Monday, January 30, 2012

80 floors...hurts so good...

Aon Center – Chicago – January 29, 2012
 As far as Aon went, I didn’t really put any pressure or expectations on myself but I had a certain goal time I wanted to hit.  11:23 – it just kinda came to me one day so figured I’d go with it.  Last year I had a sub-par climb at this race and only hit like 13:00 but a few weeks later at Hancock (which is about the same exact height and finishing times) I hit a 12:34 so knew I had to be faster than that especially since I’d been creaming my workouts in the stairwell.   It also seemed as though people tended to be 3:00 slower at Aon than they were at LaSalle, I hit like 7:55 at LaSalle so figured even if I blew up, I had to go under 12:00. 
I brewed some Brazilian coffee then Brady and I were headed to the city.  We got there a little before 7:00 but had to drive around the building several times trying to find the dang parking garage.   We parked and heading inside.  All of a sudden, it was already 7:40 and I still needed to warm up!  I started doing laps back and forth in the hallway, weaving in and out of people.  At about 7:45, I headed upstairs and hopped around with Brady in another hallway. 
We got into line and Eric was bouncing around to some tunes, I kinda started to bob my head then instantly remembered dancing before races was bad luck and therefore banned.   It turned out to be a good call.  There was a giant guy standing in the starting line, looked pretty fit, wearing a cycling jersey or something and had a ragged ponytail.  He seemed to think he was gonna come here and win the thing.  Kept looking us up and down, trying to get in front of us.  Eric looked up at him and said “wow youre really tall!”  And the guy just stared him down, Eric burst out laughing but the guy didn’t even crack a smile.  Brady and I refused to let him get in front of us. 
I’m not sure what kinda time was supposed to be between climbers but they started sending us in like 2 or 3 second intervals which is far from the norm of 7-10 seconds.  Brady started in front of me, he said that he didn’t want anyone to get in my way or slow me down and knew he could let me pass at any time.  He started off and the timing guys told me to go before he was even at the first landing! 
His watch was set to beep every 1:25 , the time it should take for approximately 10 floors and was set at 11:20 pace.  Since the space between climbers was so small, I was right behind him from the start.  Before the climb we had discussed having him pace me but never really decided whether or not it was a good decision.   About 5-10 floors in, I could hear the giant running behind us, all of a sudden he was right behind me and blurted out “passing on the outside”.  Yea ok, whatever, go on the outside, waste your energy, I don’t care.  Under my breath I muttered that he should slow it up and Brady thought “we’ll be seeing you again soon”.  Brady didn’t really care about the giant slowing him down but was worried about me having to use valuable energy passing the guy later on.
We were at about floor 11.5 when the first beep went off, ok cool, were a bit ahead of pace.  We continued climbing at a steady pace.  I was feeling pretty good and stayed a step or two behind Brady.  I was enjoying having him pace me, felt comfort knowing that we were going at a good clip and it was encouraging. 
Before long, we approached the giant, ah geez, now we gotta pass him!  But at least he was kind and said do you guys wanna pass?  I said “yes, please!” and he graciously moved aside.  Wonder what was going on in his head and if he thought he had a smart racing strategy, he probably needed the break anyways. 
We reached the halfway point and were still ahead of pace.  Im still feeling really fresh and was in a rhythm.  Probably helps that this stairwell is quite cookie-cutter, 10 floors per flight and turned to the left.  It was basically like my training building and was exactly 4 times the height so I could think of it in terms of Z towers, I was confident in what pace I could hit.  Now we only had 2 Z towers left, that doesn’t seem so bad. 
Shortly thereafter, Brady stepped to the side and told me to keep going but not to speed up.  I was confused and asked him where he was going.  He started following right behind me and at the next beep told me we were about 2 floors ahead, I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant but I knew we were faster than our goal time. 
We reached floor 50 and I thought, that’s only 1.5 Z towers left so maybe 4:00 or so, that’s nothing.  I can hang for 4:00.  Before the race, I told myself that I wanted to pick it up around floor 60, try to get a little extra speed for the last 20 floors and if not that, then at least the last 5-10.  We hit 60 and I surged a little bit.  Another 5 floors passed, Brady was still right behind me and I could hear Cindy breathing so I knew I was getting closer to her.  Tried to surge again.  Her breathing was getting louder and I think I kinda eased up a bit. 
10 floors to go, another little surge but didn’t keep it up.  Floor 73 – some boy scouts told me I had 10 floors to go, I was like umm, I got less than that!  I appreciated their help and encouragement but they were giving out false information.  I rounded the corner for the last 5 floors and could see Cindy’s white vibrams about a floor or so ahead of me.  I turned the corner to the top and there she was, I put in a final burst and basically caught her at the finish.  She collapsed on the map and I kinda collapsed / hopped over her.  I looked at my watch 10:48, holy bajabbers!!  I was not expecting that at all, I had no idea that I could go sub 11, the thought didn’t really even cross my mind.  I was in shock. 
This was another race where I think I paced it really good but I think I had some extra energy left in me.  I probably could’ve eeked out another 5-10 seconds but sometimes the feeling left in your legs is deceiving.  Perhaps I would’ve tried to bound more or speed up, but maybe I wouldn’t really even be going any faster.   Sometimes it’s just mental. 
Brady popped out of the stairwell shortly thereafter me and walked on by, I crawled on over to him.  He was sprawled out on his back, having trouble breathing.  Some EMTs came over asking if he wanted oxygen, he said yea sure.  So the guy brought over the tank and hooked him up.  After a minute or so, he decided it was time to get up.  The guy asked if he was ok and Brady said yea, this happened because I was chasing her.  The EMT said, you’ll get yourself sent to the hospital chasing her.  We both found that comical.   Brady was unsure of his time since he had the beeps set but knew it was definitely under 11:20.   When we finally saw the results, 11:01!!  A PR for him as well, it was a stellar climbing day for the 2 of us in the Aon Center :)  I’m not sure I would’ve hit my time without him pacing me and encouraging me along the way!  You’re the best coach ever!!  All of our hard training is getting results!
We decided to go up another 2 times, yea, crazy I know but slowed the pace.  The stairwell was crowded with people so it was great just encouraging other climbers and giving high-fives to little kids.  Since this race was for Children’s Memorial Hospital, there were plenty of kids climbing.  It was so inspirational seeing these kids climbing and pushing through it.   I think experiencing that is much better than winning the race or climbing your fastest. 
I ended up winning it for the females and I think I potentially sent a tower record but so far we’ve only seen results back to 2003 and Jennifer Carder was the fastest with a time of 11:23.  I’ve been getting progressively faster over the past several months to a year.  My Sears tower race was sub-par, I think my legs were still tired from climbing mailbox peak with the Crossman brothers and just had somewhat of an off day.  But since Sears, I’ve stepped up my training dramatically.  I’ve been putting in long, hard hours.  I’ve been hitting the stairwell and fending off snakes.  I’ve been pedaling my little legs off.  It’s been quite the commitment and has taken a lot of dedication but it’s worth it.   My races aren’t a fluke; I’m putting in the work and seeing the results.  I’m not a millionaire; I don’t sleep in an altitude tent.  I’m not taking some kind of magical potion either.  I’m tiny and a vegan but I eat a bunch, I have a square of dark chocolate every day and go on cereal and nut butter binges every night.  

I just put in the work, that’s why I’m faster! :) 

Check out this video that was on the ABC news to see me, Brady and Justin climbing at floor 77!  Were looking good!  Brady said I must’ve really put on the burners in the last 3 floors because I gained a bit of time on him so guess I did pick it up at the end even if I can’t remember doing so!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Corrida Vertical - Abril Tower - Sao Paulo, Brazil

Starting the Journey – January 20th
I was supposed to leave for Brazil Friday night at 9:30 and since theres a 4 hour time difference and a 10 hour flight, I would arrive around 12:45 on Saturday.  But as Friday approached, so did a snow storm with the weather guru’s predicting 4-8 inches.  In the morning ohare had already cancelled 300+ flights and delayed many more.  I was unsure what the snow had in store for me and whether or  not I would make it out on time, if at all.  Friday afternoon, I checked the united website and they had a travel advisory / waiver for people traveling on/out of ORD so you could change your flight for free.  I thought my flight would most likely have no chance of hitting the sky so decided to try my luck elsewhere.  I called and they booked me on a flight leaving Saturday at 5:30 heading to Newark then to SP.  Great, the storm is most likely gonna hit Newark as well, perhaps that was a bad idea. 
Saturday morning, I saw that my original flight never departed so I called to see if I could get back on that one, not sure they understood my request but they booked me on another flight leaving at the same time Saturday night.  When I received the confirmation email for my flight, I was booked on 3 different ones, interesting, ha.  Sweet, now I had the whole day to do whatever.  I did a short workout in the stairwell then ran a few easy miles on treadmill.  
I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare and while standing in line at my gate to have my visa verified, they made an announcement that the plane had a busted generator and would not be leaving until Sunday at 10 pm!!  Geesh, what do I do now?!?  I explained how I had been placed on several flights to one of the flight attendants passing by and she told me that my original flight scheduled to leave the day before was departing 2 gates down.  I hustled over there and got a seat on that one, so I was good to go.  4 flight assignments later, I was finally on my way to brazil :)  on the plus side because of all the confusion, united gave me $400 to use towards another ticket sometime this year, nice. 
When I finally arrived in SP, it was quite toasty and I had to shed my multiple winter layers. I was looking forward wandering around in the sunshine without a hat, gloves, mittens, boots, etc!   That afternoon, I caught the subway with Norbert, Mathais Janh and Thomas Dold.  We were off to the Japanese market where they were celebrating the year of the dragon so there has a small festival going on with music and people dancing in costumes through the streets.  There were booths lined up on the sides of the roads containing all sorts of traditional Japanese trinkets and foods.  It was incredibly crowded and hot, get me out of here! 
A few blocks down, we came across a beautiful cathedral.  The stained glass inside was incredible, like the good Catholic girl I am, I took it all in and said a short prayer before we left.    Even though we were only in there for a short time, it gave me a sense of peace and I was able to express my gratefulness for such a wonderful opportunity.   Outside the cathedral was a park type area with people walking around, guys sleeping in the streets or curled up on park benches, another guy playing a guitar with a skeleton-type marionette puppet thing playing along with him. 

Monday – San Jose dos Campos
Monday morning, Norbert and I were going to venture outside of the city to visit another climber and friend of his who he met while doing a climb in Dubai.  When I got to breakfast, I saw Christina Bonacina, Valentina Belotti and Fabio Ruga, all Italians and Omar Bekali from Belgium.  I was instantly intrigued by Bekali because he brought his own jar of peanut butter and Ruga came with his own honey, these are my kinda people! 
After breakfast, we navigated the subway to the bus station then sat on the bus for 1-1.5 hours but it was well worth it!  The landscape got much lusher and greener, the further we got from the city.  could also see little “towns / villages” of rundown houses with metal roofs, clothes hanging outside and broken down walls.  I wondered who lived there and hoped they were still enjoying life.  
We had lunch at a fancy traditional Brazilian restaurant that overlooked a lake and also had a small farm / forest.  Being a vegetarian, the traditional rice and beans were delicious, so many fresh fruits, juices and veggies as well.  The desserts were also quite tasty, one of my favorites was basically a chuck of peanut butter, haha.  We spent the afternoon walking around the forest and enjoying the sun. 
When we got back that night, I saw Christina and she told me that Melissa Moon was not coming to the race because of a previous engagement and also said that Suzy Walsham arrived in the Brazilian airport without a visa and was sent directly home after a 20+ hour excursion from Singapore!  I woulda been in tears.  I was supposed to share a room with Suzy so this meant I was left alone, guess I wouldn’t get to pick her brain for training advice and racing secrets.  I felt really bad for her but that meant less competition for me and the Italian girls.
Tuesday – Sneak Peak of the Abril Tower
Tuesday morning all of the climbers piled into a mini-bus and we made our way to the tower.  There was traffic along the way but it was cool getting to see different parts of the city.  Once we got to the tower, there was a press conference and after that we ate lunch in the atrium / patio area outside the tower.  It was quite breezy that day and cool in the shade but once the sun peeked through the clouds, it was instantly warm again.  We sat around enjoying the weather for a couple of hours then it was time to get the sneak peak of the stairwell! They gave us our bibs which were actually shirts with our number on it, me, Bonacina and Belotti all received men’s medium sized shirts, are you kidding me?!?  We joked how we could wear the thing as a dress during the race and didn’t even need our shorts.   
Since the media crew was with us, this meant that we had to take plenty of pictures in the stairwell and they’d film us “running” the stairs one at a time, together, alone again, over and over again.  I think we spent 2 or 3 hours “playing” in the stairwell.  I found it comical that there were signs on the landings in the stairwell saying nao correra – no running!  it’s a good thing we don’t know how to follow the rules.
This was going to be a unique and interesting race, there was a 50 meter jagged run to the stairwell.  we’d start outside and weave around the lobby into the stairwell.   the stairwell was quite wide and one flight seemed to have 11 steps, then 1 step landing and about 10 steps to the next flight.  And it seemed as though for the first several floors there were 4 flights per floor!  The stairwell turned to the left and on the landing, the railing jutted out in a way that could potentially interfere with getting into a groove or end up being a possible advantage.  we would climb in this stairwell until floor 24, where we’d exit out the door, run towards an open marble staircase and up 3 floors of that.  Once we reached the end of that staircase, it was a sprint down a long hall to the final staircase to the roof!  This one was rubber steps and had kind of a pie-shaped step on the landing.  A floor of that then the final dash to the 5 steps up to the heliport and the finish!  So about 30 floors total. 
Thoughts ran though my head, this is gonna be my kinda race with all the running breaks, it was like 3 different races.  Run – 24 floors normal stairs, run – 3 floors marble stairs, run - 1 floor to roof, dash to finish.  I tried to come up with a strategy, most of the other climbers run the steps at least at the start.  That’s not my style; I just wanted to do my own race and not worry about what the others would be doing.  Im not a sprinter, I think the taller towers are better suited for me but ive been hitting 5-10 floor sprints in my stairwell and smashing cobra head intervals so I was ready for this short beast.  I told myself that I would climb steady until 24 and once we hit the marble staircase, it would be time to put on the burners and the final climb to the top would have to be everything I had left in me. 
Originally we were told that we would climb in pairs and I was assigned a start time with Suzy but since she wasn’t there, I didn’t know if they would pair me up with someone else or just send me alone.  This added another dynamic to coming up with a strategy.  You needed to be the first girl into that stairwell otherwise you might get stuck behind and unable to pass thus basically unable to go your pace and losing the race.  
Recently, I’ve decided to start thinking about my races differently.  I need to focus on me, what I’m capable of and climbing my best race.  I can’t freak out about the competition or say that I need to beat such and such girl, I can’t control what kinda shape their in or whether or not they have their best race on that give day.  But I can control my own thoughts and races so that’s what I’m gonna do.  The outcome will be much more positive and I won’t lose energy and motivation thinking negatively or worrying about others.   I was going up against some of the best girls in the world so I needed to focus and have my mind in the right spot.   It’s just me against the tower. 
Wednesday – Time to Conquer the Pain

We got to the race around 10:00 and were still unsure of what time we were starting, who we were starting with or what exactly was going on.  Did we even have timing chips?  At times I felt like an outsider because it seemed as though everyone was speaking, Italian, German or Portuguese and I didn’t want to miss out on any secret information regarding the race!  The starting area was hectic and they had a jumbotron where you could watch people during their run to the stairwell, climbing at a certain floor, then again in the last stairwell to the roof and see them crossing the finish line.  Amazing!  This was awesome getting an inside glimpse into the stairwell. 
Finally they told us that we would be starting around 12:30 and would climb one at time, departing every 30 seconds.  Christina and I went for a short warm-up and upon our return one of the race organizers offered to show us the top part of the tower again.  A few of us jumped in the elevator and headed up.  This is when they told us that we were no longer exiting the normal stairwell and starting up the marble staircase on
floor 24 but would be climbing all the way to 27, the last stop in the stairwell.  So there would only be 1 floor of marble steps.  This kinda threw us for a loop; I had to readjust my mindset and what I wanted to do.  At least now I knew that I wouldn’t miss the exit!
The elite girls gathered in the starting area and I watched the girl in front of me running towards the door, I thought to myself oh geez, shes running too slow, im gonna have to pass her on the stairs.  My time came; I toed the starting line, they announced my name and blew the horn.  I took off in a dead sprint on the cobblestone street and used the metal blockades to spin myself around the tight corners on the slick floor in the lobby and I was into the stairwell. 
I started doing my usual thing and got into a rhythm.  The extra step on the landing wasn’t all that awkward and at times I could just avoid it all together.  The numbers ticked by, I could hear the girl in front me as I was rapidly approaching.  She was “running” the steps and luckily was on the outside so I scooted right on by grasping the inner rail and she offered some kind words of encouragement.  I think she was shocked at how fast I was going and that I had passed her.   I kept doing my thing and the number on the floors got higher and higher. 
My mind got sidetracked and somehow before I knew it, I was approaching floor 27.  But wait, what just happened, I wanted to pick up the pace at some point.  I should’ve done it at floor 20 or 25 but my mind was elsewhere, it was confused about my old strategy and the short building.  I didn’t think this through, during my races I can usually tell myself no matter what try to pick it up with 10 or 20 floors left but in a race this short, you gotta be going high speed the entire way!  No time for slacking but I think that’s what I did.  I tried to pick up the pace when I saw the open door but the stair height shrunk and I stumbled. 
I took off running towards the marble staircase and again used a rail to spin around and tried to run up those, the steps were awkward and I think I miss stepped another time.  The run to the rubber stairs to the top was just fine but when I tried to start running up those too, I stumbled again, I was having issues and it was my mind not my legs.  I could see the sun blaring into the stairwell.  I popped out onto the roof and ran as fast as I could towards the finish, broke the tape and wandered off. 
There was no collapsing, my legs felt tired and abused but not totally ruined.  I thought to myself, what just happened to my race?!?  I have way too much energy and didn’t push hard enough; I was worried about what the outcome might be.  would I even place in the top 3?  I checked my watch 4:14, I really had no idea what that meant.  I waited for the other girls to finish about after a minute or so, Valentina popped out of the stairwell followed by a Brazilian girl with Christina not too far behind.  I tried to do the math in my head to see how we all finished.  Christina – 4:36 and Valentine – 3:55.  I couldn’t figure out what time the Brazilian girl had, I checked her number to determine her starting position.  Christina said we were the top 3, Valentina, me and her.  Awesome, a sweep by the foreigners but we were still eager and nervous to see the final results! 
I was ecstatic about taking 2nd place and taking home $1,000, but was disappointed with my race.  I need to come up with better racing tactics for shorter climbs and figure out when to apply the pressure.  Im not sure whats better, starting off too fast, busting and crawling to the finish or finishing with too much left in your legs.  I probably could’ve pushed myself 5-10 seconds faster but not sure I had 20 seconds in me so either way, I would’ve ended up in 2nd can’t be too disappointed about that, no need to beat myself up :)  cant pace every race perfectly.

After the awards ceremony, the organizers took us to a Brazilian steakhouse for lunch.  Gulp, meat slabs and carcasses everywhere, not really my type of place.  I’m sure I told the guys shaving the meat countless times that I wasn’t interested, they just didn’t wanna take no for an answer, ha.  The salad bar was incredible though and there was sushi with fruit in it (strawberries and mangos).  Then there was dessert.  I saw the table next to us having banana flambĂ© and immediately wanted it.  We ordered some for the table along with some papaya ice cream, a pistachio mint thing and another thing with chocolate and nuts.  Now we can celebrate. 
Once we got back to the hotel, I went for a short run with Omar.  We ran towards the empire state building lookalike tower and through the masses of people who were gathered for an outdoor concert.  A great way to see a little bit of the city and shake out the acid in our legs. 
Thursday – Traveling Home
It was a long day traveling back to Chicago.   I had a 7 hour flight to Panama, a 2 hour layover then a 5-5.5 hour flight to Chicago.  Was suppose to arrive home at 11:00 pm but we got in early due to some tailwind which is always pleasant. 
The customs line at O’Hare was backed up because they only had 2 or 3 people working so we stood around for awhile.   I never know how to fill out those forms, I have snacks in my bag like trail mix, granola bars, lots of Brazilian chocolate and coffee, etc, do I need to declare them as food?  I checked no and went on my way.  The girl at the counter, checked my passport and asked where I was, what I was doing, what kind of job I had, alright, enough with the questions, I’m a citizen here, this is my home!!  
I went to the security area and a couple of guys have me the 20 questions again.   what was I doing in brazil?  I decided to be chatty and told them I was there for a stair climb, the guy had no idea what I was talking about and asked what that was.  I told him it’s a race, people climb the Hancock and Sears building in Chicago.  He wasn’t too impressed.   then they asked why I wanna do a race in brazil, I told them I had international friends who were going so figured it would be a great experience, again, werent impressed.  they questioned me about getting my visa, I explained that I picked it up and realized I had to go back because my birthday was wrong.  Asked whether I owned a house or lived in an apartment.  then it was time to ask about my job, what I did, what company I worked for, how long I’d been there.   I told them I was an environmental scientist and they had to know what the biggest environmental issue is or what I deal with on a daily basis, geesh.  Come on, its almost 11:30 pm and I wanna go home!   finally they asked about my food, I told them I had snacks, chocolate, stuff like that.  they shoved me off to another line. 
My bag ran through the scanner and the guy started rifling through it, looking at all my little treats.  He found an apple at the bottom of the bag, oops; I totally forgot that was in there.  he told me that I could be fined $300 for trying to smuggle in an apple.  Seriously?!?  He told me that food is considered anything you eat and made an eating gesture with his hand, I’m from the US, I understand English.  I don’t need you to explain what food means.  I apologized and told him I forgot about it and finally they let me through. 
Afterthoughts –
2012 started off with a decent bang, first the environmental consulting firm I work for, ARCADIS, said they could sponsor me.  They’d provide $2,500 to use for international travel so I quickly made a shirt proudly displaying the sally salamander logo on a bright pink background.   They were excited about me going to races abroad especially since were a global company and have offices all over the world.
The race in Brazil was a last minute decision.  This race was the championship climb for the 2011 Vertical World Circuit hosted by the International Skyrunning Federation so I knew I’d be climbing against some of the best in the world.  The ISF gave me money towards my flight and the race organizers agreed to pay for my hotel and entry to the race so it was an opportunity I couldn’t resist.
This race a terrific experience, getting to travel to another country to do something I love and enjoy so much is truly incredible.  And this race has opened up new avenues for me; I’ll now be able to expand my horizon to include international races such as Taipei 101, Milan and the Millennium Tower in Austria.  Perhaps races in London and Berlin as well. 
Its so great hanging with other climbers and sharing our passion for the sport.  Next up is the Aon climb in Chicago followed by Empire a week or so later.   Time to lace up the climbing shoes :)