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.

No comments:

Post a Comment