Tuesday, February 28, 2012

hustling up 94 floors

Hustle Up the Hancock – February 26, 2012
Synopsis of the Past
So far it seems when I start something new, it takes me a while to really get into it, to find that inner passion to push myself to my limits and get seriously good.  Some people are amazing right from the start, have natural talent and it all just clicks but I need to put forth the extra time and effort to get results, sometimes it takes a few attempts to get it right. 
When I ran cross-country in high school, I was somewhat of a slacker, kinda going through the motions and getting by during races.  I recall sitting in the weeds during a race my freshman year because I had a side stitch, talk about being weak, haha.   My senior year, I decided if I actually put forth some real effort, I might have a shot at being decent.  I became one of the leaders, the one pushing the pace and encouraging others and I liked it. 
I ran my first marathon in 2005, 3:41:30, missed qualifying for Boston by a smidge but I got it the next year and after that my races got progressively faster.  Just took me a while to learn what training volume worked best for me and how to get the best results, my PR is 3:14 and my average time for 12 marathons is below 3:30 so something seemed to work.
Climbing has gone through that same progression.  I first climbed the Hancock in February of 2010; it was my first tower race ever.  I started with the Zurich team since Brady had convinced me to attempt this grueling sport.  I got stuck behind swarms of people and didn’t really push myself mentally or physically, finished in 13:49.  I was like eh, that’s somewhat acceptable but I coulda done much better.   Flash forward to 2011, I took another crack at Hancock – 12:34.  A much better time and I was pleased but I knew I could go sub 12:00 it was only a matter of time!  Throughout 2011, all of my other climbs saw a similar decrease in time as I focused more and more on stair training.  The marathon was out of my mind and the stairwell was my new playground.    In the latter part of 2011, I really increased my focus and saw massive gains.  This year is solely dedicated to stairs, I haven’t even thought about running or biking or anything else. 
Back to Present Time
After Aon Chicago, where I climbed a shocking 10:49, I had high hopes for Hancock.  Hancock and Aon are quite similar in height although some say Hancock times might run a tad big slower, potentially 5, 10, 15 seconds.  I thought maybe sub-11 would be possible if not that, sub 11:15 would be great.  I knew I would go under 12 no doubt, unless some freak accident happened in the stairwell. 
This year we were in the stairwell several days a week, training with the Zurich team.  All those guys helped push me to the limits whether it was a normal 5 climb workout or on the sprints, where we were all hunched over against the walls and muttering words of hatred under our breath (see video link for a view in the Zurich stairwell).  These guys were inspiring to me and encouraging, without them my training would’ve suffered.  I’ll miss all of them during the “off-season”.  My dad was training for the full climb too; it was great seeing him in there. 
Hancock is about 4 times the size of the tower we train in, so it gave me comfort breaking it into fourths and figuring a time based on that.   If I could think of the race in terms of Z towers or time, then the pace seemed less daunting and totally doable.  Like it normally does, a random goal popped into my head – 11:06.  To hit something around there, I wanted to be about 2:45-2:50 at floor 22, 5:30 at 42 (which is halfway) and 8:15-8:30 at floor 70 – the GO floor!  At that point I could tell myself less than 3:00 to go.  If I was quick at floor 70, I had potential to break the women’s record (10:51 set by Cindy Harris back in 2008) but if I was closer to 8:30, I was off but should still be able to hang 11:00 or so.   
The stairs in Hancock are metal which gives ya a bit more bounce and they turn to the left which is comforting and familiar.  The floors in Hancock are interesting because the first half is commercial thus the floors are bigger and there are more steps per flight, hence the reason why halfway is deemed to be around Floor 42.  The 2nd half of the tower is residential.  The floors shrink and there are less steps each flight, so it could be considered a relief and somewhat “easier”.
Brady and I headed down the night before and were crashing in the Hilton across the street.  We wandered water tower place for a while, grabbed a bite to eat and walked each floor just trying to loosen our legs a bit.  Also hit the stairwell in our hotel to walk up a few floors.  We discussed race strategy; I told him that I was worried about the guys starting in front of me.  I had looked at previous results and they all had times around 11:30-12:00, what if they wouldn’t get out of my way and I lost precious time sticking behind them for floors on end or wasted valuable energy having to pass on the outside.  That concerned me but I pushed it out of my mind. 
Before we went to bed, we bought some coffee from the Starbucks stand in our hotel, figured we could nuke it in the morning and would be much better than the standard hotel room coffee.  Brady said that was one of my best ideas yet, wow the little things sure can be impressive, haha. 
We shut the lights pretty early and I tried to sleep.  I wasn’t really freaking out about this race; I didn’t feel all that nervous.  Just wanted to go do my thing and get it over with.  We woke up a bit earlier than expected, about 4:00 instead of 5:00 but that’s alright.  Hit the gym and did an easy 10 minutes on the treadmill.  Then went back to drink our much needed coffee. 
Finally it was time to head over, I glanced up at Hancock.  It looked much taller when I standing directly beneath it but I still wasn’t worried.   I bounced around the starting area, kept looking at my watch and only 5 minutes had passed.  I was getting anxious to start.  We went up to the starting area, jogged around, did some hopping, stretching, etc.  They lined us up according to our bib number, I told James Harris that I hoped the other guys would move out of my way when I caught up to them, he jokingly told me that he wouldn’t. 
Start to Floor 22
Finally it was time – I saw the guy in front of me run up the first few steps and I was off. 
I caught up to that guy about a flight later and it was doing a one-step run kinda thing on the outside of the stairwell, I glided past with ease and continued on my merry way.  Oddly, I found myself counting the floors as they went by and they seemed to be going by quite quickly, 1, 2, 3...  The guy behind me was still one-stepping it fast and I could see him out of the corner of my eye, it kinda freaked me out, kinda made me push the pace when I didn’t want to.  I continued counting.  I thought to myself, why the heck are you counting?  Are you really going to count for 94 floors, I don’t think so, stop this strange behavior now!  I felt off-kilter, like I was going too fast and wished Brady was there to pace me or that I could hear his beeping watch.  
Floor 22 – watch check.  Target time – 2:50, Actual time - 2:33.  Oh whoa, I am fast.  ok, reel it in, slow it up a bit, just try to get back on pace.  It’s time to settle into a groove and crank this thing out, still got a long way to go. 
Floors 22 - 42 (Halfway!)
During the next 20 floors, I passed a few guys.  I had to maybe sit behind them for a flight or floor but they got out of the way relatively quickly, I didn’t have to worry about mustering up the courage to ask if I could pass.  I think they seemed somewhat shocked when they see a tiny girl passing them, not sure if it’s encouraging or deflating to their ego.  Either way, doesn’t really matter to me.  Those next few floors went by pretty smoothly, I felt like I was on track and doing what I was supposed to. 
Floor 42 – time for another watch check.  Target time – 5:30, Actual time – 5:30.  I was pretty much dead on, this is great!  The next set of floors would prove to be a bit more challenging because fatigue was setting in.
Floors 42 – 70 (GO!)
At this point, I was still feeling really encouraged.  I felt decent, the quick pace for the first 20ish floors didn’t totally knock me off the wagon and I was still cruising along but I was starting to feel it, can’t deny that.   I stayed on pace, didn’t speed up, didn’t feel like I was slowing down, just continued along.
Floor 70 – Target time – 8:15-8:30, Actual time – 8:31.  At this point, I was still excited that I was technically on pace, I was on the slow end of my goal pace but it was still within reach.  I couldn’t remember what the 8:15 meant versus the 8:30; my mind was still somewhat functioning at that point but couldn’t think logically to recall the specifics.  Did 8:30 mean I was on pace for 11:00 or was it a smidge under or over?   Its Floor 70 and I gotta go! 
Floors 70 – 94 (FINISH!)
 Floor 70 was the designated GO floor, I knew that I only had like one Z tower left and I would be done in less than 3:00.  So I had to give it all I could.  I tried to pick up the pace and made it a flight or two, or maybe it was a floor or two, it’s all a blur.  My legs were definitely feeling it at this point; they were on the verge of collapsing out from under me.  I kept steady.  Floor 80 came; this was the drop-dead go floor both literally and figuratively.  Before the race, I chose this floor as the absolute last straw, this was where I had to be mentally strong and force myself to push harder.  During the race I did just that and that’s why I say it was literally the drop dead floor.  I started to pick it up and was cranking on the rail.  My legs were on the verge of exhaustion, they were filled with acid and felt like jello and wobbly and tingly and just not wanting to work.  My arms came to the rescue, they grabbed the rail as hard as they could and I just kept on pulling myself upwards.  They started to fatigue as well, my brain had no idea what was going on, both my arms and legs were obliterated and I had about 5 floors to go.  I surged again, I thought I still had a floor to go; I rounded the corner and saw the finish.  Oh my gosh, it’s almost there, I can see it.  I bolted up those last few steps and staggered across the timing mat.  My legs were incredibly wobbly, my hands weak, I could barely hit the stop button on my watch.  I slid across the carpet (got the rug burn to prove it) and just laid there in a heap.  I heard someone announce my name and saw people staring, shortly thereafter the same announcer guy said, looks like she needs a few seconds to compose herself or something along those lines.  yea, thanks dude.  

I rolled over, checked my watch 10:56!!!  How the heck did I finish under 11:00?!?  I thought that was out the window, miraculously I somehow closed those final floors faster than I thought possible.  I’ve never had the feeling of my entire body pushing so hard, it was extreme.  Maybe if I had started a tad slower, a bit more on pace, I would’ve had more and could’ve got the record but shoulda, coulda, woulda.  I loved the outcome of this one regardless!!
I crawled over to Cindy and just sat there in awe for a while, my body was twitching and I felt sick.  I still wasn’t sure what the outcome was.  Cindy said her time was something around 11:10 and Kourtney wasn’t right behind me so I knew that I had probably won.  I couldn’t even fathom it, I was speechless.  My arms and legs were still feeling it, they were twitchy and weird.  I watched others stagger over the mats, some looking more dramatic and worse than others. 
A lady from HUH came over to me and told me that I was the unofficial 2012 winner, I was beyond excited.  CBS did an interview with me and I tried to keep cool.  I couldn’t even wrap my head around it.  The pictures show that I look whack-a-doodle, like I’m hyped up on coffee/caffeine and am just out of it.  I sat there a little longer, looking at the actual time on my watch, waiting for Brady.  I was anxious, this was gonna be his breakthrough race, I could feel it. 
All of a sudden, he was there and his finish most certainly looked the most painful.  I could tell he had pushed beyond his limits.  He seemed delusional, just laid there flat on the ground.  I saw his watch and couldn’t tell if that was his actual time or if he somehow mis-hit one of the buttons, it read 11:25.  I knew he wouldn’t be happy with that, I knew he was faster than that.  I could tell by the look on his face and the way he finished, that he gave it his all and the time didn’t show it.  The EMT guy’s rushed over to see if he was ok, I told them that he would be fine, just needed some time.  They strapped him to a chair, as they were wheeling him off, he asked my time.  I just showed him my watch and the smile on his face was one I won’t forget.   They took his vitals, said his glucose levels were high, well yea he loaded up on candy and honey right before the race, ha.   After a while they said he seemed fine and the doc told them to get rid of him, I said I’d keep my eye on him.   After talking with Brady, I realized he ran into a major traffic jam / bottleneck at the top of the tower, couldn’t get through, and was forced to one-stepping it.  How the heck are you suppose to have your best race ever, under those conditions!!  To make a long story short, Brady won the open division and team Zurich took home their 3rd team victory.  I know everyone appreciates having Brady on their team and leading them to another win. 
I stayed up top for a bit longer waiting for my dad to finish.  He did the ½ climb last year and was attempting the full 94 floors this year.  I knew he could do it, so I waited patiently.  I heard his name announced as he finished and it almost brought tears to my eyes, I was so incredibly proud of him!!  He climbed that sucker in 23:40 which is awesome and it made my day seeing him accomplish that.
We hung around the expo for a bit, grabbed our unofficial times.  When I gave them my number, they asked for my name.  A short burst of panic swept over me, did my number not show up?!?  Did my timing chip not work?!?  Then they said 10:57 (eh my watch says 10:56 so whatever, official results later did say 10:56) and that I was 5th place.  I said 5th, excuse me?  The girl was like oh, I meant 5th overall including guys.  Ah, I gotcha, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Only 4 guys faster than me, dang! 
I still can’t believe that I won Hustle Up the Hancock and was only 5 seconds away from breaking the course record.  I guess I did break a 3-year record but Cindy still owns the building with 10:51, it’s within reach and I’m setting my sights on it for next year.  I would’ve never imagined that I would be winning a race of this magnitude.  Hancock is the most popular race in Chicago; there are 4,000 climbers between the full and half climb, and over 150 teams.  The full climb sells out in less than 45 minutes.  A lot of people know about this race!!
I didn’t think that I would be climbing the 94 floors of the Hancock in less than 11 minutes, that’s like wow!   I thought breaking 12:00 would be incredible but this is beyond that.  I can even explain.  Maybe it’ll hit me sometime but right now I’m still trying to figure this all out.
I really couldn’t do any of this without the support and encouragement of all my family and friends.  Its unreal how many people are rooting for me and I just love it.  It’s so cool seeing my step-siblings succeed and do well too.  This sport is just amazing :)
The reward for victory – sweet chocolate!!

Video of Zurich Team Suffering
CBS Interview (snippet)
Schaumburg Trib Local Article

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

im not a sprinter

Hilton - Springfield, IL – February 18, 2012
Hilton is a short race (32 floors), mastered by the sprinters and those that call this tower home (i.e., Oz, Roxanne, Karen, Justin, Joe, etc).  It’s got a funky unique stairwell, unlike any others that I race in.  There are about half the amount of turns since each floor consists of about 10 steps, a flat landing and another 10 steps before finally reaching another landing where you turn.  The rail is only on the inside; it’s yellow and kinda thick and disappears on the flat landing between flights.  There’s a wall that juts out on the landing where you turn and the rail doesn’t exist there either.  My tiny legs and short arms aren’t really made for this building neither is my normal climbing style / technique but that’s a whole other story. 
Last year I did the ultimate (ie torture yourself and see how many times you can climb in an hour) at this race, it was my first ultimate and I did 10 climbs in an hour.  My first climb was about 3:20 which was good enough to win it for the females; I held back a little since I was expecting the next several climbs to feel a bit rough.  The 10 climbs in an hour also got me a first place trophy so I took home two that day which was pretty sweet.   This year I was signed up for the ultimate again but I’ve been racing so much recently and it seems as though the faster I go and the harder I push myself towards the extreme limits, the more tore up my body feels.  This was new to me, usually I feel fresh and totally fine after climbing but this year it was beating me up and my calves were feeling it! 
With Hancock a week after the Hilton, I decided to drop from the ultimate.  I knew Hancock was more important and I had some lofty goals for that race.  The single climb at the Hilton seemed more appealing, would be less abuse and I could take a no pressure approach towards the race.  I knew that even if I told myself to go easy during the ultimate, there would be no holding back once I started. 
The Week Before
The Saturday before, was the day of the double stair workout where I hit my best 3 climb average.  Then it was back in the stairwell on Monday, where I did 2 decent climbs followed by a speedier one at 2:20 pace.  Tuesday took it easy, Wednesday back in the stairwell for an attempt to break our 5-climb record.  I was feeling kinda banged up and negative during the climbs but ended up with an average of 2:34 (which is about the same as my previous best so not too shabby). 
Brady was eager for a time trial, so Thursday was another day in that dusty dingy stairwell.   We did a few floors as a WU then were ready to start.  I felt kinda nervous, my previous best was 2:17 and I was just hoping to hit like 2:15.  I started first; Brady was going to give me a 20 second lead before he chased me down.  I came through floor 11 around 0:58 which is what I would do for a 10 floor sprint, ha.  I could see Brady’s bright yellow shirt out of the corner of my eye and he was gaining on me, he was on my heels way to quickly!  Was I going too slow or was he way quicker than normal?
I just hung on those final 11 floors, tried to keep ahead of Brady.  I was worried I would slow him down, wasn’t sure if I should move aside but figured he’d let me know if he wanted to pass.  My arms were feeling it on this one, I reached the top, checked my watch and I had pulled out a 2:08, shocked.  Brady finished with a 1:59 which is also like 10 seconds faster than his previous best.  Afterwards, he realized he had only given me about a 10 second lead, no wonder he was right behind me so soon!!  This was encouraging.  Hilton would be about 6 floors more than the Z tower and maybe about 40-45 seconds, that didn’t sound too bad. 
The Hilton
I wasn’t really putting too much pressure on myself for this race, wanted to have some fun and thought maybe I could do a few extra climbs to get a decent workout in.  3:00 sounded like a good goal and with my recent Z tower PR, I thought 2:50-2:55 might be possible so I wanted to be around 1:25 at floor #15.  Cindy, Roxanne and Karen were all signed up for the ultimate climb so I knew my only competition in the single climb would be Kourtney and she’s a rock star when it comes to the sprints so I knew I had little to no chance of beating her and I was just fine with that :)
Brady and I went to hang at starbucks for a while before the race; the amount of caffeine (in the forms of coffee and espresso) that we consumed was excessive.  My heart was racing, I was feeling jittery, and I think I had a bit too much, ha.  This was my first race wearing my vibrams too, luckily i got them on before the race started, haha.
We were standing in the start line and my heart was beating out of my chest.  I insisted that Kourtney go in front of me, I didn’t wanna slow her down but she had no interest.  PJ had his camera so wanted to go first so he could film our carnage at the top, we gave him about a 3:30 head start.   Brady was off after that then I was up. 
We’ve been doing a lot of sprints and faster climbs during our workouts so I’ve been getting better at going faster so using that same approach and technique seemed like a great idea.  I got in there and started off like I normally would, I felt so sloppy and like I was all over the place.  My feet were tripping and dragging, my arms were flailing about, I couldn’t get into a rhythm and I just felt all out of whack.  What was going on?!?  It was floor 10 or so and my legs were starting to feel it.  Checked my watch at 15 and was 1:31 so about 6 second slower than I wanted to be and just wasn’t feeling it.  At that point my rhythm was getting a bit better and the floors were ticking by because of the decreased amount of turns, I kept thinking I had double the distance to go.  I could see Kourtney out of the corner of my eye and had the same feelings I did when Brady and I did the TT a few days earlier.  She wasn’t super close but I kept thinking, do I need to step aside, am I slowing her down?  The next thing I knew it was floor 28 and there was nothing to do there were only 2 floors left, the race was almost over.  Even at that point I tried to pick it up but it was too late, those 2 floors went by quicker than they should’ve and I was confused because the race was already over. 
I stumbled across the mat, kinda bounced off a wall and staggered down the hallway.  I collapsed in a little pile a few feet away and Kourtney popped out of the stairwell shortly thereafter and curled at my feet.  My watch read 3:03, eh I guess that’s ok.  It was about a 17 second PR which in a short race is pretty decent but it was slower than I wanted so I was kinda disappointed.  I found Brady lying on the ground and he had the exact issues I did.  He tried to do our standard Z pace and technique and found himself wasting energy and flopping all over the place.  What a mess!  Haha.  My throat was on fire and the coughing was uncontrollable, I just felt bad all around.  How can a 3:00 race make me feel so gosh darn bad!
 I was frustrated with this race, stupid mistakes.   Just felt so out of whack.  Brady and I wanted redemption.  We decided to hit the Hilton again on Sunday morning and take another stab at it.  We talked about how we needed to fix the start of the climb, start out steady, relaxed then pick it up throughout.  Seemed easy enough and I was sure that I would go sub 3:00 if not close to 2:50-2:55.  I was gonna do this! 
Got up, had some coffee and headed off.  We did a few WU floors and were ready to roll.   I started off, felt relaxed but on rhythm.  Turns out it was too relaxed, got to 15 and I was 1:37 so once again I was too slow!  This time I was 6 seconds slower than I was the day before and about 10 seconds slower than I really wanted to be.  I needed to make up some serious time but knew that it was impossible to really hit the time I wanted.
I immediately started to pick up the pace, my legs felt somewhat fresh so I bounded for several floors, eased up and surged again.  Once again the floors flew by and the next thing I knew it was 28 again, geesh!  Here we go again, only 2 floors left and it was over before I knew it.  My watch showed 2:59 so yay I was under 3:00 but should probably add about 2 seconds to account for where the timing mats were on race day so maybe I was only about 2 seconds faster than the day before.  Not exactly what I was hoping for.  I’m not sure this second attempt on tired legs was worth it either, my throat was on fire again, my abs and lungs hurt from the extreme coughing and I just felt all around abused. 
Brady on the other hand chopped like 8 seconds off his time on race day so mad props to him, at least one of us paced it right. 
Morale of the Story - I’m Not a Sprinter
I’m not a sprinter, nor do I want to be.  These short climbs aren’t really my forte, can’t say I excel at short towers.  Give me something a bit taller and I’m good to go.  But I don’t know how to race these short ones, I’m still learning how to pace it and am figuring it out.  I think the sprints and faster climbs are helping but I still have a ways to go before I master the sprint ones.  My training really isn’t conducive to going super fast for such a short period of time either, I’m a cardio junkie.  Give me something longer, let my lungs do some work.  Shorter races are for those with supreme strength and power; usually guys are super fast and can really yank the rail with their arms.  My chicken arms don’t provide much relief when my legs go but they’re definitely working more the past few  months because I can feel it. 
3 of my 4 most recent races have had pacing issues, they’ve all been funky buildings though and it’s all a learning experience.  
Brazil – another short climb that I went too easy and it was over before I could get my final burst in there.  during longer climbs, I can give myself a “go” floor and usually I attempt to speed up but in the shorter ones you gotta be "going" almost the entire time.
Empire – started out too quick and lost it towards the top.  So the opposite of brazil but still a pacing error. 
Aon – paced that sucker just right, might’ve been able to push a smidge harder but had an awesome race.  good thing hancock is very similar to Aon because that I know I can do right :)
I have high hopes for Hancock in a few days :)

oh and by the way, the vibrams worked great for this race  but i think they'll get left on the shelf for hancock until i get used to jamming my little toes in there!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

86 Floors in NYC!

Empire State Building Run-Up – February 8, 2012

This year was the 35th running of the Empire State Building. This race has tradition, perhaps considered the Boston Marathon of stair climbing with its random selection process based on athletic ability, whether it be stair climbing, running, cycling or something a bit more eclectic. But each and every year some of the best climbers are rejected which leaves some feeling scornful towards the NYRR. The race normally takes place the first Tuesday of February every year and is known for its mass start (usually leaving someone on the ground practically being trampled and others taking elbows to the face), its uniquely long flat landings and the run to the finish around the observation deck. This year they decided to switch things up, first the race would be held on a Wednesday night, strange. Then they also decided to have it be a lottery with a time trial format, if you were talented and lucky enough you could apply for the invitational heat which would follow the tradition and stick with the mass start. This year the elite field included about 15 girls and 22 guys toeing the line, ready to make that dash to the stairwell. 

A couple of months ago when my random goal time for Aon popped into my head, one for Empire also came to mind. Out of nowhere I set my sights on 13:37 (last year I was 7th with 14:47). My training over the past several months indicated that I was on pace and after my record setting climb at Aon (10:49), I knew I was capable of going faster and sub 13:00 minutes lingered in the back of my mind. The thought of a time like that was frightening, when thoughts of leading or potentially winning this race crept into my mind, I quickly forced them to exit trying to keep my stay calm, keep cool demeanor and positive attitude. I knew some of the worlds best climbers would be battling it during this race. This included:

Melissa Moon – 2010 ESBRU champion, 2 time world mountain running champion and 7 time New Zealand national cross country champion

Suzy Walsham – 3 time ESBRU champion, 6th in 1500 at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, 4:37 mile PR and 15:56 5K

Cindy Harris – 4 time ESBRU champion, winner of Hustle Up the Hancock and Sears Tower too many times to count

Christina Bonacina – 2011 Towerrunning Worldcup Champion, 2nd in the 2011 Vertical World Circuit, 2nd 2011 ESBRU

Erika Aklufi – 2010 US Bank winner with a time of 10:35, 10k PR – 34:50 and 5k PR – 16:27

Surprise Guest Climber – Chrissie Wellington - 4 time Ironman World Champion, set the world and course record!

My 10:49 Aon shoved me into the limelight, forced me to come to turns with the fact that I could climb with these girls, they were no longer out of my league, they were within reach. I tried not to think about it, didn’t want to put pressure on myself, just wanted it to be me against the tower, do what I do, give it my best.

The morning of the race, I wasted some time hanging in various coffee shops doing some work since I wanted to save my vacation days for my international adventures later in this year. I got back to my hotel around 1 or 1:30, then started to get antsy. I had to kill a bunch of time, laying in bed watching an NCIS marathon, thoughts raced through my head. I was getting eager; the race anxiety was setting in. I started reading a thread on facebook between Brady and Terry Purcell regarding my potential race and my hands got clammy, my heart started racing. I called Brady to pass some time and discuss strategy. I knew that I wanted to try to stay with the other girls, didn’t want to let them get too far out of my sight but didn’t want to force myself to start out too quickly trying to stay with them. I’ve never been in a race situation where I might be involved in a train of climbers, all vying for the top podium spots. I didn’t know how I would react if I was leading or in the top 3 or last in that train of 5, 6, 7 climbers. I wanted to give myself a “drop-dead” GO floor so I decided 70-75 would be good since the race was 86 floors. At that point, I’d have to try to pick up the pace and muster up the last ounces of energy I had.

6:00 finally rolled around so I headed to a nearby shop to get my ritualistic cup of pre-race coffee. As I sat in there, I gazed out the window and I saw the top of Empire was orange! I knew this had to be a sign, had to be good luck and it put me in an encouragingly awesome mood. I met Justin Stewart, Kevin Crossman and Tim VanOrden to walk over to the building. We got there and meandered inside to the staging areas where we got our numbers. I was 108 which meant I was technically placed in the 1st row. I wasn’t sure how many elite climbers there would be this year but I wanted a good starting spot. We changed our gear, chatted with a few other climbers and started a warm-up. I jogged up and down a hallway chatting with Cindy along the way. As we were waiting around, the organizers mentioned that Chrissie Wellington was going to be climbing with us. Someone random usually shows up to this race but Wellington, seriously?!? Tim and others encouraged me, told me that she’s an Ironman used to long races, designed to push at the moderate/high threshold for extended periods of time, didn’t mean that she would cruise to the top in this intense grueling sport. Wow, this was gonna be incredible racing against her and other phenomenal athletes. 

The race organizers led us to the starting line, I felt like they were leading me to my death or something. We had to wait around 10 minutes while camera’s flashed and we just stood there. I'm sure I looked like a deer in headlights, not sure if the reporters could see the fear in my face. I saw Chrissie and introduced myself, asked her how/why she decided to do this. She said someone called her at 2:00 pm that day and asked her if she was interested so she said sure and mentioned that she had no idea what she was getting herself into.

The race was about to start, Melissa Moon was all the way to my left, then Cindy was next to her. I was sandwiched between Bonacina and Walsham. Aklufi and Wellington started in the 2nd row. The horn blared and we darted off, I felt someone shove me in the back (which I later saw was Walsham). I avoided an elbow and the wall this year, made it into the stairwell without any major issues. Cindy and Moon took off up the stairs, I followed closely behind. I didn’t wanna get left in their dust and my race strategy slipped my mind. We were going at a quick pace for the first few floors, kinda running the steps, wasn’t in my usual rhythm. The first 20 floors are like a normal stairwell, they turned to the right and had somewhere around 10 or less steps per flight. I think they were shorter flights because it seemed like I was getting dizzy and hitting the landings sooner than I was used to. The floor numbers were hidden back in a corner so it was hard to tell where we were, everything was whizzing by.

Cindy had quickly burst ahead of us and was out of sight, I hung tight and right behind Moon. Just smoothly followed her step by step up the stairs. she hit the landing, I hit the landing. Just gotta stay with her for a while, wow im in 3rd. its still early but im in 3rd. Aklufi wasn’t far behind neither was Walsham. We hit floor 20 and the stairwell switched to the long landings. I could hear and see Cindy. Moon passed her, I used an extra burst of speed and passed her on the outside then took off on the landing. Where is Wellington?!? Shes nowhere to be found, interesting.

I continued to stay right on Moon. Somewhere between 20 and 30 or 40, idk when for sure it was since time in the stairwell all merges together, floors become blurred, Walsham passed me on the outside and surged ahead. Then her and Moon were off, they were out of my sight, erased from my memory. We got to floor 43, I was still in 3rd even though the first two were no longer even in my thoughts. I checked my watch, assuming this might be the halfway point. who knows if it actually was halfway based on number of steps and height of the building but based on numbers it was! my watch read like 5:56 or something, I thought whoa if this is halfway, I'm setting a blazing pace and that most likely means I’m in trouble. I'm already having that blood iron taste/feeling in my throat, this cant be good, I must really be breathing heavy and pushing it.

I kept on climbing, the fatigue started to set into my legs and my arms. I kept darting those landings, Aklufi was only a few steps behind me. We climbed that way for another 15-20 floors. Then out of nowhere came Wellington, she breezed past both Aklufi and I, was one step running it without the rail in the middle of the stairwell, what the heck? Is she even tired or using any effort, guess it paid off that she started conservative! Shortly thereafter, Aklufi passed me on the outside. At this point, I was majorly feeling it. I went from being in 3rd for most of the race to 5th and we only had about 15-20 floors to go. Around floor 60 something, we were forced out of the stairwell and had to run down a hallway, turn right another hallway, another right turn and yet another hallway, this run was unexpected and I was all alone, my legs were wobbly.

Got back in the stairwell and started the groove again. I was in the “drop-dead go zone” and I didn’t have it. Only 15 floors left but there was no burst of speed, no spark of energy. I crept along, kept jogging those landings hoping that the flat would provide some desperate relief for my climbing muscles that were utterly exhausted and fried from the blazing fast starting pace. Reached floor 75, this is when I had no choice, I was really suppose to pick it up, checked my watch 10:20-10:40 or something but I had no idea what that meant. Its all a blur, I cant really remember if I even tried or not but I knew I was giving it all I had at the time. Floor 80, I checked my watch again 12:20 and I knew that my chances of going under 13 were gone, they had slipped away somewhere in the final half or quarter of that building.

I saw the final floor to the top, a long straight away, I tried to kinda run it and use the rail, I stumbled and fell, my legs were shot they didn’t like having to change their stride. I reached the top and ran out the doorway onto the observation deck, it was dark and I think there were snow flurries. I ran the best I could around that building, not sure I could’ve sprinted any faster or forced my legs to do any more than they had already done. I finished, I heard a guy say 13:37, checked my watch it read 13:36. Disappointment set in, I wobbled around looking for a place to crash but there wasn’t one. I felt sick, I wanted to throw up, my legs didn’t work. they shuttled us down a hallway to get some water and a medal. I stumbled around, found the nearest garbage can and just stood there, afraid to move. I had a headache, I was coughing, my throat tasted like blood, my stomach was in knots and nothing was making me feel better. 

The guys started to funnel in, I said a few words to some of them but I felt so sick, I didn’t wanna talk to anyone. They took us downstairs, I rushed off the elevator and found another trashcan. I think I spent about 30+ minutes hunched over one of those things after the race. I finally made my way to the press area and saw everyone gathered there. I saw the results, Moon won with a PR of 12:39, Walsham somehow fell behind the last 5 floors for a time of 13:09, Wellington came in at 13:15 and Aklufi was 13:22. I was 5th, not too far behind but I think that fast pace was too much for a lot of us to handle. I wonder what would’ve happened had I started out slower or had we all started off slower. I think we were all capable of a race closer to 13:00 but just didn’t happen.

My race was shot, I went out too fast and was kinda in disbelief, I didn’t know how to feel about it. I hit my goal time dead-on but I couldn’t hang with those girls. Moon talked to me after the race, she was like “wow you were right behind me for a while, when did you fall off?” honestly, I couldn’t tell her, haha.

I think I made a few critical errors in this race, obviously the fast pace left me shot for the end. If I would’ve paced it myself, forgetting about trying to hang with the leaders, I probably could’ve made a move at the end. And for some reason I was swinging wide on those long landings, might’ve only cost a split-second or a second but ya never know, I remember thinking during the race, what the heck are you doing all the way out there?

Bonacina, Harris, Me, Moon
I was disappointed and felt like I left myself and others down. I took over a minute off my time from last year so I should be happy, I raced against some of the best in the world and hung with them for a while. it could’ve ended up a lot worse.

I think Moon said it best “"You can't start too fast too soon in a race like this," Moon said. "I knew I had it when I got to the 70th floor and I could no longer hear them breathing behind me.”

Dang, I that’s exactly what I did! I have a fire for next year, I want one of those mini empire state building trophies. A place on the podium will be mine!

I also love this quote by Tim VanOrden “Your legs aren’t functioning, your throat is screaming, you can barely put your arms on the railing and you want to throw up — and you’ve got 10 to 15 floors to go.”

Wellington also exclaimed “I felt like my throat constricted early on, about Floor 6 or 7”. Asked how her 13-minute climb compared with an Ironman, she said, “Well, I’m a masochist—but I like to spread the effort over a longer time. This was the most painful thing I’ve ever done!”   Nice to know that she struggled a bit.

Post Empire Workouts

I was feeling pretty trashed after this race, guess I really pushed myself to the limit. I did a couple of easy workouts once I got home and my calves/achilles and quads weren't feeling all that great. Saturday morning we hit the stairwell and I had 3 decent climbs (2:38, 2:38, 2:37) but realized my legs were shot about halfway through the 4th one and I slogged in 6 seconds slower (2:44) than the other 3 and just had to drag myself up to the top. I was kinda discouraged.

Figured I'd do an easy recovery workout later in the day but when I got home, I saw my Vibrams had arrived so I was very eager to try them out in the stairwell. I went back to the Z tower. It took quite the effort to squeeze my sweaty foot into those puppies and get my tiny toes situated. I was nervous when I stepped into the stairwell, didn't know if I'd like the toe-shoes or how my legs would feel after the workout earlier.

I started off and my legs felt amazing, I hit a 2:31 and thought wow these shoes are awesome! Then followed it up with a 2:24 and 2:21!! thats my best 3 climb average by like 10 seconds! Im not sure what happened between the stair workout at 9:00 and the workout at 3:00 but it didnt matter. Maybe those shoes have magical powers, who knows. Either way I was smiling! :)

For some neat videos of the race, check out the following links:

The pressure Moon is referring to in the video below is me :)