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.

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.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I was fascinated reading about your planning, goals, pacing, and other elements that I, as a newbie stair climber, have never given a lick of thought to! And congrats on a successful climb, too!