Friday, March 13, 2015

Rundown of the Empire State Building Run-up

The 2015 edition of the Empire State Building Run-up is over and I’m having a hard time understanding the results. I was expecting to break 12 minutes this year, but with an official time of 12:50, my estimate was way off. In fact, I was even slower than last year (12:36 – albeit in a slightly shortened course).

What makes this race hard to digest – and this post hard to write – is that all the training leading up to the race and the pace I set in the stairwell seemed to indicate I’d have a pretty good shot at 12 minutes.

Although December was pretty much a wash with respect to training & fitness, January was very kind to me. I started off the month at a decent fitness level, but I ended the month in the best shape of my life. In addition to hard training, I focused on getting plenty of sleep and I went to bed early each and every night. I also lost a couple pounds by eating healthy and using the stairs during my coffee breaks*. As a result, I set a couple PBs on the stepper machine and inside the stairwell during my final week of training. 

*I don’t actually drink coffee, but I made sure to get up from my desk every couple of hours for a short break. During these breaks I’d climb up my building (6 tall stories ~ 27 meters) twice. It was enough exercise to get the blood pumping, but not enough to get soaked in sweat.

I also knew that I didn’t have a particularly strong performance in the 2014 edition of the race so I figured I had plenty of room to improve. A year ago, I was in great shape but was fighting off a virus which reared its ugly head after racing in Boston the prior weekend. Because I was worried about my health, I raced very conservatively at Empire and I figured I could easily shave off a good 30 seconds from my time this time around, which would put me pretty close to the coveted 12 minute mark.

Friend or Foe?
Answer: Both
The day of the race arrived with little fanfare. I had a decent night sleep, woke up, and went to work. I left work around 12:30 PM and relaxed at home for an hour or so before heading to the train station. I took the 3:10 train from Albany/Rennselaer down to Penn Station in NYC. I arrived at the Empire State Building around 6:00 PM and met up with my friends (and fellow Tower Masters) Steve Marsalese and David Tromp. We had about an hour to kill before they’d let us into the building so we tried to find a coffee shop to hang out at. No luck - It was rush hour in NYC. Fortunately, I knew of an indoor food court in K-Town that usually had free seats up on the 3rd floor. Sure enough, the place wasn’t very crowded upstairs and we hung out for the next half hour or so. 

And guess who we ran into at the food mall? Another Tower Master - Bruce Yang! Talk about luck*.

*Read my post from last year’s race to find out why Bruce is my lucky charm.

Tower Masters!
Just before 7:00 PM, David and I left Steve and Bruce (who were racing in a later heat) and headed over to Empire. The lobby was somewhat chaotic. All the elite climbers were just milling around. We were told to be there at 7:00 PM sharp – no earlier, no later – but very little information was being passed on to the climbers on where to go. So we all just hung out in the crowded lobby. After about 15 minutes of waiting, we were finally allowed to go upstairs, pass through security*, and check in our bags.

*For some reason the Empire State Building thinks it is more important than every other famous building in America (e.g. Sears Tower, Hancock Tower, etc.).

After bag check, I started my warm up and active stretching routine. We still had about 30 minutes until the start of the race so to keep myself ready, I simply did a round of 12 burpees every 4 minutes or so.

Soon the organizers gathered all the elite athletes and herded us downstairs to the start line. We still had 15 minutes to kill so I just continued my burpees in the hallway. I found the temperature to be uncomfortably hot and hoped the stairwell wouldn’t be as stifling*.

*Don't worry, the stairwell wasn't nearly as hot.

A few minutes before the official start, the race director, Steve Lastoe, announced a few individual climbers in the elite wave (including me!*) to the media & photographers before the start of the race. 

*I showed off my biceps. If you got’em, show’em.

Shortly afterwards, the ladies were off.  Now there were only four minutes left until the men’s start. 

The silence on the start line was oppressing, but I felt pretty chipper. I was nervous, scared, excited, and confident all rolled into mixed emotion. I couldn’t wait to get this race over with.

I was offered a starting position at the front of the pack, but I silently declined. I wasn’t planning on sprinting up the first few floors and I didn’t want to get in the way of the top competitors. 

Placed toward the back of the pack, I knew most of the athletes personally and a couple others by reputation. I already had a mental picture of how this race was going to turn out. Sproule, Christian, Darren, & Thor were the podium contenders and Tim Donahue would be in the hunt for 5th. Next would be David Tromp and me battling it out for mid-pack honors. Rounding out the race would be Jason, David Roeske (who I knew by reputation), Henry, Josh, Dr. Thomas, and Chris - more or less in that order. That left only three other guys on the start line that I didn’t know - most likely Europeans that would be putting pressure in the mid-pack.

My strategy was simple. I planned to get into the stairwell somewhere around 10th place, climb at an even pace throughout the race, and pick off climbers on the upper floors. I raced conservatively in 2014 using a pace of 87 - 88 beats per minute (BPM) on my metronome. Since I wanted to go at least 30 seconds faster this year, I set my metronome at the slightly higher pace of 92 BPM.

With 30 seconds remaining until the start, I turned on my metronome, readied my stop watch, and silently repeated my mantra: “A steady pace wins the race.”

Suddenly we were off. In a rush we all tried to squeeze through the stairwell door. I got stuck in the doorway for a few seconds, but with only 16 guys or so in the elite heat, it quickly thinned out. I ended up near the back of the pack (in lucky 13th place I believe). By the 4th floor I settled in behind Jason and in front of Henry. I was a little surprised that Henry didn’t sprint out ahead (like he did last year) but by the 8th floor or so he seemed ready to pass me and I let him by on one of the landings. Henry was one of the guys I was aiming to beat this year - having narrowly beat me last year - but I wasn’t worried. If last year was any indication of his racing style, I should be able to close the gap later on in the race. 

Jason was less than a flight ahead of me at this point with Henry sandwiched in the middle. The three of us kept the pace up for another few floors and I could smell Henry’s feet – he wasn’t wearing shoes in order to reduce the amount of weight he’d have to carry up the stairs. I silently prayed that Henry would pick up the pace a bit or slow down so I could pass; The combination of climbing pain and foot odor was becoming deadly!*

*I’m joking!

For the next few floors I was right on Henry’s heels; every time I’d turn the corner and reach up to grab the rail, I’d bump into Henry’s hands. Finally he let me pass by and several floors later I caught up to  and passed Jason. We were somewhere in the lower 20s. By this point, the stairwell changed from a series of switch backs (flight -- landing & 180 degree turn -- flight)  to just a single long flight connecting the floors followed by a  short run on the landings*.

*Nobody I know has ever had a chance to map out Empire's stairwell, but I learned something new during this climb: Not all flights from the 20s upwards are uniform. Many floors have just a single long flight, but many others have two flights (a short flight followed by a really long one). I have pictures of the latter case in my 2014 blog. Yeah, the difference between the two cases is pretty minor, but I'm a stickler for these kinds of details.

Jason was about half a flight behind me at this point and somewhere in the 30s we caught up to and passed Chris – who kindly stayed on the outside to give us plenty of room to pass. I also remember crossing a long hallway and nearly slipping on spilled water from the a water aid station. I don’t remember which floor it was on, but the moment my foot started to slide I thought of David Tromp; he recently told me that a few years ago he slipped and fell at an aid station… most likely at this very same spot!

Jason and I continued climbing together for the next 25 floors or so, but slowly my lead climbed to nearly a whole flight. As soon as I’d finish a floor I could hear Jason behind me starting it. This pattern continued up until the mid 60s.

I was grinding out floor after floor marching to the beat of my metronome. I could feel fatigue start to set in the 40s and by the 50s it was starting to get painful. We hit the 60s and it was all I could to hold on to my pace. 

At this point, I was no longer thinking about anything other than keeping pace and climbing. I remember passing Jamie Kate (from the Woman’s heat) somewhere along the way and giving her a tap of encouragement, but by the time I caught up to and Madeline I couldn’t even manage a grunt of acknowledgement. 

I had dropped Jason by the time I hit the 70s and was still cranking out my 92 BPM pace. I was catching up to another climber, too – I could hear him up above but couldn’t yet see him.

I thought I was doing fairly well at this point. At other races Jason is usually right on my tail and I knew Henry was further down below, so I figured I was in a pretty good position. Plus, I was hot on the trail of another climber. Could it be David Tromp? My lungs were ragged, but my legs were still pretty strong. Things seemed to be going to plan.

I glanced down at my watch to see how close I was to breaking the 12 minute mark. My watch read 11:50. What the heck*? 

*Cue brake screech.

I was still in the 70s  - at least a minute or so away from finishing. What was going on? With around 10 floors to go I’d be lucky to break even the 13 minute mark!

Time was running short and there weren’t very many floors left. I increased my pace and by the time I hit the 80s I was less than a flight behind the guy ahead of me. It was David… but not David Tromp. It was David Roeske! I slowly closed the gap and by the time we hit the 85th floor I was looking to pass, but there wasn’t any room to get through.

The last flight is a long one and leads directly onto the observation deck. I moved to the right to try and squeeze by, but I David was in the center grabbing both sides of the rails and I didn’t have enough speed to break through. David slipped on the final few steps and for a brief moment I thought I had a chance to finally go around but as he fell, I lost my forward momentum. David quickly recovered and managed to stay a step ahead. I don’t exactly know what killed my speed, but I suspect there is an immediate left turn as you exit to the observation deck and I was on the outside lane (which is a longer - and therefore slower path)*. The other likely scenario is that as David fell I simply didn’t have any room since I was basically right behind him. At any rate, it took us both by surprise and slowed us both down.

*Hopefully someone can confirm the actual layout of the course.

I had one shot left. I could still pass on the observation deck where there would be more room to maneuver. The finish line was in sight – albeit closer than I remembered from 2012 – and I continued on the right hand side to pass on the straight away.

To my absolute horror, there was a girl from the women’s elite wave jogging directly between us and the finish line. At that moment, I knew I was totally fucked. She was on the left side so David slid over to pass her on the right side – effectively cutting off my passing lane AGAIN. We both passed the girl with David still slightly ahead.  The finish line was only yards away and there was little I could do. We jostled for position but there wasn’t enough time or space to pass – especially on tired legs. We crossed the line with David literally a half a step ahead. After finishing, I sat down on an empty foot stool just beyond the finish line and looked down at my watch. It had just passed the 13 minute mark when I finally turned it off.

I sat there completely spent in the cold February air wondering what the heck happened to my race. I heard the announces call out Jason, Madeleine, Jamie Kate, and a few other climbers and when I had finally recovered enough to walk around again. Although I was upset at having a mediocre finishing time, I was happy the race was over. Racing up one of the most iconic buildings in the US and giving it your all is something to be proud of.

Jason, Josh, and I hung out on the deck for a few more minutes to admire the NYC skyline at night, but being a cold day in February wearing only shorts and tank tops, we soon headed downstairs to the 80th floor for the post-race award ceremony. It was nice to finally chat with the other climbers, change in to warmer clothes, and grab a bite to eat. A TV monitor displayed the times and there I learned that I was 12th overall and the 11th male athlete. I had missed my top ten spot by a fraction of a second  - David Roeske and I were both given a time of 12:51. You can see the full results here*.

*You’ll notice that in the official results I’m actually listed one spot ahead of David with a time of 12:50. My chip time was likely faster than his because he started the race in the front row and I started at the back (meaning his timing chip would have started a second or two before mine). However, make no mistake… David crossed the finish line ahead of me.

"The Ghost" & "The Schenectady Express"
Several of us then headed downstairs the Restaurant/Bar on the ground floor. I met up with some of the other Tower Masters and had a long chat with Darren’s kids and a short chat with Napolean about implementing “age group” rankings for older athletes on TWA. It makes a lot of sense. Currently, to get points in the TWA, you need to be in the top 30. At a competitive race like Empire, the cutoff is really tough to make. In fact, without age group rankings, there is little incentive for older athletes to get a TWA license. As the “Athletes Representative” for TWA, I’ll have to bring up that point to the council.

Around 10:25 David Tromp and I had to head back to Penn Station to get the last train back to Albany. On the train we both had  beer and chatted about the race, college days at Clarkson, and ski lessons (our kids are taking lessons at Maple Ski Ridge) before taking a well-deserved nap. 

The train came in at 1:22 AM and a few minutes later, David and I said our goodbyes in the parking lot. The drive home was uneventful, but took a bit longer than usual because it had started to snow. When I arrived home, I quickly took a shower and went to bed. My body was tired, but my mind kept replaying the events of the race. Not only was I upset at about failing to pass at the end of the race, but more importantly, I couldn’t explain how my time was slower than last year. I finally fell asleep at 3:00 AM.

Race Grades:
Effort: A- ; I went out at a reasonable pace and kept it throughout the race. After floor 60 it was tough, but I kept going. My only criticism is that I didn’t pick up the pace when I crossed into the 70s. Although my lungs were burning, my legs still had power to give.
Strategy: B- ; My strategy “a steady pace wins the race” works well in time trials, but less so in a mass start since position can be critical. Passing is tough near the end of a race. Getting into the stairwell in 13th place didn’t help. 
Technique: B- ; I climbed efficiently, but lost time on the landings.
Overall: B ; Honestly, I thought I had a good race up until I checked my watch and realized I was nearly a minute off of my goal. However, I put in a pretty good effort, so I can’t say I had a bad race. I'm just not pleased with my overall time.

Final Thoughts: I’m still having trouble understanding how I could be slower than last year by about 10 seconds and nearly a minute slower than my 12 minute goal time – considering I set my metronome at a faster pace. I’m still confused, but I know the clock didn’t lie. After considerable thought, here are some reasons why I went slower. 
  1. The stairwell was initially more crowded this year. In 2014 there were 9 climbers and this year we had 16. I definitely lost a few more seconds waiting to get into the stairwell. This year I started the race in 13th place, ahead of only Henry, Josh, & Dr. Thomas.
  2. This year I jostled for position with Henry for the first 15 floors. Letting him pass on the inside also cost me a second or two. He stayed ahead for only 10 floors or so, and although I was able to march to the beat of my metronome while climbing, I’m sure I lost time on the turns (as I bumped up behind him). 
  3. After the race was over, Jason and I discussed how we climbed in the middle of the race. It turns out that I pulled ahead of him on the stairs, but then he’d catch up on the short run between flights. Apparently, I was bleeding time during these short runs. Even if I only bled a quarter second or so each floor, I probably lost a good 15 seconds over the course of the race (compared to Jason). Of course, the real question is how did I do this year compared with last year? That is a tough question, but I have a feeling I went slower this year. Looking back on my notes from last year, I climbed at a fairly easy pace and I was alone for the vast majority of the time. As such, I was able to pay more attention to my technique on the landings (in fact, I even described my technique in my blog). I’m guessing I lost maybe 15 - 20 seconds compared with last year, but made up some of that time with a faster climbing pace on the stairs.
  4. This race has a substantial running component and I estimate there are about 3 minutes worth of running*. Assuming I can do the entire race in about 12:30 minutes (which I still think is possible) that means that nearly 25% of the race is on flat ground where my metronome never came into play. In addition, I’m definitely not a runner so I’m at a pretty significant disadvantage compared to the other athletes (most of which who are runners). I now suspect that my goal time of 12 minute was too optimistic. I have a feeling 12:15 would have made more sense.
I feel like a cop-out for saying this, but I don't think Empire is my kind of race. It is a long course, which requires a bit of running, and had a mass start. Basically, it plays to all my weaknesses. If I ever get invited back, I'll have to dial back my expectations to 12:30 or so.

Lessons Learned:
  • Start position matters. Being bottle-necked in the stairwell entry is a waste of time and energy.
  • Passing is very difficult at the end of a race. It is much better to be in front rather than behind. Strangely enough I was in this exact same position at the Sears (Willis) Tower back in November. Sears was a time trial so it didn’t quite matter as much, but the mass start at Empire is a whole different ballgame. David Roeske taught me a lesson I won’t soon forget – and I have to give him props for staying in front when it mattered most.
  • In a mass start, a metronome is useful, but don’t become a slave to the beat. Sometimes a quick surge to pass or create space is better than slowly jockeying for position over the course of several floors.
  • Don’t wait till the end of the race to pass. Make a strong move with at least 5 floors to go. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

There (Vegas) and Back Again

Vegas. Clown cars. Stairwells. USSCA Championship. It was an adventure.

For the past few weeks I’ve been steadily improving. Not only did I manage to drop a couple pounds, but I set several PBs in training. My confidence should have been sky high but it wasn’t. Two weeks before the race I pulled one of my quadriceps muscles on my left leg. I assumed it happened during one of my Friday “power hours” in the stairwell, but I only noticed it the following Monday during my leg blasting workout (lunges, squats, etc.). The muscle felt tight rather than sore, but I still managed to finish my work out successfully and gave it little thought. However at the end of the week, my leg still felt a bit off – despite setting another PB inside the stairwell. The following week, I toned down my leg blasting workout and then set another record on the Precor Stepper. Obviously the results were positive, but my leg felt strangely weak (in addition to the stiffness). In the days leading up to Strat I tapered of my workouts and kept my fingers crossed that the weakness would recede.

Friday rolled around and it was time to depart. I had a quick workout during lunch – forgoing my pacing exercises, instead doing 3 minute intervals on the elliptical machine followed by a sets of 20 pull-ups. It go the heart pumping without exacerbating my strained quad. After lunch I finished up a few tasks at work and then headed home for a brief rest and last minute packing check. I got to the airport around 4:45, headed through security, and went to my gate. There I learned my flight was delayed for a couple hours and I’d probably miss my connecting flight. They booked my on a different flight on Saturday morning, which would still get me into Vegas by during the afternoon. On the downside I had wasted a half day of vacation for nothing. But on the upside, I’d get to sleep in my own bed and still make it to Vegas on time. Not really a fair trade, but it still worked.
Hi Sue
I made it to Vegas the following day and took the 108 bus to the Stratosphere*. I met up with David Hanley and dropped my things off. Then we hooked up with a bunch of other fellow climbers at the ALA “before climb” party at the top of the tower. At the party I nabbed my #1 race bib and timing chip.

*The 108 North is one of the best and cheapest ways to get to the Stratosphere. It takes you right from Terminal 1 and drops you right at the north end of the Strat’s Casino. The bus stays off of the Strip so the ride only takes 20 minutes.  It was the best $2 I spent the entire trip.

After hanging out with everyone, I had a quick dinner with the Ronks and then headed back to the room. I brushed my teeth and crawled into bed. I read for a few minutes and soon fell asleep. It was just past 8:30. I was tired and still on East Coast time.

The next morning, I awoke around 5:30. I read silently for a bit and then had a light breakfast (an orange and a couple small oatmeal bars). Soon David was up and we chatted for a bit before getting changed for the race.

Around 7:15 I left the room and headed toward the start line to chat with a few other climbers. No sense being nervous alone.

Around 7:25 I taped up my fingers* and headed to the gym to start getting warmed up. I ran into Michael, Josh, Maggie, and Sproule who were already warming up. I did a quick active warm-up and then spent 6 minutes on the Precor Stepper. Just like at home. Before leaving, I chatted with Sproule who was slowly pedaling on the recumbent bike.

*The stairwell has a rectangular cross-section which gives me blisters. Rather than wear gloves (which I hate) I use athletic tape to help prevent them from occurring.

“So Sproule… why are you in Vegas? I figure you are either 1) Chasing points or 2) Looking to set the course record… or perhaps both?”

“Hey, I’m just here to race! I’ve been out for so long I have no idea what to expect.”

So says the 4th place finisher at Empire. Enigmatic as always.

We wished each other luck and I headed to the starting area to change into my racing shoes and check in my bag. After a couple rounds of burpees, I made my way to the starting queue.

The starting 5 was pretty much lined up the way I expected our finish order to be: Sproule, Me, Oz, Jason, Josh, and Dr. Thomas.

Here was my take on the podium contenders. I figured Sproule pretty much had the race in the bag, unless he had a poor race and either Oz or myself pulled a rabbit out of the hat. I figured I’d be favored to secure the 2nd spot, but I knew that Oz was in fantastic shape and 2nd place wasn’t assured. The truth is that when Oz is at his best, I can’t compete with him in a tall climb (like Sears), so in a medium height climb like the Stratosphere we were gonna be rolling the dice Vegas style. The dark horse of the race was likely Jason. He was looking to finally break onto the podium; Ever since Sears a couple years ago he’s been hot on my trail…. and I knew sooner or later my luck would run out. Fortunately, I didn’t think it would happen today. Jason had just competed (and won) a race in Minneapolis the day before, so I assumed he wouldn’t be climbing at 100%.

While waiting in line, I did a final set of burpees. Then, a few minutes before 8:00 AM, the organizers marched inside the building up a few flights of stairs to the starting line (the entrance to the core’s main stairwell). We were all pretty nervous, so we just chatted with one another as we waited for the official start.

Several minutes ticked by and we were still waiting. It was already well past 8:00 AM when we found out that one of the volunteers (emergency crew perhaps?) had hit their head and needed to be taken out of the stairwell. Meanwhile, I was no longer properly warmed up, so I did a set of burpees in the hallway to keep my heart-rate up and my body warm. It must have been a pretty serious injury because by the time we finally started the race (maybe 30 minute late?) I had already completed 3 rounds of burpees.

Finally the organizers got the “all clear” message and it was time to get the race started. Everyone wished each other luck (again) and the race was on. Sproule entered the stairwell as I turned on my metronome and got my stopwatch ready. I followed him in 30 seconds later.

I’ve done this race a couple of times before, although both times I wasn’t happy about my performance. In 2013, I went out too conservatively (at 90 BPM) and played catch up during the latter half of the race, finishing with a time of 7:57. In 2014, I went out a little too fast (at 97 BPM) and ended up slowing down during the 2nd part of the race, finishing with a time of 7:56. This year I was in better shape so I decided to give 97 BPM another shot. With luck, I figured I might be able to break 7:45. At worst, I figured I’d still be able to break the 8:00 mark.

I hit the stairwell running but quickly settled into my 97 BPM pace as I climbed up the 2nd flight of steps. The pace felt easy and I tried to stay relaxed. I focused on keeping one step on the landings and keeping up to the beat of my metronome.

Time slipped by and within a couple minutes the pace was beginning to get difficult. I scanned the stairwell for location markers* and I was somewhere in the 300s. I kept on climbing and soon I was in the mid-400s, which is the approximate half way point. I glanced down at my watch when I got into the upper 300s (probably 370s, but I’m not sure) and I was right around 3:50. I was pleased, because I knew I was pacing myself just under my goal time of 7:45.

*I didn’t memorize Stan’s chart of the Stratosphere, but basically the “tower core” section doesn’t have any true floors. Instead, there are various position markers given in vertical feet. When you get about 800 feet up, you enter the occupied levels: floors 101 through 108 which uses a more traditional stairwell.

As I crossed into the 500s I was really starting to feel it. I still had some energy left in the tank, but I wasn’t sure I could last another 3-4 minutes. I double stepped a couple of the landings, but I fought back and single stepped the next few*. Last year I had already given up by this point and I was determined not to succumb this time around.

*for those of you who aren’t stair climbers, this warrants an explanation. To save time, it is best to place a single foot on the landing, pivot 180 degrees on the ball of your foot, and continue climbing the next flight of stairs. If you place both feet on the landing, it means you just wasted a half second or so (basically taking a one-step mini break).

In the 600s I was fighting a losing battle with the turns. I started double stepping the landings pretty regularly, although I managed to hold on to the beat while climbing. When I got into the upper 600s I was nearly at my limit. My brain was basically in the “off” position although a single coherent thought crossed my mind “Hey – at least the flights are pretty long!*”

*Translation: Thankfully the stairwell doesn’t have very many (slow) turns.

At this point I was begging the markers to accelerate through the 700s, but alas they were still plodding along at a leisurely pace. I knew I had only a couple more minutes to go, so I kept up the brutal pace.

Suddenly I crossed through the fire door into the occupied section of the tower. This is the only tricky section of the climb because the fire door brings you to an intersection where you can go either left or right. It isn’t clearly marked and even if you *know* you are supposed to turn right, it is still pretty tricky because your brain doesn’t always remember things when it is oxygen deprived. Better climbers than I have screwed up this intersection and I didn’t want to be the next victim. My brain screamed “turn right” and thankfully I turned right.

The fire door took me by surprise and it honestly took me a couple of flights to convince myself that I was indeed inside the occupied section which is the essentially the home stretch of the race. I was supposed to be accelerating up these final few flights but I was pretty much in a daze. I tripped on the next floor but caught myself before I fell.  I wanted to sprint, but my body had a different idea. I climbed a few more flights and tripped again, barely managing to stay upright. Yep. Sprinting wasn’t gonna happen*. “Just keep climbing” I silently told myself.

*I may have tripped a 3rd time too, but I honestly can’t recall.

I remember hitting floor 107. I knew there was only one floor left to go, but it took me a moment to actually believe it. My body was shutting down but I managed to haul myself up the last couple flights. I crossed over the finish line, glanced at my watch (about 7:51) walked a few steps, turned off my watch (7:54) and collapsed to the ground.

I was in rough shape. As lay prostrate on the floor waiting for my heart-rate to come down, I was in so much physical pain that my mind was a complete blank. After about a minute or so, I crawled to one of the recovery chairs and put my legs up*. I barely even noticed that Oz had crawled next to me and he did the same thing. After a couple minutes Oz was able to get back up, but I needed a couple more minutes to catch my breath. Believe it or not, I was actually in worse shape than Oz who is well known for his post race collapses. At some point we discussed our times. Oz clocked himself in at 7:54, which was only a few seconds slower than my unofficial time of 7:51.  Although I had a slight advantage, the race was too close to call - it is pretty common for self-timed results to differ from the official chip times by a few seconds.

*I’m not sure it really helps, but that’s what Mr. Paradis, our cross country coach, had us do after practice back in High School.

Finally I dragged myself off of the floor and grabbed a glass of orange juice and a banana. I was still tired, but my senses were coming back. I sat down next to Mark Trahanovsky and Sproule and I closed my eyes to listen to their conversation – I didn’t have enough energy to chat, although it was pretty clear that Sproule had won the race by a good 30 seconds. They left after a few minutes (Mark offered to drive Sproule to the airport) so I sat there alone eating my banana. Normally, eating a banana takes only a few seconds, but I had to eat this one slowly. My stomach was having trouble tolerating solid food. When I finished, I lay down on the couch to rest a few more minutes. I was still pretty in pretty bad shape.

After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally ready to join the rest of humanity. After chatting with a few of my fellow climbers, we gathered for one big team photo and then headed back down to get ready for our first US Stair Climbing Association (USSCA) meeting.

I took a quick shower, ate a granola bar, and headed to Madeleine’s room for the meeting. I was running late, but so was everyone else.

The meeting was pretty quick. Suffice it to say, I’ll be serving as the interim President until we become incorporated as an official non-for profit, and our first order of business is getting incorporated. I have a feeling it is going to take a lot of work – and I’m not sure I’m the best person to get things done, but I think I can at least get the organization formally recognized before the end of the year. That will have to suffice for now. We quickly finished the USSCA kickoff meeting and headed to the award ceremony.

Looking at the published results, I had officially took 2nd place, just a few seconds ahead of Oz. More importantly, I was less than 30 seconds behind Sproule – which was one of my unofficial goals for the race. Rounding out the top five were Jason and Josh respectively in yet another tight race. The biggest upset (in my opinion) was Jeff taking 6th overall, edging out Dr. Thomas by single digits. On the women’s slide, I finally got the chance to meet the winner, Stephanie Hucko, as well as 3rd place Kacie Cleveland. You can see the full results here.

*Stephanie is originally from Australia. Go figure.

Later we headed to Randy’s house for his annual “Scale the Strat BBQ". By that point my energy had mostly returned, and I was feeling almost normal again, although I still had a slight headache left over from the race. The food was great and the companionship even better.

Where are we?
After the BBQ, a bunch of us (12 to be exact) climbed into David’s minivan and headed back to the Strat (watch the video here). We decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the various casinos on the Strip… intent on finding all the hidden staircases Vegas had to offer and climb them. The coolest set of stairs we found was at the [*]. The complex is shaped like a [*] and we found one staircase that follows the inner sidewall – snaking itself around to hug the side of the building. Because of the angle, you could see the entire staircase all at once. We were like kids in a candy shop.

*Deleted by admin to protect identity of the building. No sense in having the casino find out about our little escapade. I don’t want them to close the stairwell to the public and ruin the fun for future climbers. Contact me for details if you ever find yourself in Vegas and want to see the stairwell for yourself.

After dinner at the casino, it finally time to head back home. “Z” gave me a ride to the airport around 11:00 PM and while checking in, I learned my flight was cancelled! I’d have to stay another 24 hours in Vegas… and miss another day of work. I took the 108 bus back to the Stat and asked a friend to let me crash at their place overnight. It was nearly 2:00 AM by the time I go to bed.

The next morning I was running on fumes. I was tired, but I didn’t have a good night’s rest (since I was still stuck on East Coast time).

I gave Michael a call before checkout and found out he was also at the Strat, literally two doors down the hallway! I closed my phone and chatted with him in the hallway to discuss plans for the day.

I hung out with Michael and Ariel for the rest of the day. We hit the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas. It is an excellent museum and well worth the $20 cover charge to get in. My only complaint is that the topic is depressing: Illegal business & murder. Thoroughly interesting, but also pretty morbid.

After dropping Ariel off at the airport, we went out to eat with Steve, his dad (who lives in Vegas) and one of his buddies from New York. Holsteins - best burger on the strip.

Michael dropped me off at the airport after dinner and I hopped on a plane back to the East Coast. I got maybe a couple hours of sleep on the plane so I was running on fumes by this point. When the flight landed in Philly, I found out my flight to Albany was cancelled. I was pissed. I accidentally walked out of the terminal trying to find the help desk* so I ended up going to ticketing and then spending another 30 minutes getting back through security. I was scheduled to get on the next flight, but it was completely full and I was put on standby (after all, there was an entire plane of people that was stuck in the airport). The lady at the terminal help desk told me there was less than a 50% chance I’d be able to leave Philly that day because of a bit of bad weather coming in later that afternoon.

*Hard to believe I’d miss the big red exit only sign… but my brain wasn’t functioning clearly.

“Fuck it, I’m renting a car” I thought to myself and walked out of the airport.

I met up with another stranded passenger and offered to give her a ride back to Albany. It turned out she was a friend of an old co-worker so at least we had something in common to talk about during the 4 hour drive. I drove and she navigated. I finally got back to Albany in the mid-afternoon and after taking a quick shower, I took a long much needed nap.

Moral of the story: Vegas is awesome, but getting there & back sucks eggs.

Race Grades:
Effort: A+ ; Looking back, I honestly didn’t think I put that much effort into the race up until 600s, but the clearly the aftermath of the race tells a different story; the only race where it took longer to recover was at the US Bank Tower in 2012. Maintaining the pace through the 700s and the final 7 floors clearly took a lot out of me. For my own sake, I hope that never happens again.
Strategy: B+ ; “A steady pace wins the race” really fits the Stratosphere. 97 BPM was a decent pace for this building, but it was slightly too fast for my present condition. A slower pace would have worked better overall. Say 95 BPM? Maybe even 94 BPM?
Technique: A- ; I climbed efficiently, but lost time on the landings during the latter half of the race, mainly because I was so doggone tired. Fortunately, the relatively long flights (with fewer landings) mitigates some of this. I definitely used the rails to haul myself up the building and I have a blister to prove it – even with all the athletic tape (right ring finger, on the “fat” part closer to the pinkie side).

Overall: A ; This is a solid A. In my current condition (or at least my condition on race day) I’m probably capable of a 7:40 in this building with the right pacing. But who knows? Back in 2013, I climbed in 7:57 and had plenty of energy to spare in the latter half of the race because went out pretty slow (at 90 BPM). After the race, I thought I was capable of a 7:30… and I know I’m in better condition today.