Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Albany - One Year Anniversary

Part 1: Pre-Race Thoughts
Thursday's race up the Corning Tower in Albany will officially mark my one year anniversary climbing stairs competitively. I'm nervous because this will be my first opportunity to measure my year-to-year progress.

I have high expectations in this race because last year I put up a respectable 5:23 time, but since then, I've focused solely on stair climbing and have improved dramatically. My goal in this year's race is to break the 5 minute mark with a stretch goal of under 4:45. My calculations predict a time of 4:48 and since this is a sprint race (about 42 stories) I know I can do it. However, this race is particularly challenging because it is a very long sprint. I'm confident at distances of around 100 meters, but the Corning Tower is closer to 170 meters. I can't afford to go all out in this race and expect to be able to maintain my sprinting pace for the last 50 meters. I'm going to have to race a little bit conservatively so I have enough energy to finish strong. Pacing is much more important in this race than in the other sprints I've done.

Fortunately, I'm the underdog in this race so there isn't a lot of pressure to win it outright. I'm simply shooting for a podium spot. My biggest competition in the race will be David Tromp and Tim Van Orden. I know David will be at the race, but I'm unsure about Tim. Either way, these guys are capable of sub 4:30 in this race which I think is just outside of my reach... but I'm still going for it anyway!

My racing strategy will be as follows:
1) Go to the race early to measure the height of the steps. My calculations indicate the       steps are 8 inches tall, but I hope they are really 7.5 inches tall. My metronome pace will be set to 110 bpm for 7.5 inch steps or 105 bpm for 8 inch steps.
2) Practice inside the stairwell. I know for a fact the rails are close enough to grip both rails at once, but I need to check to see what technique works best. I'm more comfortable using just a single rail, although using both rails at once may offer more power.
3) Move toward the front of the line. Start right behind David & Tim.
4) Check my time on floor 21. I should be close to 2:15, with 2:25 max. Adjust speed as necessary. I should start to feel fatigued at this point.
5) Pick up the pace at floor 30. My lungs and heart should be hurting, but my legs should be capable of pushing it harder or at least maintaining current speed. Give David a run for the money.
6) Go all out at floor 36 and maintain it till the end. My legs should feel like lead when I hit floor 40, but I will pull on the rails with all my might.
7) Check my watch and collapse at the finish line. 

Part 2: The Race!
I had a very good race and I surpassed my own expectations. With a time of 4:39, I came in 2nd overall and only 5 seconds behind the winner David Tromp. See results here.
On race day, I was really nervous. Although I wasn't expecting a win, I was still worried that I wouldn't break the 5 minute mark. I've been training so hard for the past year and I wanted to prove that I'm a serious contender at stair climb races. Anything over 5 minutes would feel like I've wasted an entire year and had nothing to show for it.

Fortunately the race started at 7:30, so most of the day I was occupied with work and it was just business as normal. I left work around 5:00 and headed home to change and then over to the Corning Tower to check in. I parked next to the NY State Museum (for free I might add) and headed to the underground plaza beneath the Corning Tower and other NY State buildings.

The complex is pretty vast and the Cystic Fibrosis race occupied just a small part of the hall. Since it was already 5:30, most of the NY State workers had already gone home and the place seemed somewhat deserted*. At the check in, I paid my $125 donation and spoke with Whitney Hill, the race director. Although it was too late to get into the stairwell, she did confirm that the steps were 7.5 inches tall. I mentally checked off item #1 on my checklist.

*Except for the marching band, formal gala/wedding party, and a couple hundred other stair climbers.

Since I still had a couple hours to kill, I tried to read a few pages from the novel I’m currently reading. After a few pages, I gave up since I was just too pumped up to enjoy the book. Instead, I walked around the various booths and snagged a few Zone Perfect bars for later. I then ran into my friend Mark Hammond, another local stair climber, and he showed me how to get into the stairwell of Tower #1. Since this tower is the Corning Tower’s smaller sibling, the stairwells are very similar. Inside the stairwell, I spent a few minutes trying to figure out the optimal climbing technique. I eventually decided to use only the inside rail unless my arms became so fatigued that I needed to switch things up. Mark cautioned me that the building closes right at 6:00 PM on weekdays. Right before closing time, we rushed back to the elevator so we wouldn’t get locked in. Check off item #2.

At this point, many of the climbers were already checked in and I ran into a few familiar faces as well as some new ones:
• One climber was wearing a 2010 ESBRU shirt and I just had to introduce myself. He was Frank Nicolosi, a climber who came all the way from Florida to do this race. I was very surprised when I saw the race results and found out he is 71 years old since he looks at least 10 years younger. With a time of 7:48, he came in 26th overall, smoking folks less than half of his age.
• Hal Coghill introduced himself to me when he saw my #3 bib. Since he was wearing a pair of Vibram’s I could tell he had climbed stairs before. Last year was his very first race up the Corning Tower and he was looking to set a new PR. Obviously, we have a lot in common!
• My friend and coworker Tom Anthoff was doing this race for the very first time. In the weeks leading up to the event, I gave him a few pointers about stair climbing and we even practiced together in one of the staircases at work during lunch time. He has a lot of potential, especially in sprint climbs. 
• Dave Tromp, the reigning champion, was wearing his 2011 ESBRU shirt. He is one of the top US climbers and although he was recovering from a cold, I knew he was going for win #4. 
• Fred Eames, who has won this race numerous times over the last couple decades, was racing again. Although he has passed the torch on to David, he still is capable of a 6 minute race which is normally fast enough to win his age bracket… and several younger age brackets, too!

The full climb was last on the list of the night’s events. There was also a fire fighter race, a half climb, and a relay race to contend with. The race was a little bit behind schedule by the time 7:30 rolled around, but I maintained my race readiness by doing my pre-race warm-up routine: Burpees & Jacks once every 3 minutes.

At last, they asked us to line up. Since they asked us to line up by race number, I was third in line, just behind David Tromp and last year’s 3rd place winner, Justin Giffuni. Tim Van Orden was a no show (we surmised he had a snow shoe race) so I was exactly where I wanted to be in line. Check off item #3 on the list.

We ascended the escalator to the ground floor of the Corning Tower and walked over to the start line. The organizers told us space ourselves ten seconds apart from each other. Right as the clock changed minutes, we cheered and David was off. I took a few deep breaths and set my metronome to 112 bpm* as Justin entered the stairwell. Ten seconds later I was in the Corning Tower!

*Why 112bpm? I initially planned for 110 bpm, but I figured with David recovering from a cold, I had an outside shot at winning. I definitely didn’t want to race too conservatively. See my previous post at the Rock.

The pace was fast, but I could have easily have gone out faster. I’m glad I had the metronome to reign in my speed because as David puts it “The Corning Tower is the worst four and a half minutes of the year”. He is right. This race is much worse than most other sprint races, because it is about 50% taller than most sprint buildings. I might go faster in races like Stamford or New Haven, but in those buildings the race is over within 3 minutes. The extra minute or two of racing in the Corning Tower adds a different level of pain because you are climbing at ~25% faster than Lactate Threshold for the entire race*.

*note: As a reference point, my race pace at Empire or Hancock is only about 90 bpm.

The stairwell is pretty uniform and a typical floor has 9 steps, a 180 degree landing, and then another 9 steps. The rails are also close enough to use both rails effectively, although I only chose to use the inside track. The course was split into three separate sections, with a long hallway separating each section. The first section lasted till about the 17th floor and turns counterclockwise. The second section switches directions (turning clockwise) and lasts till about the 30th floor. The final section is a bit shorter than the first two and if I remember correctly, and it turns clockwise. It may be the shortest section of the race, but it certainly the most brutal. By this point, climbers are exhausted and to make matters worse, the final flight from floor 41 to the finish line is 50% taller than any of the other flights. In fact, it has two separate landings, making it the most challenging part of the race.

The first section of stairs was a blur, but I was hurting by the time I hit the lower teens. I became aware that I couldn’t keep a single foot on most landings, but I really didn’t care. The geometry of the stairwell made it exceptionally difficult to turn and since I was going so fast, it made the turns even more difficult to execute. Although I felt my technique was a bit sloppy, I felt confident I wasn’t losing too much time.

I caught Justin by the time we hit the first transition point and he stopped to let me pass. I knew I was going to break the 5 minute barrier since I expected Justin to finish in about 5:20 and I had already gained 10 seconds. As I reached the 21st floor I glanced at my watch and saw the magic 2:15 pop up. I was exactly on pace! Check off item #4.

By this point, I was tired, but I knew I could hang on for another 2 or 3 minutes. I focused keeping up to my metronome taskmaster to avoid thinking about the pain. At floor 30, I was getting close to exhaustion, but my legs still had a bit in reserve. I kicked it up a notch, per plan. I didn’t touch my metronome, but I focused on gaining a beat or two each floor. Check off item #5.

At floor 36, I told myself it time to go for it. My legs and arms were burning at this point, but still I went faster. By floor 40 my arms and legs were leaden. Without the rails for support, I’d be walking. I don’t know how I was doing it, but I was still going faster than my metronome. On the 41st floor, I knew I had a good race. I pushed it as hard as possible and as I turned the final landing, I stumbled. Fortunately I was still holding onto the rails and I quickly recovered, losing a half second at most. I climbed up the few remaining steps and crossed over the finish line. As I collapsed, I glanced at my watch just as it hit 4:42. Awesome! I knew I had probably broken 4:40. Check off items #6 and #7.

I spent a good 20 seconds on the ground moaning and eventually crawled to a chair to continue recovering. I remember hearing our times but my mind was in such a fog, I couldn’t tell who had won. David and I both had times somewhere in the 4:30s and I was so pleased with my time, I couldn't care less about coming in 1st or 2nd. I had shaved 43 seconds off of last years’ time and shattered the 5 minute mark!

After recovering for a minute or two, I saw some of the other racers finish. Although my heart rate and breathing were coming back down to normal levels, my legs and arms felt like someone had hit my muscles with a crowbar. Gradually the pain subsided and I finally was able to chat with the other climbers.

We then headed downstairs and I grabbed my camera to take a few pictures. Unlike my last two races, nobody gave me a hard time when I went back up to the observation deck.
Non-view of the Hudson River

Soon enough, the results were posted and the awards ceremony was underway. The closest race of the day was for the 50-59 year old bracket. Amazingly enough, Hal and Mark came in 9th and 11th overall and were just seconds apart with times of 6:11 and 6:13 respectively. Rounding up the top three was Tom who came in 18th overall with a time of 7:17. Not to be outdone by the younger generation was Fred who came in 8th with a time of 6:09.


Hal, Mark, & Alex
David & Alex

Alex & Whitney Hill (Race Organizer)

After grabbing a couple of subs from Subway (the race sponsor) I met Dave, Fred, Mark, and a few other friends at Applebee’s for the post-race celebration.
Here are my final thoughts:
• Grades: Strategy = A; Exertion = A; Technique = A-; Overall = A;
• Parking at the Museum was a great idea.
• Need to juggle my schedule around so I can use the stairs in Tower #1 sometime during the week (its closed on the weekends).
• I'm going to have to make some adjustments to my race prediction algorithm. For races that last less than 5 minutes, I’m coming in much faster than prediction.
• There were about 5 or 6 seconds of running in the race which I need to account for in my racing predictions.
• Train hard for next year. My goal should be 4:30 with a stretch goal of 4:20. Hopefully I’ll have a shot at the 4:12 course record set by Jesse Berg (who else?) before I turn 40!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Schooled by Sproule's Friend at 30 Rock

I underachieved at Sunday's race at the Rockefeller center, but I still managed 3rd place at the event and received a nifty trophy to boot. See the results here.

Leading up to the event I had high expectations. The prior weekend I had a relatively good performance at Hancock and I had an excellent week of training. In the days leading up to the race, I studied my primary competition: Paul Teti, Joseph DeVleming, and my friend (and fellow Tower Master) Steve Marsalese. My observations were as follows:
  • Paul & Joseph have had won the race in the past and I expected them to get about 8:30 or less based on past performance. I was confident I would be able to match that pace since my time was very close to Paul’s in the John Hancock Tower in Boston (Paul's 2010 race vs. my 2011 race).
  • Steve has been pretty consistent over the years and I expected him to finish in about 9:00. Since I've raced against him in several races, I knew I would be able to break 9:00. We're close in ability, but I have a slight edge in races under 10:00.
  • My training data predicted I'd be able to finish the race in about 8:15 if I had a good race.
Based on this information I expected it would be a battle between Paul, Joseph, and me.
I had a good trip to NYC and spent early Saturday evening with an old high school buddy of mine. I went to bed around 10:30, but needed to wake up at 4:45 AM in order to get to the race on time. My start time was 6:30 AM and I needed to be there at least 30 minutes ahead of time to check in and warm up.

This line takes an hour?!?
I arrived at 30 Rock around 5:45 AM and I should have had plenty of time to check in, but soon realized that the organizers were completely inept. Although there were many separate lines for check-in and there were only a couple people ahead of when I arrived, it still took them over 25 minutes to process the two people ahead of me. When it was finally my turn, all they needed to do was hand my check in package. But guess what? They gave me the wrong one*. After a fruitless search for my packet, they ended up giving me a replacement one. Michael (who arrived about 15 minutes after I did) was even worse shape. The queue was extremely long by that point and he had to cut in line just to make start of the race.

*Seriously, do I look like an Emily Wozniak?!? 

Since my warm-up was unexpectedly delayed, I ended up rushing to the "elite" corral and finished up my warm-up standing in line. Thank goodness my routine of Jumping Jacks and Burpees doesn't take a lot of space.

Inside the elite corral, I looked for Paul Teti, but had no luck finding him (I later learned that Paul didn't show up for the race). Joseph Devleming, on the other hand, wasn't scheduled to start with the elites, so I figured that I didn't need to worry too much about anyone else other than Steve in the elite heat. Knowing that, I moved to the front of the line and met a couple of the other climbers intent on starting near the front. As the organizers led us to the start line (on the 3rd floor) I met one fellow who did the Empire a few weeks back in less than 14 minutes. Since I had a similar result at Empire, I asked him to start first. I set my watch and metronome and soon enough I was racing up 30 Rock!

My race plan was simple. Since I was aiming for less than 9 minutes in a 66 flight race, I mentally cut the race into thirds with a goal time of under 3:00 per third. I planned to start off at 84 bpm and check my pace around floor 25 and adjust accordingly. I chose 84 bpm rather than 90 bpm (my approximate racing threshold) because my calculations indicated the step heights would be taller (8 inches rather than 7.5 inches). Although I worried that my step height calculations were off, I figured that erring on the slow side would be safer than starting out too fast.

I quickly settled into my pace and within a few floors I could hear the person behind me. He was quickly catching up. He passed me around the 8th floor, but I could tell he went out too fast. I let him pass me, confident that I would catch up to him later in the race.
The stair well easy enough to climb since it had tubular rails that were comfortable to grip and 180 degree landings which were simple to "one step" around. The course, however, was a bit difficult to navigate. There were approximately half a dozen flat landings which required a bit of running and sometimes it was hard to gauge whether or not the stairs turned to the left or the right (most if not all turned to the left if I remember correctly). Although the long flat landings didn't break my rhythm, I sometime felt like I was running blindly through a maze of tunnels. Somewhere in the middle of the race, I banged my fingers against the railing when I accidently chose the outside path and had to cut back to the inside of the stairwell. It hurt quite a bit but I ignored the pain*.

*It turns out it opened up a small cut on my finger which drew a little bit of blood. Hopefully the rails weren't too slick for the folks behind me ^_^.

After I was passed, I kept up my steady pace and my watch hit the 3 minute mark right around floor 24 or so. In my growing mental fog I figured I was right on track to break the 9 minute mark - although after the race I realized I was slightly behind pace. Since I still felt fresh, I cranked up my metronome to 90 bpm, thinking that would keep me in the medal hunt.

Shortly thereafter (probably around floor 30) I caught back up to the fellow who blew by me in the beginning of the race. I could tell by his labored breathing he wouldn't be able to keep up and I passed by with ease.

The remainder of the race was uneventful. Eventually (perhaps around floor 45?) I caught up to and passed the person who started the race ahead of me. I was pretty happy with myself at that point because I had just passed my biggest perceived threat and I still had some energy in reserve.

Right around floor 55, I started to struggle with my pace. However, I was mentally prepared for the fatigue and I forced myself to keep one foot on the landings. I knew I could keep up the pace for another couple minutes. Somewhere in the mid or lower 60s (I simply can't remember which floor), my watch hit the 8:15 minute mark. I had already lost my shot at the course record and at that point I knew I had better pick up the pace again or else I'd lose ground to Paul or Joseph. I picked up the pace yet again and I began a full out sprint around floor 66. Just as I was getting ready to power up the last flight of stairs, the race was over. I thought I still had one floor to go, but I was obviously mistaken. I glanced down at my watch after the finish line and I swear it said 8:41 (although the race officials have me down as 8:53). I put my hands on my knees in order to catch a few breaths and then walked over to get a bottle of water. I had mostly recovered by the time Michael, Steve, and the other Tower Masters finished the race.
I was slightly disappointed with my time, because I knew I had raced too conservatively. I left energy on the table and had started my final sprint way too late. Although it was a pretty competitive time, I figured Joseph and Paul were capable of besting my mark and I had better be prepared to come in 2nd or 3rd.

The Top of the Rock observation deck had a spectacular view of the city, including historic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. I wanted to stay on top and explore the city. When enough of my fellow climbers were ready to go back down, we all hopped on an elevator and headed back down to the lobby. When we got back downstairs, I quickly grabbed my camera and headed back up to the observation deck to take pictures*. I would have taken even more pictures, but it was pretty cold outside and I was standing around wearing just my shorts & jersey.

*So how did I get past the security guard to get back upstairs? See my "Shuffle up the Hancock" post for my "asthma trick". You would think the race organizers would let us bring our cameras & binoculars back to the observation deck without having to resort to such nonsense.
Can you see the Statue of Liberty?
At the Top of the Rock

Empire State Building!
The Tower Masters!
After I finally headed back downstairs, I spent the next hour or so socializing with my Tower Masters teammates as we waited for the unofficial results. I stopped by the various booths to pick up some free goodies. When all was said and done, my total haul consisted of: 5 cans of FRS, 3 bags of FRS chews, a plastic tube of Pure Protein drink, 2 cans of coconut water, 3 sample of laundry detergent, 3 bags of chips, 1 bag of popcorn, 3 squeeze bottles of apple sauce, 5 Pure Protein bars, and a banana. I also grabbed another banana and a bagel to munch on while waiting.

When the unofficial results finally came in, I was a bit surprised. They showed my time as 9:11 rather than 8:41! After consulting with some of my fellow climbers, it looked like a bunch of the times were off. I promptly went to the official time keeper and asked them to re-check my time. Since the race volunteers hand wrote our start & finish times manually on a piece of paper, the race official recalculated my time and changed it to 8:53. Not what I had expected, but still good enough for the top position.

The next couple hours were spent waiting for the other racers to finish. Around 8:30 AM, I found out that Joseph DeVleming posted a blazing time of 8:23! I was bumped down to 2nd place and my friend Steve was bumped to third. Such is life in the stairwell.

At that point I was pretty sure I would finish 2nd overall, but I had another surprise waiting for me. In the very last heat, I noticed an athletic looking fellow at the head of the line. Michael, Steve, and I thought he looked like a serious athlete, but we doubted he'd succeed in beating our times. Boy, were we were wrong.

Joseph, Alex, Jennifer, & Tim
The official timer broke the new to us. A fellow by the name of Tim Donahue shattered the old course record with a time of 7:57! I was pretty stunned. Who the heck was this guy? At the awards ceremony, I had to settle for third place and my friend Steve got knocked off the podium.

Sproule's friend Tim Donahue
After the ceremony, I chatted with Joseph briefly and then hung around to talk to Tim. After a bit of conversation, I learned that this fellow was a pretty good X-country skier, so of course I asked him if he knew the infamous Sproule Love. Sure enough, Tim knew Sproule very well... they are training partners and they travel to races together. I'm still getting schooled by Sproule, even when he doesn't race. Go figure!

Here are my final thoughts about the race:
  • A $250 donation is way too much for this race. I should have flown to Vegas for the Strat.
  • If I ever do this race again, I will request a later starting time. I'm sick and tired of having to wake up well before 5:00 AM for a local race. Tower Masters stand united!
  • The race was disorganized. They had a difficult time checking in people and did a horrible job with the timing. A couple guys in the elite heat didn't even show up in the final list. Additionally, several climbers had their times off by a significant amount. Although they screwed up some very important aspects of the race, I admit they did a pretty good job getting all 1000+ climbers into the stairwell. Likewise, they had plenty of goodies for the climbers. 
  • Racing Tactics: B- , Race Exertion: C- , Overall Grade: C . I should have set my metronome for 90 bpm at the start of the race. I raced way too conservatively in the first third of the race and had too much energy near the end of the race.
  • The steps didn't seem to be very steep, so I suspect they were only 7.5 inches rather than 8.0 inches (per my calculations). I am beginning to tire of incorrect race information. This time around it really hurt my race.
  • Next time I will add 15 seconds to my predicted time for this race. There were 6 or so landings which required running.
  • Add Peter Janki to the list of dangerous racers. He finished this race in just over 9:00 minutes. He also did the Empire State building in under 14:00, right behind me. He is a nice fellow and shook my hand after the awards ceremony. Note that Peter was not the fellow who started first. The name of the other sub 14:00 ESBRU climber is still a mystery to me.
  • Did I finish the race in 8:41 or 8:53? I admit I'm not really sure. I remember 8:41, but I also know my mind wasn't at 100% after the race and I only glanced at my watch.
  • Even though Michael was also disappointed with his race, I'm still proud of him. He set a new PR of 9:49. Likewise, my friend Steve set a new PR of 8:58, finally breaking the 9 minute barrier.
  • "Climbers Cough" only lasted a few hours at most. No feeling of nausea at the end of the race. Although that means I under-performed, I hope it will help me recover quickly for the Albany Corning Tower on Thursday.
  • It would have been nice if Joseph or Tim started with the rest of the elites. At least I'd *like* to think I would have given Joseph a bit of competition if we started off together ;-) That said, I’m doubtful I could have broken 8:30 (assuming my time really was 8:53) so even if I had a very good race, I’m pretty sure I would have had to settle for third. Joseph and Tim are both amazing athletes.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Take me Back to Chicago

“Hustle up the Hancock” is finally over. The travel was brutal, but in the end it was worth it. I managed to crack the top ten in one of the biggest races in the US. With a time of 11:11, I earned 6th place overall (5th place male)! See the overall results here.

Travel was the biggest challenge of the trip. I caught the 6:30PM bus to NYC on Friday night and spent the night in Queens. On Saturday morning, I took a cab to LaGuardia, hopped on a plane to Philly, and finally hopped on another plane to O’Hare. Once my plane landed, I rushed to the Blue Line (subway) in order to get to down town Chicago as quickly as possible. I had arranged a group dinner at the Elephant & Castle and I was running late!

Fortunately, I arrived just as folks were about to order dinner. Surprisingly enough, only about half of the invitees showed up. Oz had a valid excuse (he was sick), but Brady and company bailed last minute. When I heard the news, I was stunned. I felt miserable and downtrodden. I wept uncontrollably for an hour and cried myself to sleep…Ok, so I’m kidding about the last part, but I figured I’d get a good barb in before Brady smokes me at the next race ^_^.

Ed, Alex, Bob, Brenda, Karen, and David at Elephant & Castle
In actuality, I had very good time at dinner. I met a few new people (Bob & Brenda, Karen, & David) and got to hang out with my friend Ed from Toronto. Our conversation centered on stair climbing (what else!) including training, race strategy, other climbers, and details about the Hancock Tower. After dinner, the hostess was kind enough to take our picture.
 After dinner, I walked to the John Hancock Tower to scope out the building and to make sure I knew how to get there from the subway. I then stopped by Walgreen’s to pick up some yogurt and milk for breakfast. I then headed back to my hotel, which unfortunately was nearby O’Hare (about an hour away).

I checked into the hotel around 10:00 PM and organized my belongings to minimize my morning preparation. I also asked for a late check-out so I would be able to store my luggage in my room and take a shower before the plane ride home. That bit of forethought was probably the smartest thing I did the entire trip.

The next morning I was up by 4:45 AM and out the door by 5:00. To save time, I decided to take a short cut and jump over the hotel’s iron wrought fence. In the process of climbing over, I partially dislocated my left shoulder. Although I’ve been doing shoulder exercises and rehabilitation for an old shoulder injury (from a biking accident) my shoulder still isn’t 100%. Hauling myself over the fence put my shoulder in just the right spot to pop it out of position. It hurt like heck. In fact, as I’m writing this blog, my shoulder *still* aches. 

The good news was that although my shoulder hurt, I was still able to use it when I climbed up the stairs to the subway platform. The bad news was that I arrived just as the train rolled out of the station. Drat! Fortunately, I left early enough so I still had plenty of time to get to the race. As I waited for the next train I ate my breakfast (yogurt, and English muffin, & an apple) and downed my coffee milk (for that good ‘ol jolt of caffeine). Fifteen minutes later, I was on the train bound for the Hancock.
Hancock Tower in the Early Morning
 I arrived at the Hancock Tower a good 30 minutes before the race and ran into my friend Ed as he was entering the building. Just like at Empire, this race was crowded! But unlike Empire, there was some semblance to the madness. After a brief warm-up, I lined up with the other elite climbers and headed downstairs to the start line. There I finally ran into my friend (and fellow Tower Master) Michael! We continued our warm-ups as we waited for the race to start.
Soon enough we all lined up in order of our bib numbers. I was nervous and my legs felt like marmalade. I was scheduled to start 19th which was a little far back than I expected, but I wasn’t too worried about passing people. Unlike Empire, I knew the stairwell wouldn’t be crowded and elite climbers are usually pretty nice about letting others pass.

After a short wait, the race started. I drank a couple sips of water to wet my throat and calm my nerves and then set my metronome to 93 beats per minute*. Soon enough, it was my turn to enter the stairwell.

*Why 93bpm? This race is slightly shorter than Empire, so I thought I *might* have a shot at keeping 92 bpm. The extra +1 bpm is because during the Hancock pre-race dinner, we calculated the step height to be 7.375 inches (just a little bit shorter than a typical 7.5 inch step).

I entered the stairwell and immediately matched my pace to my metronome’s beat. The pace seemed easy, but I knew the feeling wouldn’t last long. I resisted the urge to go faster even though the person behind me was quickly catching up. Right before he was about to pass me, he said something like “I can’t start off to fast” and then backed off. In retrospect, that was a pretty smart move. Had this been the Willis Tower and our roles reversed, I certainly would have sprinted right on by (and paid the price later in the race)!

The stair case itself was nearly perfect for climbing. The rails were made of metal tubes which are easy to grip and placed in just the right spot so that I could easily turn around the landings. My only complaint was that the rails felt about an inch too low than what I’m used to and the stairwell itself turned to the left which I’m not quite used to.

Around floor 7 or so I started passing people other racers. I must have passed 4 or 5 people but one climber in particular stuck to my memory; Ahead of me I could hear someone climbing at a much faster pace than I was climbing, but strangely enough the footfalls were becoming louder and louder. Was I actually catching up? Soon enough, I passed a fellow who was running up the stairs one step at a time, not really even bothering with the rails. Mystery solved ^_^. Despite his technique, he seemed to be going quite fast, although I’m certain he was wasting energy running rather than climbing.

Around the 40th floor or so, I started to really feel the effects of the climb. I went out just a little bit too quickly and I could no longer keep just one foot on the landings. In retrospect, I should have slowed down my metronome a few bpm rather than “two step” the landings, but at that point my brain was solely focused on ignoring the pain.

For the next 20 floor or so I didn’t meet a soul although by the 60th floor I could hear someone ahead of me. I assumed it was one of the girls, since I caught a glimpse of a pink jersey, but my brain was acting so sluggish that I couldn’t tell who it was. Eventually I passed her and figured out the identity of this mystery woman: Kourtney Dexter, one of the top three racers in the US!

The next 15 or 20 floors were all a big blur. I felt like I was slowing down and I’m sure I was falling behind the beat every now and then. At the same time, I knew I couldn’t slow down too much if I wanted to get a good time and place. I also didn’t want to slow Kourtney down since she was literally just a few steps behind me. However, by the 85th floor, I was at my breaking point. I really wanted to let Kourtney pass and let her set the pace. I was hanging on by a just a thread, and I couldn’t even see straight.

Kourtney was right on my tail and I started to move aside to let her pass, but she wouldn’t take the bait. She just gave me nudge and told me to go. I can’t remember what she said, but it was just enough encouragement to keep me moving through the pain. With only a few more flights left, I attempted to pick up the pace, but my legs simply wouldn’t go any faster. Instead, I just pulled on the rails a bit harder to accelerate up the last flights.

I remember only one thing quite clearly; although there was just a short flat section between the landing and the timing mat, it felt very odd running on a flat surface again. It kind of felt like the bike/run transition (in a tri) only my legs felt much, much worse. My legs felt wobbly and leaden. Passing the final timing mat, I simply crumpled to the floor. It took me a couple extra minutes to extract myself from the ground and make my way to a nearby chair.

After recovering for a good long while, I was finally able to socialize with the other climbers from WCL. I forgot to bring my watch, so I hadn’t a clue what my time was, although I was pretty confident I had come close to my 11 minute goal time.

Since the view at the top was so spectacular, I decided to go back down to get my camera. When the elevator operator wouldn’t let me on the elevator, I told them I needed to bring up an asthma inhaler to someone who just finished the race. The excuse worked perfectly*, and soon I was back up at the top with my camera.

*Technically, I wasn’t lying. At the top, I took a couple of puffs of albuterol to control my “stairwell cough”.

After taking a bunch of photos with the other WCL climbers, I eventually I caught up with Michael and Ed and headed over to the Hilton for the after climb party. I also ran into Bob, just before as he was heading down to the start line. At the party we verified our times & places. I came in 5th place (male) with a time of 11:11. Ed came in 10th with a time of 11:55. Michael came in 20th with a time of 12:44. Awesome! I was mostly pleased with my time, because it shows I’m starting to catch up with the top climbers, although knew I could have broken 11:00 if I had started the race a tad slower.
Eric & Kourtney. Aren't they cute?
Luis came all the way from Guadalajara!

View from the top!
Ed, Michael, and Alex.

Justin is telling us he won the event!
Kristen, Alex, & Brady checking
out the after party buffet.

Bob and I right before his race.

The selection of food and other goodies was fairly good. I snagged some Kefir yogurt, string cheese, a bagel, two bottles of 5-hour energy, some FRS chews, a bag a pretzels, a couple bananas, a bottle of water, a bottle of muscle milk, and a couple of cliff bar samples. Not a bad haul. When I was satiated with goodies, I met a few more WCL climbers and then said our goodbye to Ed who had a plane to catch.

Outside the Field Museum
At that point, my energy was back to normal levels, but my body felt like crap. My throat was sore and I was coughing up phlegm because I worked my lungs so hard during the race. My stomach felt nauseous, which seems to happen whenever over exert myself. Finally, my shoulder was still aching from my early morning mishap with the hotel’s fence. To avoid thinking how crappy we felt, Michael and I decided to head over to the Field Museum to check out the new Genghis Khan exhibit.

Although I only had a couple hours to spend at the museum, it was the best choice of the day. Michael is somewhat of a history buff, and I like anthropology, too. I was already somewhat familiar with Genghis Khan (born as Temujin) and it was great to learn about the history of the Mongolian empire, learn about their conquests, and see some Mongolian artifacts up close. I wish I was allowed to take pictures.

After the museum, it was time to say goodbye to Michael and head home. After a brief stop at my hotel for a quick shower, it was all planes, trains, buses, taxis & automobiles. I finally arrived home on Monday morning, just before lunchtime. What a trip!

Here are my final random thoughts & comments:
  • Ed had an awesome race and maintained his technique throughout the race. Learn from him!!!
  • For my next race, slow down the metronome to 90 bpm and DON’T slack off on the landings late in the race. I went out slightly too fast, and I paid for it on the upper floors. I give myself an A+ for effort and a B for race tactics for an overall ranking of an A-.
  • Pester Michael to improve his rail technique. He has the capability of sub 12:00 at Hancock. He will kill it at the Rock this weekend!
  • Try to get a hotel within walking distance to the race, although staying near the airport wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.
  • Late checkout is the way to go. A post-race shower before flying out is well worth it.
  • Spend the extra few bucks for a direct flight into O’Hare, possibly from Albany if the price is right.
  • Note to self: My CTA (subway) card still has $7.00 left.
  • No more gate jumping! Shoulder still hurts.
  • Stairwell cough & Nausea lasted about 24 hours. Lungs ached for nearly 48 hours. Ready to race again on Tuesday.
  • Meet more climbers!