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!

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