Saturday, December 10, 2011

World Cup Finals

Ascenso Torre Colpatria – Bogota, Colombia – December 8th

December 6th – Embarking on the Colombian Adventure

I embarked on my journey from Chicago around 9:30 am. My day went something like this, sit in the airport for 2 hours, sit on a plane to Miami for 3 hours (watching a stupid movie that actually ended up being shown on 3 out of the 4 flights on this trip), wander the Miami airport for 2-3 hours until I found Cindy Harris and her husband James, then sit on another plane to bogota for 3.5 hours. 

We finally arrived at the airport in bogota, it was a crowded mess. I followed the masses towards the customs area, the agent asked me if I was there for business or as a tourist. I wanted to tell him that I was there to climb a tower but figured he wouldn’t care nor would he take lightly to me trying to have a pleasant conversation so I just told him I was tourist. 

We exited the airport and there was a mob of people behind a fence, I was hoping maybe I’d see someone with my name on a sign, seemed like that would be worthy of a picture. I saw Mischa (the president of towerrunning) and I waved at him several times but he didn’t seem to recognize me. Finally he looked over and held up a sign with my name on it, I smiled and headed in that direction. We rounded the corner and saw some of the European climbers who were waiting for us to arrive. I was incredibly happy to see a friendly face! We piled all our luggage into the car and headed towards the city. It was a bumpy ride in traffic (I could compare it to my ride with Kevin Crossman out to mailbox peak in seattle, ie I didn’t feel so great)

December 7th – Press Conference and Exploring

We wandered through the security and it was a media circus. People with cameras and microphones everywhere. Stand here for a picture, now move over there, take a group shot, now its only the girls. I was interviewed by two American guys who are both living in Colombia now, one from Minnesota and the other from Miami. They asked similar questions about why I would want to be a stair climber, how I felt about coming all the way to Colombia for a race, what I’ve heard about the race and building. I tried politely to say that ive heard the girls are really competitive and can be vicious if need be. I also mentioned that I was worried about the altitude and wasn’t really putting too much pressure on myself.

The race director briefed us about the race, he told us where we would be starting and showed us where we would have to run (probably about 100 m before getting to the stairwell). The race would have 5,000 climbers starting in the morning, the elite climbers were slated to start around 11:45 but we were suppose to arrive at 9:00. we would start in waves of 5-10 climbers. I was put into a group with Julia and 3 Colombian chicks. Cindy and Christina were starting in the wave behind us with 4 Colombians. The elite guys would go after them.

We took the elevator up to the 48th floor and then went to the heliport so we could see where we would finish. I could tell it was going to be an interesting jaunt to the top once we exited the stairwell on the 48th floor but we’ll save those details for the race portion of this blog. We took some more pictures on the roof, the view was incredible.

A few of us decided we wanted to climb a little bit to get a feeling for the stairwell. Cindy and I climbed about 25 floors at an easy pace. The stairs were tiny and the railing was incredibly fat, I could barely fit my hand around it. I liked the landing though because it allowed me to only take one step and sometimes I didn’t even need to step on the landing, I could just swing my foot onto the step of the next flight! We took a few more pictures then exited the building for the day. During the 25 floor climb, I could tell I was breathing a little heavier than normal because of the altitude but overall I was feeling alright.

Now it was time for me to start freaking out about my race. How would I react to the altitude? Would I even make it to the stairwell or would one of the Colombians take me out within 15 meters? this was my first stair race without my coach so I didn’t have a strategy, no splits, I needed encouragement and words of wisdom. do I sprint to the stairwell, did I want to be the 1st person in there? Do I take it easier? But I don’t wanna be the last one in there. I knew if I was behind, it would be hard to pass. I was worried that the girls would throw elbows or take up the narrow stairwell and not let me through. I had looked at the results from last year and Sandra Nunez finished in about 8:27 so I figured I’d shoot for 8:00 or better.

I didn’t know how long the run would take, there were several sharp turns, maybe 20 seconds? I decided that I would check my watch at floor 24, figured that was about halfway maybe a little less including dash to the heliport. I did the math and thought maybe 4:00-4:15 seemed like a good goal. My coach does the math so I wasn’t all that confident about what I had calculated, ha. I told myself I wouldn’t put much pressure on myself for this race because of the altitude and phenomenal Colombian athletes, I just wanted to enjoy the experience and do my best but I was definitely feeling the stress and anxiety.

December 8th – Tower Time!

My pre-race ritual was kinda out of whack since we were starting later. Usually I get up, consume several cups of coffee, get a good jolt going then eat a banana about 1-1.5 hours before the race. I usually warm-up with a 10 minute jog or some stairs in the hotel. Bounce around some more before the start to get the blood flowing to my legs. This time, the routine was messed. We met for breakfast at 7:30 so I had 2 cups of coffee, a bowl of oatmeal and a tiny banana. 

The elites were starting at 11:45 but we had to be over at the race around 9:00. They had an elite VIP tent for us to wait around in. we were all kind of annoyed about having to be there so early. It was chilly standing around, my toes were already going numb. the winners of the race got a car so it was parked in the VIP section, Tomas and Piotr decided that would be their secret spot to hideout. The rest of us sat around, stood and watched the other climbers dash to the stairwell and just kinda walked around. Then it was time for another press conference, I couldn’t really understand any of it though since it was all in Spanish.

They told us that we had to head to the starting area to warm up around 11:00. Now it was really time for the pre-race anxiety to set in, it was raining too which meant we’d be standing in the rain before the start with nothing but skimpy race gear on. The pavement would be slick and the finish destination was unknown. Would we even get to finish on the helipad or would they cut the race short at 48 floors? I didn’t want to stand around in the rain especially since I was already cold just standing there with all my layers on. They delayed our walk to the start until 11:20. So we finally ditched our sweats and were standing/jumping around in the tent trying to warm up. All the Colombians were still sitting there in their gear, did they know something we didn't?!? This didn’t seem fair. I stood around with my arms across my chest and my hands in front of my face, my classic “prayer” pose I take before every race.

We walked to the starting area. We still had 10-15 minutes before we were supposed to start. We were jogging around in a little loop trying to warm-up. They called my number 80, so I toed the line with the other 3 girls (one group in our didn’t show up). Now I was really freaking out, one of the girls grabbed my shirt and number to see what it was and another asked if I was the Italian, I told her no I'm American. There was a group of other normal climbers in front of us, I was worried that we were going to start right behind them and I’d have to fight to get past them in the stairwell. They let that group go then told us we had another 10 minutes. Are you kidding me? I'm on the starting line, heart racing, palms sweaty and you tell me that I have to wait another 10 minutes? It was back to the hamster wheel mini warm-up loop. 

After 10+ minutes, we stepped up to the line again, I turned around to Cindy and Christina and wished them both luck. As I stood at the line, I could see everyone snapping pictures, video cameras and people cheering. They started a countdown. Diez, nueve, ocho…tres, dos, uno, bang! We were off! I took off like a jack rabbit, my legs felt fresh, the ground was slick, the first turn was a bit rough on the wet pavement then there was another sharp turn into the building, I needed something to grab onto to spin myself into there. I was battling elbows with a Colombian, we rounded another sharp corner into the hallway and one last sharp right turn into the stairwell, I was the first to reach the steps.

The 2 Colombian girls sprinted up the stairs, I knew that wasn’t my tactic so I grabbed the rail and got into a rhythm. I could hear the girl in front of me, her feet were pounding and she was breathing heavily. I just kept my pace, those tiny baby steps worked in my favor and not having to step on the landing was also very beneficial. The floors ticked by quickly, around 10 or 20, I could feel my legs getting a little tired and I was breathing incredibly heavy due to the altitude. I checked my watch floor 24, 3:24. Wow a bit faster than my predictions but who really knows what that means anyway. I caught up to the Colombian and hung behind her for a floor or two before finally squeezing past on one of the landings. She was nice enough about it and didn’t battle me for the spot, mightve even offered some words of encouragement.

This race was flying by! The next thing I knew it was floor 38 and I only had 10 floors to go plus the climb to the roof. At this point I told myself I needed to pick up the pace, my legs feeling full of lactic acid. They were heavy and I tried to pick up the pace, made it a couple of stairs. With the narrow stairwell, I could reach both rails so I used that to my advantage and yanked on both of those. Ok, only like 5 floors to go. Got to like 47 or 48 and half of the stairwell was blocked off with a ribbon and forced you to the inside, turned the corner on the landing and there was a ramp to run up. I picked up my speed, my legs were wobbly but I forced them to run, I saw a mat and thought I was finished. I had totally forgot about the rickety metal staircase outside, I ran down the hallway and saw that thing. Screw the rail, this isn’t the time to be methodical or conserve energy, this is the time to go. Give it all I had. So I ran up that thing as fast as I could, I staggered onto the helipad, looked for the mat and saw I still had to run another 20 feet to the finish, my legs barely wanted to stand. I crossed the mat and wanted to collapse but the ground was hard, wet and muddy. 

I’m pretty sure I was white like a ghost, several paramedic type people grabbed me. I could barely speak, I was breathing so heavy and walking was almost impossible. I kept trying to tell them that I wanted to sit, all I could say was sit, sit, they led me over to the med tent. 

I finally looked at my watch – 7:14! Are you fricken kidding me?!? There is no way I pulled that off, how in the world did that happen. I had no expectations, I was thinking id be lucky to get under 8:00 and here I was at 7:14. I was incredibly excited and I had finished 2nd in my group. 

I sat there for a while, tried to stand up and walk around, I was lightheaded, my legs didn’t work. I saw the next group of girls getting to the top so I went over to the finish area, I saw Cindy come up and the paramedics scooped her up as soon as she crossed the mat, carried her over to the med tent.

I was standing around and my throat was burning, I couldn’t stop coughing, I had a headache. I felt like I was gonna be sick so I went to the corner for a while then I just sat on the ground afraid to get up or try to move. My legs were twitchy and spazzing.

The guys started to pop up onto the top, I got up to see them finish. Several of them were dragged to the med tent, the altitude attributed to some massive carnage at this race.

We went downstairs to check the results, my time was 7:13 and I was 6th. 2nd for the international girls (who included Cindy, Christina, Julia and myself), Cindy beat me by 1 second! Her race was a bit more difficult than mine because she got caught behind a few people and had to exert more energy to pass them. I got lucky with my starting heat.

I thought maybe I’d struggle to make the top 10 at this race so being 6th was amazing. I felt like I climbed an excellent race and put it all out there, really excelled on that rickety scary metal staircase. We got a copy of the results that showed peoples time at floor 48 and then at the heliport. I made up some time in that little snippet of the climb, I was even faster than some of the guys during that portion of the climb!

Since this race was considered the world finals, they had an awards ceremony for the towerrunning world cup. With Cindy's 5th place finished, she bumped me out and took 2nd place, I finished 3rd for the 2nd year in a row and Christina took home the world cup trophy. It was such an incredible feeling standing on the podium with those 2 ladies, both are tremendous climbers and I felt honored to be up there with them. 

The Colombian Experience -

The city was a little beat up and rusty but the Colpatria Tower was lit up at night with changing colors. The first morning we were there, I really wanted to go for a run, I was feeling antsy and wanted to explore. I walked outside, looked down the street and figured I should just stay inside. I promised my dad I wouldn’t run alone, so it was time for breakfast instead. 

Wednesday afternoon after all the media sessions, I ventured out exploring with Norbert. It was raining so we didn’t make it too far. Found a little mall type area near our hotel so wandered around in there before finally chilling at a coffee shop for a bit. The fancy cappuccinos were awesome. That night there were fireworks from the Colpatria Tower so I rushed outside to watch, some were even coming from the sides of the to tower. Post-race on Thursday we went in the other direction and found another crepe and coffee shop. They had tons of veggie friendly crepes, too bad it wasn’t dinner time yet! 

There was a nearby mountain that had a cable car type thing to take you to the top but it was kinda dark and rainy so decided against that. There are a ton of street vendors sending miscellaneous goods/foods and military police everywhere. My favorite was the guy with colored popcorn!! He gave me a handful for free and it just happened to be all orange!

Since we were invited to this race, we didn’t have to pay to eat in the hotel which had a 24-hour restaurant. The food wasn’t all the vegan friendly though especially with the language barrier. Thursday night after the race, I was going through almond/peanut butter withdrawal. I really wanted to make a sandwich but I couldn’t even get some plain toasted bread. All they wanted to give me was garlic bread. Mmm almond butter with remnants of garlic herb butter, ha.

Afterthoughts -

I kept wondering if I deserved this tremendous experience, if I was good enough to be invited to a race of this caliber. I always doubt myself and what I'm capable of. I want to get faster, I want to close the gap between me and the best climbers in the world, I want to feel like I deserve this, that I fit in with this elite crowd. I want to dedicate my training to getting better, it has to be about stairs.

I am truly grateful for this amazing experience, I am a ball of excitement and a bag of mixed emotions. I want to have more of this, I want other unique races. The stair climbs around the world are more geared towards the race, the community is excited, theres full-fledged media, big prizes and just a wonderful atmosphere. The races in the US are more focused on the charity aspect of it instead of stair climbing being a legit sport that deserves recognition. Although I suppose if the races did start offering up prize money, then professional athletes would come out of the woodworks and I would be left in the dust. In 2012, I’d like to hit a race or two on the European circuit and perhaps I'll get invited to a new invitational race in Austria. I’m gonna need some cash for this sport so who wants to sponsor me?!?

Next up the CF Climb for Life at 300 N. LaSalle in Chicago on December 11th. Then it’s a bunch more of my secret training (that seems to be working since im blazing workouts and getting faster) until the Aon Building in Chicago the end of January. The CF climb kicks off the season and once Aon hits, its back to back races for weeks on end, I'm ready to push it to new limits :)

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