Monday, November 12, 2018

Double Dragon


That is the sound my door made when when I locked myself out of my dorm room at the Airbnb. 


I meant to leave the door unlocked on my way to the shared bathroom.

It was just over an hour until my race up the Sears (Willis) tower. I was wearing my tank top and racing shorts, but my watch, racing bib, metronome, and my lightweight racing shoes were still in the room… as well as my asthma medicine. 

Double Fuck!

Only one other guest was awake at the Airbnb, and I let him know my situation. He let me borrow an undersized vest (actually his girlfriend's) and promised to get in contact with the landlord and (hopefully) find a spare key.

I power walked over to Sears (Willis) in the cold November wind and I could feel my lungs starting on constrict. It was drizzling on an off, but I made it to the building without freezing to death.

I tracked down David Hanley in the hope of securing an extra bib. He got me in touch with one of the race directors who had a small pile of extras (thanks Janet!). I also ran into Jesse Berg, another asthmatic, and he let me borrow his inhaler for a couple puffs of albuterol.

I was as ready as I was going to get. 

I made my way to the start line and started my warmup routine. Active stretching followed by several rounds of burpees to get the blood pumping. Then I made my way to the start line to assess the competition.

Favorites were the international athletes Frank Carreno, Alex Trujillo and George Heinmann. No contest. Next up were the US athletes vying for 4th place: Terry Purcell, Jesse Berg, and Jason Larson. Terry was probably the strongest of the group as Jesse hadn’t been on the racing scene for a few years. However, Jesse used to be the #1 US athlete, so he couldn’t be counted out. He was definitely the dark horse of the race. Last on my list was Jason. He is consistently one of the top US finishers and we always seem to be next to one another in the standings regardless of the venue. It would actually be strange if more than one or two slots separated us.

I figured I had a shot for 4th place, but beating all three of my rivals was going to be a tall order. I was in great shape physically but I was also a few pounds heavier than I should be. Actually, up until a few weeks before the race I had been sitting at 176 lbs, a far cry from sub-170, my peak racing weight. At the start line, I was probably sitting at 173. Not to mention I was wearing my heavy sneakers and custom orthotics which weigh a solid pound more than my racing flats.

I did my final round of burpees and snuck in behind Terry and Jesse. Showtime!

Ok not so fast (insert sound byte of a record player violently stopping).

Terry made it out the gate, but Jesse got stuck at the start line. The timer’s magic wand stopped working due to technical issues.

Of course I did another round of burpees while waiting :)

Finally I was in the stairwell. I started about 15 seconds behind Jesse and 15 seconds ahead of Jason.

I didn’t have a metronome to guide me nor a stopwatch to keep track of my time. Instead I relied on my internal clock as I played Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring*” in my head. I probably played it faster than my goal pace of 81 bpm, but at least I throttled my pace down to a manageable level.

*Same song I play in my head at 1WTC - a similarly sized climb.

I got into a good rhythm using only the inside rails for turning. By the 10th floor I could barely hear Jesse up ahead (actually, I could only hear the volunteers cheering him on). Jason on the other hand was clearly catching up. Oh well, nothing to do about it but climb.

For the next 20 floors I focused on climbing efficiently - making sure I hugged the inside rail and kept only one foot on the landings.

The floor numbers increased into the 40s. I felt the first signs of fatigue (increased breathing rate and tiring muscles) but overall I was still okay. Jason was no longer breathing down my neck and I could faintly hear the volunteers up ahead indicating that Jesse was still ahead of me

I climbed into the 50s and 60s. My turns were becoming sloppy because I was starting to tire. At some point I remember crossing a hallway into a different stairwell. The power walk/jog was a necessary respite. Now I found myself taking the turns to the left. Despite being my slower* side, climbing in the opposite direction helped take the load off of my tiring right side.

*I've actually been practicing in a left turn stairwell once per week, so my left turns are nearly as efficient as my right.

In the 70s I had nearly caught up with Jesse. He was only about one floor ahead. However, I could not muster the energy necessary to close the gap. I was exhausted and my pace was probably slowing (I couldn’t be 100% certain as I didn’t have my metronome).

I crossed into the 80s knowing that I had about 3 minutes of suffering left. When I crossed 83 (basically 20 floors to go) I started counting out out the remaining distance in terms of percentage - where each floor represented 5% of the remaining distance.

5, 10, 15%...

I was slowly losing sight of Jesse but if I could just hold on a couple more minutes…

25, 30, 35%...

Less than 2 minutes to go!

50, 55, 65%...

Just over a minute of climbing left and I'm at my limit.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch Jesse, but perhaps if I dug deep I could match his final surge and come out ahead.

I switched over to counting floors. With only 5 floors to go, I grit my teeth and pushed, despite being close to empty.

It wasn’t much of a push. As I crossed Into the 100s I simply had nothing left to give. My “sprint” was barely faster than my initial pace. But at least I didn't bonk. 

Two floors left. One floor...

I crossed the finish line fully spent. Was it enough to edge out Jesse? If not, it had to have been a close race.

I crumpled to the floor, unable to move. After a short while, I heard Jason finish. It seemed like a good 30 seconds or so, but my sense of time wasn’t all that great.
"i TOLD you i'd kick your ass if you blocked me again, alex!"
I lay on the ground for what must have been a good few minutes because by the time I managed to get up, there were several other finishers milling about.

I slowly got to my feet and grabbed my finisher’s medal from a volunteer. 

I eventually ran into Jason and Jesse and inquired how they did. Jason wasn’t too pleased - having climbed slower than last year - but Jesse seemed upbeat after breaking the 15 minute barrier (as his goal time was “merely” 15:20).

Eventually I learned my time (14:45) and found out that I edged out Jesse by a single second (I secretly pumped my fist). On the other hand, my other rival, Terry, ended up with a solid 14:26, which pushed me down to 5th place overall. You can find the results here.

With Sears out of the way, I somehow had to recover enough to climb up 300 N LaSalle. Did I mention today was a double header?

Josh let me borrow a spare windbreaker and I jogged behind a few other racers (Jason, Josh, Natalie, etc.) over to the next venue. *Well* behind. Despite the “relaxed” pace, I’m not a runner and I was still exhausted from the climb. I struggled to keep up. In fact, I nearly lost sight of the runners and had to push a couple of times just to make sure I didn’t get lost.

I managed to make it to 300 N LaSalle in one piece and received my bib without incident.

This time around, I simply had no energy to warm up. Doing burpees was the last thing I wanted to do.

Shortly after 9:00 AM the organizers lined us up. First through the door was Alex Trujlio followed by Terry Purcell. I was nominated to go third, despite my protests. Before entering the stairwell, I half jokingly said to Jesse, “Don’t pass me too quickly!” (note: we were given a fairly lengthy 30 seconds between racers).

I still didn’t have a watch or a metronome, so I played “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” a bit faster than I did a couple hours ago at Sears. It was a fairly easy pace and I knew I could maintain it throughout the race. However, I couldn’t force myself into a higher gear. The last place I wanted to be was the stairwell and the thought of pushing my body to its limit for a 2nd time in a row terrified me. I couldn’t go to that place again.

The first 10 floors went by smoothly. The pace was manageable although I knew if I went any faster it would put me over the redline and I’d start to suffer.

Things were going well up into the 20s although by this time, I could faintly hear Jesse down below and he appeared to be getting closer.

Here is the thing about 300 N LaSalle - it is fairly isolating. There are several sections of stairs with carpeted treads, so sound is often muffled. Plus, there weren’t any volunteers cheering along the way, so I was literally climbing alone.

I headed into the 30s and by now I could hear Jesse quite clearly. Crap, he was actually going to catch up to me!

For the next 10 floors I debated whether or not to speed up. A small part of me wanted to race, but the larger part still didn’t want to push  into the dreaded red zone.

As I crossed into the 40s, Jesse was only a couple floors behind. It was now inevitable that he would pass. I contemplated pushing hard for the next ten floors to stay ahead. I knew I had plenty of energy to sprint the final 10 floors but once again I couldn’t bring myself to do it. 

Instead, I moved over with about half a dozen floors left in the race. Jesse was looking pretty focused (and winded) so I offered a couple words of encouragement and gave him a little boost from behind.

For the next few floors I upped the pace by a little bit. I wouldn’t call it a sprint per se - rather I merely climbed a little closer to the red line.

With about 2 floors to go I heard a lot of commotion from upstairs and I heard Terry calling down to use our stopwatches (as if I had one - LOL). The doorway on the 56th floor was locked and we couldn’t get to the finish line!

I finished the race slightly winded, but kind of glad the race was over prematurely. As we stood on the landing, I could tell Terry was pissed and we all knew the situation would just get worse as more climbers ascended to our floor.

One by one, the landing became more and more crowded. Meanwhile, Terry tried using the emergency intercom (there was a big red button at the top) to let the building management know that were were locked in the stairwell.

After about ten or so people showed up, I decided to climb back down. No sense waiting around.

Every few floors I ran into another racer and I told them the bad news. Around the 46th floor (I can’t remember really) I encountered a fully stocked aid station. Apparently, we were supposed to run down this hallway to go into another stairwell in order to finish the race. I bumped into a girl (possibly Natalie?) when the volunteers finally showed up to direct traffic. Fortunately, she had only climbed an extra flight before being called back down.

At the aid station I pocketed three Cliff Bars and I contemplated taking the elevator up to the finish line. However, at that point Hal showed up in his red and white striped jersey and I decided to finish the race legitimately. What’s another 10 floors? 

Anyway, I climbed behind Hal for the rest of the “race” and I crossed the finish line just under 14 minutes after I had started (at least that is what the official results say - I would have guesstimated my time to be slower than that).

By this time, the doorway to the locked stairwell was open and a bunch of racers were crowded around the timing desk to give them their “unofficial” times. I probably should have given my time but I wasn’t really in the mood. I knew I had a relatively slow time, plus I was still peeved about the locked doorway and lack of clear directions and volunteers.

Eventually I headed down for the post race party. Despite not really racing at LaSalle, I still deserved that Bloody Mary!

After hanging out and chatting with my fellow climbers, I saw the results. You can find them here.

Had I submitted my self-timed results, I would have placed myself around the 7:50 - 7:55 mark (I was 5-10 seconds behind Jesse and he started ~30 seconds ahead of me).

I think the biggest surprise was that Alex Trujllo set a new course record. I certainly think he is capable of doing it, but I’m slightly surprised he did it after climbing so fast at Sears a mere two hours prior. Here is a quick gap comparison between Alex, Jesse, and Terry (all of which seriously raced both venues).

Alex beat Terry by 40 seconds at Sears and 62 seconds at LaSalle
Alex beat Jesse by 59 seconds at Sears and 55 seconds at LaSalle

Considering LaSalle is a much shorter building, the gaps at Lasalle seem larger than I would have expected.

The other surprise of the day was the 7:30 by Mark Henderson. I don’t know him, but a 7:30 is fast especially considering he is over 50 (he did Sears in 15:16 which is also very good). Not that age matters that much in this sport (just look at George for inspiration).

Final thoughts:
I honestly hate double headers. I’d much rather have a power hour where I can dole out my energy appropriately. If I race all out, I simply can’t bounce back quickly enough for a second race - especially if I went out too fast in the first race.
Ain't she a beaut?

Race Grades:

Effort: A; I was on the floor for a good long while
Weight: C+; I should have been sub-170 lbs for me to be competitive.
Conditioning: A; I was in excellent shape - likely because I’ve been climbing “heavy” for the past several months.
Pacing & Technique: B+; Considering I had neither a metronome nor a watch, I felt pretty good about my pacing. I went out a little too fast and paid the price at the end of the race. However, I never bonked, so I’m still happy. My technique was good for the 1st half of the race but I became sloppy near the end (as I was tired).
Overall: B+; I was under-medicated (i.e. I didn't take my Advair) and had on my heavy sneakers. Still, I managed to beat last year’s time by 5 seconds. In a normal year this would translate to something like a 4:25  or a 4:30, which isn’t that much slower that my PB of 4:19 (note: The past two years we started from the basement rather than the ground floor).

Effort: C-; I didn’t need time to recover after finishing.
Weight: C+; As above
Conditioning: A; As above
Pacing & Technique: C+; At least I cracked the 8 minute mark. My technique was pretty good. That said, I had plenty of energy so I didn’t really have to think about it. Obviously, my pace was far to slow.
Overall: C; I was already tired so my effort level just wasn’t there. I think I could have climbed 7:30 or less (given my level of fatigue) but it wouldn’t have been pleasant. I keep telling myself that Sears was the race that really mattered, but I’m still disappointed with my level of effort at LaSalle.

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