Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Scale the Strat

Scale the Strat – Las Vegas – March 3rd & 4th 2012
Decisions, Decisions and that Burnt Out Feeling
I decided to do Scale the Strat at kinda the last minute, bought my ticket and booked my room a few weeks ago.  Figured it’d be a fun race and something different to do.  I was just going in and out, got in 5:00 Friday night and was leaving Sunday night at 5:00, no time for messing around.  
Hancock was my target race so after that, this was all just icing on the vegan chocolate cake.   Hancock took a lot out of me, I was feeling mentally and physically exhausted.  Monday, I was trashed but forced myself to hit the gym.  Thought maybe I could shake out the legs, do a little walking or perhaps a short 15-20 minute easy run on the treadmill.  Well 2 miles turned into 6 and around mile 5.5, my left IT tightened up, pain shot through my knee, my right calf felt like it was going to pop, there was a sharp pain in my ankle, one hamstring was nagging and I just wanted to make it through the last 4 minutes of my run.  Wow did that turn out bad.   The next day wasn’t any better, I was still feeling exhausted and had no motivation to do anything; I was burnt out and uninterested in any physical activity whatsoever.  Maybe I’m putting too much demand on my body by racing so much and pushing so hard, I was dragging myself to the limits the past few races and I think my body was definitely feeling it.   
By the time Wednesday rolled around, I was feeling back to normal.   I had caught up on a little sleep, my brain seemed to be back to full functionality so I cranked out standard silver rated workout, Thursday hit a bronze and then it was time to rest up for the Strat. 

City of Bright Lights
This wasn’t the first time I’ve been to Vegas, my first Vegas experience was while I was still in college.  I was actually 21 at the time and went with my best friend Cory, the other half of the “dangerous duo”.  We were there with her parents, her older sister and her friend.  Having her parents there didn’t stop us from living it up and her sister’s friend only encouraged the behavior.  We met a group of guys probably in their 30s who worked for a big corporation and it seemed like they had endless pockets, they took a liking to the older girls so we followed them around.  They took us around in a stretch hummer limo, we were VIP at fancy clubs which meant cutting in line and sitting in a special roped off area with a girl in a short short dress and high high heels mixing us drinks.  We didn’t care, it was free and we were living it up.   This trip involved fancy cocktails, some roulette, staying up to wee hours of the morning and a very memorable foil ball filled with Chinese food.  It was classic Vegas.   The thought of doing something like that now, is unfathomable, haha. 
This time around, things were a bit different, I wasn’t there to party and cause trouble, I was there to scale the 108 floors of the Stratosphere.  I spent more time in the Starbucks and the stairwell then I did in the casino.   The smell of smoke was nauseating to me and I haven’t had any booze in over a year so the thought of drinking didn’t appeal to me and the roulette table wasn’t calling my name either.   These two trips were incredibly different but I wouldn’t trade or give up either of them.

Scale the Strat – 108 “Floors”
This is a unique race because the first day of climbing is a qualifying round with about 400 climbers then the top 50 climbers head to the “climb-off” which takes place on Sunday.  It’s not really fair because there were only like 6 or 7 girls that made it into round 2, seriously?  Can we make this a bit more even or scaled, give the females a fighting chance. 
Anyways, I haven’t done a race like this before so wasn’t sure what to expect and I wasn’t really giving it much thought either.   The strat is an incredibly funky building, youre basically climbing up the core of the structure and it’s not like any stairwell I’ve been in before.  It’s not enclosed, its open, you can look over the edge at any point or look straight down the middle of the stairwell, kinda freaky but neat.  And the stairs didn’t have any type of usual configuration; which is normally like 10 steps per flight and 2 flights per floor.  There weren’t really any legit floors either.  The stairs seemed to go on and on, there were about 20 per flight and were kinda steep, then you’d pivot on the landing, turn to the left and head back the opposite direction.  The rail was square and it was breezy/cool in there which differed from most stairwells.  This type of incline went on until almost the top, you knew you were getting close when you could feel a breeze and see the sun peeking in.  Then there was a normal stairwell that turned to the right for 8 floors and bam, you were done. 
I had several people give me the logistics and math behind the stairs but I was still kinda confused since I hadn’t seen it before.  I wasn’t sure how I would pace myself or be able to tell where I was at in the race.  There were floor numbers but not sure how legit or accurate they were.  A few said you could kinda break the race into thirds that consisted of chunks ranging from 200-250 feet, might be a good way to gage things.  Kevin Crossman told me that I could look for elevation markers on the walls, explained that we would start about 50 feet off the ground and climb to about 850 so actual climbing distance was about 800 feet.  Alright, that’s fine and dandy but I’m not really sure what that means as far as time goes.  I think my normal training building is about 250 feet so that gave me something I could gauge but with the funky stairs would it even be comparable or matter?  After the first day, I tried to do some math on my own (which doesn’t usually end well) and it seemed to make sense that the halfway point would be around the 450 ft elevation marker, if there even was one. 
Day 1 – Qualifying Round
I wasn’t really thinking about this race too much, just wanted to have fun, no pressure what so ever.  I knew that barring some unforeseen circumstance that I would make it to the final round without much effort.  So day 1 was suppose to be an easy day, a way to familiarize myself with the stairwell and come up with a game plan for day 2.  Based on the times from last year, I set a goal time of 9:45-10:00 which should be an easy relaxed pace.  From looking at previous results, it seemed like this race was about 2:30 shorter than Hancock and maybe 60 seconds faster than Aon LA. 
Our start time wasn’t until 10:30, I was up at 7:00 and wasn’t quite sure what to do.  Decided to hit the stairwell in the hotel, I was on floor 9 so I climbed up to 24, my legs weren’t feeling all that great which was somewhat discouraging.  Time to head outside for an easy 10 minute WU jaunt, legs still weren’t feeling super.  I was kinda thinking maybe they were still shot from Hancock and this qualifying round might be harder than I thought.   I went back to my room, grabbed my banana and headed down to the Starbucks.  Got a grande coffee with some sugar free cinnamon dolce and sipped on that to kill some time, chowed down on my banana with like 1.5 hours to go and went to the starting line.  Saw some other WCL folks so chatted with them for a bit, had some people give more advice regarding the stairwell. 
I was busting out the Vibrams today; this was their first appearance in a longer race.  I gave myself plenty of time to squeeze my foot in and wiggle my tiny toes into their slots.  Finally in and ready to roll.  We lined up; it was cool in the shade and cool in the building.  My toes were getting numb before we even started.  I could feel the breeze from the stairwell as we stood there waiting for the official to send us off. 
I started up and really had no idea what pace I was going, it was strange not having normal floors and numbers.  It was hard to judge anything, I came to the first spot that Dinkin said was the first “third” of the tower, checked my watch and was 2:05.  Hmm, that seems a bit fast since I heard him say he wanted to be like 3:00-3:15 for 10:00 pace.  I better slow down.  I felt relaxed so I slowed it up a tad bit more and kept on going. 
I came to the next third or so and checked my watch again, think I was at 5:00 give or take, alright, still not really sure what that meant so just continued on my merry way.  I was noticing the elevation numbers that Kevin mentioned to me so I took note of those.  The numbers were increasing so I knew how many feet I had left but I was clueless to the amount of time.  Plus I had to do the math to figure out how much I had left too which was not fun.  The thing is I suck at math but for some reason I used to recite multiplication tables in my head during XC races in high school, haha.   At least this was simple addition and subtraction.  I saw I had about 250 feet left so I knew that was about the height of a Z tower so maybe 3:00 or so.  
I got to the normal floors, there was a bigger landing where you had to take a few extra steps then a little run of maybe 10-15 horizontal steps before hitting the right turning normal stairs.  At this point there were only about 8 floors left, I didn’t feel any urgency or the need to speed up, just stayed relaxed. 
I walked across the finish and looked at my watch, 9:13.  Huh, that was a little faster than expected but I felt relaxed and it didn’t feel like I was pushing the pace at all so I was happy with it.  My legs felt good, arms felt good, wasn’t breathing too heavy.  Very pleased with my qualifying round.  Kourtney climbed 9:15 and Cindy was like 9:24 so we were all right there.  Tomorrow could be anyone’s tower!
After the race, I hung around for a bit then went back to my room to take a nap, shower, have a vegan snack.  I nicked my ankle shaving, great now this thing stings and burns especially when I wear a shoe.  How lame would it be if my race sucked because of a shaving incident, ha.  We all know I’m tougher than that!  Talked to Brady and he seemed shocked about my time for the day and thought maybe I had gone out a bit too fast.   Having never done the tower, it was hard for him to provide me with much advice in regards to pacing and splits so I was on my own.   I still wanted to target 8:30 for the final climb and thought I’d check my watch at point 1 again then around 450 feet. 
Day 2 – Final “Climb-Off” Round
We had another late start, 10:00.  Once again I was up around 7:00 so I hit up the same routine as the day before.  Did floors 9 – 24 in the stairwell but today I felt better than I did on Saturday.  Went outside for an easy 10 minute WU, the sun felt nice but the shade was chilly.  Grabbed another banana and was off to the Starbucks again, got my same grande coffee but had caramel instead and sat there reading a book to kill time. It was relaxing and I wasn’t really thinking about the race. 
I was calm and cool, I figured Kourtney, Cindy and I all had a shot at winning and I didn’t really care about the outcome.  I wanted to come close to my goal time but whether I was first, second or third, it didn’t make a difference. 
I wiggled into my five fingers again and was sporting my blue Vibram shirt, hoped it was good luck.  We lined up again and of course it was still chilly in the hallway waiting to start.  There was a guy in front of us, Cindy and I are both so meek and mild (beasts when were actually in the stairwell!!), and we whispered about whether or not he was actually faster than us.  Cindy finally got the courage to ask him what kinda time he was shooting for while I just kinda scooted in front of him.  He said something along the lines of 9:00 something or another so slower than us, he seemed as though he didn’t wanna let us in front of him (too bad I already was) and he made a comment about letting us pass.  I told Cindy just to follow right behind me and we both slid in front of the guy. 
There was some kind of timing glitch so we were stuck waiting there longer than expected, my toes were getting numb again.  PJ and I said a quick prayer before they sent him off then I stood there waiting for the 30 seconds to tick by before I could start my ascent up the Strat.  The timing guy asked me what was wrong as I stood there with my hands across my chest, I told him I was cold, haha. 
I took off a pace which seemed a tad bit faster than the day before but once again, I didn’t really have any idea how fast I was going.  Legs were feeling good.  I got to that first third again and checked my watch, 2:05 hmm ok about the same as I was on Saturday.  Now I just gotta keep this pace going, don’t ease up like the day before otherwise it would not be a pretty sight when I reached the top. 
I started seeing the elevation markers and kept on climbing, I was starting to get a bit fatigued and came across 435 ft and checked my watch before the next turn, 4:15.  Ok that meant if I kept it up, id finish right around 8:30 or so.  But I was feeling it, I could hear someone in front of me.  It was PJ!   With the long flights it took me a while to get behind him, I stayed there for a couple of them before he graciously stepped aside and gave me a shout of encouragement.  I was majorly feeling it at this point; there were maybe 20ish floors to go.  My legs were starting to give out on me and my arms tried to do their part. 
I watched as the elevation got higher and I tried to quickly do the math in my head to figure out how much longer I had to climb this beast.  My arms were starting to go dead now too and I still had 200-300 feet left.  Let’s just get through this thing.  I kept on dragging myself up, stutter stepping the landing to give myself an extra split second to catch my breath.  I think I might’ve checked my watch at some point but I can’t remember what it said, maybe 1:30 left?
I could see the sun and feel the cool breeze; I knew I was getting towards the top.  I got to the normal stairwell, the little few step jog caught my legs off guard but they made it through.  I tried to start bounding up the steps but my vision started going, I was seeing spots and feeling kinda dizzy.  It freaked me out, I eased up a bit.  My legs were completely gone now and my arms forced to take the load but once again they weren’t providing much help.  I tried to bound again, made it about a flight.  I was totally red-lining but at least this gosh darn race was almost over. 
I turned the corner and saw the finish, I darted (at least it seemed like I darted) up those last few steps and just full-out collapsed on the mat.  I couldn’t even make it one step; I was down for the count.  My hands were so numb that I couldn’t even stop my watch; I looked at the seconds ticked by.  When my finger finally got enough feeling back to stop it said 8:41 but I knew it was closer to 8:35.  I just laid there, curled up in a heap.  I heard someone yell “someone’s down on the mat” and some volunteers picked me up in their arms and dragged my down the hall.  My legs were limp and they were dragging me like a rag doll, I tried to somewhat walk but it wasn’t pretty.   I didn’t let up the pace and my finish still wasn’t pretty, haha. 
They forced me into a chair and shoved an oxygen mask on my face.  My legs were twitching and I felt sick to my stomach.  The mask didn’t make things any easier, I found it annoying and it wasn’t providing any sort of relief.  I took it off and someone told me to put it back on, ok geesh ill wear the darn mask.  Cindy came over and plopped down in the seat next to me, they put a mask on her too.  I couldn’t move.  I looked down and my knee was all bloody from that darn mat, a battle wound, sweet. 
I finally got up to walk around a bit and my stomach was not feeling all that great, my head was throbbing.  I was beat.  The results were scrolling on the screen, I went over, saw my time 8:35 – score!  Then I saw Kourtney 2 seconds in front of me 8:33!  Solid climb!! She got her redemption from the year before.  The moment I saw that, I rushed over to tell her she had won and got me by 2 seconds, she always gets me by the slimmest margins!  Cindy finished behind us, so we dominated the top 3  :)
I wasn’t one bit disappointed, I called Brady and I was excited.  I pushed it to the max; I didn’t care about getting 2nd.  I was so happy Kourtney won and that it was a close race.  Who knows if I coulda pulled out 2 seconds, it seems like it’s only the blink of an eye but in the stairwell that could feel like forever.  Maybe if I woulda pushed a smidge harder those last few floors but the whole seeing spots thing threw me for a loop. 
This is the happiest I’ve been about “losing”.  It’s such a great feeling.  My mindset towards these races is totally different and I love it.  It makes me feel so much better, it’s encouraging to me and to others and I’m so totally glad that I found this new mental clarity.  What a great race. 
I have two races (Presidential Towers – March 11th and Aon LA – March 31) left on my schedule then it’s time for a hiatus but I’ll be back with a vengeance.  During that time, I’ll keep on writing about road races, nutrition, training, or just other things that pop into my head :)