Monday, April 30, 2012

tower sprint in europe

Towerrunning Basel – Basel, Switzerland – April 21, 2012
European Adventure – Part 1 - London
My first European adventure consisted of a short tower race in Basel, Switzerland, and as an added bonus we were making a brief pit stop in London.  Once I calculated the time it’d take to get out of the airport, take a high speed express train to Paddington Station then hop on the underground to the heart of London then do the same in reverse the following day, I figured we’d have about 1-1.5 days of London sightseeing.   I was also lucky because I’d have travel / race companions for this adventure, the Renshaw Brothers!  We joked that their only purpose was to carry my luggage and be my escort / body guards but the truth of the matter is they’re both competitive climbers and I needed the advice of my coach.  Brady and I would be spending the day in London then meeting up with Cody for the Basel portion of the trip.
The flight to London was 8 hours and a straight jump across the big pond, no layovers or dilly-dallying around.  I tried to sleep but kept waking up with a crick in my neck and the flight attendants kept coming around with food, snacks and beverages.  I watched a movie (We Bought a Zoo, which I’d highly recommend if you like that sort of thing) then napped a bit before flicking on my little screen to the map view.  This let me watch a little plane flying over the ocean updating me with flight stats such as distance travelled, ground speed, temperature (-50 F, geesh, that’s a tad-bit chilly), hours left to destination, etc.  I found this amusing and just watched the updates pour in.  When I fly, I usually take the window seat whenever I can, when I can see something, I enjoy just staring out for hours.  Unfortunately it was cloudy and foggy coming into London so I couldn’t see anything until we were practically on the ground, darn.
Touching Ground Again
We finally landed; originally I had decided to take the underground from the airport.  It would take longer and we were most likely destined to stand the whole way but it would be incredibly cheaper than the high speed express train.   But when we got to the public transportation area, there were guys shouting about purchasing tickets for the express train.  I gave in, figured we might get to see something neat.  I handed over my debit card and he said it’d be 34 British pounds per person for a roundtrip ticket, alright.  Then I started calculating the math in my head, I suck at math so I had no idea how much this was going to cost me in USD!!  The exchange rate was like 1 BP = 1.66 USD.  Oh yikes, maybe the underground woulda been better.  The scenery wizzed by and I could barely see anything, we passed by some broken rundown neighborhoods and I hoped that the “real” London would be much nicer. 
We arrived at Paddington Station and made our way to the correct underground train, this was another cost which ended up being more than I thought it would.  I was making some poor financial decisions today, haha, oh well, it’s all worth it and it’s a learning experience.  The underground was totally packed, we were smashed in there like sardines.  I’m actually glad we took the high speed train since it was much more comfortable and had free wi-fi.  Someone finally got up from a seat so I sat down, left Brady grasping a pole for support and fending for himself.  The train doors open and another American lady exclaimed that someone had snatched her phone from her purse!!  Her husband knew it was some shifty character that had been staring at him the entire time and somehow without losing eye contact swiped her phone.  Brady checked his back pockets and sure enough, the guy had swiped like 30-40 BP from him!  Dang, there goes our cash.  At least his passport was safe.  Another financial pitfall for us, haha.  We eventually made it off the train safely and began our walk to the hotel.
The Streets of London
Trying to find our hotel in London was like weaving through a maze, there weren’t any street signs although some random buildings had street names on them.  I had a map of our hotels location and knew the address but random squares would pop up.  So I’d be walking down Belgrave Road, the numbers would be going up then all of a sudden the street would be called Wilshire Square and would jump from 44 to 77.  What the heck?!?  I asked several people if they knew were our hotel was but no one could provide any useful advice.  I think we came within 10 feet of it several times before we finally got there, another learning experience.  The streets are so weavy and windy too, no grid system like here in Chicago. 
We put our stuff down, our room had three beds in it and the bathroom was the size of a small broom closet.  Making a hotel reservation online was confusing some of the rooms don’t have a private bathroom, others would say “shower only” and I was quite sure what that meant.  I looked for the shower, there was a curtain in the bathroom and just a drain on the floor, welp guess everything is smashed into this tiny spot.  The entire bathroom would be soaked if you turned the shower on!
We rushed off to find some cappuccinos!  We both were pretty zonked considering the 8 hour flight shot us 6 hours into the future.  Brady decided he needed a nap and I wanted to wander so I set off towards Buckingham Palace.  I wandered the streets of London for over 2 hours, just going wherever I wanted.  I came across the Palace, a giant green park, another park with all sorts of strange birds, a bunch of other fancy historical looking buildings.  I Just kept walking around.  It was in the 50s and one minute it’d be sunny and nice, the next minute the sky was covered in clouds and it was raining.  Whats with this weather?!? 
I got back to the room and crashed for a little bit.  Then we set off on our trek to dinner.  I picked out a few veggie restaurants and we decided to take the long way there so we could see Big Ben, the London Eye, walk along the river and hit a few other sweet spots.  We grabbed a map from the hotel and were on our way, the weaving windy streets were hard to follow and we kept ending up somewhere in the opposite direction of where we wanted to be!  We finally found the restaurant, it was a bust hole in the wall kinda joint, so we went somewhere else, and of course we had another cappuccino, ha.  The walk home was much easier because I had a better sense of which direction we needed to be heading.
Thursday morning we were off for a run and Brady was taking the go-pro with us, wanted to get some of the sights on film.  Once again, we took a wrong turn and ended up in Hyde Park.  The goal of this run was to run by the designated London hot spots and say hey look at this but that didn’t happen.  It started to rain again and we just kept on running through the park.  After zig-zagging through streets, practically getting run over by a BMW and a double-decker bus, we were finally back on track but at that point, it was too late and we had to run back to the hotel.  At one point, as I was darted through the street, a car whizzed by, Brady reached to pull me back and yanked my hair.  Why are you pulling my hair?!?  Oops, he said he was reaching for my shirt, ha.  We dried off, had some lunch, another cappuccino/ latte, walked around some more then were off to the airport where we had another 1-2 cappuccinos/lattes before meeting Cody to start our trek to Basel!
European Adventure – Part 2 - Basel
The flight to Basel was short, only about 1:45, we were up and down in no time and they gave us a snack.  Some kind of hot wrap with Mediterranean veggies and tomato sauce, fantastic.  We don’t even get a bag of pretzels or peanuts travelling around in the US.  Anyways, we arrived in Basel and had to navigate to our hotel.  Hopped on a bus then missed our stop, got off at the next one and walked back to hop on the bus going in the opposite direction.  We had to transfer to a trolley that would land us near our hotel.   In London, most people were speaking English but now in Switzerland people were speaking either French or German so we were a bit “lost” and I had absolutely no clue how to pronounce any of the trolley stops “rhinering” and “voltzplatz” and “messenplatz” and those seemed to be the easier ones, haha. 
The three of us had a small room with 2 single beds crammed together and another single pull out recliner, ha.  Like a pull out couch but only made for one person out of a chair, interesting, never seen one of those before but at least we had a real shower.  We were up early the next morning, anxious to explore and see the Ramada, the tower we’d be racing up.  We ran over there since it was just few blocks away but unfortunately all the stairwells were locked and the building was highly secure so we were unable to get in.  So we decided to trek to France since the border was practically within walking distance.  We headed off in one direction, it was worn down, old and things seemed abandoned.  Plus it was cold, dreary and raining.  I thought to myself, what the heck are we suppose to do here for 3 days?!?  We ended up in an industrial part of town before finally stumbling upon a coffee shop.  Warmed up for a bit and were back on the road to France.  We made it to a sign that said Frane, not sure if it was actually France or not but we took a picture and got out of there.  Looking at a map, we thought maybe we should head to a little downtown district that seemed to be the happening place; we caught another trolley and were on our way. 
We arrived at the train station in Basel and could tell this was the area we needed to be.  There was hustle and bustle and my eyes lit up when I saw the Frey chocolate shop.  We wandered around there all day (the city not the chocolate shop), we started on a self-guided walking tour which led us to the Elizabethan Cathedral.  It was beautiful and of course there was a super twisty stairwell that went up to the point.  At one point it was so tight and the steps were tiny, I was getting dizzy just walking up.  The boys decided we should come back and race this thing; I wasn’t so sure on that, haha.  The view from the top was amazing!  We explored a few other streets and shops, finding things that sparked our interest.  It was great just being in a completely new place and soaking it all in.
We walked around for several hours, I had plenty of energy but as soon as we’d sit down to have some coffee or eat, I’d feel utterly exhausted.  My body was still a little freaked from the time difference.   That night for dinner, we found Tibits, a self-serve, pay by weight veggie restaurant.  I was in heaven, this place was terrific although the way Brady loads his plate, it was getting a bit expensive.  We went there several times while in Basel, ha.
Tower Time!
The night before the climb, I found an email from the President of Towerrunning, passing along the starting list for our race.  I opened it up and saw that Suzy Walsham was coming.  Dang, there goes my shot at winning.  She’s a short distance expert and is a phenomenal 800 m and 1500 m runner, has some records and incredible accolades in those distances.  Shucks, this lady is a beast and she just creamed the competition in a race in London recently as well.   There were 250 francs on the line for 1st place, plus an additional 500 francs for busting the course record of 3:26 (set by Marie-Fee Breyer the previous year, I’d like to mention this girl is only like 14 yrs old!!).  The tower height is similar to that of the Hilton in Springfield where I can clock about 3:00 but this race also includes a 100 m run to the tower.  This is where strategy really comes into play, sprint the run and your heart rate will be sky-high going into the tower and you’ll be struggling to catch your breath, plus your legs will be shot by floor 10.  Go too slow and that could have end poorly as well but ultimately it’s better to be conservative on the run. 
I’m not a short distance sprinter in running, climbing or anything I do.  So I’m still learning how to race these shorter towers and how to push myself the way I do in the taller climbs.   We weren’t climbing until 3:00 pm so we had plenty of time to loiter around in the morning and think about race strategy. 
We woke up later than expected and it kinda made me frantic, it was only 10:00 or 10:30, we still had plenty of time just wasn’t expecting it to be waking up that late, ha.  We were off to the Ramada to get our packets, figure out our actual start times and check a few things out.  We watched some of the firefighters darting to the stairwell then went back to the hotel to relax for a bit plus Brady and I needed our pre-race coffee.  We sat in the hotel bar sipping on cappuccinos, even took a shot of espresso (not my favorite), we needed that jolt of caffeine.  My pain receptors needed to ignore what I was about to put them through.  We’ll see how my legs hold up after several days of continuous walking; they were feeling a bit sluggish. 
We got back to the race site, jogged around a bit and started chatting with other climbers.  I saw Walsham and Christina Bonacina so hung around them for a while.  Of course, the race was behind schedule so didn’t start until after 3:00.  They sent us off in 30 seconds increments with all the guys going first.  Some of them took off in a dead sprint while others looked like they were out on a leisurely stroll through a park, ha.  I wanted to be somewhere in between.   The run would probably take about 20-25 seconds; there were a couple of sharp turns into the building and the stairwell.  This stairwell was super funky because it turned to the right (good thing I’d be putting myself through lots of 10 floor sprints in a right turning stairwell!!).   The rail was odd too; it was like flat and rectangular, not ideal for gripping.  The flights had an odd number of steps too; one would have 8 then the next 9.  Interesting, the height seemed a tad bit smaller too, which would be beneficial to me.  
I was finally up, the guy was giving a countdown to others but then out of nowhere he said something in German, I just stood there.  Hes like go, go!  Oops, sorry, was waiting for the countdown.  I was swiftly on my way; of course several gusts of wind came during my short sprint towards the stairwell.  It kinda knocked me off balance but I continued along, I was in there.  I wanted to get into a groove.  It took me a couple of flights but then I was pretty smooth, was feeling good.  The floors were ticking by, I thought about those 10 floor sprints and how I could do this, I could have short distance speed.  Hit the halfway point, I checked my watch 2:00, totally clueless about what that meant since the run was factored in, seemed like a decent pace.  Ok halfway, the next thing I knew it was like 10 floors left, oh geesh that’s less than a minute!  This is going by way too quickly; I only have like a sprint left.  I tried to pick it up, I was feeling a bit dizzy not sure if it was from the shorter flights or oxygen deprivation but I continued on.  My legs were feeling it but I wasn’t pushing as hard as I could, 5 floors left.  Shucks, what happened to all the other floors, I needed more time, I needed more stairs, I was ready to be done but at the same time, this wasn’t my race.  I stumbled out of the doorway, took a few steps and went down.  Shortly thereafter, Walsham popped out.  Wow, she must’ve been blazing fast.  I struggled to hit my watch so wasn’t sure on the time, I got up and tried to walk, legs were feeling wobbly. 
They sent us down a flight of stairs to a gathering area, I was feeling sick and I just stood at the top of the stairs because I knew my legs would go out from under me if I attempted my way down.  Brady came up to find me and told me my time was 3:35, Walsham was a blazing 3:11 and Marie-Fee Breyer got me by 2 seconds, dang!  2 seconds, I coulda found 2 seconds!!  My throat was on fire. 
I’m happy with my efforts but at the same time, a little lost in what happened.  In taller climbs and longer races, you can reach halfway and still have time to make adjustments.  You can pick that go floor and start your surge.  In the shorter towers, the surge is the whole thing.  Mentally I’m not adjusted to that; it was over way too quickly.  I gave it my best shot but I know I left something in the stairwell, maybe 5 seconds.  No way was I gotta take out Walsham though, ha.  But I’ll take 3rd no complaints, not too shabby for my first European race!   At least a lot of the towers here in the US are taller :)
France, Germany, Cathedrals, Chocolate and Cappuccinos
We were back off to Tibits for a celebratory dinner that night; of course we’d have some cappuccinos too, we used my prize money :) We also stopped by the expo where the race was, there was a lot going on so wanted to check it out.  The expo was shut down but there was some kind of German band playing music and a bunch of older people were dancing the night away.  Brady and I gave our best effort at a little jig but I think we should both stick to climbing!
 The next morning, we had a jam packed day.  We’re gonna head to the cathedral for our stair “race” up that then wanted to head to France and Germany as well.  We went back to that expo first, there was a whole coffee expo going on inside.  Fancy espresso machines and different coffees you could try, a German lady scolded us for trying to use her machine without permission. 
After that, we hit up France, we crossed the border and it was somewhat disappointing.  Not like I expected to see the Eifel Tower and all sorts of outdoor cafes but I thought there’d be something unique, haha.   We did come across a guy near the border who started asking us some questions, he was an interesting character.  The whole situation was kinda funny. No one even checked our passports either, I wanted another stamp!  It started to rain so we went back to the trolley to make our way to the Cathedral. 
We got there, the door to the tower was closed and there was a sign saying “tower closed”.  It didn’t feel right sneaking in there so I let the boys do their things.  I took a walk outside, found a few other outdoor staircases and ran up those then made my way back.  They did some filming while they were in there and then we filmed a shot of us running up some outdoor steps to the Cathedral so at least I was in that.  Back to Tibits for lunch and stopped at the Frey shop for some fancy chocolate, time to say goodbye to Basel. 
Time to move on to Germany, hopefully it wouldn’t be a bust like France.  There was a trolley that would take us right there, about a 20-25 minute ride.  It was getting a bit more scenic.  We sauntered across that border and once again, no one there to stamp our passports, drats!  We kept on walking, found a crick with a mini waterfall that made for some good photos.  Germany seemed better than France, ha.  
Goodbye Europe
We flew back to London that night, and then we had a flight back home on Monday morning.  Got up early to go for a run, kinda weaved the streets around the airport.  My legs felt great, it was good to be running again instead of walking.  I finally got my porridge at the airport too, well worth the wait. 
It’s good to be home and the European adventure was well worth it.  I wish we would’ve had more time to venture into the countryside or to the mountains, maybe next time.  Overall a terrific experience that I am incredibly grateful for and I desperately want to start a completive climb here in the US!!

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