairly good night’s sleep after reading a couple chapters of “Cider House Rules”.

The door to the Willis stairwell
I arrived at Union Station at 9:30 AM on Saturday morning and met David, Rudi, Mischa, and Tim Young a short while later. Together we met with the RIC folks (the charity who runs Skyrise Chicago) and picked up all the racing packets for the TWA elite wave. We also discussed a few points of logistics since both Rudi and Mischa are members of the TWA Presidium and wanted the elite wave to run smoothly.

After dropping off the bibs at David’s car we parted ways with Mischa and Rudi. It was time for lunch and we were hungry. We decided upon Native Foods since both David and Tim are both vegans. 

At lunch I had a chance to get to know Tim. He is super nice but an bit of an oddball – more so than most climbers – and I mean that as a compliment. He has been climbing stairs since his teenage years and he is an extreme endurance athlete. He climbs up and down stairs for a couple hours each day in addition to all his other training.  He also either bikes or runs everywhere he goes. I mean that literally. He doesn’t own a car and he doesn’t walk unless he is in a confined area, and even then he often bounces around like Tigger (according to my observation). Because he is always moving, he wears a triathlon kit *all* the time, including while at work*.  He also claims to eat thousands upon thousands of calories each day because his metabolism is so high, once topping out at 13,000 calories per day - which even he admitted sounds completely nuts, but true.

*Although he admitted he owns a semi-formal pull-over that he can slip on prior to important meetings and other engagements.

Yet despite climbing stairs for the majority of his life and despite running a 2:30 marathon in training… he has never actually participated in a race of any sort.

Tim certainly looked fit, but  I was curious to see how he’d fare at Sears which has dashed many athletes hopes and dreams. Been there. Done that*.

*See my 2011 Sears Recap.

After lunch we dropped Tim off at the gym and David and I drove around looking for an electronic metronome. A metronome you might ask? Well if you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I like to pace myself using a metronome and unfortunately, I lost my clip-on metronome somewhere along the way to Chicago. I normally keep it clipped to my bag… but somewhere along the way it fell off. Yes, I realize it sounds silly to keep it clipped to my bag rather than keeping it *inside* of my bag, but I have a good reason for doing so. You see, it is very easy to bump into something and accidentally turn on the metronome. Imagine if it happened while on the crazy lady overnight train to Chicago and I couldn’t hear it beep. Then imagine the look of surprise horror on my face when I try to turn on my metronome on the start line only to find out the batteries are dead. Yes, it has happened to me before.

It took maybe an hour or so (mostly due to traffic), but we found a clip-on metronome/tuner at a local music store. It wasn’t as streamlined as my Seiko, but it would suffice. 

We picked Tim up at the gym and then headed over to La Quinta for the pre-race meet & greet. I was pretty nervous because I was the primary host and I’m not much of a social person. On top of that, we changed the event from a pre-race dinner to a meet &  greet at the very last minute because La Quinta’s meal options were not gonna pass muster. I crossed my fingers that the event wouldn’t be a bust.

I didn’t have to worry. The meet & greet was a success! Since I passed out all the racing bibs, I had a chance to meet almost everyone personally, and in fact my throat became a little raw afterward because I spent so much time chatting.

After the meet and greet, David, Bob, Tim and I headed back to David’s place for dinner (Salad) and watched a little TV (Archer) before bed. I was nervous but still managed to go to bed early.

The next morning, I was up around 5:15. I quickly changed into my racing gear and headed downstairs for my pre-race meal: An open faced British muffin with peanut butter and blackberry jam*. We left David’s house around 5:50 and headed to the Sears/Willis Tower. The building loomed in the distance as dawn approached.

*#MyOtherHobby #MyJamRules

By the way, have you ever noticed that peel-off timing chip/strap you receive taped to your bib? You are supposed to peel it off and attach the chip/strap to your shoes. Apparently, there is a wrong way to peel it off such that the chip will completely delaminate from the strap. Luckily, the timing chip is fairly sticky and can be stuck back on if you are careful.

We arrived in the lobby around 6:15 AM and we quickly set up the TWA elite registration table. Fortunately, most of the climbers had already picked up their racing packets so there were only a few left over to hand out. I started my warmup routine with about 30 minutes left to go before the start of the race.

In between rounds of burpees I met with Stefani, the Skydeck manager to discuss the awards ceremony. According to Dano, arrangements were made for 2:00 PM (after the race) to hold the ceremony on the Skydeck. However, I wanted to get her permission to move the ceremony up to 1:30 PM since several athletes had early flights to catch. Much to my surprise, Stefani had no knowledge of the 2:00 PM arrangement and she expected we’d have the ceremony after the elite wave finished. 


Fortunately, this turn of events worked well for us since all the climbers would be hanging out on the Skydeck anyway.  I just needed to communicate this message to the herd of cats waiting at start line.

I finished up a couple more rounds of burpees and then headed to the start. It was already crowded, but I found a spot to finish up my last couple sets. 

To be fair, he was legitimately fast 
and cordial in the stairwell
The front of the line was jam  packed and I told a few people the new plan for the award ceremony and to pass it down the line. I also noticed a few unfamiliar faces had inserted themselves into the TWA elite wave line up.  I yelled at them to get out of line but to no avail. Apparently the regular elite wave also had a 7:00 AM start time. This one guy with a painted mohawk refused to budge. I was pissed but it couldn’t be helped. I just hoped he was smart enough to get out of the way once the faster elites caught up to him.

This edition of the race was pretty stacked, despite losing a few strong climbers at the last minute. Sproule, Gorge, and Tim Dohahue were the race favorites since all of them have done this race in less than 14 minutes – a pace I knew I couldn’t quite match. I could probably stand toe to toe with in a fairly short race (say 5 minutes or so) but Sears is the longest and tallest course on the American circuit. I knew a podium spot was out of reach.

The best I realistically hope for was a 4th place finish but I had several rivals who stood in the way. Rudi, Ralf, Zack, Sylvio,  Adam, and Tim Y. are all strong climbers who are in my gruppetto . Here was my pre-race assessment of the field, more or less in order of perceived ability.
  • Rudi – I had beaten him in Doha this past March, but I knew he was having a resurgent career. It would be unwise to count out a former ESBRU winner. Definitely a Dark Horse.
  • Ralf – We’ve traded blows over the last few races. I narrowly beat him in Chicago last year, but he returned the favor in Doha. Ralf was the most obvious threat. 
  • Zack – We’ve raced head to head at both Sears and WTC1. Both times I’ve come out ahead. Barely.
  • Sylvio – I’ve beaten him on several occasions, most recently in Doha. Not my biggest threat, but definitely a concern.
  • Adam – He’s not very well known on the circuit since he has only raced against a few top climbers. Fortunately I’m one of those few. I’ve beaten him in Boston this past February and again in Hartford in April, both by narrow margins. However those were much shorter races so I didn’t know how he’d fare in a taller building. Definitely an outside threat. 
  • Tim Y. – He talks a good talk but could he back it up? Definitely the biggest Dark Horse of them all. I wouldn’t be surprised if he won the race. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if he completely blew up.
With all the work I’ve put in during the off-season, I knew I was in the hunt for 4th place. It all depended on what shape my rivals were in. 

A couple minutes after 7:00 AM they let us into the stairwell. First through the door was Sproule. The rest of us followed in ten second increments:  George, Tim, Rudi, and then Ralf. A few moments later I was on deck.

I set my metronome* and prepped my stop watch. I jogged through the doorway and into the stairwell.

*Actually I borrowed a Seiko metronome from Steve Stermer at the last minute. Thanks Steve!

This was my fifth time climbing the Willis/Sears Tower and I drew on my experience when setting the pace. Last year I tried 83 BPM and was on track for my goal time of 14:30 until about the halfway point. I started to fall off my pace in the middle of the race but still  managed to finish with a respectable 14:45. Last year my 83 BPM pace was just a little too aggressive. 

This time around I was coming into the race in even better shape – roughly 2.5% better shape according to my training logs – which translated to an estimated finish time of 14:22. As such, I set my goal time at 14:30 and chose to use 83 BPM again. With my improved conditioning, I felt that 83 BPM would feel fairly conservative yet still fast enough to break 14:30 if I didn’t slow down too much in the 60s and 70s where the pace really starts to take its toll. With any luck, I’d still have energy left in the tank in the 80s and 90s and be able to pick up the pace on the upper floors.

Back in the stairwell for a fifth try, the pace seemed agonizingly slow during the first few floors. I glanced down at my metronome to make sure it was really set at 83 BPM. It was. 

After a few more floors I could hear Zack closing the gap. He was climbing pretty fast and he caught up to me well before we reached the 10th floor. He skipped by on the outside without missing a beat. He was well out of sight before I had even crossed into the teens. Next up was Sylvio. I was in the mid-teens or so when he started to catch up and by the time I reached the lower twenties he too was already out of sight.

Passed twice and not even a quarter of the way through the race. This wasn’t the position I expected to be in, but rather than succumb to the urge to chase, I kept steady.

I kept my eye on my watch and made sure I was still on pace. I crossed the 26th floor somewhere in the mid 3:30s. Just a hair under my target pace still feeling fairly fresh. No need to panic. 

Through the 30s and 40s I kept up to the beat of my metronome. I allowed myself to double step the landings as needed, but made sure to single step them whenever convenient. The pace was no longer easy, but I wasn’t in trouble. Sure, I was in the red zone, but I wasn’t past the point of no return. As I crossed the 52nd floor I checked my watch again. 7:10 on the dot. I was just under a 14:30 pace.

I climbed into the 60s and the going got tough. I was double stepping the landings more frequently than before, but still I marched onward to the beat of my metronome. Doubts began to fill my mind but I held them at bay. I was struggling, but I knew I could hold on for at least few more minutes.

A few floors later I sensed someone climbing up ahead. As I turned the corner I caught sight of Ralf. He was clearly having a hard time with the pace and soon enough I was nipping at his heels. As I got close enough to pass, Ralf used a burst of speed to gain a half flight, but the burst was short lived. I reeled him in and passed on the inside. 

By the time I reached the 70s I could hear someone else climbing up ahead. It had to be either Sylvio or Zack although it was too soon to tell. Honestly, I was so focused on climbing (or perhaps so unfocused because of the climb) that I had nearly forgotten I still had two climbers to catch!

I caught up to both Sylvio and Zack in quick succession. I could smell blood. The sounds of their heavy breathing told me they were struggling. I was also in pain, but I knew I held something back in reserve.  Both climbers let me by and I led the pack for a few more floors. 

When I hit the 80s I finally dropped them. Just a few minutes remained in the race, but I knew they were the hardest ones. I struggled through the 80s but still managed to hold on to the beat of my metronome.

I hit the 90s in pretty good shape. By that point the stairwell had narrowed significantly and I could use both rails at once. I increased my pace to ensure I’d break 14:30. It was tough. On one hand I still had strength in reserve. On the other hand, this was the hardest part of the race.

I mentally checked off each floor as I approached the upper 90s. I knew the only person likely ahead of my was Rudi but he was nowhere in sight.

I continued alone into the 100s. Just a few more floors!

I was climbing faster than my metronome but I wasn’t truly sprinting. “Shouldn’t I be going faster?” I thought to myself. I had the energy but not the willpower. I didn’t let loose until the final couple floors and even then I didn’t (couldn’t?) use my full strength. I felt like I was climbing through molasses. 

I hit 102 with a full head of steam. One floor left to go! 

At that point the strangest thing popped into my head:

What if the last floor had an extra couple flights like they do in the Albany Corning tower - which is a truly unpleasant surprise the first time you encounter it? Who knows? Maybe Sears has some kind of mechanical room underneath the Skdyeck (say for HVAC or something) which is unmarked so that when you finally climb to the top (not the real top, but where you think the top should be) you think you should be done but then you suddenly realize you really aren’t finished because you see several more flights of stairs leading upward… and because you just sprinted the last few flights you are *really* tired and totally unprepared for a few more flights. Wouldn’t that just totally suck? Yeah... Totally.... Damn, I wish I had studied Stan’s stair chart a little more closely*. 

*If you had trouble following that last paragraph, don’t worry. I don’t know wtf I was thinking either.

I readied myself for a few more flights of pain just in case (‘cause hey, you never know).

Fortunately, the last floor is pretty normal and a few moments later I dashed out of the stairwell and onto the Skydeck. I glanced down at my watch as I crossed the finish line. 14:18… I had beaten my goal time by over 10 seconds which meant I dropped my PR by over 25 seconds!

I stumbled a few more steps and sat down next to Rudi. I was winded but not totally exhausted. The race volunteers handed me a finisher’s medal and a bottle of water and I stood up to walk off the fatigue and to find out how the other climbers had fared. 

After talking with a few others, I suspected that Rudi cracked the podium since he managed to pass Tim Donahue on the upper floors. That meant I’d probably be dropped down to 5th place since Tim Donahue had climbed the building in just over 14 minutes. At that point, the only other climber whose results were unknown were Tim Young – who didn’t even wear a watch in the stairwell.

The Skydeck was getting crowded with all the finishers and I still had an awards ceremony to run. However, to get the show started, I needed to see the official results. I rejoined Rudi and we took the elevator downstairs to visit the timing table. 

Things were chaotic downstairs, but we managed to get a couple print out sheets of the current leaderboard. You can find the official copy here.

Sproule was in 1st place as expected and Rudi found out he sneaked ahead of Gorge to take 2nd place.  I found myself sitting in 6th place overall with a time of 14:19; one place ahead of Tim Young (14:21), but one spot behind Sylvio (14:14). Prior to looking at the results sheet I had assumed that I had beaten Sylvio since I pulled away from him in the 80s. Apparently he managed to keep it together and minimize his losses near the top (remember, he started ~20 seconds behind me). I was a little disappointed having dropped down a place, but still thrilled to be near the top of the standings.

Rudi and I rushed back upstairs to the Skydeck. We knew the other climbers were anxiously awaiting the results. When we finally arrived, we were enveloped by the crowd.

We handed off the results sheets to elite crew and a few minutes later I ushered everyone towards the TWA backdrop to start the awards ceremony. It took a few tries, but eventually the herd started to move.

I asked Mischa (the ranking TWA official) to say a few words and then I handed out the awards to the top three men and women. Since we were pressed for time, I wasn’t really nervous and the ceremony went by without a hitch – although I admittedly didn’t study the women’s results as closely as I should have and nearly forgot who was in 3rd place. Total mind blank.

I chose this photo only because I appear really buff in it
I'll be turning 40 soon too ya know
After the ceremony we all rushed downstairs. Believe it or not, we had another race starting at 9:00 AM at 300 N Lasalle!

Despite knowing very little about the race (how many floors was it?) I was pretty relaxed. After successfully organizing the elite wave and setting a huge PR at Sears, a huge burden had been removed from my shoulders.  I was in pretty good spirits when I checked into the race and headed downstairs for the opening ceremony.

A short while later I found myself waiting near the front of the line next to the stairwell entrance. My body felt pretty strong but my lungs were sore from Skyrise Chicago. I knew a shorter course like LaSalle should favor me, but I didn’t like the fact I didn’t do any homework about the course and that I wasn’t racing at 100%. 

Rudi entered the stairwell first and I followed right behind.

I had no idea what kind of pace to use, but I figured it was best to start slow and see how I felt later. I set my metronome at 90 thinking that should be comparable to my Willis pace, which should feel nice and easy in such a short building with fairly short steps.

Within a few floors Zack caught up to me and passed (deja-vu) and I was left climbing by myself. The pace felt nice and relaxed and I focused on climbing efficiently.

The course suited me pretty well. It had fairly long flights and I could use both sides of the rail. Perfect for my climbing style.

For the next few minutes I climbed by myself. The pace still felt easy by the time I hit the 20s so I kicked up my metronome a couple of notches to 92 BPM. I knew I was climbing way too conservatively but I told myself that was okay. After all, I had already left my mark at Willis Tower and this race was really just for fun. Plus, if I pushed myself too hard I might compromise my immune system even further and risk getting sick so  I might as well just enjoy the climb.  In between breathes, I forced myself to smile.

I crossed the 30th floor (about half way) and checked my watch. I was already in the 4:30s. That would put me in the 9:00 minute range, far slower than I had intended. I started to regret my decision to take it easy. Despite my best efforts to have fun, I was feeling like a quitter.

I was in the lower 30s and I could hear another climber starting to catch up.  I fiddled around with my metronome and increased the pace to 100 BPM. I climbed another 10 floors and still I could hear someone a few floors below. No way was I gonna let someone catch up to me this late in a race! I took off with about a dozen floors to go. Too little and too late. I crossed the finish line somewhere in the 8:20s. I was a bit winded  - having sprinted the few remaining floors – but nowhere near my limit. Disgusted with myself, I quickly reset my watch.

Moments later, several other climbers came barreling through the doorway. They appeared to be in much worse shape than I was, but it was clear that they had all posted much faster times. With a mental groan I  once again regretted my decision to take it easy.

Despite feeling a guilty about treating the race like a fun run, I was still pretty thrilled to have finished the double header. I could now take it easy and relax!

Eventually I made my way into the crowded elevator and headed downstairs for the post-race buffet. It was a pretty nice spread with both food and alcohol (Bloody Mary’s and beer). A short while later I learned that Tim Young narrowly beat out Rudi for first place with a time of 7:13 or so. I mentally kicked myself since I knew I could have been in the hunt had I put in the effort.

However, all-in-all I still felt pretty good. My disappointment with LaSalle was overshadowed by my stellar performance at Sears which was the main event of the weekend.

The remainder of the day was spent socializing with my climbing friends. First we had a casual brunch at Wishbone* and then we headed back to David’s place to get washed up. Later David took Tim and I to the Garfield Park Conservatory, a large indoor garden which was a real treat. It has rooms full of tropical plants, ferns, moss, and even a room full of cacti. The greenhouse closed at dusk and afterwards we picked up Jason and headed to Lou Malnati's for some real deep dish Chicago pizza.

*I ended up jogging 10 blocks or so with Tim to get to Wishbone which is more than I’ve run cumulatively (excluding stairwell landings) over the past year.

Flat Stanley &the Greenhouse
When in Chicago...
Finally it was time to head to Union Station to take the train back home. I bid farewell to my friends and caught the 9:30 PM train back to Albany* with another climb in the books.

*without any crazy ladies, thank you.

Race Grades:
Effort: B  Instead of collapsing to the ground after the finish line, I just needed a minute or two to catch my breath. That means I had something left in the tank near the end.
Strategy: A+  83 BPM was spot on. It felt slow for the first 20 floors but by the 70s it had me gritting my teeth. Nearly perfect.
Technique: B+  I climbed efficiently, but lost time on the landings when I started to feel the pace in the upper half of the building.
Overall: A-   I’m pretty happy about my race. I left only a little bit on the table. 

Final Thoughts:
  • Unfortunately a few top climbers bailed Skyrise Chicago at the last minute. Most had valid excuses, but not all. Those extra slots could have gone to some other super-excited deserving athletes who were on the wait list. 
  • If you look at the history of the race, 14:19 is a damn good time. IF I stay healthy in 2016 (notice the capitalization), I bet I’ll have a decent shot at breaking the 14 minute barrier, which IMHO separates the boys from the men. According my data, only seven Americans have broken the 14 minute mark (Love, Purcell, Berg, Schmidt, Stewart, Leninger, & Donahue).
  • I still remember my first race at Sears in 2011 (the year Sproule & Cindy set the record) when I climbed up in 16:53. I was in awe of the top 10 climbers who all climbed sub-15. It just so happens that my 14:19 would have been good enough for 6th place that year. Funny how perspective changes. I will add, however, that Sproule’s record (13:03) still seems insurmountable. 
  • When I first started climbing competitively, people thought I was just a sprinter and too heavy to compete in the taller buildings. I almost believed them. Almost. To set the record straight, I’m not a true sprinter. I don’t train for raw power and I’m vulnerable in climbs lasting 2 minutes or less. My real forte is in the 3 to 5 minute range, although I’ve been training hard for the past few seasons to extend my range into the double digits.
  • Where did this year’s big improvement come from? The biggest change was staying healthy. I suffered through a few severe viruses in 2012, 2013, and 2014 which set me back a few months each time. This year I was able to chip away at my  goal bit by bit with very few interruptions and my Sears time dropped accordingly.
  • Rudi has officially come out of retirement. He’s just been teasing us these the past couple seasons.
  • Kudos to Sylvio and Zack who both made big gains during the off-season. I was also impressed with Scott Stanley who made some huge gains as well. 16:38 is no joke. 
  • With a time of 14:21, Tim Young proved he can talk the talk and walk the walk (or run as the case may be). I’m certain he is a sub-14 caliber athlete, especially considering this was his first race ever and he wasn’t climbing at 100%. I definitely hope to see him again both socially and inside the stairwell.
  • If I had to re-do this race again I’d be tempted to try 84 BPM. Fitness wise I’m not quite ready to break 14 minutes, but I’m close.
  • One important lesson I learned is that when you re-pass somebody in the stairwell during a time trial, you still need to make up those seconds at the end of the race. You have to drop the hammer when you re-pass! 
  • I still feel bad about taking it easy at 300 LaSalle. If I was truly worried about my health, I should have just climbed for fun without a watch or a timing chip. There isn’t any middle ground. You either race or you don’t. On the train ride back home I asked myself how I would have felt if I beat Sproule at a race only to learn that he didn’t take the race seriously? I know I would have felt gypped. I guess let myself down as well as my rivals.
  • I didn't take any pictures. The pictures you are courtesy of James Harris, David Hanley, Madeline Ronk, and Lisa Zeigel.