Thursday, June 14, 2012

scaling Taipei 101 in the far east :)

Taipei 101 – Taipei, Taiwan – June 10, 2012
Getting Ready to Conquer Asia
When I got back from the race in Basel, I was very indecisive about whether or not I wanted to do another tower race in Berlin or Taipei.   Taipei had been on my radar for a while and definitely sparked my interest because it’s a tall tower (smidge shorter climbing distance than sears) so I knew it would play well to my advantage and there’s a decent chunk of prize money but the downside was the journey would be very long and hard, lots of traveling in a short period of time and I wasn’t sure I wanted to make that trek alone.   Berlin was a shorter tower but would be “easier” to get to.  Thoughts of skipping both races in order to save time and money crossed my mind, I was feeling a bit burnt out too and wasn’t sure it was all worth it.  But after careful deliberation, I knew I had to take the chance while I could and go with my gut.  I was heading to TAIPEI!! 
Now it was time to start cranking the intensity again, after Basel, I had crawled back into my endurance, cardio junkie, base-building shell and I liked it.  I hit the stairs a few times and my legs were just thrashed, I knew that in order to be fresh in the stairwell and capable of cranking the intensity that I desired, I needed to drop my volume again.  I hemmed and hawed about it but knew it was in my best interest.   So I dropped the volume and starting hitting the stairs a few times a week. 
One Saturday, I hit a 5-climb PR in the left turning stairwell, talk about encouraging!!  I found out that the stairwell in Taipei turned to the right so I started heading in there instead, the right stairwell is a bit shorter than its left turning counterpart which made it seemed easier.  I felt incredibly smooth on the right rail so that made me feel good.  My times were blazing in that one too and I was feeling great.  I still had 1-2 days a week where my legs just felt trashed and I’d have to back off entirely; they’d especially feel it on the run. 
I was hitting mountains, snakes, summits, stairs and everything was faster or better than before. I was super encouraged about this race.  I’ve been told by a few people that the steps in this tower are extremely steep and that you can’t really run, you have to use the rail and climb.  Hmm, ok piece of cake, that’s my standard climbing style.  It’s rare that I run so I got this climbing technique down.   I spent some time in the stairwell just really focusing on my form and repeating positive phrases to myself while climbing; I knew that mentally this race would take a lot of fortitude and strength. I didn’t want my mind to give up.  So I didn’t let myself get down in there, I knew I would be ready come race day.  Of course part of me worried about various things, about whether or not my training was good enough in this short period of time.  Part of me regretted not focusing on this race from the get-go.  But it is what it is, I can’t change the sequence of things but my workouts proved that I was still in phenomenal stair shape.  I think the raw diet had something to do with it too, I was feeling lighter, leaner and stronger.  The pureness was most certainly beneficial. 
On a Jet Plane to the Other Side of the World
When it finally came down to it, I was welcoming this solo journey.  I wanted some time to myself to reflect on certain things that had been going on recently, I wanted to rediscover myself and who I was, the person I love.  I knew that getting to spend this time solo, wandering and exploring every which way whenever I wanted would be good for me.  I could reconnect with myself :)
My flight was Wednesday morning and I’d arrive in Taipei on Thursday night at 8:30 pm.  I would basically be traveling 13 hours into the “future”.  I had a pit stop in LA before my 14-15 hour flight to Taipei.  Not sure what I was gonna do for that whole time but I had a bag full of raw snacks (homemade trail mix filled with mashed up larabars, raw nuts and dried fruits, bars, etc), books and word search puzzles.  Luckily, we had our own tv screen so I could watch various movies, tv shows, listen to tunes, play games, etc.  I rotated between watching a movie and sleeping, I caught some good flicks on that flight including big miracle which I highly recommend!  Also watched safe house and this means war, all decent in my opinion.   During movies, I’d “sleep” for about an hour or so. 
My legs were really feeling it, I was wearing my compression tights but they were getting sore, had that creepy crawly feeling.  I didn’t get up to stretch as much as I would’ve liked because I had my window seat and I don’t like disrupting other people.  And I wasn’t drinking as much water as I should’ve been either because I didn’t wanna be forced to get up.  I tried moving my legs around under the seat in front of me but that provided little relief.  I got to the hotel that night, when I got ready for bed I noticed that my ankles, feet and calves were all puffy!!  I was kinda freaking out, it didn’t hurt at all but I’d never seen that happen before and I didn’t know how long it would stick around or if it would have a negative effect on my race.  This wasn’t good!  I chugged 2 bottles of water, propped my legs up on some pillows and went to sleep, hoping they’d be back to normal in the morning. 
I woke up and they were a bit more normal, still seemed somewhat larger than they should be but I had a feeling it’d be just fine. 
A Gondola, Mountain Stairs and a Sneak Peak at the Stairwell
I got to my hotel in downtown Taipei, ditched my luggage at the front desk and went exploring.  I had no clue where I was going or what I would find but I could see Taipei 101 a few blocks away so headed off in that general direction.  I was in search of Starbucks (or any coffee) and fruit.  I wandered the streets for a while, picking random directions to walk down, finally stumbled across a Starbucks.  Ah, the familiarity of home!  Got a giant coffee and took out a sightseeing map highlighting unique things to do.  A gondola ride up a mountain caught my interest so decided I’d take the change, hop on the train and head on out there.  I was proud of myself for making the decision to do something and going for it even though it meant traveling away from the city.  The train system was super easy to use and super cheap too.  The train tickets and gondola ride cost me less than $5.00!!  Sweet deal. 
The view was amazing, I got a gondola all to myself and just took it all in, the mountain was so lush and green, I kept my eyes peeled for monkeys or other fun creatures but saw nothing.   It was peaceful in there and I was enjoying it.   I got to the top, there was supposed to be some temple where you can get tea, thought that would be a fun experience.  I wasn’t quite sure where it was though; I saw some steps leading up the mountain so figured that was a good place to start.  How could I resist outdoor stairs?!?  I started up them, reached a small stopping point and kept going.  I kept telling myself that I should turn around, that this wasn’t the best idea since I had a race in a couple of days and I’d have to get down these steps but I was super curious what was at the top and what the view was like so I kept on going.  Finally, I reached a point and forced myself to turn around, I knew I had already climbed way too high and would be paying for this.  I turned around and instantly knew it was a bad idea, I shouldn’t of done this, my calves are gonna be trashed by the time I’m done meandering down this thing.   It was really warm and humid too.  I saw a stray cat, stopped to say hi and snap a picture then I ran away, he seemed friendly enough but the last thing I needed was a cat sinking his claws or teeth into my leg!
I hopped on the gondola going back down, grabbed the next train and was headed back to the city.  I went back towards the 101 and decided to see what it was all about.  There was a mall attached to it and a food court, fantastic!  Somewhere for me to grab some chow there was also a grocery store so I could stock up on bananas.   I didn’t know what would happen with my raw diet during this trip, part of me wanted to be adventurous and try some of the local veggie cuisine but wasn’t sure how my stomach would react since I hadn’t had rice or cooked veggies in over a month.  So I tried to steer clear of it before the race, I did end up getting sushi one night and it was pretty good.   For the most part, I stuck to being raw.  Grabbed some fruit for breakfast/lunch, ate my snacks, and had some fresh squeezed fruit/veggie juice. 
That night, I could feel my calves tightening up and getting sore, oh no, what have I done?!?  I woke up the next morning (the day before the race) and they were definitely feeling it, I was getting worried.  It’s hard when you’re traveling to an exotic destination for a race because you wanna do neat things but at the same time don’t wanna mess up your race by doing too much sightseeing.   I was kinda disappointed in myself and just hoped that my calves would feel a bit better as the day progressed.  I took it easy that day, went for a short run in the morning, then walked around a little bit.  Spent some time lounging in my hotel room, listening to music, doing some work all while wearing my calf sleeves and hoping they’d provide the recovery I needed.  I was just trying to rest up for the big tower.  I tried to stay positive and tell myself that my legs would be fine, they’d bounce back and I’d be scaling up 91 floors with ease. 
Earlier that day, I went in search of coffee again.  I went straight to 101 because theres a starbucks in there but of course it didn’t open until 10:00, ugh.  I found another coffee shop near my hotel and ordered some Brazilian coffee.  I wanted to add a smidge of cinnamon or something to it, I saw a few little bottles of salt, pepper and one that looked like cinnamon, of course it wasn’t labeled. I tried to smell it but couldn’t really tell what it was, I dumped a bunch into my cup and swirled it around.  Then I thought, hmm maybe I should taste this.  I sprinkled it on my lid and took a taste, oh my gosh, it was spicy!!  Who knows what it was but it was floating throughout my coffee!!  I took a drink, my lips/mouth were on fire.  Oh great.  I kept on sipping on it, it would taste alright then the heat would kick in a second later.  I think I drank about half the cup before giving up and tossing it down the drain.  How disappointing, haha. 
The highlight of that day was meeting up with Melissa Moon that afternoon.  She offered to take me over to the tower, show me the starting area and give me a glimpse of the stairwell.  I thought this was incredibly nice of her, when I originally sent her an email asking for advice, I didn’t know if she would even respond, thought she might consider me a threat.  But she offered up plenty of information and told me we could meet up.  She was quite pleasant to chat with and I was grateful for the opportunity to talk with her.  She’s an incredible athlete, a world champion mountain runner, road runner, tower runner.   She’s won the Empire State Building Run-Up twice and the Taipei 101 Run-Up as well so I knew she was a fierce competitor.  Another phenomenal athlete and rival was Valentina Belotti, also a world champion mountain runner and winner of the 2011 Vertical World Circuit and Taipei 101 Run-Up.  Both of these girls have beat me in races this year so I knew this tower could be anyone’s, would just depend on who had the best day.  I didn’t count myself out though.  I wanted to prove that I belonged there; I wanted people to know who I am and recognize that I’m a force to be reckoned with in the stairwell.  On the international scale, I’m not as well known but here in the US, I can hold my own and I’m a beast in the mid-distance and taller skyscrapers.  I believed in myself and what I was capable of, just needed to go out and do what I do!  Take chances, don’t ease up.   It was only 91 floors and 2,046 steps, that’s nothing…
Inner Beast Trying to Escape
The morning of the race, I was “awoken” by an earthquake, shaking and rattling my hotel.  I laid there in bed thinking oh man, what do I do?!?  Do I scramble into a doorway or cower under the desk next to my bed; I got up to peak out the window.  Saw some people darting across the street, kinda freaked me out until I realized they were just trying to get across the street, haha.  I glanced at the tower to make sure it was still there, yup, sturdy as can be!  Before I had another chance to think about where to hide, the quake was over with.  Guess it was a 6.0 and deterred some climbers from taking on the challenge.  The thought didn’t even phase my mind, I was climbing no matter what!  Some of my “step-siblings” joked that this quake was caused by my inner beast :) makes sense to me!
I went down the street to get some coffee, 7-11 this time.  Classy and high-end.  I walked over to the Hyatt to meet Melissa and a few other climbers.  We then headed to the race together.  There was plenty going on, a giant screen playing some promo-movie thing and lots of people wandering around the starting area, stretching, etc.  I was slated as bib #14 and they were sending folks off every 30 seconds or so. 
I put my gear on and went for a short warm-up; just standing around you could feel the heat and humidity.  They lined us up around 7:45 and we bounced around in line, I was starting behind a few guys (one was an Australian (Mark Bourne) who ended up winning the race!).  Behind me were a few other guys who inevitably passed me and one was from Kenya, dang.    I wasn’t stoked about the timing chip for this race, the chip was connected to a wristband and you had to hit it against a box.  What in the world?!?  My time was coming up, I fumbled hitting my wrist against the starting block and starting my watch then it was a short zig-zag into the stairwell.  I took off running, the stairwell wasn’t right inside the doorway either, had to weave a little bit then finally I was going vertical.  I eased into a comfortable pace, the stairs were normal for the first 10 or so floors so I just got into a rhythm.  The right turns felt solid and smooth, no awkwardness there.  The floor numbers were a bit funky though, seemed like those first few had more flights than they should but that could just be the adrenaline doing crazy things to my brain.   They also had little arrows pointing which floor number was up and which was down so that caught me off guard, took me a split second to realize what the actual floor number was. 

When I hit the monster steps, I knew it!  They were exponentially larger than the ones we started climbing; these steps were taller than any I’d ever encountered.  I thought the steps in my training building were of decent size especially the last 2 floors where they get taller and steeper, and sears is known for having some giant steps but those paled in comparison to the steps in the 101 tower.   I wanted to keep on pace, just kept focusing on my technique, using the rail and I could really tell that I was using it efficiently and grabbing the spots that worked best for me.  I usually tend to find unique spots to grab the rail, ones that work best based on my size.  This rail had a lower component to it and a vertical bar that I used as a boost and to my advange.  Another funky thing was that there was a step on the landing that you had to take into account.  I think at times, this allowed me to switch up my legs and let the other one take the brunt of the work/pain for a while. 
I reached floor 45 or about halfway, checked my watch was like 6:56.  Ok, not sure if I’m ahead or behind or what that really means but I knew I wanted to be 6:45-7:00 so guess I was in that time-frame.  I kept on climbing and yanking the rail.  I’d push on my leg for force every now and again but then told myself to get back on the rail; it’s what would save my race. 
Can’t remember when the first guy passed me, he caught up to me somewhat quickly.  I didn’t wanna lose energy and step aside but didn’t wanna be a jerk either, just when I was about to ask if he wanted to get by he asked me if he could sneak through. I stepped to the outside and took a few steps, wow was that rough!  I only took a few steps without that rail, it wasn’t pleasant. I quickly moved back to inside.  After a while, I came across Sandra Nunez, another known top female in the sport.  She let me slide by on the inside.  Before I knew it, the Kenyan was passing me on the outside, just trotting along.  Didn’t seem like he had a care in the world, good for him!  I kept hugging the rail, it was my savior! 
Floor 70 was the first designated go floor.  I tried but the steps were just too big, my legs couldn’t handle bounding at a quicker pace.  They were immediately slowed down.  Darn, I really wish I woulda bulked up these chicken arms; I needed them to drag me up that rail.  They were doing all they could but I needed more.  I tried to bound and once again the giant monster steps squashed that idea.  I was breathing incredibly heavy the entire time and it was getting exponentially hotter in there.  My hands were slipping on the rail occasionally and I could feel the heat. 
I got to floor 80; this is the final go floor.  So I pursued the idea again, I just couldn’t hold on to it.  I couldn’t tell whether mentally I was failing or the steps were just too big for my tiny legs.  5 floors left, come on do something, please.  There’s a lot riding on this race, I tried desperately to pick up the pace and I think I mustered a little bit of a quicker finish.  I reached the top, could hear the beeping of the chips and I knew I was almost there.  I ran over, legs wobbly, flailing my wrist around trying to hit the stopper.  I think I lost a few seconds with that stupid wrist chip, geesh.  I stumbled a few steps and went down; they immediately got me out of the way. I sat on some steps, my legs didn’t feel as wretched as they should’ve but my heart rate was through the roof and I couldn’t catch my breath. 
Watch read – 14:34, it was probably a couple of seconds off from all the flailing around.  I knew I tried my best for that given day; I didn’t really have an opinion on my time at that very moment.  I knew it was hard, I knew that the steps were large and they got to me.  That race was brutal but I loved the torture of it.  I asked around about times, Melissa finished 8 seconds ahead of me and told me that was a fantastic time, she seemed really impressed so that made me feel better.  Belotti crushed us by like a minute though, not sure where that came from, wow good for her.  I’m a wee bit jealous, haha. 
I was stoked about this race and finishing 3rd.  I love it and can’t wait to go back next year, I want revenge.  I wanna train on steeper steps; I wanna bulk up my arms and have them drag me up when my legs wanna give out.  This was by far my favorite international adventure and race so far; I hope I have the opportunity to return next year.  I wanna be faster.   The funny thing about the awards ceremony is that I was announced as Frey, Kristin.  I kinda thought maybe they'd mess up everyones first and last night but nope, it was just me.  Kinda made me chuckle, my award certificate says that too, haha :)
After the race, they gave us our prize money individually.  Just handed over a wad of cash, wow that’s kinda cool.  I shoved it in my purse and was on my way.

Vertical Obsession
After the race I hurried back to the hotel to shower and check out, then was gonna wander around to see what I could find.  Went back to the tower (of course) and got a mixed veggie juice drink (delicious!), while walking I saw a sign for a hiking trail so of course it caught my eye.   I followed the signs and ended up in a neat park, then kept on going.  I saw all these Taiwanese folks coming down this hill, they all had walking sticks or umbrellas, were dressed for walking/hiking, carrying backpacks and water.  I thought oh geez, what am I getting into?!?  Here I was the little American girl wearing street clothes, barefoot running shoes and carrying a purse, haha.   I finally got to the trail and it was all steps!!  I think I have a total obsession with going vertical because my eyes lit up and I started upward.  They kept going up and up, this time I didn’t need to turn around.  It didn’t matter how far I went or how high, I didn’t care if my calves took a beating on the way down.   I stopped at a few overlooks to enjoy the view, it was incredible!  I kept on going up, I finally asked someone if I should turn around or if the path was a loop, fortunately it was a loop so I could just keep on going.  And luckily, I took the hard long way up!!  At one point there was this rock crevice thing that I had to walk through, kinda eerie and I was excited about it.  I just had a smile on my face during this whole hike, it was so nice being out there doing my own thing and enjoying the experience.  These outdoor steps up and around this mountain just totally made the day even better.  I meandered my way down and headed back to the heart of the city. 
I wasn’t sure what to do then, it was only mid-late afternoon and I wasn’t leaving for the airport until 8 pm so had plenty of time to kill.  I kept on walking, went a different way to see what was down another street.   Came across an outdoor/indoor mall type area that was awesome!  Plenty of food and shops, too bad I didn’t find this that first day, haha.  I came across an Illy’s coffee shop which is famous in Europe so I was pumped about that, went in and got a fancy iced coffee although it looked more like a chocolate martini then chocolate espresso, ha.  A majority of the stores in the Taipei 101 mall and this mall were very high-end, rare that I would even step into any of them like Marc Jacobs, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Dior; the list goes on and on.  I did pop into a Marc Jacobs store to take a gander at a pair of shoes that had a cat face on them, forgot to check the price tag though. 
I walked around outside enjoying the atmosphere, I was getting exhausted though.  There was no place to go, I had checked out of my hotel and all I wanted to do was lay down in a bed.  I sat on a few park benches trying to kill time but it just wasn’t that comfortable.  My legs were feeling the aftereffects of climbing 91 floors then hiking up some mountain steps, I just wanted to curl up and take a nap but I couldn’t.   I wandered some more until it was finally time to head to the airport. 
Heading Back in Time
The flight home from Taipei wasn’t all that bad, there was no one in the middle seat so that gave me some extra room to sprawl out and I could just squeeze by the girl in the aisle seat when I wanted to get up and stretch or walk around so that was convenient.  We landed in LA and had to be bused to the international terminal.  Then had to wait in the customs line, the customs guy asked what I was doing in Taipei so I told him about the race and he asked me why I would climb and if someone was chasing me.  ha.  Nope, I just like doing this for fun!  I waited for my luggage which seemed to be one of the last bags unloaded then had to go through another security guy.  He asked what was in the box I had, I told him it was an award from climbing the Taipei 101 tower.  He then wanted to know whether it was because I did extremely well or if it was for insanity, I told him it was both :)
After that, I walked over to the normal terminal and had to go through security again!  The guy scanned my boarding pass, called another guy over and started spewing out a bunch of acronyms. I had no idea what was going on, he said here come with me through here.  They took me into the security area, said that they needed to check all my bags and that I was gonna have a full pat down.  I walked through the xray machine and a woman was like come over here, I need to pat you down.  I was like whoa, wait what is going on?!?  Why?!?  I told her I wasn’t trying to cause trouble and would cooperate but wanted to know what was going on.  They told me that I had been randomly selected by the airlines for a full search, random, I doubt that.  They probably flagged my passport with all my international travel in the past 6 months; doubt they would buy my excuse that I’m an internationally ranked stair climber, ha.  Anyways, they rummaged through all my stuff, obviously found nothing.  I shoved it all back in and of course things in your suitcase never wanna fit the way you had them.   I walked away and thought to myself, good thing they didn’t find my envelope filled with my prize money and loads of $100 bills then I would’ve had some explaining to do. 
The flight back from LA was horrible, it was the red-eye.  I was stuck in a middle seat; I couldn’t sleep and was just antsy to get home.  Time ticked by.   Finally arrived back at like 5:30 Monday morning and went straight to work.  I didn’t wanna sleep because I wanted to sleep at night and get back on schedule.  I wasn’t feeling all that well, felt kinda lightheaded and dizzy or like I had been laying on a raft in the middle of the ocean for days.  Had that loopy motion feeling.   2:00 came around and I was utterly exhausted, I left for the day and went to lounge on my parent’s couch for a while.  Tuesday came around, I was still really tired but at least it was just that I’m super tired feeling instead of feeling exhausted and sick.  I’m still trying to catch up on sleep and it gets better each day. 
This trip was so incredible and I learned a lot about myself.  I took a chance and it paid off, I traveled alone, did what I want and loved it.  I loved the race; it was a great event even though it kicked my butt!  I wanna go back and I wanna do it all over again.  There’s other things I wanna see and do. 
I don’t have any stair races on the horizon, my next one is in Milan, Italy on September 23rd so it’s time to get back into base-building mode and maybe spend more time out on the roads with the running crew.  Should probably take my bike out too.  I’ll still be hitting the stairwell once a week though so don’t worry about that, my stair training is not gonna slip.  I’m gonna go vertical when I can and come back stronger and faster and in the fall! 


  1. Awesome coverage, thanks for writing it all up! I think it's time to start thinking about a book Kristin! Making ebooks at Amazon is not difficult. It's how I make about 50% of my income. You can write pretty well - I think you could do one after you have a lot of experiences to write about. Ok then - see you next year in Taipei. Cheers! Vern

    1. thank you so much Vern! i really appreciate it. ive actually considered making my blog into a book so its great to hear someone else say that. i will have to look into using amazon. i dont really care if i make a lot of money, i would just like it as a keepsake :) hope to see you in taipei as well! or perhaps a race here in chicago