Saturday, February 18, 2012

360 at New Haven

Wednesday's Empire State Building Run-up was a letdown, but Saturday's race at New Haven was a much better experience.

I woke up around 4:40 AM on Saturday Morning and was out the door by 5:20 AM. Although we've had very little snow this year, today was an exception... it was snowing! Fortunately, the snow tapered off as soon as I hit the Massachusetts border and it didn’t slow me down. The trip was pretty uneventful, but it did give me a chance to see both Springfield, MA and Hartford, CT, where I will be racing later this season. Although these places are only a couple hours from Albany, I've never been to these cities and it was nice to check out their skylines.

The night before the race I was pretty nervous. After looking at the starting lineup, I saw a familiar, yet very surprising name: Lam Ka Ming. Although I've never met Lam, I recognized his name. He won a few big races in his native Hong Kong, and had just competed in the ESBRU, winning the MMRF division and coming in 19th (male) overall. I knew he would be my chief competition for this race since he is clearly a very strong climber. However, I still liked my chances in New Haven since it is a shorter sprint race. 
Britney & Alex after the race

I arrived at New Haven right around 8:15 and went directly to the check-in. There I met a couple of the American Lung Association race organizers (Britney and Emily) and then headed to the warm-up area on the 6th floor. The elevator seemed to take forever, so I opted to take the stairs (always a good choice) and preview the race course.

Meeting Lam Ka Ming
At the warm-up area, I caught up with Tower Masters teammates, Michael and Ariel. I also had the opportunity to meet Lam Ka Ming. Although he spoke English was pretty well, I wanted to practice my Chinese so our conversation was a mixture of both languages. He came to the US for the ESBRU and decided to do a local climb before heading home to the New Territories, just north of Hong Kong Island. Lam brought a camera crew all the way from Hong Kong and although it was nice to meet him, I was a little intimidated. Not only was the media involved, but Lam was a 130 lb. feather weight (to my 175 lb.) and it looked like he would fly up the stair case.

A peek inside the stairwell during the race

After socializing, I headed to the stairwell for a closer look at the race course. The stairwell was very similar to Stamford's; The floors were very short, it used a double rail system, the rails were close enough to hold both sides at once, and the steps themselves were short (~7 inches). The only major difference was that the stairs turned clockwise. The race course also featured a couple of flat sections. The first one was at the start line, where we'd have to run 10-15 meters to the stairwell entrance. The second flat section was a 5-10 meter transition on the 6th floor between stairwells. I spent about 10 minutes analyzing the main stairwell since I knew I had lost time at Stamford due to poor technique. Since the floors were so short and I could grip both sides of the rails easily, I opted for a two-handed pull in the middle of each flight which allowed me to take 2 or 3 steps at a time. On the corners, I chose to hug the inside lane and use the inside rail to pull myself around the corner. Although my technique was still a little sloppy, it would have to suffice.

After practice, I stopped by the warm up area to pick up Michael and Ariel and then we all headed to the start line to warm up. At this point it was already 8:45, and still no sign of Steve Marsalese. Our Tower Masters team wouldn’t be complete without him! I continued my warm-ups, which by now are pretty routine (jumping jacks: 1 min --> burpees: 1 min --> rest: 3 min --> repeat). Finally, with less than 5 minutes to go, Steve finally showed up. Our team was complete!
Tower Masters!
Lam & Emily

I would be going first up the stairwell since I won Stamford a couple months ago. Michael would follow a minute later and Steve would climb 3rd. Lam was also climbing with the elite group and would be entering the stairwell 6th. 

The only surprise was that Paul Curley, a well-known cyclo-cross athlete, wasn’t feeling 100% and wouldn’t be climbing. He was still at the race since he is responsible for race timing. He was also there to cheer on his daughter Emily* who was racing with the other elites. It was nice to see him at the race, but it was unfortunate he wouldn’t climb; he certainly would have been a threat for a podium spot.

*Emily went on to win the race on the women’s side. Apparently excellence runs in the family.

Soon enough, I was racing up 360 State Street! I decided not to use my metronome for such a short race and instead relied on my training. Since my training staircase is approximately one third the height of 360 State Street, I decided to go out at my usual training pace, hoping I could hang on till the end of the race. The first 10 flights went by quickly so quickly that I barely remember crossing over the flat section on the 6th floor.  Around the 20th floor, I was beginning to tire and my legs started to feel heavy. I could no longer take 3 steps at a time with my two-handed pulls, but I refused to slow down. Instead I picked up the pace knowing I had less than a minute to race.

At floor 25 my lungs were burning, my shoulders hurt, and my quads were leaden. Even my calves cried out in pain, which in living memory has never occurred to me in a stairwell. With only 6 floors to go, I knew I had to make my move now or risk losing the race. Although Lam hadn’t even started the race, I could feel his presence right behind me, catching up with each flight. 

Although I was in pain, I wanted this race. If someone else wanted to win they’d have to take it from me. I wasn’t going to give it to them. So I did what I’ve been training to do for the past 11 months; I turned on the afterburners and never looked back.

In my mind’s eye I soared up the remaining flights. I’m sure my turns were sloppy and my footsteps heavy, but for that one moment in time, I was an arc of lightning passing through the stairwell. I remember hitting floor 29, but I don’t remember climbing the last 2 flights. I just remember exiting the stairwell and hitting the timing mat with my chip.

Michael & Alex trying to catch their breath
I collapsed in a folding chair, my legs writhing in agony. I couldn’t believe how exhausted I felt considering how short the race was. My quads and calves were on fire and my right shoulder was numb. Since I had forgotten to start my stop watch, I hadn’t a clue what my time was. As Michael and Steve finished the race, I asked one of the volunteers what my time was in between gasps of air. Someone told me I had finished in about 2:46, the same time I had at Trump Parc Stamford, which was a slightly shorter building. I was a little surprised with my time because I knew I had pushed myself harder for this race.

Lam finished the race shortly thereafter and I asked him how he did. Unlike me, Lam remembered to use his stop watch and he told me he clocked in about 2:40, a very fast time indeed (matching my goal time). I was disappointed, but not disheartened. If Lam had gone faster, then so be it. With a time of 2:40 he deserved to win. I would just have to train harder for the next race. Even though I was prepared to come in 2nd, I still held out some hope for a win. I had raced to the best of my ability and felt that I had gone faster. A time of 2:46 just didn’t feel right.

A view at top
Tower Masters at the top
After recovering for a while longer, we took a few team photos at the top and then headed back to the warm up area to chat and change clothes. We then got directions to the Wolf’s Head Tavern, where the after event party would be held.

Jim & Alex
Alex & Alan

The party was a blast. Although Steve had to leave early, I got to hang out with my friends and meet the Stamford Fire Fighting team. Those dudes take stair climbing just as seriously as we do; they are all in awesome shape and dominate all the local Fire Fighter climbs. They are also built like bricks. Their captain (Jim) tips the scale at 216 lbs. and the winning fire fighter (Alan) is about my size. It turns out their training is very similar to my regimen, although they usually wear 45 lbs weight vests while training. Seriously. I’m not kidding. After doing a little math, I’m sure that Alan would have been able to keep up with the Tower Masters if he ran without gear. His power to weight ratio puts him right in the medal hunt.

Although the party was enjoyable, I was still nervous. The ALA would be posting the race results shortly. Upon the awards table there sat a little trophy that I wanted so badly, but I had a sinking feeling I’d be going home without it.

Just before 1:00 PM they posted the race results. I checked the board and there was my name at the top with a time of 2:34. Not only did I beat my goal time by 6 seconds, but I had won the race outright! I was overjoyed. After celebrating for a couple minutes I went over to Lam to congratulate him on his 2nd place finish. I know he expected to win this race and was a bit let down, so I told him that he kicked my butt at ESBRU a few days ago which was a much more important race.

1st and 2nd Place Winners
After the award ceremony (in which the Tower Masters basically swept with 1st, 3rd, and 4th place showings) I said goodbye to my all of my friends and departed for home… with my new trophy in the front seat of the car ^_^.

Next on the agenda is to buy a 45 lb. weight vest. After all, I have to get ready for “Hustle up the Hancock” in Chicago later this month!
360 State Street (Back)
360 State Street (Front)

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