Sunday, December 29, 2013

Power Up a Tower: Part 3

In Power up a Tower: Part 1, I showed the relationship between work (J) and power (watts). I also introduced the power to mass ratio metric (watts/kg) which can be used to measure the performance of different climbers climbing the same building. Finally, I showed an example of how the power to mass ratio of climbers depends on the height of a climb.

In Power up a Tower: Part 2, I built upon the principals of work & power presented in part 1 and I showed the relationship between power output and race length. Using this relationship, I was able develop a method to predict racer’s finish time based on prior results in a different building (i.e. at different height and race duration).

In this post, I will focus on a slightly more practical topic for the average fitness enthusiast: How many calories are burned while climbing stairs?*

*Dedicated to Jason Larson who inadvertently sparked my interest on this topic.

To answer this question, you first need to understand that overall calorie burn can be broken up into two separate pieces:
1) Calories burned due skeletal muscle exertion (e.g. using your muscles when climbing stairs.
2) Calories burned due to other processes occurring within the body (e.g. process of digestion, the functioning of your brain and other organs, etc.).

As I explain each piece, I’ll use my latest Sears Tower climb as an illustrative example. Here are a few pieces of information you’ll need to know about my latest climb.
Climber: Alex Workman
Mass: 80 kg
Mass of shoes & clothes: 1 kg
Percent Body Fat: 11%
Height of Climb: 412 meters
Duration of Climb: 15 minutes*

*Actually, it only took me 14 minutes and 53 seconds, but for illustrative purposes, 15 minutes is close enough.

Calories Burned via Bodily Processes:
The 1st piece (skeletal muscle exertion) is the primary calorie burner during vigorous exercise, but the 2nd piece (bodily processes) cannot be completely ignored. After all, the majority of your overall daily calorie expenditure is consumed by your organs while you go about your day-to-day activities (sleeping, eating, sitting, reading, etc.). So what exactly are your caloric needs for your internal processes? It turns out that this topic is pretty complicated, since there are thousands of chemical interactions happening concurrently inside your body every moment of your life. Fortunately, you can approximate this value by using your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). RMR is defined as is the amount of energy expended daily by humans (and other animals) at rest. One method of calculating your RMR is the Cunningham Formula:

P = 500 + (22 x LBM)
where P is your daily caloric needs
where LBM is your Lean Body Mass in kg.

Lean body mass is used in the formula because fat cells have negligible caloric needs to exist, whereas muscle tissue and other organs require energy to function, even when resting. There are several different ways to measure your LBM directly, but as a rule of thumb, you can reference the table below (courtesy of Wikipedia) and make an educated guess.

Body Fat Percentage
Description
Women
Men
Essential fat
10–13%
2–5%
Athletes
14–20%
6–13%
Fitness
21–24%
14–17%
Average
25–31%
18–24%
Obese
32%+
25%+

Using this table, you can estimate your Lean Body Mass:
LBM = your mass  – (your mass x Body Fat Percentage)

Example 1: How many Calories did I burn during the Sears Tower climb due to bodily processes?
Answer: My LBM = 80 kg – (80 kg x 11%) = 71.2 kg.
Using Cunningham’s formula, my daily Caloric needs =  500 + (22 x 71.2 kg) = 2066.4 Calories per day
Since the duration of the climb was only 15 minutes (a quarter of an hour) I burned 2066.4/24 hours x ¼ hour = 22 Calories (rounded to nearest Calorie)

Calorie Burned via Exercise:
Now that we have a method for determining the calories burned due to the natural processes within your body, let’s take a look at calories burned while stair climbing. Using the information presented in Part 1 of this series, the total work output needed to climb a stairwell is:

Work = Mass x 9.81 m/s2 x Distance

Where:
Work is in joules
Mass is in kg (total mass including body mass and mass of clothing & accessories worn)
Distance is in meters (i.e. the total height of the stairwell)

Since 1 joule = 0.239 calories, and 1000 calories = 1 Calorie (aka the kilocalorie which is the dietary Calorie we’re most familiar with) the Calories of work  for a stair climb is:

Calories of Work Output = (Mass x Distance)/426.5

Where:
Mass is in kg.
Distance is in meters
Units for the 426.5 factor is (kg x m)/Calorie

Example 2: How many Calories of work output were needed to climb the Sears Tower?
Answer: My total mass is 81 kg, which includes both my body mass (80kg) and the mass of my clothes & shoes (1 kg). Since the vertical height of the Sears Tower climb is 412 meters, the Calories of work output = (81 kg x 412 m)/426.5 = 78 Calories (rounded)

Looking at the above example, you might think that something seems to be missing. How is it possible that I only needed 78 Calories of work output (the equivalent rate of about 313 Calories per hour) during my 15 minute stair climb?

The truth is, studies have shown that your skeletal muscles are only about 18%-25% efficient at converting energy into work*. The remaining 75%-82% of energy spent by your body is given off as heat**. Although the studies I’ve read on this topic were focused mainly on cycling and rowing, I believe that it also would apply to stair climbing since it is a similarly efficient exercise.

*Compare that with a modern combined-cycle gas turbine/steam turbine power plant that is over 60% efficient!
**Now you know why you sweat so much when climbing stairs.

The last piece of the puzzle is that work performed to climb a stairwell excludes the work performed to swing the arms &  legs and to turn around the corners in the stairwell. Fortunately a paper published by Minetti et. al. (Skyscraper running: physiological and biomechanical profile of a novel sport activity) offers some insight. In this paper, the authors experimentally derived that only about 80% of the total power output is used to climb vertically. Another 5% of the total output is used to swing your limbs and another 15% is used while turning around corners. However, I don’t fully agree with all of these findings. My biggest concern was that the authors assumed that that the power needed to turn around a landing was equivalent to the power needed to run in a 2 meter (about 6’7”) diameter circle. From experience, I know that I make much tighter turns in the stairwell *and* I’m using my arms to keep my center of mass as close to the hand rail as possible. Really I’m just pivoting around the rail (on my inside foot) rather than running around a circle. As such, I believe that the author’s model was quite conservative. Although I have neither experimental evidence nor a kinematic model to predict the power needed to turn around a stairwell landing, I estimate that:
  • 90% of work output is used to climb vertically
  • 5% of work output is used to move your limbs
  • 5% of work output is used to turn around the landings

Including both muscle efficiency and excess power wasted in the stairwell (on turns & extraneous motion) we can use the following formula to calculate the total number of Calories used to climb a stairwell:

Calories used to Climb a Stairwell  = [(Mass x Distance)/384]/Aeff
Where:
Mass is in kg.
Distance is in meters (vertical height of climb)
Units for the 384 factor is (kg x m)/Calorie*
Aeff is the muscle efficiency factor, a unit less number somewhere between 0.18 and 0.25
*note: this is 90% of the 426.5 factor used in the 2nd example

Example 3: How many Calories did I use to climb the Sears Tower?
Answer: We’ve already shown I need 78 Calories of work output to climb the Sears Tower, but this only represents 90% of the total work output exerted by my body.
Therefore overall output of my body = 78 Calories/90% = 87 Calories (rounded).
Since my muscles are pretty inefficient at converting energy into work, I burned far more than just 87 Calories - mostly in the form of heat. Assuming I’m about 22% efficient (estimate), I burned about 87 Calories/22% = 393 Calories during the climb, which is a rate of about 1576 Calories per hour.*

*Note: this does not include the 22 additional Calories burned via my body’s internal processes (which is an order of magnitude smaller than the Calories burned due to climbing).

MET
Have you ever used a piece of exercise equipment and noticed the term “MET” on the electronic display? Well, MET is an acronym for “Metabolic Equivalent of Task”. One MET is defined as 1 Calorie/(kg x hour), and it was originally considered to be the resting metabolic rate of an “average” person. The reason why exercise equipment manufacturers include MET is because it provides a measurement of the intensity of a workout. For example, walking very slowly has a MET of 2.3. This means you are burning 2.3 times as many calories (via exercise) than your body naturally burns while at rest. Here is a short list of common activities and their MET values (courtesy of Wikipedia):

  • Watching TV: MET = 1
  • Walking briskly (3.4 mph): MET = 3.6
  • Jogging: MET = 7
  • Push-ups/Pull-ups: MET = 8
  • Running: MET = 10+ (depending on speed)

Since this article is primarily about stair climbing, lets calculate my MET for climbing up the Sears Tower.

Example 4: What was my MET for climbing the Sears Tower?
Answer: Since we’ve already calculated my RMR in Example 1 and my Calorie expenditure due to climbing in Example 3, the ratio should give an approximate value of MET. In my case that was 393 Calories burned due to climbing per 22 Calories due to my body’s internal processes. This give an approximate value of 
METest= 393/22 = 17.9.
However, my RMR is not exactly the same as the an average person’s. So, taking the definition of 1 MET = 1 Calorie/(kg x hour), it looks like my actual MET is 
METact= 393/(80kg x .25 hours) = 19.7

Taking the ratio of these two MET calculations (i.e. METact/METest) it appears my RMR is about 10% more than the average person.*

*Which makes sense ‘cause I’m totally jacked.

Further Questions:
As you can see from the examples above, stair climbing is a great way to burn calories. However, there are several areas that require further exploration:
1) It has been shown that a trained athlete requires less energy to perform the same amount of work, but that is mainly because a trained athlete recruits fewer muscles to perform a given amount of work. Unfortunately, there is a lot less information about how muscle efficiency (i.e. translating energy into mechanical work vs. heat) varies from person to person. Can muscle efficiency also be increased with training? Is there a biochemical upper limit?
2) How much extraneous work is really spent swinging the arms and legs and turning around the stairwell turns? Minetti et. al. has piqued my interest on this topic. In addition, I’d also like to know the effect of using the rails vs. not using the rails when climbing. I know from experience that using the rails (i.e. using the arms) helps to “save” my legs from anaerobic fatigue, but at the same time, using the rails is not as mechanically efficient as using the legs. I’d like to quantify this trade off. 
3) RMR is a very good measurement of the metabolic needs of your internal processes when the body is at rest, but does it change during exercise? For example, I know that intense exercise makes difficult to think, so I must assume that less energy is used by the brain during exercise. Does the same hold true for other organs? 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Third Time is the Charm

Just like I mentioned in this post, I have been worrying about the Willis (aka Sears) Tower race for several weeks. When I finished the climb, all that stress melted away and for the first time in recent memory, I felt stress free.


The workouts leading to the race were a mixed bag. I had had a seriously kick-ass workout on Tuesday when I set a new PB on my Precor Climber, but broke down mentally during my 15 minute rowing session on Thursday - my last full workout before the race. During that rowing session, I quit when I hit the 12 minute mark. Although I was in some serious pain (i.e. my heart rate was jacked) I know I could of lasted another 3 minutes. But instead, a little voice in my head kept saying "It's okay to stop and rest - you have a race in a few days". Eventually that little voice won out, and believe it or not, I'm still upset that I quit. I would have preferred to end my last workout on a mentally strong note. Instead, I found myself second guessing my mental toughness.

On Friday, I did 25 minutes of light sets of pacing intervals on my practice staircase, just to get my body used to the slower pace I'd be doing at Sears. It was hard enough to get my blood pumping, but slow enough to make sure I wouldn't trash my legs.*

*On Fridays I usually climb for an hour. To get my hour of exercise in without impacting my climbing muscles, I also did 7 rounds of push-ups and 5 rounds of core exercises and 2 rounds of stretches.

That evening, my family drove me to the Schenectady train station and I got on Amtrak's "Lakeshore Limited" and headed West toward Chicago.

The ride was dreadful. Although the seats were pretty spacious, some of the passengers were just plain awful. One lady wouldn't stop talking/swearing on her cell phone even at 1:00 AM in the morning. Another wouldn't stop chatting with her neighbor and I (and the rest of the train car for that matter) learned FAR more than I wished to know about her personal life*. Even with earplugs I had trouble getting to sleep. To add to my misery, I found it difficult to find a comfortable position to sleep in without hurting my neck or back. The last straw was 3 hour delay, which ruined any chance of taking a sight seeing-trip around Chicago.

Ecstasy (the drug), prostitution, losing custody of her daughter, rehab, divorce, welfare, etc... I wish I was making this up.

I finally arrived in Chicago just before 1:00 PM after spending 17+ hellish hours on the train. Since I arrived so late, I had to rush to the Sears tower in order to get my bib before the 2:00 PM deadline. Fortunately, my luck had turned and I ran into my friends Mark, Napoleon, Syd, Thomas, and Steve at the race check-in. Some of us went for a quick bite of lunch and later, I hung out with Syd before heading over to "Lou Manati's" Pizzeria for the West Coast Labels team dinner.

At dinner I was able to see many of my stair climbing friends including my Chicago hosts David Hanley & Kelley Rice as well as my New York home boys Michael Karlin & David Tromp. Unlike two years ago, I knew almost everyone who attended the team dinner. What a difference two years makes*! After we finished with dinner, I participated in the first ever WCL talent show. I did a little bit of juggling (which I'm not very good at) and spun a few plates (which I'm pretty good at). Although I was nervous and distracted by all the lights, it was a lot of fun. Plus, I had a chance to see a bunch of other people's talents: more juggling by Mark and Josh, artwork by Oz and Napoleon, plus my favorite act of the night, a stair-climbing rap by Leland.

*If you have time to kill, you can read about my first experience at a WCL team dinner here.

When it was finally time to leave the restaurant, David drove me back to his place and we (Roxanne, Will, David, Kelley, and I) just hung out until it was time to go to bed.

I went over my racing logic one last time before going to sleep. Last year I set my metronome at 85 BPM and had to slow down during the latter half of the race. According to my post race analysis, I probably should have used 84 BPM in the race. On the other hand, my pre-race calculations* indicated that I'd only need 79 BPM to hit my goal time of 15 minutes. Therefore, decided to compromise and use 82 BPM for tomorrow's race. Considering I was in slightly better shape than one year ago, I felt that this pace would be conservative enough to maintain throughout the entire race. In addition, I memorized my time splits to make sure I'd be on track during the race:

  • 25th floor @ 3:45 
  • 51st floor @ 7:30
  • 77th floor @ 11:15

*Pre-race calculation assumptions:
  • 2132 total steps with 20 steps on a typical floor
  • 890 vertical seconds plus an additional 10 seconds to account for horizontal hallways, twists, & turns
  • 11 footfalls per 20 step floor (which includes an extra step on the landings when I land on my outside foot)
103 Floors of Pain
Photo by M. Pedersen
The next morning, we arrived at Sears about 20 minutes before the start of the race. Inside the building, I greeted a few other climbers and began my warm-up session in earnest: A few minutes of active stretching & jumping jacks followed by two sets of burpees spaced a few minutes apart. I dropped off my personal belonging with Kelley (thank you!) and made my way to the start line with just a few minutes to spare.

The start line was crowded* and chaotic. But even so, we more or less still managed to sort ourselves out in order of climbing ability. Some of the big names ahead of me were Justin, Tim, Oz, David, Cindy, Jesse, and at least one German.

*Although I wanted to get in a quick set of burpees in, there just wasn’t any room.

Standing in line helped calm my nerves since I knew most of the other climbers and could chit-chat and wish people luck while waiting. On the other hand, I lacked the killer instinct & focus I wanted to have at the start of the race. I guess my primary emotion was a sense of relief that I’d be finally be climbing the Sears Tower; I’d been worrying about this race for weeks!

The race finally started a couple minutes past 7:00 AM*. Racers would start every seven seconds, so I had less than a minute to prepare myself. Although my killer instinct was AWOL, I still felt I was going to have a good race; I was in top shape and I had a solid game plan. Plus, I knew the real race wouldn’t begin until floor 51.

*I felt proud that my friend David Tromp had the honor of starting first in race.

I looked around for Thomas Scott, my biggest rival in the U.S. stair-climbing rankings. Fortunately he was starting several spots behind me so I didn’t have to worry about racing head-to-head with him in the stairwell*.  Therefore, I would need to keep my eye on the climber right behind me, Jason Larson, who also wanted to finish the race in about 15 minutes.

*I’d much rather climb by myself in a stairwell rather than race head-to-head.

I set my metronome to 82 BPM, set my watch, and entered the stairwell. I climbed the first few floors effortlessly and the pace seemed far too easy. I could hear Jason below me and by the time we hit the 5th floor he was right behind me. I was just about to let him pass when I realized that he wasn’t gaining any more ground. “Great.”, I thought,  “He is going to mark me the entire way up... letting me do all the work to set the pace.” For a moment I panicked, thinking that I’d be in trouble if I started a head-to-head race. But I quickly reminded myself that the race doesn’t start until the 51st floor. Therefore I kept climbing to my own rhythm and focused on climbing as efficiently as possible.

Somewhere in the 20s I noticed another racer behind us in the stairwell. Glancing down, I saw it was a girl. I guessed it was Alice McNamera, a member of the Australian national rowing team and the 2011 Empire State Building Run-up (ESBRU) champion. Slowly but surely she was catching up. Several floors later, she passed Jason and after another few flights I let her pass me on the inside. She thanked me for letting her pass and from the sound of her Australian accent, I confirmed it was indeed Alice. I contemplated telling her to slow down a bit since at this rate she was on pace for a high 13’s or low 14’s* which is fast by even men’s standards. Instead, I decided to hold my tongue. Who was I to tell an Olympic caliber athlete how to climb? If anyone could crush the women’s record it would be her. So, as I let her by I told her to “Go for the record!"

*I knew that Alice started the race at least 14 seconds behind me since she started at least a couple spots behind me. Since Alice passed me roughly a quarter of the way into the race, that meant her current predicted time was about a minute faster than mine.

At that point I had a choice – either keep up with Alice or stick to my metronome. Again I reminded myself that the race wouldn’t start until the 51st floor. Therefore, I decided to keep my current pace in order to conserve energy and reduce the risk of blowing up too soon (as I did at the US Bank Tower). Alice slowly climbed out of sight leaving Jason and I to duke it out on the stairs.

I hit my first checkpoint* - the 25th floor - right around 3:38. I was a little bit ahead of schedule. This made sense since I was putting a single foot on the landings more often than not. This gave me a little bit of encouragement since I still felt relatively fresh and my 82 BPM pace seemed to be working.

*I can’t remember if I hit the checkpoint before or after Alice passed me.

Things went pretty smoothly all the way until the 2nd checkpoint on the 51st floor. I had dropped Jason a good 10 floors back, even though I dialed back my pace a hair. I glanced down at my watch and I was sitting right about 7:25 which meant I was still a little bit ahead of schedule. By this point I was double stepping the landings more frequently than before, but I still felt I had enough energy to keep up the pace. Now the real race was on!

Cruising up near the 60s, I could hear someone breathing up ahead. I could tell it was a girl and it sounded like she was having a tough time. At first I assumed I was catching up to Alice, but several floors later I realized the heavy breathing belonged to Cindy Harris, the Sears Tower record holder and multiple time ESBRU champion. Although she sounded like she needed a double lung transplant, she still seemed to be climbing efficiently. Even though Alice was well ahead of her at this point, Cindy was still attacking the stairwell, pulling on the rails and taking two steps at a time. A couple of floors later I slipped by her on the landing and continued marching to the beat of the metronome.

The 70s were pretty challenging. I was getting tired and my technique was getting sloppy; I was double stepping the landings much more often than not. When I checked my watch at the 3rd checkpoint on the 77th floor, I was at 11:16, a second behind my goal time. It was an instant wake-up call. In order to break the 15 minute mark, I would have to make up some ground in the final - and hardest - section of the race. It was going to be tough, but if I could kick it up a notch on the last few floors, I’d have a chance. I knew it was a big if.

In the lower 80s (if I remember right) I caught back up to Alice. I could tell she was struggling. As I passed her I felt a twinge of sympathy since I knew her chances of breaking the course record were slowly slipping away and there wasn’t much she could do about it at this point in the climb. I couldn’t even offer a word of encouragement since I was pushing pretty hard myself and my throat was parched – so dry that I grabbed a cup of water from the race volunteers and took a sip before placing the cup back on the stairs.

Although my pace was still solid, I knew I was bleeding time on each landing. If I didn’t do something soon, I wasn’t going to break 15 minutes. I originally planned to make my move somewhere in the mid-90s, but as I approached the 88th floor* I knew that I could handle a faster pace for the remainder of the race. I immediately kicked it up a notch. By the time I reached the mid-90s, I knew was going to break 15 minutes and a sense of relief started to creep in. Although I was nearing my limit, I knew I could hold on.

*Some might say that 88 is a very auspicious number.

I sprinted up the final few floors, confident that I would break 15 minutes, but slightly disappointed that I held so much in reserve. Surprisingly enough, I caught up to Oz somewhere near the 101st floor. Even though he wasn’t having the race he wanted to have, he still offered up a word of encouragement as I passed by. My legs finally started to give out on the last couple flights. I crossed the line and crumpled to the ground. I looked down at my watch and stopped the timer at 14:57, estimating that my official time  would be somewhere between 14:50 and 14:55.  Unlike my last race at US Bank, I was able to move a minute or two after I collapsed. Now that I could think straight, I was pretty thrilled about breaking the 15 minute barrier.
Sprinting to the line
Photo by J. Harris
Tired, but Still Jacked!
Photo by K. Rice

For the next 30 minutes or so I hung out with all my climbing friends at the top of the tower. After consulting some of my climbing peers, I soon learned that my time was likely good enough for 5th place overall! You can see the final results here.

The Gang's all Here!
Photo courtesy of Madeleine, my inspiration for this race
After the race, I spent time with my friends David, Kelley, and Michael. After a quick shower at David’s house and a bit of lunch at Chipotles*, we headed to the Fermilab for the afternoon. At the lab, I learned a bit about Quarks & Leptons and took a tour of the particle accelerator lab where they make proton beams. What a cool experience!

Three Amigos
Sci-Fi fun at the Fermilab
*On our initial attempt to find Chipotles, the GPS brought us to the corporate office. Fortunately we stumbled across an actual restaurant on our way to the lab.

Photos of the Fermilab courtesy of Kelley and David.











After the lab, we went out to eat at a local Thai restaurant and then David drove me back to the Union Station to catch the "Lakeshore Limited" back to Schenectady*. All in all, it was a great weekend. The pressure over the last few weeks was worth it!

*Fortunately the ride back was far more pleasant than my initial trip.

Final Thoughts:
Effort: B; I didn’t push myself hard enough from floors 51 through 88. Likewise, I didn’t sprint hard enough for the last dozen or so floors. I was definitely suffering in the 70s, but since I was able to push the pace from floors 88 onwards, it means I raced too conservatively in the lower sections of the race. Another indication was that it only took me a few minutes to recover after the race.
Strategy: A+; 82 BPM was a solid choice for my pace. I kept me from blowing up near the end of the race.
Technique: A-; I had pretty even splits throughout the climb, although my technique started to get sloppy in the middle of the race. Choosing not to race with Jason & chase after Alice were smart tactical choices.
Overall: A; I have to be pleased with my climb. Not only did I break 15 minutes, but I count myself lucky to have come in ahead of the likes of Thomas, David, Oz, Alice, and Cindy. This might not have been my best race ever, but it certainly was one of my smartest ones.
Final Comments: This building is challenging, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.  I may have raced a little bit too conservatively this time around, but honestly it was a pretty good strategy. I’d rather have a little bit of energy at the end of a race and have sprint to catch up than to burn out near the top and bleed time. If I could do the race again, I think I would try 83 BPM with a goal time of 14:30. However, I’d have to dig really deep to keep the pace through the latter half of the race.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Fear of Sears

For the past few weeks I've been stressing out about racing up the Sears Tower (aka Willis). The height of the building is so intimidating that every time I see the Chicago skyline, a shiver runs down my spine. The building is over 400 meters tall, which is a good 200 meters outside of my comfort zone. My biggest fear is that I'm too heavy to do really well at this race*. I'm also worried that if I don't go below sub 15 minutes this year, I'm never going to gain the respect of the climbing community. All the other big names out there post 14:30 or less, and that is just outside my capability. In fact, my goal this year is just to break 15:00.

*Let me clarify - when I say heavy, I really mean my BMI is too high. There are faster climbers who weigh more than I do, but most of them are several inches taller.

In fact, after the US Bank Tower race in LA, I was ready to bag Sears altogether.I'd much rather make my mark in a shorter building than putt up a mediocre time in a tall building.The main reason I'm doing this race is because I signed up for the race several months in advance and since I already reserved a spot, it would be a shame to waste it*. Additionally, the race is worth 300 points on the US racing circuit and I need those points to boost my ranking.

*I completely forgot that I signed up for Sears back in July. Imagine my surprise when I received an email from the event organizers, literally hours after I made my decision to skip Sears.

So now that I'm doing the race, most of my free time is spent thinking about how I can hold off my rivals and put out a fast time. I admit, I'm a bit obsessive about both.

First off, lets take a look at where I stand on the rankings.



As you can see, I'm within striking distance of everyone except Jesse*. Other than Sproule (who isn't racing Sears) everyone else already has 5 races and I only have 4. Since the rankings are based on an athlete's 5 best races, I'm the only racer guaranteed to receive points at Sears. 

*Sears is a 300 point race and he has a lead of nearly 400 points.

Using the data from the table above, I've calculated the minimum place I need to catch up to each of my rivals depending on how well each one of them does at Sears.


Here are my estimated chances at defending my current rank and overtaking the people ahead of me:

Jesse: Not only is Jesse too far ahead for me to gain ground, he is one of the favorites to win the race! He is still out of my league.

Sproule: I purposefully left him off of the table above since he isn't racing Sears. To catch up with him, I'll need a 7th place showing. However, I also need to consider the fact that Sproule is entitled to another 50 points for winning at Hartford earlier this year. If these points are included, I'll instead need a 4th place showing which is possible, but unlikely.

Justin: On paper I have a shot at overtaking him in the rankings, but realistically my chances are pretty small. Just like Jesse & Sproule, he is out of my league; he is one of the few climbers that can easily beat me at any distance. Therefore, I'm expecting him to sit on the podium and he is one of my favorites to win the race. Plus, it may be a moot point. If he races WaMu in Seattle (a 200 point race) I'm pretty sure he'll increase his overall point tally.

Oz: I have a pretty good shot at defending my position in the rankings, but I expect Oz to challenge for a podium spot. He is significantly faster than I am in longer races and Sears is the tallest race in America! Personally, I'd like to see him to win the race - he is one of the nicest guys on the circuit - but I have a feeling he'll come in around 3rd or so. This means I just need a top ten showing to keep ahead.

Thomas: I have a pretty good shot at overtaking him in the rankings. The real challenge will be to keep ahead of him in the stairwell. He has been right behind me in each of the races we've contested and in LA he was a mere second behind me. This means that as much as I've improved over the last year, Thomas has improved faster. Factor in that Sears is my weakest race and that Thomas favors tall buildings, I think he'll finally have the edge.

Scott: I have a very good shot at overtaking him in the rankings. Although his rate of improvement has been phenomenal, I don't see him beating me quite yet. Instead, look for him to battle for a podium spot in his age group.*

*My friend Napoleon is in the same age group. I imagine he'll say something like: "Scott, let's settle it gunslinger style in the stairwell. lololo."

As you might have noticed, I've put a lot of thought into how well I expect my rivals to perform at Sears, but the fact is I need to bring my "Beast Mode"* when I come to Chicago.

*To steal a phrase from Karen.

The fact is, I've been using the excuse that "I'm not suited for tall buildings" for far too long. I can't let my let my perceived weakness prevent me from doing well. Although I'll probably always be scared of Sears, I still have to find a way to perform. The good news is I've been doing nearly everything I can to make sure I break 15:00.
  • I've been watching my weight. It is easy for me to gain weight, so keeping it near 175 has been a real challenge. Every pound counts in a tall stair climb. For the last 6 months I've been eating salad for dinner maybe 5-6 times per week. It hasn't helped me drop weight but it has certainly helped keep it off.
  • I've been training consistently. Even on my "off" days, I still exercise for a good 40 minutes.
  • I've been training specifically for longer races:
    • For the past 8 months, I've been going all-out on the rowing machine for 15 minutes to replicate the pain I'll face at Sears.
    • I've replaced my stair well sprints over the past month with "power hours"
    • For the past year, I've increased the number of intervals I do on my Precor Climber, to mimic the last few minutes of a long race.
    • During the summer, I cycled for at least a couple hours on the weekends just to mix things up.* 
*regretfully my long rides are currently on hiatus due to a hamstring injury.

I'm coming into this race in the best shape of my life. I've even improved since last month's race in LA. Although I'm scared of Sears, I know I've done everything possible to prepare. Although my hear rate is beating 120 beats per minute just thinking about the race, I can't wait to be in the stairwell!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

California Here I Come

City of Angels
My trip Los Angeles to climb the US Bank Tower is finally over. I had a great time and a decent race, but the travel was brutal. Since I haven’t posted for a while*, this might be a pretty lengthy post since a lot of things have happened since my last race. Here it goes:

*I have several quasi-finished posts that are in backlog. I’ve just been too lazy to finish them up.

Pre-race:
Since June I’ve steadily improved, but several injuries & events have hampered my training. A nagging knee/hamstring injury has curtailed my bike rides since early July and although it hasn’t impacted my other training, the injury isn’t getting any better. It might be time for a physical therapist to take a look.

One month leading up to the event, I felt pretty good. Although my stairwell sprint splits were about a second slower than PB, my longer Precor Climber workouts – which are more important for longer climbs - were rock solid.

Things nearly fell apart on Saturday during Labor Day weekend*, when I had a freak accident at the Renaissance Faire. While stepping over a low rock wall, I slipped and banged the side of my knee. Although it looked like a minor scrape, I was in excruciating pain for about an hour. Fortunately, after a trip to the infirmary and some pain medication, I was able to hobble around and make it back home. The pain flared up again in the middle of the night and at that point I became worried that I had a broken bone. When Labor day finally rolled around, the throbbing pain had become a constant dull ache and I surmised that I had a severe bone bruise; painful but not season ending. On Tuesday (three days after my injury) my limp was starting to fade and decided to start  working out again. I used the Precor Climber, thinking that it wouldn’t pressure on my injured bone. I was wrong. Although I made it through my normal routine, my knee still hurt. The following day, I could barely walk and I had exacerbated my injury.

*The day after I booked my tickets to LA, go figure.

For the next several days, I avoided using my legs, but I knew I couldn’t stop working out since I had a race coming up. My workout of choice became the SCIFIT Pro2 arm cycle. This was a frustrating time. I could only crank out 110 watts on the machine and cycling at this rate quickly tired out the arms. In essence, workouts were pure torture for my arm muscles and did very little for my cardiovascular system.

By the time Sunday rolled around (September 8th), I was able to do a bit of swimming and by Wednesday (September 11th) I was back to my regular routine.

The next week had its own set of challenges. I took a cruise down to the Bahamas, and as you might have read in this post. I find it nearly impossible to diet on a cruise ship. During the cruise I tried to eat healthy, but I splurged at least twice a day with an extra piece of dessert or a slice of pizza. To make up for some of the calories, I made sure to keep my regular exercise routine. In fact, I was able to get in two stair climbing workouts on the cruise ship since they had an 11 story stairwell at the back of the ship (going from level 0 to level 11).

The week leading up to the race, all the pieces finally came together. My knee was nearly healed, my weight was stable (176 lbs.) and my fitness levels managed to hold up. In fact, I nearly set a PB on the Precor Stepper during my last full workout!

Los Angeles:
Warm Welcome: 3 Girls and a Yacht
I flew out to LA on Thursday September 26th and was greeted at the airport by Madeleine, Veronica, and Sandra. What a surprise! Madeleine was letting David and I stay on their boat  “Marisol” while during our visit to LA and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay. Special thanks go out to Madeleine and her family for treating me so well.


Beware of Sealions
Later that evening I met up with my friend Bob and his son Ben for dinner which certainly helped my nervers. After dinner, I watched TV until about 10:00 PM and then went to bed. Although I stayed in bed for a good 8 hours, I didn’t actually get a lot of sleep. Jet lag, nerves, barking sealions,  and David’s late night arrival kept me awake for several long stretches during the night.


The next morning, David, Bob, and I carpooled to the race. We arrived around 11:00 AM.

Fact - The US Bank Tower climb is probably the most well-planned race in the US. Not only did they close off part of the street for vendors, but they offered showers at the YMCA, discounted parking, and had live music throughout the entire 6 hour event.

After changing into my racing shoes and dropping off my bag, I warmed up with a few rounds of burpees and a short climb up the steps between the YMCA and the US Bank Tower.

The Race:
My goals for the race were as follows:
  • Goal: Break 11:00 à Stretch Goal - 10:30
  •  Goal: Top 6 (male) à Stretch Goal – Top 3 (male)
  •  Stretch Goal: Don’t get chicked (i.e. get beat by a girl)

75 stories of intimidation
I knew my top rivals were going to be John “Oz” Ozborn, Erika Aklufi, and Tristan Roth. Of the three, I knew Oz and Erika were stronger climbers in taller buildings, so I knew I would be hard pressed to keep up with either of them.* Tristan was a bit of a wild card since I knew little about him other than he trains in Seattle and was expected to be in the top ten. Two other climbers that I wanted to keep my eye on were Jeff Dinkin and Thomas Scott, who are usually right on my tail. Other than these few**, the only other people I had to worry about were the one or two hardcore cyclists, triathletes, or runners who might give stair climbing a try.

*Now you know why “don’t get chicked” was a stretch goal.
**You will notice that I left out Jesse Berg or Tommy Coleman. Those two are still out of my league.
 I made my way to the starting corral, shaking with nervousness. I had planned to start 5th behind Tommy, Erika, Oz, and Tristan since I figured I’d be chasing Oz and Tristan for a coveted podium spot. However, a couple of racers moved in line ahead of me and we jostled for the right to start behind the top elites. Eventually I settled in behind bib #21 but ahead of Bib #458.

I set my metronome to 92 BPM (beats per minute). Here was my logic:
  • My overall goal time was 10:30, but I knew there were several twists and turns and hallways, so I set my vertical goal to be 10:00 flat.
  • Since there were 1679 total steps I knew I needed to do one typical 22 step floor in 7.86 seconds.
  • For a typical floor (11 steps/landing/11 steps) I’d have a total of 12 footfalls.
  • 12 footfalls per 7.86 seconds = 92 footfalls per 60 seconds

With 92 BPM, my expected splits (which I wrote under my wrist) were*:
  • 25th floor: 3:16 - 3:25
  • 50th floor: 6:35 - 6:55

*The 1st  number represents my vertical goal; the 2nd number is adjusted for twists, turns, and hallways to achieve my 10:30 goal.

Finally it was my turn to enter the stairwell. I quickly adjusted my pace to the beat of my metronome even though it seemed awfully slow. Right around the 6th or 7th floor I let bib #458 pass on by. I wasn’t too worried since I suspected #458 went out way too fast. I continued to climb and soon enough I reached the 25th floor. I looked at my watch and I was exactly on pace @ 3:16. At that point in the race I still felt pretty good. The pace seemed difficult, yet sustainable.

Somewhere in the 30s, I finally caught back up to bib #458. Another 5-10 floors later, I also passed #21. I checked my watch at the 50th floor. 6:40. I was still right on target, but the real question was whether or not I could sustain the pace for another 25 floors. I was exhausted, but not completely spent. I knew I could continue on for at least another minute or two so I kept on marching.

I couldn’t shake #21 and he was still riding my coattails. We continued climbing together for another 10 floors or so. In the upper 50s he made his move and I couldn’t keep up. In fact, at this point I had reached my limit and he just went right on by. I was so exhausted, I barely noticed.

With only 15 floors to go, I was in deep trouble. Up to this point, I was right on track to break 10:30*, but now my body couldn’t handle the strain. tried to keep to the beat of my metronome, but it was no use. I was falling off pace. My legs and arms were in relatively good shape, but my breathing and heart rate were getting out of control.

*After reflecting on this race with a clear mind, I believe I was on track for a 10:15 up when I reached 60th floor.

I slogged through the 60s the best I could. I was bleeding time with each step but I knew the finish line getting closer. I glanced down at my watch and saw 10:10 go right on by. I knew I wouldn’t make 10:30, but 11:00 was still within range. I stumbled down a short hallway – walking rather than running – and continued climbing up the next staircase.

My body was shutting down but I kept on pushing. In the lower 70s I fought for every step; there wouldn’t be a last minute sprint in this race. The last few floors were torture. My brain ceased working properly perhaps 10 floors back, but I could hear myself scream “Go, Go, GO!” deep inside my mind.

I’m glad I couldn’t think straight because if I was sane, I would have dropped to the ground several floors back.

By floor 74 I could hear the volunteers at the finish line and out of the corner of my eye I could see Tristan climbing ahead of me. He finished the race just a few seconds ahead of me and after the finish line I stopped my watch (10:54) and I collapsed to the ground.

The aftermath of the race was brutal. I couldn’t move and I was in extreme pain. I crawled into an alcove and lay flat on my back. Normally, I’m able to catch my breath after a minute or two but this time around my heart rate just wouldn’t come down. After a couple minutes one of the volunteers asked if I was okay. Actually, I was pretty scared, but I waved them away and begged for some water. They completely ignored me, but I wasn’t in any condition to complain. Another volunteer asked us to clear the area for other racers, but I couldn’t get up. After laying on the ground for a good 5-10 minutes, with no one else offering me help me up or giving me water, I decided to I pull myself up and move over toward the other racers. As I took my first few steps I wondered how I had climbed the last few floors. I was so exhausted and in so much pain that I could barely move.

I finally sat down next to Scott Stanley and I focused on trying to get my heart rate back down to normal levels. I probably sat down for another 5-10 minutes before I was able to stand up. Unfortunately the recovery room was located on the 71st floor or so, so I had to navigate my way down several floors to get both food and water. I slowly made my way down stopping at each landing to rest for a moment. As I climbed down I silently cursed the designers of the building for neglecting to build a service elevator to roof.

In the recovery room I drank a bottle of water and ate some fruit. I still wasn’t in any condition to socialize, but I crawled over to bibs #21 & #458. Racer #21 wasn’t very talkative, but #458 explained how he blew up in the latter half of the race. He had been practicing climbing up 51 floors and didn’t account for the extra effort needed to climb an additional 20+ stories.

My Step Brothers & Sisters
When I recovered enough to head back outside, it was time to celebrate. I learned my official time was 10:46, which was a little bit faster than I expected and good enough for 6th place overall! See the full results here. Although I didn’t quite reach any of my stretch goals, I met all my primary goals. Furthermore, I was very happy with the amount of effort I exerted during the last 15 floors. Although I bonked, I managed to limit my time losses. I could have easily finished slower than 11:00.

For the rest of the day I hung out with my friends and relaxed. I even joined Oz, David, Karen, and Josh for a 2nd climb “just for fun”. Late in the afternoon, I had the privilege to pace Jesse Berg, one of the fastest stair climbers in the World. Since he showed up late to the race, several climbers paced him up the building to move people out of the way while he climbed. I paced Jesse up the first 18 floors and I learned something valuable. Although Jesse didn’t have an impressive climb (by his standards) I noticed that his pace was right in line with mine. The big difference is that I completely bonked by the 60th floor while he kicked it up a notch at the end. Although I don’t think I’ll be catching Jesse any time soon, is It is nice to know that I’m not too far behind the top elites.

Final Thoughts:
Effort: A+ ; This is the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself. I hope I never have to suffer like this again.
Strategy: B ; I got to the race early, had a good warm-up, and did my homework on the stairwell. However, my initial pace was too aggressive and I paid for it late in the climb.
Technique: A ; I climbed very efficiently for most of the race. The 11/11 stairwell configuration and double handrails is hard to screw up.
Overall: A- ; This was a solid race. Although I didn’t meet any of my stretch goals, I came pretty darn close.
Final Comments: My biggest mistake when setting my pace was assuming it would take an extra 30 seconds to cover all the twists, turns, and hallways. A better estimate would have been 10 to 15 seconds. If I had to do the race again, I would have set my pace to cover the vertical height of the building in 10:15 which turns out to be just over 89 BPM on my metronome. 10:30 might actually be possible.

Addendum:
This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the “recovery” climb up Mt. Baldy, which is a ski resort about an hour east of LA. The day following the race, Cindy brought Karen, Syd, David, and me to Mt. Baldy for a hike. We arrived at the base of the climb around 1:00 PM and walked up windy dirt road up to the ski lodge. Although our group couldn’t have been physically more diverse (age, gender, and body type) the one thing we had in common was a passion for stair climbing, hence our pace was pretty quick.*

*Truth be told, I think the boys were slowing down the girls for most of journey.



From that point, we hiked along a narrow twisty trail through the mountains. The scenery was spectacular. The climate and resulting vegetation is different from what I typically see in the Adirondack Mountains back home, but no less spectacular. At the top we could see for miles. I could even Catalina Island! After a brief rest and a few pictures, we hiked back down and managed to get back to Cindy’s SUV just before sunset.

The Whole Gang on Mt. Baldy
From Mt. Baldy we headed back to LA. When I finally got back to the boat  I took a quick shower and then David drove me to LAX to catch the redeye flight back to New York. I still haven’t caught up on sleep.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Phantastic Philly


After the Albany Corning tower race, I had a miserable week of training. A few contributing factors were lack of sleep, overeating, and hectic racing calendar. The following week, I got my act together. I forced myself to go to bed early and I stopped eating extra junk food. I was back on track, even during a particularly stressful work week.*

*During my last full workout, I managed to surprise myself on the erg machine (indoor rower). Ever since I’ve reduced my stroke count (from about strokes 35 per min down to about 25) I’ve struggled with power output. It was the first day I’ve been able to cross the 1200 calories per hour mark at this reduced stroke count.

Friday evening I packed my bags and headed over to my friend Steve’s house down in Westchester County to spend the night. It was just about half way to Philadelphia, so it was a convenient stopping point. Many thanks Steve!

Bright and early the next morning, Steve and I headed to Philadelphia. We arrived just after 8:00 AM and proceeded to get checked in and ready to race. We met up with the other Tower Masters and then I met parents, who came to Philadelphia just see me race. I also ran into John Smiley, another climbing friend.

Reflection of One Logan Plaza
My race plan was pretty straightforward since I took pretty good notes about last year’s race (see blog post here). Since I couldn't maintain a 117 bpm pace last year, I decided to knock it down to 115 bpm. I considered lowering it further, but since I did so well in Albany at 114 bpm, I didn’t dare go any lower.* This year I also planned to use both rails as much as possible since last year my left arm gave out while sticking to the inner rail. My official goal was to complete the race in 5:50 which represented a combination of a few things.
  1. Last year I left a few seconds on the table (I climbed in 6:01, but I think I could have squeaked in under 6:00).
  2. This year, I’m in slightly better shape. I could reasonably expect to shave off another 5-10 seconds.
  3. With David having such a great season and his dominance in taller buildings, I expected him to climb somewhere in the lower 5:40s. I hoped to limit the gap to 10 seconds or less.

*Albany is a shorter race, but it also has taller steps (7.5 in. vs. 6.75 in.).

This time around I planned to reach the halfway point (around floor 25) right around the 3:00 mark and then push myself in the latter half of this race to break the 6 minute mark. If I still had energy left, I would start pushing myself at floor 30.  In any case, floor 40 designated as my “go-to” floor, lungs & heart be damned.

After a few cold minutes standing outside posing for pictures, David entered the stairwell as I patted him on the back for good luck. Ten seconds later, I entered the stairwell and the race was on.

The crowd was cheering and I couldn't hear my metronome for the first couple flights but I quickly got into the groove after I crossed the 2nd floor hallway over to the main staircase. Up to the 10th floor or so, I tried keeping only one foot on the landings but I was having a bit of trouble balancing. Although the rails were perfect for climbing, the pace was too fast to execute efficient turns. I eventually settled on two-stepping the landings; I was getting tired and I needed that extra micro rest on each landing. As I climbed I kept loose track of the floors since the floor numbers were difficult to see. In order to get a proper look, I would have to look over my shoulder after making the turn in order to see the number.

On floor 25 I looked at my watch. It crossed from 2:59 to 3:00 just as I looked down. I knew I was right on track but would need to push harder to hit 5:50. Considering I went out a bit faster for the first 10 floors, if I continued my current pace, I’d struggle to break 6:00.

For the next couple floors I took stock of my situation. My lungs and heart were hurting but my legs and arms were still strong. I remember giving up near the same point last year and I regretted not pushing myself harder. In the back of my mind I reminded myself of all the hardcore 4 minute repeats I've done on the Precor Stepper. With less than 3 minutes left in the race, it was time to buck up and grow a pair or go home with regret.

By the upper 20s I had picked up the pace. Since I wasn't agile enough to single step the landings, I simply went up each flight a little bit ahead of the beat of my metronome. This continued as I approached the upper 30s. With just over a minute to go, I kicked it into another gear. My heart and lungs were struggling but my arms and legs were handling the pace. This was going to be like the final minute of my standard erg work out; pull 15% harder during the last minute and try not to fade.

In the lower 40’s I had the brief illusion that I could hear David faintly from somewhere up above. I risked a glance skyward and couldn't see anything but the endless turn of stairs. There was no reason to suspect that I was catching up since I hadn't heard him at all throughout the lower 40 floors. Plus, I expected David to be 15 to 20 seconds ahead of me by this point. However, by floor 45 I really could hear him up ahead, although I had no way to judge the distance. I held a glimmer of hope that I might be able to squeak in a win, but I knew prognosis wasn’t good; I was running out of real-estate to climb and I could hear the crowd at the finish line up above. I assumed David had finished already and I was only racing to set a PB.

Just as I reached floor 48, I was in for a total shock. I heard the crowd suddenly cheer and I knew that David had just crossed the finish line. I still had two floors to go and if I could somehow climb them in under 10 seconds, I had a shot at winning. I immediately turned on the turbo boosters and climbed with renewed intensity.

I crossed the finish line and I knew it was going to be close. I stopped my stopwatch right around 5:49 so I also knew that I posted a very solid time. I was completely exhausted so the next few minutes were kind of blurry. I do remember chatting with David as well as my parents at the top of the tower. I also vaguely remember switching bibs for the “Century” climb (where we’d be racing up the tower a 2nd time for a grand total of 100 floors). When I finally recovered enough to chat, my father told me the preliminary finish times from the time keeper. David finished at 8:37 and I finished at 8:49, which meant that I crossed the finish line about 12 seconds behind David. Since David started the race about 10 seconds ahead of me, that meant he won the race by about 2 seconds. I was a little bit disappointed about coming in 2nd for the 2nd time in two weeks by such a narrow margin, but in the end I was still pretty happy about my race. After all, I didn't really expect to win in the first place.* Anyway, I still had the Century climb to do. David looked to be in pretty rough shape after the first climb so I figured if I could recover quickly, I had a pretty decent shot at winning the Century.

*In case you are wondering, I gave myself a 33% chance of winning at Albany but only a 15% shot at Philly since it is a longer course.

The Century climbers headed back down to race and we eventually found ourselves at start line again. Even though I had a good 20 minutes to rest, I was still tired. My legs and arms felt okay, but my lungs were raw and my energy was sapped. Knowing it would be impossible to have a repeat performance, I changed the beat of my metronome from 115 bpm down to 113 bpm. I hadn’t really planned for the 2nd race, but based on David’s 6:21 performance during the last year’s Century, I would need to come close to 6:20 to have a shot. That would mean I’d need to hit floor 25 somewhere between 3:10 and 3:15 and then somehow will myself up the final 25 stories.

The organizers placed David and me in the middle of another group of climbers and once again, the race was on. This time around I didn't even bother try to single step the landings. I was pretty tired and needed the extra break at each landing. Another difference was that there were lots of people in the stair well; I probably passed a person once every couple floors or so. The congestion really wasn't too bad and almost every single climber let me pass on the inside. The only real challenge was summoning the energy to ask people to move out of the way!

It was getting harder and harder to climb but for the most part, I was still able to keep up to the beat of my metronome. When I finally hit floor 25, I looked down at my watch and It said 3:30. I was already way behind my proposed pace!

Unlike the first climb, I had no energy to go faster; my body had already transitioned into “survival mode”. It was all I could do to keep up my current speed and even that would be barely enough to crack 7:00, let alone 6:20.

For the next ten floors I begged myself to go faster. My arms and legs were still in pretty good shape, but my heart and lungs were tapping out. I had an unsettling feeling that I was capable of going faster for a short burst, but doing so would make my heart explode.

All thoughts of winning were dashed, but pride alone kept me from slowing down and quitting. When I finally hit the upper 30s, I didn’t dare look at my watch but I knew I only had one or two minutes worth of climbing left. I was ashamed that just minutes before I had dreamt of winning the race and now I was basically just cruising to the finish line. I wanted to quit the race, but I knew that wasn’t an option. I didn’t come all the way to Philadelphia to let my parents see me walk to the finish. Tower Masters don’t give up. I gave the last 10 floors my all, slowly picking up the pace floor by floor until the finish line. David greeted me at the finish and then I stumbled over to see my parents. I stood next to the wall with my hand on my knees and panted for a while. Then I kneeled down and started sobbing.
At the Finish Line
Everything came out at once. Between family and work, I was already having a difficult week. This race was the last straw. I put so much effort into the last climb and I didn't even come close to reaching my goal. I felt like such a failure. I also couldn't bear coming in second for the third straight race. To make matters worse, I hated myself for crying about second place. How many people would love to be in my shoes while I was sitting here crying?

I thought back to a bit of wisdom offered up by David while we were waiting in line before the Albany Corning Tower race. He told me, “I like this sport because we’re all friends. We’re not really racing against each other; we’re racing against ourselves.” Although it is a great feeling to win a race, winning isn't the most important thing. Climbing is all about camaraderie and surpassing your own personal expectations in the stairwell and setting up new goals for the  next climb. I climbed my heart out in Albany and Philly; Setting up two back-to-back PBs is something to be proud of.

I’m not sure how long it took until the tears finally stopped, but after I had finally composed myself, David came up to me and offered his congratulations. Apparently, I caught David right at the end of the race and I was in such a daze that I didn't even notice.

The Tower Masters
Happy Parents
I started crying again. Here was David, who also had a difficult climb, congratulating me for winning when by rights he could have been sulking about coming in 2nd while I was crying even after I found out that I had won. What irony. When the tears finally subsided, I felt drained, yet at peace. Now I could finally celebrate and socialize with friends and family.


After snapping a few photos from the observatory, I headed over to the Tir-na-Nog bar with my family to attend the after race party. While waiting for the final results and awards, the Tower Masters all met inside the bar for a rounds of drinks. David even bought me a Strong Bow, my favorite English cider.*

Cue "Rocky" Theme
View from the top

*He owed me a drink since I lugged his 2nd place USA championship trophy all the way from Las Vegas back to Albany. That sucker took up nearly half of my carry-on.

When the official times started coming in, I was in for a big surprise; my name was atop the leader-board  Beyond belief, I saw that I was a fraction of a second ahead of David. Apparently, I must have spent an extra couple seconds at the bottom of the tower or received faulty information at the top of the tower. Either way, I felt like I had pulled a rabbit out of my hat.

Everyone congratulated me on the win and a little while later, the organizers kicked off the award ceremony. The Tower Masters made out with a pretty big medal haul, taking the overall team award as well as numerous other age group awards. See final results here.

After the ceremony, it was time for the long drive back home. I grabbed some snacks from remaining goodies left over from the party and said my goodbyes. Overall, it was an emotional, yet satisfying race.

Post-Race Analysis:
1st Climb:
Strategy: A- ; 115 bpm was a little too slow when double stepping the landings. I had a conservative first half and had to play catch-up during the 2nd half. That said, negative splits are usually a good thing, so I’m pretty happy.
Technique: B; 115 was a little too fast when single stepping the landings. The only way to improve would be to practice in the actual stairwell. Mapping out the course might help, too. Perhaps there is a more efficient stepping pattern?
Effort: A- ; I had a very solid effort during the last 20 floors, especially compared with last year’s race.
Overall: A- ; A solid overall race.

2nd Climb:
Strategy: D/B+ ; Going all out during the first race is not a recipe for success in a multi-climb event (D). However, since the “Century” climb was not my primary goal, my strategy for the 2nd race was pretty sound (B+).
Technique: B; Same as the first race.
Effort: A-; Although I physically could have gone faster, this race broke me both physically and mentally. It took courage just finishing.
Overall: C/A- ; I had a poor 2nd race because I was already so exhausted (C) but I did a pretty good job with what I had left in the tank (A-).

Final Thoughts:
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Cardiovascular fitness is what I need to work on the most.

David is always the first to offer congratulations whether he wins or loses. Someday I hope to be as gracious. David is truly a great champion & role model.

I came down with a cold the day after the race. The strain of the Century climb really lowered my immune system. Fortunately I took it easy for the next couple days and fully recovered. I didn't want a repeat of January.

Like most ALA climbs, this race is well organized but I have a couple complaints. First off, unlike the NY/New England or Nevada ALA chapters, the organizers at Philly are unwilling to accommodate elite climbers. For the 2nd straight year, they refused to waive or even reduce the entrance fee for out of town participants. Likewise, they didn't even bother getting plaques or trophies for the top finishers. In fact, the medals we received didn't even identify the race; the medals simply had a sticker that said “2013 Fight for Air Climb” pasted on the front. At least the other ALA climbs had the decency to put the name of the climb somewhere on the medal or ribbon. Considering that Philly was the largest ALA climb in the North East (with 600+ participants) I felt pretty shortchanged. NY/New England & Nevada ALA chapters go out of their way to attract elite climbers, but the Philly chapter just seems to think of elite climbers as just another way to make their charity quota. What a shame. I hope they consider changing their stance next year.