Wednesday, November 7, 2012


**SKYRISE CHICAGO - Sears Tower - 14:57
1st place female - 5th place overall - tied course record**

Let’s step back a bit
I was traveling most of September, over Labor Day I was in Vienna for the Millennium Tower Run-Up, I came home for about a week then was off to Italy for 10 days with my parents.  My race in Milan was cancelled so it became just a vacation, I wasn’t really sure what that meant, haha.  I’m used to traveling for a specific purpose and most of my trips were quite short.  Go there, get it done and head home.  I actually welcomed the change of pace; it was nice not having to think about a race at all, I could do whatever I wanted.  I took this as a period of time to recharge myself, get in some easy workouts before smashing myself training for Sears.  My dad and I did a bunch of running and I also got him to do a stair workout on the Spanish steps with me.  Talk about a different and neat experience :)
While in Europe, my rawness kinda dissipated.  I fell back into the trap of bread.  It had a hold of me, one that I wasn’t proud of.  I couldn’t escape its grasp!  I was eating chocolate croissants and things I wouldn’t normally touch but I was in the mood to indulge.  I could tell my body wasn’t really a fan of this though, I felt sluggish, slow and just blah.  I came back and my stair workouts suffered as well, I wasn’t hitting my usual times so I knew it was time to say good-bye to bread again.  It just doesn’t work with my body and/or training and I can’t control myself around it.  Give me a loaf of grainy nutty fresh bread and I’d most likely devour it in 2 days.   I kicked the habit and instantly felt leaner and my times drastically decreased again!  Yes, I was back!!!
Step it up
Once I got back, I had a little over a month to kill my training before my big race of the fall.  I knew that I had to be spot on with my training; I had to increase the incline, hit more of it and had to be vertically focused.  I switched things up a bit, I continued to put time in on the rower to give me some arm strength and hit my secret training machine to provide another 1-2 vertical arm punch.  I cranked the treadmill and ran easy mountain runs, conquered cobra intervals and was hitting the stairs 2-3 times a week.  I started doing sprints and running in the stairwell once or twice a week and was hitting the bigger Z steps on the weekend, trying to line up solid 5 climb averages.  3 weeks in a row, I hit my best averages and I felt awesome doing it.  My mental attitude was sky-high and my training was all there.  I was having high hopes for sears.  I can see the skyline from my office so I “staired” at that tower every day and just became fixated with it but prevented myself from obsessing over the race.   I wanted to add this tower to my collection of towers I’ve dominated in the Chicago skyline.  I wanted to look up at that beast and know that I finally slayed the fire breathing dragon and owned him.  I didn’t want him to break my heart again or chew me up and spit me out like he’s done in previous years.  It’s funny because when I think back about last year, I have a distaste in my mouth and feel unpleased with my climb yet when I look back in my log its nothing but positive.  I saw how thrilled I was with my time; hit my goal time and this or that.  Strange how your opinion changes, like when you’re giving it your all during a race and you’re telling yourself that you’re pushing it to the limits but you finish and 5 minutes later think you could’ve pushed a smidge harder.  At least I tend to wonder that…
 Driving in and looking up
I really hadn’t been thinking about the specifics of this race, I wanted to do well but I didn’t wanna pressure myself because I think I’m a stronger athlete when I’m positive and don’t get bogged down with the details.  But I usually start second guessing just about everything when it comes down to it.  Was my training enough, am I really capable of the goal times I have in mind.  Sears usually runs about 4 minutes slower/longer than Hancock or Aon so based on those times, the thought of a sub 15 climb lingered on my mind yet I was hesitant to say it out loud or actually tell anyone.  I had a goal of sub 15:30, under 15:15 would be superb and seeing a 14 in the first 2 digits would just be stellar.  Besides Cindy Harris, no female had gone under 15 at Sears, which was a lot to take in. 
I figured out my splits for floor 25, halfway at 52 and floor 75.  Once we got to the higher floors, the configuration of the building would switch, for the first 65 floors we turned right on steep steps then we’d spin off down a little hallway take on a giant massive flight of steps then start turning left.  It also got real funky towards the top because there would be 3 flights per floor so additional turning and that slows ya down so I had to take that into consideration.  The splits couldn’t be equal all the way up; there would be some time differences.  I set my goal time for 15:05 and set the splits accordingly to 3:20 for 25 floors, 7:10 at halfway and 10:25 at 75.  Then I’d only have like 4:30ish left and would need to start giving it my all or pushing to another gear somewhere in the last 25 floors. 
I decided to sleep in my own bed the night before the climb, would save me cash then I could get my coffee on while driving in.  I wasn’t all that nervous until I was driving and could see the tower looming in the distance.  It looked so tall and like it would swallow me whole in the blink of an eye.  My heart started racing and the caffeine didn’t help.  My hands were getting clammy.  I got there and just didn’t know what to do with myself.  I ran through my splits in my head, chatted with my step-siblings.  Blasted some Kelly Clarkson – stronger through my headphones and just visualized my race trying to let nothing get to me.  I’d been training with music the past few weeks and I found it to be motivational but didn’t trust myself to use it during a race, figured it’d make me go training pace which would be way too fast for sears and I’d blow it so I was stuck listening to the sound of my extreme breathing. 
I wanted one last bathroom break before heading to the starting line and saw my step-brothers walking up the escalator.  I wasn’t paying attention and of course they were walking up the down escalator as a warm-up.  As soon as I stepped on I knew I was in trouble, I wasn’t really a fan of this experience.  I didn’t like the movement and I just felt unsteady, anyways I continued upward in a downward fashion.  I reached the top and stepped on the flat moving part like I would on a normal up escalator except this was moving backwards, the steps slipped out from under me.  My hands planted into the top and my knee slammed into the step.  Dang!  That’s no good, I got up, I had escalator marks on my leg, and my knee was throbbing and instantly swelled up.    My knee looked like a fericious feline had scratched me, I joked that I now had the blood of a lion in me.  I attempted to jog around, not a pleasant feeling and my hands were feeling it too, how would they feel yanking the rail for 100 floors?!?  Great, 10 minutes before taking on the tallest tower, I do something stupid.  I jogged around some more and tried to loosen it up, it wasn’t feeling any better. 
We got to the starting line and the nerves started to really hit.  It felt surreal that this race was finally here; of course we all stood around trying to decide who should start where.  Cindy insisted that I go in front of her so I started behind the Stair Climb Lunatic; we were shooting for similar times.  Some other random guys decided to weasel their way in front of us as well, great, now I’m gonna have to lose time trying to get around them.
Climbing higher and higher
I watched Dinkin disappear into the stairwell and patiently waited for the next several seconds until I was given the go ahead.  I ran in there and started to do my thing. I kept telling myself to stay relaxed, there’s no need to blow the race in the first 25 floors.  Last year I was 20 seconds faster than I was supposed to be (I believe I actually hit a 3:05 which was quicker than my goal pace this year!), I didn’t want the same thing to happen this time.  My goal was aggressive so needed to stay on target.  It’s hard to see the floors in this tower, there are several signs with numbers on them and it’s kinda off to the side.  I quickly came upon a few guys who started off in front of me, great now I gotta get around them just like I predicted before the start.  One guy actually muttered something beneath his breath (probably something related to being scared since he was about to get chicked!) and picked up the pace, started running.  Seriously?!?  You’re gonna play this game and try to stay in front of me?  This frustrated me instantly.  I got behind one of the guys and politely asked him to move aside which he did.  Came up on another one, was right behind him for a flight or two, literally one step behind him.  He wouldn’t budge, finally I was like umm, excuse me and he stepped outta the way.  Passed the “runner guy” too.  Ok, now that we crossed that hurdle, I can get back into my routine. 
I saw one final guy in the distance, it was SCL.  He looked down and saw me, shouted some words of encouragement.  I turned the corner on a landing and he swung wide, using the outside rail.  Graciously letting me by, he yelled something along the lines of “go, spider, go!” and gave me a boost of encouragement, motivation and then I was gone! He later said that he felt a gust of wind as I blew by, haha.  My response was that I doubt I’m capable of producing any gusts but perhaps more of a slight breeze. 
Got to the 25 floor mark and glanced at my watch, 3:10.  A bit fast but not as extreme as last year, 9 seconds in the bank.  Continued with the rhythm, tried not to look at the floors.  Didn’t wanna play mind games with myself.  Didn’t need to be fixated on every passing floor!  I was still feeling strong and relaxed.  Just one hand over the other, grabbing that rail and stepping up 2 steps at a time. 
Finally, I reached the halfway point, floor 52 – 7:00; I was still about 10 seconds ahead of pace.  I was starting to feel it now; the next 25ish floors were drastically harder.  I found myself repeating this phrase to myself “I hate this right now, I hate this right now”, the little demons started to take over.  Then I would quickly tell myself not to think that and I’d go back to something positive or just not thinking at all.  I looked at the signs on the wall, you’ve now climbed the height of the Eiffel tower or the Space Needle or you can see 3 states from the Skydeck.  I’m probably one of the only top climbers who sees those things.  Floor 66 spits ya out down a little hallway and forces ya up this massive long steep flight, its kinda never-ending.  Then it evens out again.  I tasted that blood-iron taste in my mouth and my breathing was rapid fire and so was my heart rate.
Approached 75 and checked the watch – 10:25.  Oh, now I was dead on my goal pace.  That means I lost the 10 seconds I had in the 1st half.  I was still encouraged being on pace, could be worse and I could be behind.  I knew I had about 4:30ish left to go so really had to give it my all.  4:30 isnt that long but when your legs are already feeling like iron dead weights, your arms wanna fall off and your lungs are filled with fire covered daggers, 4:30 can be an excruciatingly long period of time.  I started to dig deep and found myself repeating that same phrase “I hate this right now”.  My mind quickly retreated back to the positive demon on my other shoulder, he would give better advice.  The flights start to change towards the top, they get smaller/shorter and theres 3 per floor instead of 2.  This was gonna slow me down regardless of how I felt and I felt like I was creeping along!!  I really tried to pick up the pace the last 5, 10, 20 floors and it was like I had nothing.  My legs couldn’t go any faster; I was stutter-stepping on the landings and was pushing off my knee instead of relying on the rail.  In a last ditch effort, I attempted to veer down the middle of the stairwell and use both rails but realized that’s not my style and went back to the inner lane and my beloved inner rail.  I was starting to see spots and I knew I didn’t have much time.  I looked at my watch at one point and still had a couple of minutes left, I had no idea what pace I was going or what my finishing time was gonna be but I suspected it was slower than my goal.  I couldn’t hear Cindy or anyone else so figured I was in the clear as far as anyone passing me and I just hung on for dear life.  I tried to bound and give it that extra effort but I just couldn’t will my body to do anything.  Maybe the extra turns make the end feel more dramatic and worse than it actually is but wow it wasn’t pretty.  Some volunteer asked if I was ok or if I needed help, geesh, I must really look bad or sound like a dying wild animal. 
Floor 100, oh my gosh really only 3 floors left.  Were at the end and I really tried to pick it up. 102, one floor left come on do something.  I could hear the cheers from the top and volunteers saying 1 floor left.  I tried to kinda “run” that last flight.  I flung myself across the mat and down onto the carpet.  I laid there motionless for a while, trying to catch my breath.  My entire body felt limp and I looked at my watch – 14:56.  Oh my gosh!!  Excitement rushed through my head but at the same time I couldn’t even process it.  I had no idea how I made up that extra time, I thought I was gonna be like 15:15 or something, the last several floors made me lose hope of sub 15.  I finally got up and attempted to crawl across the floor, my knee was throbbing.  When I made it over to a few of my step-brothers I just laid there in heap.   All I could do was show them my watch.  I felt really sick and just not good; I tried to walk around a bit.  My throat still felt like it was lined with daggers, I had this pounding headache and my knee locked up.  Luckily I didn’t notice my knee at all during the climb and my hands were totally fine too.  I was yawning uncontrollably as well, not like a small weak yawn but like the yawn of a lion. 
We took a bunch of pictures and waited around for everyone to finish.  My step-siblings did a tremendous job, a bunch of them climbed their fastest times and others were ecstatic with climbing this beast for the first time.  I was eager for my dad to finish, this was his first time doing sears and I couldn’t wait to see him.  He finally popped out of the stairwell and a huge smile came across my face and I gave him a giant wave!!  He had been sick the past few days so he didn’t his his goal time but  I was proud of him regardless, he took on the challenge and didn’t give up.  It was great having him there and introducing him to my step-siblings.
I was so thrilled about my time and knew that I had possibly passed or tied the course record which was incredible.  I just couldn’t believe that I won this race and could add the sears tower to my collection of Chicago skyscrapers.  That was my goal and I did it.  And I placed 5th overall, only 4 guys beat me!! 
This race really took a lot out of me; I was mentally and physically exhausted on Monday!!  My nervous system was fried, my knee was still throbbing and my forearms, abs and back were all sore but my legs felt fine, haha.  I decided to take a rest day.  Tuesday was a little better but was still not feeling up to doing anything so took it easy again.  No reason to force myself into training, I deserve a few easy rest days before I start cranking out training at warp speed again.   It seems like this 15:00 race oobliterates me more than a marathon!  But maybe I wasn’t running them fast enough, who knows.  But dang, that tower packed a punch!  At least now I can say that I own the beast! 
It’s so crazy that this race is over; the whole thing went by so quickly! I really can’t even believe everything I’ve done this year and everywhere I’ve gone.  Its kinda surreal.   Now it’s time to start focusing on the other Chicago towers and crushing them in 2013.  First I have to take on a new challenge, the XTERRA 21k trail world championships in Oahu, Hawaii.  I’ve never done a race like this so I have no expectations but maybe my climbing legs will do some work and produce some impressive results.  Then it’s the smaller 58 floor CF climb at 300 N. LaSalle, I just love this building and it’s a fun no pressure kinda race.  But the main focus is on Aon, Empire and Hancock.  Those are my 3 jewels for the winter climbing season; PT is in the mix too but kind of an afterthought.  Stratosphere is a possibility and so is the Big Climb in Seattle along with Aon LA, which is another favorite of mine.  Not sure what other major races I’ll do next year, would like to hit more on the international circuit.  Taipei 101 is one that I would like to return to, there’s no doubt about that!  I'm really looking forward to this upcoming stair season, I cant wait to see all my step-siblings on a regular basis!!  So lucky to have such a great family, were all insane and i love it!
Plenty of time to get back into the groove and crank out the training.   Perhaps I’ll switch it up for a bit although whatever I’m doing seems to be working so might just stick with that but I think I’ll tweak a few minor things. 


  1. Excellent blog. Very enjoyable read. Thanks for the mention.

    I'm bummed I didn't meet your father. I also didn't know his name was Jeff, so he's clearly got to be awesome! ;)

  2. i wish i couldve introduced him to more people, he only met a few! his name is steve though, did i call him jeff somewhere? haha. actually if youre looking in the results, i think there are several freys, i dont know any of them besides my dad...

    1. Oh, my mistake. I saw a 61 year old Jeff Frey in the results and thought it was your Dad.

  3. I love how you take your readers up the stairwell with you. Thanks for bringing your climb to life here on the page. I love following your experience. What a competitor you are! Agressive, dedicated and proud of your results, you'll take those Chicago towers again I'm sure.

  4. thanks so much!! i think we both have a knack for writing :) excited for the next one!