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.