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

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