Saturday, December 17, 2011

Race Schedule 2012

I'm planning to make my mark on the rankings in 2012 so I've amped up the number of races I plan to race in. I'm already ranked in the top 70 for the 2011 rankings, but I had too few races this season to really be in the hunt for points.

The ranking system works like this: In each race, the top 30 athletes are awarded points depending on their gender placement. 80 points are awarded to 1st place down to a single point for 30th place. These points are then multiplied by the race factor. Most races have factors of 0.5 or 1.0, depending on the competitiveness of the race. There are also a select few races designated as "Masters Races" that have factors ranging from 1.5 to 3.0. Examples include a few well-known races such as the Empire State Building Run-up (worth 3.0 points) and the Chicago Sky Run in the Willis/Sears Tower (worth 1.5 points). An athlete's cumulative score is based on their top scoring 8 races, with no more than 5 races coming from a 0.5 or 1.0 factor race. Athletes are then ranked in order of their cumulative score.

So, to be really competitive in the rankings, I'm going to need to run in a fair number of races and score points in Masters Races. With all that in mind, here is my tentative race schedule for 2012:

You can see that it will be a pretty busy February and March since this is traditionally when many charity climbing events are held. You will also note that I only have a handful of Master’s races planned for the year, which may seem counterintuitive if my goal is to score points. However the reality is that at my current fitness level, I won't be scoring very many points at Masters Races. For example, by winning the Parc Trump, I scored 40 points (race factor 0.5). However by coming in 17th (for men) at the Chicago Skyrun (race factor 1.5) I only scored 21 points. Considering the travel costs to get to the different Masters Races (many of which aren't within driving distance) it makes much more sense to focus on winning local races in 2012.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tackling the Trump Parc

I had a good climb at the Trump Parc in Stamford, Connecticut this weekend. It can be summarized in three words: New. Course. Record!
See the results here.
The evening before the race, I drove down to my friend Tom’s place to stay overnight. We spent the evening playing cards and catching up. The best part of the trip was that I finally got a chance to finally meet his new twin baby boys! They were both so cute… although I couldn’t tell them apart J
Early the next morning I drove down to Stamford. It took about an hour and a half to get to the race, so I had plenty of time to eat breakfast and get caffeinated.
Race check in was at the SBC brewery, which is just few minutes from the Trump Parc. After I got my race number, I met my other “Tower Masters” teammates:  Michael, Ariel, and Stephen. I’ve climbed with both Michael and Ariel before, but it was my first encounter with Stephen.
Stephen is one heck of an athlete. He owns the fastest marathon time of anybody I’ve ever met and he has participated in the Empire State Building Run-up over a dozen times. Thank goodness the Stamford was such a short climb, because I think would have smoked the field if the race was in a taller building.
The Tower Masters made our way to the Parc Trump about 10 minutes before race time to use the facilities and get warmed up. With about 5 minutes to go, we left the 7th floor waiting area… and promptly missed our starting time! Apparently, our watches were a few minutes slow. Fortunately, this wasn’t a problem for the race organizers and we just started off at the end of the line. The only issue was warming up. I still needed a few minutes to get the blood pumping and we were short on both time and space. We were literally queued up in a tiny corridor next to emergency stairwell and to make matters worse, the fire exit was propped open which let the cold November weather inside. I did a couple sets of burpee style push-ups and stepped up the start line.
There was just one more problem. Since were now at the back of the queue, there were a bunch of other racers in the stairwell ahead of us. Although they let racers go every 30 seconds to avoid bottle necks I just knew I would still be passing people. I feigned ignorance and missed the next starting time and finally started the race 1 minute behind the previous racer. I held my starting chip to the sensor* and headed up the stairwell.
*Later I would learn that I actually knocked the timing stand over, much to the amusement of my fellow Tower Masters.
I started off a little too quickly. I estimate I was climbing at my “38 seconds” pace and tried to reign in my speed to about “45 seconds”**. Here were the observations I made while I climbed:
**This represents the time it takes to climb up my practice building, which has 145 steps and is about 27.6 meters tall.
1)     The Parc Trump is a very technical course (as far as stairwells go). With only 588 stairs covering 33 flights or so, there are only about 9 stairs per landing. Since the steps themselves are relatively shallow (7 inches tall vs. the 7.5 inch norm) and the race itself is pretty short, I was turning a landing once every 2.5 seconds. To make matters worse, the railing was hard to grip. The Parc Trump uses an uncommon double railing system that has the upper railing situated too high to grip comfortably and has the lower railing out of reach until you’ve completed the turn. Last but not least, the staircase turned to the left, which I’m not very accustomed to.

2)     I forgot to start my stop watch! o_0
Midway through the race the stairway switched direction (clockwise) which I made the turns a bit easier.  However by that point, I could no longer maintain my speed and was forced to slow down to about “45 or 46 seconds” - a bit slower than my target pace. I also caught up to the fellow ahead of me. “Move, Move, Move!” I yelled as I approached. Since the stairwell was narrow and I didn’t want to pass on the left, I simply body checked him to the outside and passed on the inside when he didn't move. I felt bad, but I really didn’t want to lose any time. The same thing happened around floor 22 or so, but this time around it was a girl rather than a guy. I ended up body checking her too, although this time I felt even more embarrassed.
Nearing floor 27, I knew I had about 6 floors to go and I picked up the pace. Although I was winded, I was still able to tap into my anaerobic reserves and accelerate.
At the finish line, I felt tired but I wasn’t truly exhausted. I grabbed a cup of water and waited for my team mates to arrive. I also took a moment to apologize to the two people I body checked during the race. The guy seemed too tired (or pissed) to really pay me any attention, but the girl told me not to worry about it.
Stephen came a little less than a minute behind me and Michael came in another 20 seconds or so later. I could tell Michael really pushed it, since he pretty much collapsed to the ground as he finished. Ariel finished the race about a minute or two behind, so I knew he also put up a pretty respectable time, too. After resting for a few minutes, we all were curious to know our times. Strangely enough, nobody else used a stop watch, so all we had to go by were our finishing times. We’d have to wait until the award ceremony to learn are actual times.
We headed downstairs to the waiting room and Stephen and I participated in a short video interview on behalf of the American Lung Association. Ariel and I also received complimentary massages. J
Eventually we made it back to the SBC Brewery and chowed down on the free buffet (carrots and pasta). Then around 1:00 PM or so, the official results were in:
Stephen, Alex, Michael, & Ariel
The Tower Masters – 1st place team
Alex – 1st place 2:46 (new course record!)
Michael – 2nd place 3:00 (3rd fastest time ever!)
Stephen – 4th place 3:13 (just 4 seconds behind 3rd place)
Ariel – 31st place 4:37 (out of about 160 racers, this is still in the top 20%)
The Tower Masters with Paul Curley

Before we headed home, we chatted with Paul Curley, who came in 3rd. He is a former Cyclo-cross champion and he works with the American Lung Association to coordinate stair climbing races. One day I’d like follow in his footsteps since I love stair climbing and I really want to help others who suffer with asthma.

I had a wonderful time this past weekend and I hope to climb the Parc Trump again next year. Now that I’ve done the race, here is how I hope to improve.

1)     Start off just a little slower to prevent slowing down in the middle of the race.
2)     Practice the rails (easier said than done since I’ve rarely seen this type of railing)
3)     Drop the hammer before floor 24 and push till exhaustion.
4)     Either start first, or wait at least 2 extra minutes before starting.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sky Rise Chicago Debut - Part Deux

The official results are in, and it turns out I was bumped down a spot down to 19th place overall, which still puts me in the top 20! See the results here.

For those of you unfamiliar with stair races, you might ask how a racer could get bumped down a place hours after the finish. Well, it’s very simple. Since the race had over 2000 racers, it would be impossible to start everyone off at once*. The fellow who sneaked in ahead of me probably started a few hours after I did.

I flew to Chicago on Saturday morning before the race. It was a short flight and I got there ahead of schedule. As soon as I landed, I rushed to the Willis Tower to pick up my race packet since they don't allow day-of-race pickup (note to self: next year spend the extra 12 bucks to get the packet sent via mail). Along the way, I caught my first glimpse of the Willis Tower. At first, I thought “Hey, this building isn't THAT high.” But as soon as I rounded the corner, the rest of the building came into view. I was stunned at how tall the building really is.

Basically, the Willis tower is a built like this: Build one skyscraper and stack another skyscraper on top. Then, just for giggles, add one more skyscraper on top. To put it another way, the Willis tower is taller than the Corning Tower in Albany and the John Hancock Tower in Boston combined!

Chi Town's China Town
At the tower, I finally picked up my race packet and met up with my friend Ed, a racer I met in Boston. We went out to lunch and afterward toward Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, with Ed pointing out some of the other famous buildings**. Later, Ed decided to take a nap before dinner and I decided to check out China Town.

Chicago’s China Town is pretty large, but oddly enough it was pretty deserted. Unlike the China Town in NYC, there was actually plenty of on street parking. The stores seemed pretty similar to the other places I’ve been and I spent my time looking at children’s books (which I can almost read) and looking for something to eat. I eventually settled on a small bakery. I ate a small bowl of fried rice and spent another hour or so reading a novel. After leaving China Town, I made my way back to downtown to meet up with a bunch of other stair climbers at the “Elephant & Castle” for dinner.

Admittedly, I was a little nervous going to dinner with a bunch of strangers, even though I already knew a lot about many of the top stair climbers. However, the host of the dinner, Mark Trahanovsky welcomed me almost as soon as I set foot in the door and he introduced me to a number of other stair climbers. He even gave me my very own West Coast Labels shirt!
At dinner I sat next to Ed and my new friend Nelson. Conversation mainly centered around stair climbing (what else!) and I learned another fellow at our table, Mark Hammond, also hails from the Albany area. Hopefully he’ll be able to get me into one of the government towers to train. Getting into a skyscraper to train would be a god-send, since I currently train in a tiny 7 story building with a faulty elevator.

For dinner I ate a veggie burger & salad and Stan passed around cookies for dessert. I think he was secretly trying to weigh us down before the big race :)

I left dinner a little bit early to get some well-needed sleep, but I did get to meet several other well-known stair climbers that night including: PJ Glassey, Brady Renshaw, Jesse Berg, John Osborn, Kristen Frey, Rolf Majcen, Javier Santiago, and a bunch of others. Take a look at the race results and you’ll see why they are well-known.

In my hotel room I ate a small snack (Lara bar & nuts) and was asleep by 10:00. Although I had to be up by 4:45 AM to catch the “L” back to downtown I had a couple of nice advantages: (1) Daylight savings gave me an extra hour of sleep (2) My body was still on East Coast Standard time. Although I was nervous and had trouble sleeping, I still managed to get in at least 6 hours.

The next morning, I quickly got ready and was on the “L” by 5:20 or so. On the train, I downed a couple of cans of iced coffee (for the caffeine), ate a banana, a few grapes, a peanut butter cliff bar, and a raisin English muffin. I finally got to Willis about an hour before the start of the race.

The next hour or so was kind of a blur. All I remember was going to find the men’s bathroom and finding it amusing how long the women’s line was compared to the men’s.
About 20 minutes before the race, I started to seriously warm up: Dynamic stretches, 75 jumping jacks, 10 burpees/pushups, + 2 minute rest. Repeat. Closer to the race I incorporated 15 power push-ups into my routine since they are a great way to get the heart rate up without tiring the quads and biceps.

Finally, the racers started to line up. I wanted to place myself a few spots behind Mark and PJ since I assumed they were aiming for a similar time (under 16:00). Since I hadn't a clue how to pace myself, I figured I could just get behind them and keep pace. At 7:00 AM the race started the organizers let in the first racer. Every seven seconds they’d let the next person in line go up and suddenly I found myself in the stairwell.

I went out at what I thought was a reasonable pace, but I quickly caught up to the next fellow and passed him. Next I passed PJ with his video gear and metronome. At that point (perhaps around the 7th floor or so) I realized I went out to fast. Although my pace was much slower than my training climbs (which are up a 7 story building) I knew I could only keep that pace up for another few minutes. I slowed down a little bit and simply focused on hauling myself up the rails and making clean turns. I could still hear PJ’s metronome down below and it helped me keep ahead.

Then, from out of nowhere, another racer appeared bounding up the stairs like a two-legged gazelle. I thought to myself “who the #@$% is this guy? Weren't all the fast climbers ahead of me?” Even though I was less than half way through the race, I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with this guy for more than a few floors. He ended up passing me like I was standing still. At that point I tried to speed up and quickly realized it would be fruitless to chase. Later, I learned that this mysterious racer was none other than Sproule Love, one of the top climbers in the world who would go on to win the race and set a new record.

I continued my climb and here were my observations:

1)  It was hard to keep only one foot on the landings when landing with my left foot. My right hip would frequently bump into the railing while going around the turn and I felt like I was losing too much energy trying to contort my body. I would need to learn how to climb so I’d only land with my right foot, but I couldn't think straight to adjust myself during the race (oxygen deprivation does that to a fellow).

2) The stairwell numbers were hidden from freakin’ view and I only remember groupings of numbers being visible (e.g. signs that would show “floors 42 – 56”). I frequently had to ask the race volunteers where I was.

3)  Looking at my watch, I hit the halfway point somewhere around 7:20 or so and I *knew* I went out too fast. I couldn’t keep up the pace for another 50+ stories.

Sure enough, I saw another climber catching up to me ever so slowly. It turned out to be Kristen
Frey (who would eventually come in 2nd among women) and there wasn't very much I could do about it. At that point I was pretty exhausted and was just trying to conserve energy. She chased me for a few more flights and then I let her go by. I used what remaining energy I had to shout some encouragement. I kept going and eventually fell into place behind Kristen. I could tell she was only a couple flights ahead; although I couldn't see her, I could hear the cheers of encouragement from the race volunteers. I remember looking at my watch and trying to figure out what floor I was on, but I all I remember is having a sinking feeling I wouldn't reach my goal time. And then at some point the stairwell changed direction, which was actually a godsend. The rails were close enough together so I could use both at once.

Somewhere after hitting the 16 minute mark, I started to kick it into high gear. With Kristen only a couple flights ahead and being somewhere in the mid 90s, I figured I had a shot of coming in below 17:00. I staggered through the final doorway and almost collapsed. I stumbled for a brief moment, but I was able to continue walking. I was actually a bit angry with myself. If I had enough energy to keep walking, then I should’ve pushed harder in the 80’s and 90’s. At the Boston Race a few weeks ago, I was on the ground for a few minutes before I had enough energy to get up.

Suddenly, I snapped back to reality and realized that I had forgotten to look at my watch to look at my finishing time. My watch said 7:16 but I knew I had been walking for a bit of time, so I was pretty sure I broke 17:00 minutes! Although it wasn't a great performance, it certainly wasn't a bad time, especially since this was only my 3rd race and I had no idea how to pace myself. Plus, I’m guessing that shorter climbs are my forte considering my build and training regimen.

At the Skydeck
After meeting a bunch of other racers at the top, I decided to go back down to get my camera to snap a few photos. Although I had to talk my way back onto the elevators (and jump over a railing) I managed to get back to the observation deck and snap a few photos. After socializing a bit, I met up with my friend Michael Karlin who not only climbed up the tower but participated in the hand cycle race. Although he hadn't trained for the race (and just finished a grueling climb) he came in an impressive 3rd place in his heat. Next year I want to enter, too.

Since we both had a few hours to kill, we went out for lunch and walked to the planetarium. Although I didn't have time to actually go into the Planetarium, I bid farewell and to a stroll through the park on my way to the “L”, snapping a few more photos on the way.

Walking in the Park

Last but not least, it was only fitting to run into Mark Trahanovsky on the way back to the airport. We chatted for a bit about the race as we headed toward the gates. All-in-all it was a pretty satisfying weekend and I can’t wait to do it again next year.

* tell that to the Empire State Run-up organizers.
** with stair climbing races

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sky Rise Chicago Debut

Unofficially, I came in 18th with a time of 16:52. I had hoped to break 16 minutes and come in the top 10, but nonetheless, I had a successful race. I met a bunch of other elite climbers and I learned a lot from this race. I started out way too fast (again) but fortunately I didn't completely blow up. Next year I'm destined for a top 10 finish. I'll post more once the official results are known.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Role Models

Two more weeks until Chicago!

This week’s post is devoted to all the people & events that have helped me become a better stair climber.

Mr. Paradis: He was my high school X-country running, track, and X-country skiing coach. He was also my Physics teacher and he helped foster my interest in math and science. Mr. Paradis led by example and he trained right along with the team. He would even drive us to local road races on the weekends *.

Derek: The manager at the local fitness center who also happens to be a pretty solid cyclist and triathlete. He runs a mean spinning class. Unfortunately, we’ve never been able to compete against each other at the Pine Bush Triathlon at full strength due to various injuries**.

Scott: A coworker of mine who likes running. He came in 2nd in the Corning tower climb a few years back (an impressive feat) which is how I heard about stair climbing in the first place! His training was pretty hardcore. He used to wear ankle weights to train (since the stairs weren't hard enough!)

MRG: A friend of mine who got me into cycling back when I only lifted weights. Mike is a talented cyclist & runner who could probably finish the Pine Bush in under an hour. Mike is the type of guy who will keep up with you on a steep hill, start a conversation, and then effortlessly pass you right before the crest of the hill.

My Parents: Although I wasn't very athletic, they had me take swimming lessons the summer after kindergarten. It turns out I wasn't too bad. I even won a local swim meet for the 13-14 year old boys division (special thanks to Eric Weddell, my first swimming coach). Without swimming lessons, I wouldn't have ever trained for the Pine Bush Triathlon... and without that training, I wouldn't have built up a strong fitness base.

Maria: Another friend of mine who is into fitness and is learning to become a massage therapist. She taught me how to do dead lifts and squats. She still can do the squat matrix  faster than I can (squat matrix = 25 squats + 25 lunges + 25 jumping lunges + 16 jumping squats) than I can. Hopefully she will do more stair climbing events!

Mt. Algonquin: The 2nd highest peak in the Adirondacks. While climbing this mountain I realized that I was pretty good at climbing uphill.

The Pine Bush Triathlon: My favorite event (outside of stair climbing). A few years ago, I managed to place 3rd in my age group even though I rode a hybrid mountain bike. This year I was in much better shape and I rode a true road bike... but managed only 5th in my age group. I guess next year it will be back to the hybrid mountain bike ^_^

* while grading physics & chemistry papers
** or having my bike stolen while out on a milk-tea ride with MRG a week prior to the race

Saturday, October 8, 2011

M&Ms and Oreos

As I get ready for the Sky Rise Chicago race, I'm going to try and drop 5 lbs while keeping muscle mass. I have just under 4 weeks to complete my goal, but it is going to be a real challenge. I've been trying to drop weight for months, but the scale *still* hasn't moved below 175. These last few lbs are going to be a real bitch.

The hardest part will be cutting out junk food. I have a pretty good diet throughout the day, but when I get home from work I CRAVE junk food. Recently, my nemesis has been oreo cookies and M&Ms. For example, here is what I ate on Wednesday, which I felt was a pretty good example of my regular eating habits.

  • Breakfast: 1 cup Chobani Yogurt, 1 blueberry bagel (plain), 1 english muffin (plain), 1 apple
  • Lunch: 1 large salad (w/fruits & vegetables), 6-8 oz. of grilled chicken, a table spoon or so of salad dressing, 1 dinner roll (plain), 1 dinner roll w/margarine, 2 small cookies.
  • Post-workout Snack: 4 oz of grapes, large glass of milk mixed with some protein powder, 1 large banana, 1 plum
  • At Home Snack: 4 oz of cherry tomatoes, 1 yoplait yogurt, 1/2 an apple, 1 granola bar
  • Dinner: 9 oz of salmon, 1 medium sweet potato, small glass of milk, 2 oreos, 20 peanut butter M&Ms

Granted, it seems like I eat a lot of food througout the day, but to be honest, I'm pretty much always hungry. I estimate that I need at least 3000 calories per day on the days that I exercise. The problem is, even with a few cookies and M&Ms, it turns out I'm consuming about 300 calories of "junk" food, which is about 10% of my daily caloric intake.

It looks like I'm going to have to start counting calories in addition to cutting back on sweets. It is going to be a difficult road from here on out since Oreos and M&Ms have such a drain on my willpower. Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated. My future six pack abs thank you in advance!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Chicago, Here I Come!

Well everybody, it is official; I’ve signed up for the Sky Rise Chicago race up the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower). The race takes place on Sunday, November 6th at 7:00 AM.

This race benefits The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, an organization devoted to providing care and research involving repair, regeneration, and recovery of brain, spinal cord and musculoskeletal function. If you would like to help me reach my goal of raising $100 to help RIC, please click here. Every little bit counts.

This will be my biggest race to date and many of the nation’s best stair climbers will be racing. Jesse Berg, Tim Van Orden, Terry Purcell, and Kevin Crossman are just some of the big names who have competed in recent years.

Winners of the race are expected to break the 14:00 minute mark and based on my training data I should be able to keep that pace. My actual prediction is that I will come in at about 15:45 which *might* crack the top ten. Anyway, I would still be happy if I break the 17:00 minute mark especially since this will be my tallest tower race ever. Here is a bit of Trivia: The Willis Tower is about 70% taller than the John Hancock Tower in Boston!

The only way I’m going to crack the top ten is if I keep an even pace throughout the race. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to start out at a moderate pace during a stair climbing race. From my experience, the first few flights feel very easy once I am warmed up, ready to go, and full of adrenaline. But if I go all out, I will start to tire around the 6th floor. At some point, the heart, lungs, legs, and arms start to give out, even when going at a moderate pace. Unlike a traditional running race, you can’t simply slow down and recover. Going up stairs offers no recovery unless you SLOWLY take the stairs one at a time. If you ever reach that point in a race, you are heading for trouble. At the Boson race, I’m still not sure how I made it up the last 20 flights. Not only did I lose a good chunk of time, but I was in agony the rest of the way up.
To prepare for Chicago, I will be collecting data and performing pacing drills in addition to my normal training. Next week I plan to measure the height my new training staircase (7 flights). From this information, I should be able to practice my race pace. I’ll share my calculations with you next week.

In the meantime, here is my weekly training log:

Saturday - An easy 15 mile bike ride with a long break in the middle.

Sunday - Core Workout

Monday - Leg Workout: Warm-up, Lunges & Squats, Dead Lifts (3x12@195, 135, & 155 lbs), Hamstring Curls, Tabata Leg Presses (@180 lbs), & 10 minutes cycling.

Tuesday - Interval Training: Intervals on Step Machine (30 minutes) + Core Workout

Wednesday - Modified Navy Seal Pull-up routine & Spinning Class (40 minutes)

Thursday - 15 minutes on Rowing machine + 10 minutes cycling, Lunges & Squats, Hamstring Curls, & Core Workout

Friday - Stairs x 12 sets; 1 set = 178 stairs with 34 meters elevation. Continuous up and down except for water breaks after set 6 and 9 (2 minutes each). Average time to ascend = 55.42 seconds

Coming Weekend - TBD, but I need to both rest and catch up on my push-ups!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

First Place!

I have great news! I managed to claim 1st place in the John Hancock tower race in  Boston.See the race results here.

The evening before the race I drove to Worchester, MA and I stayed overnight at the home of my friend Nate “The Great” and his family. It was a pleasure catching up with an old friend while sharing a cup of mead. I also finally got to see his baby daughter and his dog, Dursu.

The next morning, I woke up at 5:45 and was back on the road at 6:00 AM. Breakfast (while driving) consisted of an apple, a cup of yogurt, an English muffin, and some water. I arrived in Boston around 7:00 AM and walked over to the John Hancock building. The building itself is impressive and somewhat intimidating. It is 61 stories tall with mirror-like glass panes covering every square inch. Craning my neck, I could see the sky reflecting off of the upper stories. I couldn’t believe I was about to climb to the top of this building!

After registering for the race, I popped an Aleve (for the caffeine) and began to slowly warm up. During my warm up I noticed a few people wearing the “West Coast Labels/Running Raw/X-Gym” shirts, which made me even more nervous. If you do a quick Google search, you will quickly realize that runners affiliated with West Coast Labels are among the top racers in the sport.

My warm-up consisted of:
  • ·        Light jog (3 min)
  • ·        Jumping Jacks (1 min)
  • ·        Step-ups (3 min) + Burpees (1 min)
  • ·        3 minute rest
  • ·        Step-ups (3 min) + Burpees (1 min)
  • ·        3 minute rest
  • ·        Burpees (1 min)
  •   A few minutes rest prior to race

Just before 8:00 AM, they called the elite racers to the front and about 10 of us descended the escalator to the bottom of the John Hancock tower. As the runners from West Coast Labels began queuing up, I realized I needed to get to the front of the line before I ended up at the end of the line. I wanted to avoid this fate since that would mean I would have to pass people in the stairwell during the race, which wastes precious time and energy. I took a deep breath and cut to the front of the line, boldly claiming I planned to finish the race in about 8 minutes (I hope I wasn’t too rude). They looked a little bit surprised, but graciously let me go first. Moments afterward, the race started and I found myself in the first stairwell. It happened so quickly, I had no time to be nervous.

The stairway itself was optimal. The landings were uniformly spaced apart and the handrails were easy to grip. The rails were at just the right height so that I could use my arms to help climb up the staircase. The only flat section was a short hallway near the beginning of the race.

Although I planned to keep a steady pace throughout the race by taking it slow in the beginning, I still went out way too fast. By the time I reached the 10th floor, I was already beginning to tire and I mentally forced myself to slow down. At this point it was hard to even think since my heart rate was near its max. By the time I reached the 30th floor, I looked down at my watch and noticed I was around 3:40, on pace to clock 7:30 for the race. By the 42nd floor my watch showed 5:21 which was slightly faster than my race in Albany (which is about 42 stories). At this point I was extremely fatigued and I could barely keep pace. Even my arms felt like lead. At floor 50, I wanted to stop and I switched to taking one step at a time. However, I could hear people cheering (at what I assume was a water stop) and went back to taking two steps at a time. Each floor was more painful than the next, but I knew I couldn’t stop if I wanted to win the race. I could hear cheers coming from the 61st floor and I wanted to kick up the pace but I simply couldn’t. As soon as I reached the 61st floor I exited the doorway and the finish line was right in front of me. After crossing the line, I collapsed and tried to catch my breath. The clock had just passed the 8:00 minute mark and I knew I had a good race despite going out way too fast.

The race volunteers helped me back to my feet and I stumbled over to the observation deck to wait for the other racers. Ten minutes later, I was finally recovered enough socialize with my fellow racers and enjoy the Boston skyline (although the only landmarks I could identify were the Charles River and Fenway Park).

I introduced myself to a few of the racers wearing the West Coast Labels shirt and to my pleasant surprise, they were all very friendly. After chatting a bit, we finally took the elevator back downstairs and continued our conversation in the lobby.

Soon afterward, the official results were posted and I found out that I came in 1st place with time of 7:58! My time was only 9 seconds slower than last year’s winner (Paul Teti, an Olympic rower). Although I missed the course record, I was still very pleased.

After the award ceremony, I took a few group photos with some of my fellow racers. I exchanged email addresses with a few of my new friends and after our goodbyes, I took a stroll to China town and picked up a pork bun, an egg tart, and a cup of “pearl” coffee (iced coffee with tapioca) for the long road back to Albany. Along the way I also snapped a couple of photos of the John Hancock Tower to remember this awesome event.
The Champions - Mike, Alex, & Ed
The Tower Masters & Me

Now that the race is over, I still need to finish raising funds for the National MS Foundation. If you would like to help me reach my goal of raising $250 to help the fight against multiple sclerosis, please click here. Every little bit counts.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Second Race

Last week I learned about a stair climbing race up the John Hancock Tower in Boston. Thank you for advertising this race! For those of you who aren’t familiar with this site, please check it out. It has a wonderful database that shows upcoming stair climbing races around the world. Without this site, I wouldn’t even have known about this race.

This race benefits the fight against multiple sclerosis. If you would like to donate to the National MS foundation, please click here. My goal is to raise at least $250 to help battle MS.
Even though I’ve had limited time to focus on this race, I’ve been training consistently for the CN tower climb in Toronto (in October) and this race fits perfectly with my training plan. This race will be 61 floors (starting in the basement) and covers 1220 stairs. I estimate that there will be a 241 meter elevation gain.

Since I only have a couple days before the race, I’ve tapered off my training. Here is my training schedule for the past 7 days.

Saturday – Stairs x 12 sets; 1 set =  178 stairs with 34 meters elevation. Sets done by sprinting up the stairs with active recovery by climbing down the stairs. I nearly dropped from exhaustion and had to take a couple “water breaks” near the end.

Sunday –Core Workout & Pull-ups (4 sets of 15)

Monday – Spinning Class (40 minutes) + Chest Press (5 sets)

Tuesday – Leg Workout: Core Workout, Lunges & Squats, Dead Lifts (3x12 @ 135 lbs), Hamstring Curls, Tabata Leg Presses (@180 lbs).

Wednesday – Interval Training; Intervals on Step Machine (30 minutes) + Modified Navy Seal Pull-up routine

Thursday – Core Workout + Stairs x 8 sets; 1 set = 145 stairs with 27.5 meters elevation. Sets done slowly at proposed race pace with ample 2 minute recovery between sets.

Friday – Light Workout (TBD)

Saturday – Race! I’m hoping to beat the course record (7:49) set by Paul Teti, who was a former US Olympian in rowing.

Wish me luck! I’ll post the results this weekend. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

About me

Welcome to Race to the Top! The purpose of this blog is to promote the sport of stair climbing (also known as tower running) and document my quest to become the #1 stair-climber in the World! Since this is my first post, let me tell you a little bit about myself.

First off, my name is Alex Workman and I'm 35 years young. I've always been athletic, but have never been truly competitive in sports. I grew up as a severe asthmatic and I was a pudgy little kid. My parents never pushed me to play organized sports, although they did insist that I learn how to swim. Instead my young life was centered on music, which was (and still is) a big part of my life. Later, in high school I managed to get my asthma under control (with medication) and I started running cross country and track. But alas, I wasn't very gifted. During a typical cross country race, I'd come in somewhere in the middle of the pack. The same was true for track. I focused on running the 400m, but I could never break the 1 minute mark.

In college I was moderately active, but fitness tended to revolve around ultimate frisbee (which I'm good at) and ice hockey (which I'm poor at) rather than pure strength or endurance. Later, in grad school, I totally slacked off with fitness. The only saving grace was that I was fortunate to live close enough to campus to bike, so I biked a few miles each day.

When I started working full time I started to go to the gym three times per week. I still did a bit of cardio on the elliptical machine and the tread mill, but I focused primarily on building upper body strength. I had big bulky legs (through genetics) and I wanted my upper body to match. When I started lifting, I weighed somewhere around 165 lbs and I slowly bulked up to 190 lbs on a 5'8" frame.

Then in 2003 or so, I met my friend MRG. MRG was (and still is) a cardio machine. He got me back into shape with our 9:00 PM milk tea rides. I'll need to devote a future post in honor of MRG (and to explain our milk tea rides) so stay tuned.

In 2006, MRG convinced me to try my first sprint triathlon (the Pinebush triathlon, in Albany NY). Although I did okay, placing 63rd out of 359 people, which I thought was pretty good considering I was primarily still a weight lifter.I did the Pine Bush a few more times and each year I focused a bit more on cardio rather than weight lifting at the gym to improve my time. During my most recent attempt at the Pine Bush, I placed 19th out of 270 (a respectable top 20 showing!).

Over the last few years, I've slowly built up my cardiovascular endurance while *trying* to maintain upper body strength.

At this point, you might be wondering:

  • When did I start climbing tall buildings?
  • Why will I become the #1 stair climber in the in World?
Well, my readers, my story will be finished during my next post. Until then, take care, eat right, and stay fit!