Thursday, November 15, 2018

Milwaukee's Best

After the Chicago Double (Sears & LaSalle) it was nothing but sex and alcohol in preparation for my next climb in Milwaukee.

Okay, maybe I’m stretching the truth a bit, but Chicago style deep dish pizza is the equivalent of sex.

After a day and night of indulgence and a bit of sightseeing around Chicago, I hit the gym with David Hanley on Tuesday. The RNG gym is pretty swank; I almost felt guilty leaving a pool of sweat on the step mill.

My standby workout is something like this:
7 sets of 3-minute intervals on your choice of cardio machine (indoor rower, step mill, etc.) interspersed with 6 rounds of either pushups or pullups. The first two sets of cardio are at warm-up pace and the last 5 sets done at “Sears” race pace. I try to keep my water break & pullups/pushups to about 2 minutes, so the entire workout lasts under 35 minutes. The number of pushups/pullups is about 2/3 of your max number of reps… but hitting those numbers becomes increasingly difficult as the workout progresses. On the last set, I’ll take an extra 30 seconds of rest and go to failure, cause why not?

It’s tough workout…. but I’m always fully recovered by the following day.

Note: David and I did *both* pullups *and* pushups as I hadn’t been keeping up with my upper body workouts while traveling.

The next day (Wednesday) I rented a car and drove to Milwaukee. Once again, I found myself drinking beer. This time it was at the Lakeshore Brewery. For 9 bucks, you get a tour, 4 cups of beer, and a sweet pint glass. Great deal!

This bottling line was used in "Laverne and Shirley"
 That evening, I had dinner with my friend Josh (who lives close by) to talk about stair climbing and diet. You should checkout his site:

The following day (Thursday) was race day. The race was at 6:00 PM so in the morning I hiked over to the Harley-Davidson museum. The first motor bikes (circa 1905) were nothing more than bicycles with a small motor tacked on. However, but the late 1920s, they started looking like the hogs we see on the street today. Highly recommended – even if you’re not a motorcycle fan.
I got back to my Airbnb around 3:00 PM and spent the next couple hours vegging out watching Netflix (Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown) and surfing the internet.

Around 5:15 PM, I started getting ready. This time I was not locked out of my room, so I had my full arsenal of tools at my disposal: racing flats, metronome, stop watch, & asthma inhaler (I had already taken my long-acting Advair 50/250 that morning).

My Airbnb was only a ten-minute walk to the US Bank Center (the tallest building in Wisconsin) and I easily made my way to the check-in desk.

Despite this race being in a “small” city, Milwaukee’s proximity to Chicago often attracts several competitive out-of-towners. This time would be no exception. On the men’s side, we had Jesse Berg, Josh Duncan, and Mark Ewell (and me of course). On the women’s side we had Natalie Doolittle-Shadel, Olga “Stair”kova, and Jill Paha.

My biggest rival would be Jesse Berg. I barely squeaked ahead of him at Sears and at LaSalle it wasn’t even a contest. If memory serves me right, he’s won this race before and is PB is about 1 second off of Justin Stewart’s course record of 4:50 (feel free to correct me, folks).

I wasn’t feeling that confident going into the race. I figured I had a shot at the low 5s, but honestly, all the beer and pizza in between races didn’t help my cause.

The US Bank Building is 42 stories tall and stands at 183 meters. It is only few meters taller than the Corning Tower in Albany (180 meters) but since the race starts a few floors below ground, the race course is a bit longer. The race is still considered a sprint race, albeit a very long one.

Just before 6:00 PM, the top climbers made their way down a series of escalators and hallways. I felt like a rat trapped into a maze descending into the bowels of hell*.

*Yes, I’m exaggerating again… but I was still a nervous wreck.

The doorway to the stairwell was non-descript and they had a bathroom right next door (bonus!). After a quick trip to the porcelain god, I continued my warmup burpees in earnest.

We were in a kind of a limbo waiting for the start of the race. In some races, we start at a prescribed time, but in this case, I was told we’d start “when the timing guy shows up”. When asked when the timing guy would be showing up I got a non-committal shrug.

I cranked out another set of burpees and just then the timing guy showed up. Just my luck.

Jesse and I dickered who was going to go in first. Frankly, I wanted another minute of rest, so I tried my best not to be “the guy”. Finally, the timing guy said: “You know, the race doesn’t start until the first person enters the stairwell…”

Finally, one brave soul entered the stairwell (I think it was Adam Bruss). I guess he had enough of me and Jesse hemming and hawing about going first.

I was up next!

I set my metronome to 112 bpm. This is a little slower than I use in the Corning Tower, but this was also a slightly longer climb. Plus, as a newbie in this stairwell, I figured I’d rather err on side of conservative. If I was really feeling good, I could always pick up the pace later in the race.

I settled into my pace quickly using just the inner rails for guidance. I’m not quite sure if I could even reach both rails had I wanted to.

Knowing I was below ground, I didn’t bother looking up until I climbed into the single digits. At some point I knew the steps would follow my favorite 11/11 pattern and I wasn’t disappointed. By the 10th floor I found my rhythm and I glided up the steps quickly and efficiently.

Up ahead I could hear Adam so I knew I was catching up quickly. I eventually caught and passed him somewhere in the lower 20s.

Then I began to struggle. My heartrate had peaked, and my arms and legs were starting to tire. Could I survive another 20 floors?

My turns became sloppy and started double stepping the landings despite the efficient 11/11 step pattern.

However, by the time I reached the 30th floor, I felt a renewed sense of purpose. Yeah, I was tired and well above the redline, but I knew I had another gear left in reserve. I couldn’t hold this pace forever… but I *could* hold it for another 60 seconds.

With less than a dozen floors left to climb I cranked up the pace*.

*And no, I didn’t stop and fiddle around with my metronome… I just climbed faster than the current beat.

The 30s were a blur and soon I found myself crossing into the 40s. With only two floors left I cranked up the pace again.

40 to 41 was longer than expected and I think it had a couple extra short flights of steps. I hoped that the next floor wouldn’t be so brutal as I was finally reaching my limit. As luck would have it, this floor was even more brutal with 2 extra full-length flights. I grit my teeth and continued to push.

And then I reached the top. Success!

Then I realized the doors were locked.


*I didn’t actually say fudge.

In my semi-delirious state, I managed to turn off my stop watch as I banged one of the doors in the hope that someone would come to the rescue.

Memories of LaSalle came to mind. At that race, I didn’t really care about my time since I barely had enough energy to climb, let alone race. On a fresh set of legs, however, it was an entirely different story. I had a legitimate shot at winning!

About 10 seconds later, I encountered Jesse. I told him to stop his watch because the doors were locked. I think he made to the 3rd landing (i.e.completed 3 out of the 4 extra flights). He immediately started to climb back down. Then it dawned on me that perhaps the finish line was on the 41st floor!

I hobbled down as quickly as possible and crossed the real finish line on the 41st floor.

I was a little upset, but such is life. I walked around the perimeter of the floor (essentially it was a long square hallway) to catch my breath and recover. Unlike Sears – where I was on the ground for several long minutes – I felt pretty good. My lungs were raw, but I wasn’t completely exhausted.

Some people think that short climbs are easier (i.e. less physically taxing) than long climbs. Despite my recent experiences at Sears & Milwaukee, I disagree. I believe it depends on energy expenditure and pacing more than total duration. In fact, I’ve been on the floor feeling close to death after quite a few short races in my career. My theory is that Invariably you’ll bonk during a race (and if you don’t, you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough). The sooner you bonk, the more you’ll suffer. I can say that my most taxing races have come where I bonk somewhere down below and struggle immensely just to even finish. The trick is to pace yourself conservatively in the beginning of a race and pick it up towards the end – no matter the venue*.

*Races lasting less than 2 minutes are the exception, but they are a rare breed.

Today, I pretty much nailed my pace. Sure, I could have gone a little faster… but not by a significant amount.

Meanwhile the organizers put a series of barrier cones up to block off the stairwell to the 42nd floor to make sure there were no other mishaps. Yet another reason not to go first.
Now to figure out what our times would have been had Jesse and I not climbed an extra few flights of stairs.

My stopwatch said 5:17 and Jesse’s said 5:14, but I think I climbed an extra flight (as I remember stopping Jesse one flight before the top). Wow – what a close race!

To be honest, I didn’t care so much about winning. Rather I wanted to see my time relative to Jesse and Justin back in the day. Back then, Jesse was the #1 US athlete and Justin was (and probably still is) the fastest sprinter. Really my purpose in Milwaukee was to see I measured up to some of the all time greats.

5:17 sounded underwhelming considering my goal was somewhere between 5:00-5:10. But how much did one floor cost me? As it turns out, quite a bit!

I asked the security guard permission to check out the stairwell up to the 42nd floor. They said it wasn’t allowed.

Me: Oh, that’s okay! [Climbs up anyway]

Security Guard: Hey, that’s not allowed! [Begins chasing]

I’m not typically a rule breaker and I’m not proud of what I did, but I needed to count the number of extra flights and steps.

<begin rant> I mean, come on! The doorway is upstairs is locked and if you were so concerned with security… why didn’t you stop me the first time around! Plus, there are literally 40+ other un-monitored floors! <end rant>

Turns out the last floor had a 10/11/10/11 configuration. Considering the race was officially 985 steps, 42 extra steps is significant (essentially two extra floors).

With those numbers in mind, I estimated my finish time would have been about 5:03 and Jesse’s would have been about the same. Far too close to call with all the uncertainties of self-timing.

Eventually, all my other friends finished the race and a group of us headed back down. At the bottom, Josh took Jesse and me to talk to the head timer to see what (if anything) could be done about our times. The head timer appeared understanding as I told him my story.

By now, it was time for another (albeit slower) climb! I think we finished just under 10 minutes, passing a handful of cheerleaders near the top*.
Only 31 floors to go!
*At least Mark and I passed a few cheerleaders. David stayed behind as a proper gentleman should.

The top was *really* crowded and the elevator line wrapped around the hallway, so we chose to descend via the stairwell. Though it took another 10 minutes, it was significantly faster than waiting for the elevator.

At the bottom, I took a look at the timing sheet. Jesse came in first with a time of 5:01 and I was in 2nd place with a 5:03. Oh well. I really thought I had a shot at winning. Still, I was quite pleased with my time of 5:03.

Next up food and beer!

After listening to the MC talk about CF and how much our support means to the CF Foundation they gave out the awards.

1st place: Alex Workman


I made my way forward and told the MC I think there must have been some mistake.
Back at my table, Josh pulled up the online race results on his smart phone. You can find the results here.

Now I was listed with a time of 4:53 in first place with Jesse in second with a 4:55. These times seemed way too fast, even given the uncertainties of self-timing.

After further investigation, Josh found out that the timers decided to use the data from the proximity sensors rather than the timing mat. I’m not exactly sure how that works, but I think it means there was a secondary timing device that picked up the timing chip prior to arriving at the mat. As such, the sensor’s time was a bit faster than our actual mat time by about 6-7 seconds (according to Josh’s estimate).

A win is a win, but I take it with a grain of salt. I’m only 60% confident I won… and my gut feeling is I legitimately climbed the race in about 5:03. It is possible I broke the 5:00 mark, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

As for the rest of the trip?

The next day I headed back to Chicago, but first I took a detour to explore The House on the Rock. I learned about this unique place when I read “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman. The House is worth the visit and the book is worth the read.

One of many rooms with self playing instruments

To infinity and beyond!

Final Thoughts:
The benefit of going first is that you have a clear stairwell. The downside is if shit happens, it’s gonna happen to you first. Yet again, I’m kicking myself for not checking out the finish line! Although I’ve blogged about it before, I still haven’t taken my own advice...

First and foremost, I blame myself. I had the time to check the stairwell ahead of the race. Plus, I had access to Josh’s stairwell map which clearly shows the race ending on the 41st floor*.

*Before the race Josh told me it ended on the 42nd floor... but sometimes memories aren't always accurate. "Trust, but verify" as the saying goes.

Secondly, I blame the race organizers. Why can’t turns and hallways be clearly marked, and wrong turns/extra steps be sufficiently blocked off? It is too much to ask to have a volunteer direct traffic at these junctures? I can forgive a new race in a new building… but Milwaukee is one of the oldest (correct me if I’m wrong).

Race Grades:
Effort: A-; A slight mental lapse in the middle of the race cost a little bit of time, but I pushed hard near the end.
Weight: C; I didn’t weight myself beforehand, but for the past few days my diet has been all you can eat. I likely gained a pound or two since Sears though given the time frame it’s likely mostly water weight. Pizza has a lot of excess sodium.
Conditioning: A; I was well rested from Sears where I graded myself with an A.
Pacing & Technique: A-; My 112-bpm pace was solid. Possibly I could have handled a little faster?? (The question marks are intended)
Overall: A-; There is at least little room for improvement in all areas, although the biggest bang would be to drop a few kilos. Easier said than done. All in all, I’ve got to be happy with this race!

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