Friday, April 3, 2015

World Championships Run Down.

Doha, Qatar.

I never imagined I’d visit the Middle East, but anything is possible in the world of stair climbing.

The tower running world championships were held in Doha this past weekend and I couldn’t pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity to race against the best tower climbers in the World.

It was a three day event with meetings on Thursday, preliminary races on Friday, and the finals on Saturday. That meant I had to leave Tuesday night in order to get to Doha by Wednesday evening.

The trip to the NYC was pretty uneventful and I arrived at JFK with plenty of time to spare. They began lining us up to board the aircraft nearly an hour before takeoff and I noticed that only a few of the passengers appeared to be Arabic. Pretty much everyone else appeared to be just your average New Yorker*

*FYI - New York is a huge melting pot of cultures and ethnicities.

As I was getting ready to board the plane, the airline announcer called out a several passengers to come to the front desk. Among those names I thought I heard “Veronica Stocker” – which is one of my WCL teammates from the West Coast. Could she be headed to Doha too? I only knew of three other teammates traveling to the race… and they were all traveling from Chicago. I looked around but Veronica was nowhere to be found, so I though perhaps it was just a coincidence.

The flight was pretty uneventful and I even managed to sleep one or two hours. The airline food was fairly good and they had a good selection of movies and TV shows. Plus I had an empty seat next to mine. No complaints!

After landing, I noticed Veronica standing in line to disembark. I guess it wasn’t just a coincidence! I flagged her down and she was happy to see me. Together we went through customs. Next we to get Veronica’s luggage from baggage claim… but much to my dismay (and Veronica’s horror) her bag was nowhere to be found. She ended up filing a claim at the luggage inquiry desk. The airline reasoned that the bag never made off of her transfer flight which ran late (hence the airline calling out her name at JFK). Her bag would have to be sent to the hotel when it arrived on the next incoming flight*. Although the missing bag fiasco lasted nearly 45 minutes the delay didn’t matter. The Chicago bound flight with my other teammates landed well after us and our hotel’s shuttle service didn’t want to make two separate trips for the team.

*and luckily Veronica got her bag the very next day.

While waiting for our WCL teammates we met a couple of pro triathletes* and their team’s manager. They were also invited to race, so needless to say I was pretty intimidated. How do you make small talk with pro athletes when you’d be competing head to head in a few days?

*Specifically Will Clarke (a 2008 Olympian) and Romain Guillaume from the Uplace-BMC Pro Triathlon Team.

Finally our teammates flying out of Chicago arrived: David, Jason, Karen, and Cindy. After a group photo, we all piled into the shuttle (actually two separate SUVs) and headed to the Aspire Tower (aka the Torch) where we’d be living and climbing.
Good Looking WCLTeam... and David
By the time we reached the hotel it was almost 8:00 PM. We quickly checked into our rooms and then headed to the “Flying Carpet” restaurant for dinner. There we ran into a few other athletes as well as the Towerrunning heads: Sebastian, Rudi, and Dano (I think only Mischa was missing). I know these guys fairly well because I’m part of the Towerrunning council as the Athletes Representative. We also met up with the last couple members of our WCL team: Napoleon and his daughter Jaime.

Over dinner we talked about the upcoming race and our pre-race strategy. If I was fast enough, I’d be racing three separate times. Tomorrow’s 1st preliminary round would whittle down the field to the 30 fastest climbers (per gender). It would be a time trial going from the ground floor all the way up to the top at the 51st floor. The 2nd preliminary round was only for seeding purposes and would be held just 5 hours after the 1st preliminary. It would be a time trial “sprint” race to the 30th floor. For the finals (held the following day) the seed order would be based on the average position of the two preliminary rounds. Racers would then be lined up on a huge starting grid (similar to F1 car racing) and be a mass start. The race would consist of about 150 meters of running before hitting the stairwell. The race would end on the 50th floor, one floor below the top.

Just making it into the finals was going to be difficult. According to Rudi, there were 30 or so elite climbers registered on the men’s side as well as a couple pro triathletes (who we already met) that would be racing. There were also several very strong local athletes who’d be participating too, which meant there were 40+ strong athletes competing for 30 spots in the final. The women’s field was a bit more open, although getting into the final with a decent seed would still take a fast climb.

The Torch
After dinner we went outside and took a few more pictures of the torch. Later, a few of us checked out the stairwell. We entered into the stairwell on the 6th floor, but only David and I climbed the entire building taking measurements of the stairs along the way of course*. When we reached the 50th floor we tried to find an elevator, but instead we ended up in the middle of a fancy restaurant instead. We walked down a few more floors and once again found ourselves in the middle of another restaurant. We were about to go down a few more floors when we were confronted by an angry member of the wait staff - after all, we were both sweaty messes by that point in the middle of a fancy restaurant. He stiffly directed us to the elevator. It wasn’t all bad though; while we were waiting to go down the hostess peppered us with questions about the upcoming race**. She wanted to do the race, too.

*The steps are all 6.75 inches tall in case you are wondering.

** I think she was flirting with David.

David and finally headed back to our room (we were sharing one room to save costs) and got ready for bed. The next day would be busy.

Although I was exhausted, I had a pretty poor sleep. David and I spent several hours chatting in the dark after both of us woke up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep. I managed to get maybe 6 hours of sleep only because we slept until 9:30.

The next morning we met up with a couple teammates for breakfast.  Then several of us decided to explore the nearby area. It was so hot outside that we soon gravitated to the next door mall to see what shopping was like in Doha. Summary: Pretty much like every other mall in America – only cleaner and with signs in both Arabic and English. I bought a pair of shorts in Carrefour (the French Walmart) since I was overheating in my khakis.
Indoor "Venice" & GAP Store... in Qatar
After the mall several of us hit the gym* and I had an easy workout on the elliptical machine. My goal was just to get my body moving and burn off a few hundred calories. Since the race was less than 24 hours away, I tried to keep my heartrate in the low 140s to make sure I didn’t tap into my energy reserves. It wasn’t a tough workout but it sure got me sweating. After a quick shower I headed to a late lunch. Then I explored the bottom floors of the stairwell to get a better feel for the race course.

*The gym is meant only for men because of Islamic tradition, but we found this out after Karen finished her workout. They staff didn’t seem to mind - probably because Karen’s muscles are bigger than mine (she is a former bodybuilder and still trains like one).

Just after 4:00 PM, the Towerrunning council got together at the Aspire Dome for an obligatory meeting. I won’t bore you with the details, but the key takeaway I came out with is that stair climbing is fast becoming a legitimate sport.

After a short dinner it was time to get our race bibs for the next day. The bibs were given out more or less in assumed seed order and I came out with bib #14. That gave me a bit of confidence since although there were several better athletes seeded higher (e.g. the pro triathletes and other serious athletes) it meant I had a pretty good chance to make the finals.

After the meeting, I met up with Napoleon and Jamie to show them the stairwell. Once again we climbed all the way to the top, but this time around I was smart enough to know to climb down a few floors and take the freight elevator down rather than disturb the patrons eating at the restaurant. Before heading back to our rooms we did a few pacing trials in the stairwell to mimic tomorrow’s pace. I'll make you a metronome convert yet, Napoleon! 
The Dinosaur and his Daughter
After the climb I headed off to bed. I was nervous about tomorrow’s preliminary round and I wanted a good night’s sleep to prepare.

I woke up around 8:00 and had a light breakfast. My race was at 10:00 AM so I went back to my room to try and relax. At 9:30 I began my warm-up. I did 5 minutes of stretching and then headed to the stairwell for a warm-up. I went up from the 4th floor and took the elevator down from the 16th floor (climbing 11 floors total – there is no 13th floor).  I did a total of three climbs with the last one at race pace. Race pace felt challenging, but I knew I should be able to handle it throughout the race.
The nerves were really on edge at the start line. We would be given 20 second gaps between climbers to minimize passing. As the 14th climber, I would be starting right after Ralf and right before Jason. I did a couple rounds of burpees to stay warmed up but pretty soon it was my turn to get on the start line.

I had several goals for this race. First off, I had to climb fast enough to make sure that I stayed within the top 30. That meant I couldn’t slack off very much because I figured the cut-off time wouldn’t be too far off my regular race pace. Secondly, I wanted to make sure I kept up with my peers - If I made the finals, I didn’t want to be too far behind. That meant I really couldn’t slack off too much. Lastly, I wanted  make sure I didn’t expend too much energy because if I made it through the 1st preliminary round I’d  still have to race in the 2nd preliminary round later in the afternoon (more about that later) as well as tomorrow’s finals.

The 1st and 2nd goals were pretty much in line with one another, but the 3rd goal was in direct conflict with the others. Basically I had to climb fast... but not too fast.  Easy stuff right?

Fortunately, I had a pretty good idea how to pace myself for the race. I dialed my pace to 99 BPM which was just a little bit slower than the race pace I used at One Penn Plaza the week before*. At One Penn I kept to my metronome’s pace during the 1st half but was able to pick up the pace in the 2nd half which turned out a very competitive time. I figured that if I just kept that same pace during this race – without accelerating during the 2nd half - I should still be fairly competitive.

*I used 94 BPM at One Penn Plaza, but the stairs in that building are about ¾ inch taller.

The race officials let us into the stairwell in 20 second intervals. When it was my turn to start, I turned on my metronome and began running towards the emergency exit (i.e. the stairwell entrance).

The race course is as follows: a short run to the emergency exit and then another short run down the hallway. Next up is a short flight of steps followed by a short run around the tower’s core and into the main stairwell (Stairwell B). The stairwell itself entirely made from concrete and is painted with a non-slip gritty paint. The rails are fairly close together such that you can use both rails simultaneously. Up until floor 22, it is an open stairwell, meaning you can more or less see all the way to the bottom if you look over the inner rail. These floors are uniformly 11/12 (11 steps, landing, then 12 steps). The stairwell turns to the left and the steps measure 6.75 inches tall. After floor 22, the stairwell is closed, meaning there is a solid wall between the inner rails. The flights are uniformly 14/14. The stairwell continues to turn to the left and the steps are all 6.75 inches tall. On the 50th floor there is a separate door that leads up to the 51st floor. There is a 2nd stairwell (Stairwell A) with minor differences which I’ll discuss later. (Note: There is no 13th floor)

I ran pretty fast at the start of the race to make sure I didn’t lose too much time. When I hit the stairwell I immediately climbed to the beat of my metronome. Since the first 22 floors are all 11/12, it was fairly easy to keep one foot on the landing. Even when I placed two feet on the landing, I made sure to accelerate to keep my vertical pace constant.

On floor 22 I had a minor delay. The solid wall blocks the view of the next flight, so when I hit that floor I started running out of the stairwell. I probably lost a second or two as I had to quickly change directions.

From here on out the race became a little bit harder because of the solid wall and the 14/14 configuration. This configuration made it a bit harder to execute turns efficiently. In fact, at some point along the way I scraped my knuckles on the wall - although I didn’t notice the bleeding until after the race.

I hit floor 27 (my assumed halfway point) in about 3:50 which I thought was pretty good. My heartrate had peaked but I felt I could go faster. I resisted the temptation to accelerate and continued my climb.

Right around the 40th floor the climb became painful, but with only 10 floors left to go, I knew the suffering would soon end. I glanced at my watch. 4:50? Wow, I was doing awesome*! I still had enough energy to burn but I rather than spend it, I held it in reserve.

*4:50 at the 40th floor seems a little fast right? Keep reading…

I crossed the mat on the 51st floor and kept walking. I stopped my watch at 4:50. What? My watch must have stopped somewhere in the 30s. Such is life. I manually counted out the seconds until the next climber arrived (possibly Jason?) and I was only 10-15 seconds ahead. Since racers started at 20 second intervals that meant the next climber clearly gained some ground.

I was a little winded but I was able to recover quite quickly. A lot of the other climbers were sitting on the floor recovering so I knew they put more effort into the race. As such, I had a sinking feeling that my time wasn’t very competitive with my peers.

I asked Ralf how he had done and he told me that he had timed himself at just over 8 minutes. He then told me that he counted out the seconds and I was a good 30 – 35 seconds behind, which meant he clipped my 10-15 seconds. I also asked Jason how he did. Apparently he was passed a three times during the race, but managed to re-pass once. He didn’t know exactly how far ahead the two passing climbers were ahead of him, but it appeared that our finishing times were in the same ballpark.

I wandered around a bit more and then learned that a bunch of guys broke the 7 minute and those who didn’t were closer to 7 than to 8. All of those times put mine to shame. Although I felt fairly certain that I had finished in the top 30, I doubted I’d make the top 20.

The next few hours were somewhat of a blur but I did cheer on the women’s finishers at the top of the climb. I also had a light lunch in preparation for the 2nd preliminary round at 3:00 PM, assuming that I had made it into the top 30.

It turns out I never found out my final time because there were problems with the timing chips. The Towerrunning officials had to manually calculate times based on the race footage. Even as I write this I still don’t know my official time.

After lunch I found out that I made it into the top 30 although my friend David wasn’t so lucky. I think he placed 33rd which put him just outside of the final cut. The timing issues just made it worse. At one point the officials said he was in and I went back to the room to tell David the good news. But an hour later the officials said he just missed the cut. I felt horrible and I’m sure David was crushed by the news (despite preparing himself for the bad news).

I tried to relax before my next race, so after lunch I went to my room to surf the internet and read. At 2:30 I began my warmup – repeating the same routine I did during the 1st round – and made it to the start line around 2:55. They made us change our bibs based our results from the 1st round. I was given bib #11 which was clearly a mistake but the officials didn’t have enough time to fix. I felt a little embarrassed when several better climbers asked me about my preliminary results. I know it wasn’t my fault, but I hated having to explain the situation time and time again.

This time around they’d be giving the climbers 30 second gaps, so was pretty sure I wouldn’t be passed by any climbers, despite the fact I was seeded amongst better athletes.

The race course was basically the same this time around except we’d be ending on the 30th floor rather than the 51st floor. I doubted that I’d be passed in such a short race although the Columbian behind me thought differently and gestured that he wanted me to give up the inside rail when he passed me. Of course that gave me a good reason to make sure I stayed well enough ahead.
I spent a few minutes thinking about my race strategy. Should I push hard and gain a few spots which give me a slight head start in tomorrow’s final? Or should I race conservatively to make sure I’m fresh for the final?

I decided to race conservatively. I figured that I was already behind some of my peers so it would be pretty difficult to gain ground (since they’d be taking results of both preliminary rounds into account). I felt it was more important to be fresh for the final considering that I was already likely seeded near the back of the pack.

I set my metronome for 115 BPM which is a pretty fast clip, but fairly slow for a sub-4 minute race. To but things into perspective, I won in Boston in 4:24 with an equivalent pace of 125 BPM, and today’s course was even shorter.

When it was my turn to go I ran to the fire door, around the tower core, and into the stairwell. It felt pretty easy for the first 10 floors or so, and I hoped it would be fast enough so I wouldn’t be caught be the Colombian. I still felt pretty good until the 22nd floor, but once again I nearly exited the stairwell (see my first race above) and I chastised myself for the mental lapse. Things started getting tough after this point because the turns are more difficult and fatigue was starting to set in. I could have picked up the pace at this point, but I was determined to stick with the plan and make sure I didn’t completely exhaust myself and burn out my legs. I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch at 4:10. Not an impressive time for sure, but hopefully it would be in the same range as my peers.

Once again I was tired, but was able to quickly walk it off. I then grabbed a quick snack (Gatorade and a banana) and waited for my peers. I spoke with Silvio and Jason a few minutes after they crossed the finish line and it appeared I managed to clip them both by 5-10 seconds, but after speaking with Ralf, I learned that he came in about 10 seconds ahead of me. That meant I more or less held my position without expending too much energy. It was a fair trade.

After the race, David, Karen, Jason and I went for a bus tour of the city. For the past couple days we were trapped indoors and we wanted to get a feel for the city. A small bus picked us up from the hotel and about 45 minutes later we were on top of a double decker bus taking in the sights of the city. Here are a few things I learned:
  • Only 20% of the population is Qatari. The majority of the residents hail from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Thailand, and many other countries.
  • Doha is wealthy. It is shopping paradise for high end Western brands.
  • The cars were all pretty new and there were plenty of high end vehicles on the road (Lamborghini, Porsche, etc.).
  • The city is growing and there is a lot of construction. They’ve reclaimed a bit of land from the bay and all the sky scrapers were built within the last 10 years.
  • Traffic is fierce, but they are building a subway to help congestion.
  • I felt very safe. There weren’t armed guards walking around. There is no social unrest in this part of the Middle East.
  • Although Westerners are expected to dress conservatively (no bare shoulders, shorts covering the knee) Qatar appears to be very tolerant of other cultures.
Doha Skyline from afar
Doha lit up at night
Because of traffic, the tour took longer than expected and we didn’t get back to the Torch until 8:30 or so. We were famished by that point*

*and my bladder was ready to rupture... you know the feeling, right David?

At dinner we learned our starting positions for the final. I was told I came in 23rd during both preliminaries so I’d be seeded 23rd for the final. Jason was a couple spots lower at 25th, but all my other peers were seeded a bit higher. I think Ralph was 19th, Norbert 21st, and Silvio 22nd. Although I was seeded a few spots lower than I had hoped, I felt that it was worth it to have fresh legs and lungs for the final.

The next morning I felt nervous (of course) but otherwise pretty fresh. I felt more or less fully recovered from yesterday’s races. I skipped a formal breakfast opting for a banana and a granola bar instead.

I stayed in my room until 8:55 AM and then headed outside to the start line to get my new bib. Today the women would be racing at 10:00 AM and the men at 10:45. After getting my bib I headed back to my room to relax.

Right at 10:00 AM I headed to the stairwell on the 4th floor and cheered for the women as they passed by. Then at 10:15 I began my final warmup using the same routine as the day before.
I arrived at the start line a few minutes before the start and while waiting around I met up with my good friend Dan and his father (who visiting Dan in Doha). Dan is a professor at one of the local universities so when I found I’d be in his neck of the woods, I figured it would be a great to meet up.

The race course for the finals is a little bit different than in the prior heats. First off, we’d be starting off in a huge starting grid similar in layout to a Formula 1 start (so I’m told) with two columns of racers (odd seeds on one side and even seeds on the other). The distance between racers was about 2.5 meters such that the distance between the 1st and 29thpositions (or 2nd and 30th positions) was 32.5 meters.

To put things into perspective, the 1st seed starts a good 6-8 seconds ahead of the 29th seed assuming a fast 5K pace.

Next, we’d have to run a good 150 meters (with a slight uphill) to the main entry of the building. I didn’t measure length of the run, but it took me a good 30 seconds with a quick jog, so I figure it is a good 20-25 second run at a fast 5K pace.

Then we’d enter the main building and climb up the main steps to the M-1 level (i.e. the 2nd floor). At the top of the stairs we’d enter Stairwell B and start climbing as normal until the 30th floor. Here we’d exit the stairwell and run around the tower core (counterclockwise) and enter Stairwell A (on the other side of the core). I didn’t measure the run, but I’m guessing it takes 5-10 seconds.
Finally we’d climb up to the finish line on the 50th floor (since Stairwell A doesn’t go all the way up to the 51st floor).

Before the start they officials had us line up in the proper seed order and a minute later we were given the green light to race.
Lining up. I'm waaay in back
My strategy on the start line was to run at a quick jog to the stairwell and then climb at 99 BPM. At the 30th floor I would then accelerate and finish the race strong.

I wasn’t really happy with all the pre-stairwell running (since I’m not a runner) but at the start of the race I did my best to keep up with the others. Although I dropped a couple places on the run, I wasn’t too far behind my peers when we entered the building. I bounded up the first few stairs, quickly realizing I was climbing way beyond my 99 BPM pace. Midway up, I started to decelerate and I entered the stairwell in about 26th place or so.

I knew that everyone was climbing fast and furious and I figured the guys still behind would be tearing up the stairwell. Since this was a mass start, I was not obligated to give up the inside rail, so I hugged the inside lane as tightly as possible. If the lower seeds wanted to pass, I’d give them room on the outside; I knew I’d catch up to them again and I didn’t want to waste my time or energy by giving up the inside lane.

Sure enough, every one passed me except Napoleon. By the 4th floor I was next to last (about 29th place). Clearly this wasn’t where I wanted to be (with my aspirations of a top 20 finish) and I was felt a bit demoralized as we crested the 5th floor. On the other hand, I knew that I was stronger than the lower seeds and I should be able to catch most if not all of them later on in the race.

The real race had begun.

I climbed to the beat of my metronome and caught one of the lower seeds on the 6th floor or so. He was the last person to pass me so he was never out of my sight. I could tell that he couldn’t maintain the pace and fortunately he gave up the inside lane for me.

Next I caught up to the long grey-haired guy wearing socks. He was climbing fairly quickly so I stayed with him for the next ten floors or so. Meanwhile we both passed the other lower seeds. It was a crowded mess in the stairwell, but fortunately I didn’t have to expend too much energy re-passing. We more or less took the inside track as we climbed.

We were probably in the upper teens when I finally made the move to pass Mr. Socks. The stairwell was no longer crowded so I darted up on the inside. By my estimation, I had cleared all the lower seeds leaving only my peers ahead of me: Jason, Rudi, Ralph, Silvio, Pavel, & Norbert.

I was still climbing to the beat of my metronome and I was feeling pretty good. My heartrate had peaked but I wasn’t in any danger of blowing up. After passing all the lower seeds I was feeling a bit better, but I knew I deserved better than 25th place or so. I continued climbing at my pace, hoping that the guys up ahead were blowing up and I was closing the gap.

And boy did I close that gap!

From here on out, my memory becomes a bit clouded regarding the order of passing, but I’ll tell it how I remember it.

Somewhere in the upper 20s I finally caught up to Jason. It was quite a relief seeing a familiar face. We’ve raced together a number of times and I usually finish 10-15 seconds ahead, so passing him gave me a boost of confidence; my other peers shouldn’t be too far ahead. The “Steel Oath” let me pass on the inside and together we exited Stairwell “B” and ran around the deck of the 30th floor.
For the 3rd race in a row I had a brief mental mishap. This time I nearly exited the deck through the wrong exit. I stutter stepped a brief moment and continued around the deck to the entrance to Stairwell “A”.

I caught up Rudi either right before floor 30 or right after (I honestly can’t remember). I called out "Hi Rudi!" and he let me by on the inside. At the same time we both caught up to Norbert who was having a very difficult race. Norbert actually moved out of the stairwell (into a side nook) to take a short break. Apparently the effort of yesterday’s races and today’s fast start had taken a great toll.

By this point I was climbing faster than my metronome. The pace was tough, but I still had energy in reserve and I was going for a negative split for the 2nd half of the race. Now that I had passed Jason, Norbert, and Rudi I was in about 22nd place – one better than my seed – I was feeling pretty confident.

The 30s were difficult but by the time I hit the upper 30s I knew I could keep up the pace until the end. I saw Silvio and Pavel climbing together up ahead and I surged by them on the inside. I was pretty thrilled.

The only one left on my list was Ralph, but I knew he was the strongest of the bunch. In our last two head to head races we were only seconds apart, so I knew catching him wasn’t going to be easy. I was in the lower 40s by this point and pushed the pace. The finish line was fast approaching.

I finally caught sight of Ralph on the 46th floor and caught up to him on the 47th. With only 6 flights to go Ralph increased the tempo and we both surged ahead to the 48th floor. Only 56 steps remained between us and the finish line.

On the 49th floor I knew the race was over. Clearly Ralf had some energy left in the tanks and I didn’t have the power to pass, especially when we were both going full tilt. I let him go up the final flight uncontested and I crossed the finish line at the top a couple seconds behind. My watch read 8:10.

The finish area was absolute carnage (see David's video). I saw Ralf drop to the ground a few feet beyond the finish line. Beyond him athletes blanketed the floor in a tangle of pain and suffering. I walked by Ralf and gave him a congratulatory tap on the leg and continued onward. I wanted to drop but there wasn’t any room. I pushed past one of the volunteers into a blocked off area of the restaurant, but he quickly pulled me back. I replied to him “What gives? I’m tired and I just want to lie down!*” Angrily I found a place to sit away from the main pile of athletes.

*Yeah, I was rude, but I was also in a lot of pain…

After that point I recovered fairly quickly. Although I put a lot of effort into the final part of the climb, I raced the majority of the building somewhat conservatively. As a result, I didn’t spend all that much time above the redline. A couple minutes later I was up and about chatting with my fellow racers.

Although I didn’t overtake Ralf, I was very pleased with my race. The first part may have felt disastrous, but I really turned it around in the middle and at the end. Rudi and I took a look at the preliminary race results and surprisingly enough I squeaked into the top 20! But admittedly I did have a little help; Omar Bekkali – a very good climber - dropped out of the race with an injury which put me into the 20th spot. It also showed that I passed the most racers in the stairwell which meant I really had a solid 2nd half.

After recovering, I went downstairs and met up with Dan and his father. I wanted to get out of the Torch and do a bit of sightseeing, so I suggested we spend the afternoon in Souq Waqif, the most famous market in Doha. I knew about the market because we saw it on the bus tour, but didn’t have time to wander around.

I went upstairs and took a quick shower and then headed downstairs for a quick bite to eat. Along the way I ran into David invited him along. I also had a brief chat with Darren Wilson, the bronze medalist. Apparently there was a bit of drama at the front of the race. One of the Columbian tried to block out several of the top climbers. In fact, Darren had to prop up Mark Bourne (the silver medalist) to prevent him from falling. Although it was bad news for the guys in front, it was good news for me: with a 30 second penalty the Columbian would be moved down several spots and I’d be moved up a spot into 19th place.

The four of us piled into a taxi and headed to the Souq. Since it was the middle of the day, it wasn’t very crowded and only a fraction of the stores were open. Dan explained that the market is a much busier place at night when it becomes a little cooler outside. The marked reminded me a little of NYC Chinatown with tiny shops selling trinkets, but it was still fun browsing the different shops. Besides trinkets, there were shops selling honey and spices (albeit many of them were closed) as well as lots of places for silk and other fabrics. There was even a small complex devoted to gold and jewelry (the Gold Souq).
Souq Waqif
We stopped by a local restaurant for lunch. I wasn’t too hungry but I had a Turkish coffee and some desert. During lunch, Dan and I finally did a bit of catching up. I told him all about our common friends. In return he told me some good news: his wife would be having twins. Congratulations!

After lunch it was time to get back to the hotel for the formal Gala. We parted ways at entrance of the Souk and took a cab back to the Hotel. 

During the trip, as I was fiddling around with my seatbelt strap, I realized I was no longer wearing the strap of my travel bag. I must have left it back at the restaurant.  No big loss I thought… until I remembered it contained my passport! Quickly we turned the cab around and headed back to the Souk. Although the odds were good that we’d be able to retrieve my bag, I was still a nervous wreck. I needed my passport in order to get back to the US.

The cab dropped us off at the entrance and the driver offered to wait for us. Quickly, I followed David back to the restaurant (for he has a better sense of direction than I). When we arrived, I asked the host at the front desk if they had found a small bag and he pointed behind the counter. There it was! I showed him my passport to prove that I was the owner and a moment later it was back in my possession. A huge wave of relief settled over me and together David and I headed back to the waiting cab.

We arrived at the hotel without further incident and changed into better clothes for the Gala. We sat with all our other teammates and watched a slideshow of all the pictures taken over the course of the last couple days. Ralf arrived a few minutes late to the Gala with one of his Couch Surfing friends – a pretty girl from Kenya. There wasn’t any room at the German/Austrian table so he decided to sit with all the cool kids from the US*. Dinner was buffet style and I ate as much as possible – including dessert.

*As an added bonus, his friend brought along a bottle of vodka (shhh… don’t tell).

After dinner it was time to get packed. We’d be leaving the hotel at 5:00 AM to catch our 8:15 AM flight back to the US (the NYC and Chicago bound flights were leaving within minutes of one another).

Early the next morning the shuttle bus picked us up from the hotel and dropped us off at the airport – along with Darren and the professional triathletes. Security was uneventful and we departed ways once we arrived at our gate.
We had a "belter", right Darren?
This time around I knew that Veronica was on my flight and we managed to sit next to each other in two of the best seats in economy; most of the seats are grouped in rows of three, but we were able to snag the only group of two, giving us a bit more privacy.

The flight to JFK was smooth and I watched a few movies along the way. At customs I gave Veronica a hug and parted ways. She had another flight to catch and I still had to get to Albany.

It was a long journey back to Albany. The subway right was frustrating. Every time I had to catch or switch trains, I missed it by a hair – either by my own unfamiliarity with the different lines or by pure bad luck (like getting stuck behind someone in the escalator). I missed my train back to Poughkeepsie by mere minutes and had to wait an extra half an hour for the next. Par for the course. When I arrived in Poughkeepsie it was already past 7:00 PM, but I was finally on the home stretch. I arrived at home at a quarter to 9:00 and gave my family a big hug. 

Doha was fun, but it was good to be home.

Race Grades:
Effort: B+ ; I raced a bit too conservatively in the finals to give myself an A, but I’m still satisfied.

Strategy: A- ; On the first day I did a pretty good job saving my energy at the expense of a few seeding positions. It was definitely a good trade-off. During the final, I paced myself a little bit too conservatively during the beginning of the race, but on the positive side it allowed me to pick up the pace during the 2nd half. Since the start was staggered there seemed to be plenty of space in the stairwell, although getting passed and having to re-pass was a waste of time and energy.

Technique: B+ ; My running left something to be desired, but my climbing was pretty good. I did well on the 11/12 configuration but I was less efficient when it switched to 14/14.

 Overall: A- ; I’m pretty happy with my climb. The biggest thing I would have changed would be to hit the "go" switch on 22 rather than wait until 30. I also think I could have tolerated a slightly faster initial pace. However, I have to be pleased with my result. It’s better to have negative splits rather than risk blowing up.

Final Thoughts:
I’m very happy about coming in 19th in a very deep men’s final. You can see the full results here.
One thing that surprised me was how good the top men’s athletes are. I raced against some of these athletes at Empire which is longer course and has a bit more running, but it was still shocking to see how fast these guys are in a middle distance climb. For example, the finals seemed to run about 20 to 30 seconds slower than the Stratosphere – our US championship race - yet the top 5 guys had times that would have equaled or bettered the record at the Strat.

Boy do I have my work cut out for me over the next couple seasons.

Another thing I noticed was how slow some of the professional athletes were in the stairwell. These weren’t the “dregs” of the pro field either; one of the triathletes was on the British Olympic team in 2008. I honestly thought that all the cycling these guys do would have put them into medal contention, but instead they finished only a few spots higher than me (i.e. mid-upper teens). If it sounds like I’m knocking the pros, I don’t mean it that way; my takeaway is that it takes a bit of specificity to be good at climbing stairs and that several of the top stair climbers really are world class athletes. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent write-up. Congratulations on top 20 in a very tough field!