Thursday, December 20, 2012

Trumped in Stamford

Editor's note: I'm way behind in updating my blog, so here is the 1st of 5 recent updates. This particular post was written in mid December 2012. Pictures will be added at a later date, since I'm having trouble downloading them from my camera.

The results from the Parc Trump in Stamford are in and can be found here. I set a new course record at 2:40 and broke my old course record by 7 seconds! Unfortunately, my new record did not stand long. Sproule Love - who started 30 seconds behind me - finished in 2:30. My new record stood for a total of 20 seconds. Sproule was just too fast!

Race day started off early. I woke up at 5:00 AM and was out the door by 6:00 AM. The drive was mostly uneventful, but there was a lot of fog on the Taconic Parkway so I had to drive a bit cautiously.

I arrived in Stamford just after 8:30 and rushed to get changed and checked in. Knowing I was pressed for time, I immediately started my warm up routine. I did a set of burpees right at check-in (at the SBC brewery), again at the coat check (at the Parc Trump), and a third set while waiting at the start line. It wasn't my best warm-up, but it was much better than starting the race cold.

I met my the other Tower Masters at the start line: Steve, Paul, & Napoleon. The only person missing was Sproule; he was still in the stairwell warming up. I also would have liked to have a few minutes in the stairwell, but with only a few minutes to go, I wanted a couple minutes to calm down and relax.

Everyone was quiet during the last minute before the start of the race. Then, as the clock struck 9:00 AM, I entered the stairwell.

I climbed into trouble as soon as I hit the first landing. I simply could not get a firm grip on the railing and I had a very hard time turning the first few corners. In fact, going around the first few turns, I caught myself from tripping not once, but twice. I felt like a fish out of water! I had similar problems last year (you can read about it here) and this ascent wasn't any easier. Paraphrasing my blog from last year:

“The Parc Trump is a very technical course (as far as stairwells go). With only 588 stairs covering 66 flights or so, most flights have only 8 stairs between landings. 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 completing a turn once every 2.4 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.”

Although I had trouble with the turns, I pretty much nailed the pacing during the first part of the race. I went out a smidgen faster than I had planned, but still below my burnout point.

The floors passed by quickly and by the 10th floor, I settled into an awkward rhythm best described as “controlled chaos”. I stayed on the upper inside rail as much as possible, but it was hard to get a good pull around the corners.

By the middle of the race, my heart rate was hitting the redline and it was getting more difficult to climb. Since I was still feeling awkward in the stairwell, I tried out a few different techniques. My first variation was to use the lower rail rather than the upper rail.  My right shoulder was starting to ache because I had to reach up so high to grasp the upper rail so using the lower rail provided some measure of relief. The downside was that I couldn't get a good handhold going around the turns. Next, I tried using both sides of the railing rather than just the inner railing, but I abandoned this method after a couple floors. My arms were just a bit too short to use both sides effectively and I felt that the flights were too short to justify staying in the center of the staircase; as soon as I’d grip both sides of the rails, I’d have to let go again to turn the corner. Finally, I just decided to keep on the upper inner rail – shoulder pain be damned.

I wasn't at my best during the final third of the race. Although I was hurting, I wasn't in danger of having my legs give out. I should have sucked it up and gone faster, but instead I just kept my current pace. Somewhere near the 30th floor, a cameraman snapped a few pictures and the camera’s flash took me off-guard. I stumbled around the turn and nearly face planted on the stairs. At that point, any hope of winning fell away. I didn't have that competitive spark and I just continued my current pace. I coasted up the last few flights of stairs gasping for air. After crossing the finish line I stopped my watch. 2:41. It was definitely better than last year, but still about 10 seconds slower than my goal.

At that point, all I could do was wait for Sproule to arrive. After about 15 seconds of waiting, I had held the faintest hope of winning the race, but moments later I could hear cheering in the stairwell. I knew it was going to be close. When Sproule finally arrived, I glanced down at my watch again. It had passed the three minute mark, but not by much. Assuming he started exactly 30 seconds behind it meant he had made up 5-10 seconds in the stairwell. But then I heard one of the time keepers indicate that Sproule unofficially made it up in 2:15 or so. I was in awe.

After recovering for a minute or so, Sproule and I waited for the rest of our teammates to finish. Once everyone had recovered somewhat, we took the elevator down to the 7th floor to relax and chat. We also wished Napoleon luck since he registered the day of the race and wouldn't climb until well after 10:00 AM.

After Napoleon’s race we all headed to the SBC brewery to wait for the awards ceremony and get a bite to eat. As people were leaving, I snuck back into the stairwell to take a few measurements and map out the course. Below is a short summary of the stairwell. As you can see, the published course information isn't accurate.

Total Steps: 551 (vs. 588 published)
Step Height: 6.75 inches
Course Height: 94.5 meters
Up to floor 7, the stairs turn to the left, and are mostly laid out in an 8/8 configuration. Up until floor 22, the stairs turn to the right continuing the 8/8 pattern. The last section continues turning to the right in a mostly 9/8 configuration. The course ends at the 34 floor (top). The course seems to be missing floors 13 and 23.

Keep in mind, I did not double check my work, so my step count might be a little off.

The best part of the race was getting to hang out with Steve, Paul, Sproule, Napoleon, & Jamie. I really like stair climbing, but I rarely get a chance to actually talk about it. I love hearing stories about epic battles up the Empire State Building and getting training tips from stair climbing veterans. Even though we had to wait until 11:30 to get our official times, it was an easy wait.

Checking the final times, I was relieved to know that I was only 10 seconds behind Sproule! Up until that point, I was worried the gap was more like 20-25 seconds. Ten seconds is within striking distance given enough training, discipline, and a bit of luck. But if the gap was 20 seconds… well, I might as well just give up give up the chase.

The other Tower Masters also had a fine showing. Napoleon grabbed a podium spot. Steve set a personal best. Paul, our team’s rookie, had a solid first climb. Last but not least, Sproule set a new course record!

Unfortunately, we missed out on the team award because one of our team member’s didn't get added to the roster; I signed most of our team members the day of the race, so I’m sure the paperwork got lost in the pre-race shuffle. Instead, the team award went to the Connecticut  Healthcare Stair Runners. They are a good group of climbers that David Tromp & I teamed up with at the Hartford climb.

This poses a very good question. Should we be upset that we lost the team award because of an administrative error? Or should the Tower Masters be competing for the team award at all?

On one hand, we've put a lot of effort into training and deserve the recognition. But on the other hand, our Tower Masters team had a huge advantage. We’re mainly comprised of folks who know each other through the competitive stair climbing circuit. How could another team compete with us when we've poached all the best climbers? It brings to mind an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer beats up a bunch kids at a karate school. I dearly love helping my Tower Masters win races, but at the same time it is hard to be proud of beating up a bunch of kids.

Last but not least, here is my post-race analysis:
Grades: Strategy= A-; Exertion = B-; Technique = C-; Overall = B-;
·        Sproule beat me on three different fronts:
1)      He was better prepared mentally. He had his game face on at the start line. No idle chit-chat; he was just focused on the upcoming race.
2)      He was better prepared for tackling the stairwell. He came to the race early and spent some time checking it out.
3)      He was better prepared physically (big surprise!)
·        I need to get into the stairwell the next time I race at Stamford. I had a hard time with the rails and I need to figure out how to take the turns faster. I imagine that is where I lost most of my time. Oddly enough, I said the same thing in my blog last year. I should have taken my own advice! Getting to the race early will also help me get mentally prepared; driving fast in heavy fog to avoid being late certainly didn't help my nerves.
·        The best part of the race was listening to everyone’s opinion about training.
1)      Sproule recommended mixing up my training. The only way to grow is to force your body to adapt. He also recommends pushing yourself well into the suffering zone. You have to be a bit masochistic to do this sport.
2)      Napoleon recommends incorporating heavy weights (especially leg raises) to help prevent injury. Since most of my leg exercises are done using low weights with high reps, I might be at risk of getting an overuse injury. After all, low weight, high rep squats/lunges are pretty similar to climbing stairs, something that I do quite frequently. Heavy weights will help mix up my routine and have the added benefit of protecting my knees (by strengthening the muscles direct around the knees).
3)      Steve always recommends running J. This time I might listen since the ESBRU requires a fair amount of running.
·        Recently, I've been having problems getting enough sleep. I've been getting a little over 7 hours, but I need about 8.  I forced myself to go to sleep early for a couple nights prior to the race and I felt considerably recharged on race day morning.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Racing Trump Style

The last race of the year is fast approaching. I will once again tackle the Trump Parc in Stamford, CT on December 8th. It was originally scheduled for November 3rd (the same weekend as Willis) but because of Hurricane Sandy, it was postponed.*
*I’m probably the only person in New York grateful for Hurricane Sandy!

This race really should be classified as just a “fun run” since it doesn't offer any additional tower running ranking points. However, it gives me a chance to compare myself to where I was a year ago* as well as test myself against some serious competition; I expect Sproule Love, Tim Donahue, Steve Marsalese, and hopefully Michael Karlin to be at the race. The timing couldn't be more perfect. I’m still at a very high fitness level thanks to all the preparation I did for Willis** and I still have a couple months to train for the heart of racing season in February & March.
*to read about how I did at the Parc Trump last year, click here.
** (albeit a couple pounds heavier)

Although I’m very excited for this race, there is also a hint of urgency and frustration. Here is why: The Empire State Building Run-up (ESBRU) registration is now open and only 10 or 20  athletes will be allowed to participate in the elite start. Last year’s race wasn't a very good experience for me (see my thoughts from last year here) and with potentially fewer racers in the elite start, it makes my chances of getting into it even smaller. I trained diligently over the past year to put myself in contention for an elite spot and I've done well enough over the course of the season to warrant consideration. Stamford is my last chance to  show that I deserve to be on the ESBRU start line.

The truth is, even if I somehow manage to win in Stamford, I still doubt the ESBRU organizers (the NYRR) will select me. My time from last year was simply too slow for them to take notice (13:56*) and I doubt they’ll consider my other more recent tower racing results. To be fair, however, I think I’m only capable of a 12:30 time at ESBRU which should put me in the top 20… but just barely. As such, my current game plan will be to:
1) Cross my fingers & get in through the lottery in 2013
2) Go around 150 or so other climbers in the time trial and somehow still break the 13 minute mark
3) Cross my fingers and hope that I’ll be let into the elite race in 2014
*To find out why I’m not happy with last year’s results and why the NYRR is partly to blame, click here.

Although I don’t have control over who gets into the ESBRU, I do have control over my own performance. I’m going to give Stamford my best shot and see if I can match pace with Sproule and company. I don’t really expect to win, but it won’t stop me from trying my best.

Just for fun, I spent some time predicting how well I’d do in the race relative to Sproule. On paper, I actually have an outside shot of retaining my title. My reasoning is as follows:
1) Sproule kicked my but at Hartford last March by a whopping 13 seconds. However, Stamford is a little bit shorter, so the gap at Stamford should be more like 11 seconds.
2) I’m in much better shape today than I was in March. My practice climbs are 2 seconds faster now than they were back in March, and Stamford is about 3 times the height of my practice climb. As such, I should be able to shave off at least another 6 seconds. This puts Sproule ahead by only 5 seconds.
2) Looking at the “Power vs. Time” chart for races a 2 second difference in a 45 second race translates to more like a 7.5 second difference in a 2:30 minute race. Taking this into consideration, this puts Sproule only 3.5 seconds ahead of me!

Although the numbers are heartening, I’m still putting my money on Sproule to win this race. I hope I can make it somewhat competitive, but I don’t have illusions of grandeur. My main goal will be to simply beat my time from last year. Based on my training results, I should be able to beat my previous record by a solid 15 seconds, so going sub 2:30 is a distinct possibility. If I come close, I know I’m where I need to be for the 2013 racing season.