Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bennington Part 2: Race Day

I had a wonderful time in Bennington this past weekend and our WCL came in first place! Take a look the results here. I’m very happy with the overall results since we just barely managed to form a team for this event.
Race day started off smoothly. Since the race started at 10:00 and Bennington is only 41 miles from my house, I was able to wake up at a reasonable hour and still get to the race early. At race check in, I met up with my friend Bob and his son Ben*. A few minutes later, my friend Steve Marsalese arrived and our team was complete... until I learned we needed a minimum of 5 climbers to form a team! Fortunately, I saw Fred Eames at race check-in and I managed to sign him up on our team at the last minute. Fred is probably one of the best 60+ stair climbers in the US and he held the Corning Tower record (4:50) for 8 years prior to the era of David Tromp, Jean Francois Harvey, and Jesse Berg. What is even more impressive is that Fred set the record when he was in his
*Bob traveled all the way from Indiana to do this race with his son Ben, who is a graduate student at RPI (a nearby college).
The weather was perfect in Bennington; Bright and Sunny and not very hot. About 30 minutes before the race, our team ventured into the Bennington monument for a look at the course. Here were my observations:
·        Much cooler on the inside of the building
·        Very dark! Several sections were unlit
·        The steps wrapped around the inside walls with 90 degree turns
·        There were only a couple landings, so running was kept to a minimum
·        The rise/run ration was very small; in other words the steps very short (only about 5.5 inches tall) and were very broad. Maybe they were a couple feet long? I did not bring a ruler L
·        The outer rail was situated at a convenient height, but the inner rail was much too high to grip effectively. This was probably done for safety reason since the tower was originally open (they added an elevator shaft later). I could only grip the vertical posts going around the turns.
·        The stairwell and handrails were a bit rusty (but not dangerously so).
·        The final 20 stairs or so is a narrow circular staircase which is difficult to navigate.
After we made it to the top, we spent some time trying to figure out the best way to climb the circular staircase. The two methods that seemed to work well were:
1)      Take the outside part of the steps one at time with “quick feet”.
2)      Take the inside part of the steps two at time by leaning toward the center and keeping one hand on the rail and another on the stairs themselves.
I planned to race with the 2nd option because it seemed much faster.
We then descended via elevator to await the start of the race. About 10 minutes before the start of the race, I began my usual warm-up and then lined up with Steve & Paul Curley (another well-known climber and former pro cyclist) to start the race.
At 10:01 sharp, I bolted up the stairwell. Since was such a short race, I went out hard and fast. I couldn’t use the inner rail effectively, so I simply ran up the stairs taking two steps at a time. Fortunately, I was able to grip the vertical railing supports to aid in turning. I glanced at my watch around the 40 second mark and was still keeping pace. However in the span of about 15 seconds, I went from feeling tired but strong to feeling like crap. Right around the 55 second mark, I hit “The Wall”. My breathing was okay but my quads simply stopped working. I knew I was close to the top, so I plodded along as fast as my legs would manage. Soon enough, the circular staircase was in view and the end was literally in site. I entered the final stairwell… and promptly fell down. My muscles were so full of lactic acid that I lacked basic coordination in my legs. I pulled myself back up and fell down again a couple steps later. My feet kept on getting tangled up in the stairs. I got up again and fell down for a third time about half way up. At that point I was in a panic; I was so close to the finish and I just couldn’t climb up the damn staircase! I crawled on my hands and knees for the rest of the way up and just finished the race. When I heard my time (1:22) I said a couple choice curse words. I was pretty disappointed since not only did I fail to meet my goal time of 1:18, but I also failed to reach the 1:20 mark. It took a few minutes to catch my breath and in the meantime I greeted the other climbers (Steve, Paul, Fred, etc.) as they finished the race. Although my breathing was soon back to normal, my quads were on fire and I shook out my legs to relieve the pain. Eventually, we all descended the tower via the elevator.
Down at the bottom, I had a quick snack (free Cliff bars!) and socialized with the other racers. I had another 90 minutes or so to wait until my second run-up and I spent a bit of time thinking about what went wrong during the race and how could I improve during my 2nd attempt.
First, I lost a bit of time at the end on the final circular stair case. I don’t really know how much time I lost by tripping up a few times, but I guess I lost about 2-3 seconds. To prevent falling during my 2nd attempt, I planned to stay to the outside taking one step at a time using “quick feet”. Although this method of climbing might little bit slower, I figured this method required less coordination and would ultimately save a couple seconds.
Next, I hit “The Wall” right around the 55 second mark and I lost during the latter third of the race. Rereading my initial post, this was exactly what I was worried about in the days leading up to the race. “The Wall” also happened pretty much where I thought it might happen. I must be prescient! To compensate, I knew I had to use the rails no matter how uncomfortable they were. Although I might lose a bit of efficiency by using the rails, if I could delay the onset of fatigue for another 10 seconds, I’d be able to cut a few extra seconds off of my time.
Last but not least, my legs were pretty much spent after climbing so hard during the first run-up. I knew I needed time for my legs to recover, so I chose to do my 2nd run-up closer to noon (near the end) rather than go up with Steve and Paul around 11:20ish in order to maximize my recovery. I felt that every extra minute of rest was precious since I was worried that I’d hit the wall even earlier during my 2nd run up simply because my legs were already toast. I know it might seem far-fetched that my legs were in such bad shape after just 82 seconds of exercise and if it didn’t happen to me, I would’ve been skeptical. The only plausible explanation that I can think of is that I pumped my legs so full of lactic acid in such a short amount of time that I needed a good long rest to recover.
Finally, it was time for my 2nd run-up. My legs didn’t feel fresh, but I certainly think the extra 30 minutes of rest helped. I entered the stairwell at a slightly slower pace than during my 1st run up in order to make sure I wouldn’t hit the wall prematurely. I consciously focused on using the inner rail and although it was pretty awkward. I’m glad I did; I tripped a couple time on the steps but holding on to the rails prevented me from falling down. Honestly, it didn’t feel like using the rails helped me climb (i.e. it felt like I was transferring very little power to the rails) but with only a few flights to go, I did not have to resort to a power walk. I got to the final circular staircase and took the outside lane. Taking one step at a time certainly felt slow, but I managed to ascend the final staircase without any incident and finish the race. Unfortunately, my final time (1:27) was five seconds slower than my first attempt. Although disappointed, I wasn’t really surprised. Although I climbed more efficiently this time around, my legs were just too tired to compete at 100%.
A couple minutes later, Bob and Ben finished their 2nd run-up, which was cause for celebration. Both of them smashed their previous attempt by a good 10 seconds! Once again, Bob edged out his son by a single second*.
*Which makes me feel pretty good; It means I have a good 20 years of racing before passing the torch down to the next generation J.
Since we were literally the last racers, all that was left was the official times to be posted. By this time, Fred and Steve had already left*, but we knew that our entire team made the top ten and Bob, Ben, and I enjoyed what was left of the post-race buffet.
*Steve hails from NYC and had to work that afternoon!
When the results were finally posted, we confirmed our times and received the lion’s share of the awards. Steve and I came in first and second overall and Fred, Bob, and Ben all won their age groups. Best of all, we received a beautiful team award plaque, which was extra special. In most other ALA races, we just receive an additional medal. Better yet, Bob and Ben suggested that I get to keep it for the team! To celebrate, I met Bob and Ben back in Albany for bite to eat a few hours after the race*.
*If you are ever in Albany, you just have to try Crisson’s Bakery and L’il Buddha CafĂ© down in Lark Street!
Here are my final thoughts:
·        I thoroughly enjoyed Bennington. It was a perfect day for having a race and because the race is pretty small and is close to home, it doesn’t fill up the entire day.
·        The length of the course taxes the anaerobic system much more than the aerobic system. Although I was breathing heavily throughout the race, my legs gave out first. It is definitely suited toward sprinters.
·        In my estimation, the course favors tall climbers who can use the rails effectively. It also favors short but light climbers who don’t have a lot of upper body mass (i.e. climbers who have a much lower arm/leg power ratio).
·        Grade 1st attempt: Strategy = B-; Exertion = A; Technique = D; Overall = B-;
·        Grade 2nd attempt: Strategy = B+; Exertion D; Technique = B-; Overall C+;
·        It is amazing how I close I predicted where I’d hit the wall. I also predicted that the rails would be difficult to use and the how challenging the circular stairs would be to ascend. That said, I *still* underestimated these challenges.
·        Although I’m quite disappointed with my results, I’ll definitely come back. I know with a set of fresh legs and improved technique that I’ll be able to break 1:20. It just won’t be as easy as I initially thought!