Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Viva Las Stratosphere

Editor's note: Originally written March 5th, 2013

I'm so behind in my blog. I have two posts that are 90% ready to go, but I have been too busy lazy to post. However, I've decided to at least add a short blog about my most recent climb before I forget all the details; I have another race coming up on Thursday and if I don't write something now, it might not get written at all.

Since this isn't intended to be a full race review, I'll fast forward a bit. But first, here are few pictures which summarize what I'm skipping:
Friends & Family (thanks for the photo Madeleine!)
My friends David & Scott
Welcome to the jungle

Race time was at 8:00 AM, so I woke up around 7:00 AM to get ready. Around 7:20 AM, I went to the fitness center (at the Stratosphere hotel) for a short warm-up. Both Sproule and Michael had the same idea. Midway through my workout I realized I had forgotten both my timing splits and my shot of 5-hour energy, so in the middle of my warm-up I had to run back to my room.

Right around 7:45 AM, I left the fitness center and met my father to give him a hug for good luck. I then switched into my racing shoes and headed to the bottom of the tower.

I was one of the last racers to get in line, but still had a few minutes to kill. I did a set of burpees to stay warm and then chit chatted with my fellow racers to stay loose. Standing in line, I was surprised to learn that two of the higher seeded racers couldn’t make it to the race. Therefore, I would be entering the stairwell 4th, just behind Oz and just before David Tromp.

Right around 8:00 AM, the race organizers led us upstairs to the official start line. Since the gap between racers would be 30 seconds, I was a little nervous that David would overtake me near the end of the race. From experience, I know he is faster than I am in the taller climbs. The course is 808 feet tall (Starting at the 47’ mark and ending at the 855’ mark). As such, my goal time was 8 minutes and I figured that David was capable of somewhere between 7:30 and 7:45.

In short order, Sproule, Jesse, and Oz were in the stairwell. I set my metronome to 90 bpm and clipped it to my shirt. Next it was my turn to enter the stairwell!

I methodically climbed to the beat of my metronome. It was a very smooth climb and I used my arms as much as possible to conserve my quad muscles. After the first few flights, I decided that I really liked the course. The stairwell was very easy to use because the rails are easy to grip and are narrow enough apart to use both sides effectively. Additionally, the majority of the tower is configured like this: 20 steps à landing & 180 degree turn à 20 steps. This means that each flight is very long, hence the course has relatively few turns. Finally, the 20 step configuration makes turning pretty easy;  as long as I started the flight with my outside foot, I would always land with my inside foot on the landing*.

*For those of you unfamiliar with climbing stairs competitively, it  is much easier to turn on your inside foot rather than your outside foot. If you pivot on your outside foot, your inside leg will interfere with the rail. Try it and see.

At the 1st rest area (which is approximately 25% the way through the race) I glanced down at my watch. 2:11. I was already more than 10 seconds behind my planned finish time!

At that point, I didn't panic, but I made a small tactical error. Rather than speeding up my metronome, I kept the same pace and focused on climbing efficiency. I couldn't believe I was so far off of my planned pace. At that point, I just hoped that the rest area was a little higher up than Stan’s stairwell map suggested.

Right around the 4 minute mark, I realized I was in trouble. David Tromp had caught up to me which meant that I was already 30 seconds behind him in the race! Although I was prepared to let David pass, I didn't really want to let him through. The stairwell was so narrow that there was little to no room to squeeze by while climbing. If I let David pass, I would basically have to come to a complete stop and wait for him to go around. This would then put me in an awkward position if I wanted to pass him later in the race.

So I gambled**. Instead of stopping, I picked up the pace. I knew that I had started out too slow and although I was getting tired, I still felt that I could push the pace. Although David is a great climber, it was likely he was suffering more than I was since he went out so fast. I placed a bet that I could keep ahead of David in the 2nd half of the race and make up some of the time I had lost.

**This *is* Vegas after all.

After accelerating a little bit, David fell in right behind me and together we continued our long march to the top. Although cognizant that David was behind me, he stayed far enough back so that I didn't have to worry about him passing me.

Around in the mid-500s, I knew I had to go faster.  I was still behind schedule and I was running out of tower to climb.

At one point (I’m guessing it was at the the 2nd rest area) the stair well ended in blind hallway and I didn't know which way to turn. There weren't any direction arrows or race volunteers present,  so I spent a moment deciding which way to go. The left passage didn't seem to go anywhere so I stepped to the right. Fortunately, this was the correct direction and as I passed through the next doorway, I found a stairway leading upward. What luck!

I picked up the pace and I no longer cared that David was right on my tail. I ignored my metronome and although I was climbing less efficiently, I was definitely going faster.

Around the 6 minute mark, David and I were in the lower 600s and I was still well behind schedule. Although my heart rate was close to the redline and my lungs were burning, my legs were still functional. Somewhere in the mid-600s, I made my move. I was determined to drop David and break the 8 minute mark.

By the lower to mid-700s, I had only gained a few steps on David as we were both flying up the stairwell. I couldn't believe that David was still keeping up! What a beast

Finally, we hit the top of the tower core. I glanced down at my watch and 7:15 flashed into view. If I remembered my pacing chart correctly, I was still a few seconds behind my goal time, but I knew I still had a chance to go sub-8:00. I sprinted up the last 8 floors with all the power I had left, dropping David somewhere along the way. With one or two flights to go, I had a nice surprise; I actually caught up with Oz!

I crossed the finish stopped my stopwatch. Oz immediately slumped to the floor and I stumbled by and the looked at my watch. It said 7:58 which meant I had beaten my goal time! I then glanced behind, looking for David but he still hadn't finished. A few moments after I had already turned away, I heard David finish. He was perhaps 5 - 10 seconds behind me, so he definitely put up an amazing time. What a feat!

I was so tired that I spent a few moments resting on the floor; I was completely drained and needed a couple minutes to catch my breath.

When I finally recovered enough to stand and talk, I grabbed a cup of orange juice and went around to congratulate the other climbers.

All in all, I was very pleased with my performance. See the full race results here. Although I still haven’t regained all of my prior endurance (I was sick throughout January) this race boosted my confidence. In the span of a few minutes, I managed to turn a poor climb into a pretty decent race. More importantly, I was able to keep up with David (a top elite climber) during the latter half of the race. Although I’m still not ready to compete for a podium spot, with another year of hard work, I think I’ll be able to start climbing with the top elites.

Last but not least, here are a few photos capturing the rest of a great weekend.
Frankie Moreno rocks. 20 bucks well spent.
It is a long way down
What a view from the top!
Post Race notes
Effort: A-
Strategy: B-
Technique: A
Overall: B+

I developed and popped 4 blisters during the climb. The cross section of the rails are square rather than circular, so I have not developed the necessary callouses on my hands. The next time I do this race, I will need to tape up my middle fingers, just underneath the 2nd knuckle.

I’m still trying to figure out why my splits were so slow during the 1st half of the race. Clearly, 90 bpm was too slow, but I can’t figure out the root cause of my error. Likely candidates are the published heights of the course, overall stair count, and step height. Based on these calculations, I should have climbed the tower in 8 minutes climbing somewhere between 84-88 steps (beats) per minute. But to make sure I reached my goal on race day, I set my metronome at 90 bpm. On the other hand, the steps in the Strat are somewhere between 7 and 7.2 inches, which is shorter than the 7.5 inch steps at the Hancock building in Chicago (which I climbed the week prior). Since I felt that 88 bpm was an optimal pace at the Hancock, I would predict my optimal pace at the Strat to be around 92-95 bpm (or slightly higher since the Strat is a shorter race). Next year, I will likely go out at 95 bpm, assuming my fitness levels don’t drop off.

No comments:

Post a Comment