Monday, February 11, 2013

Triple Dose of Climbing - Aon, Empire & Oakbrook

Step Up for Kids – Aon Center, Chicago

Leading up to Aon, I was feeling kinda burnt out physically and mentally.  I was struggling to get back into my normal stair training routine on top of that, I’d been putting in extra hours at work so was missing workouts, my weight wasn’t where I wanted it to be and my average times in the stairwell were about 10-20 seconds lower than where they should be.  I was digging the endurance climbs, felt good during those but was suffering more than I should be on the speedy faster climbs.  I wasn’t feeling super confident about the upcoming climbing season and I had plenty of races planned.  Last year, I won and set the course record at Step Up for Kids (Aon Center) with a time of 10:49.  This year, I thought I’d be lucky to go under 11 and thought I’d probably end up with a time closer to 11:15. 

Mentally, I wasn’t really prepared for this race.  I was discouraged with my workouts, although I actually hit a few decent times the week before which gave me a little bit of hope.  The day before the race, I hit the stairwell and did 7 x 21 floors at a relaxed pace.  Aon would be a good workout, if nothing else.   Brady helped me figure out my splits, I think we set my goal time as 11:00 even though it seemed a bit ambitious.  I wasn’t thinking too much about this race, I just wanted to climb and have fun but I still got nervous as we were lining up.  I wasn’t supposed to care so why was my heart racing?!?

I started after the fastest guys and just started doing my thing.  Was checking my watch every 20 floors so 21, 41, 61 and then the last set would only have 19 floors since we finished on 80.  I wanted to hit 2:45 at floor 20 and I was dead on.  I think at the start, I was looking at the floor numbers every floor since they have giant numbers posted; it’s hard to miss them.  I thought to myself, this is torture, quit looking at those things!  At this point, I still felt ok.  41 (close to halfway) was 5:33 so a smidge slower than my goal time of 5:30 but still nothing to really worry about.  I kept on climbing.  At this point, I wasn’t feeling it mentally.  Negative thoughts flooded my mind, I thought about how much this sucked.  Asked myself why I was doing this.  I thought about just stopping and quitting even though I didn’t really have that in me.  The inner demons were attacking me and I wasn’t really doing much to fend them off, I just kept on climbing. 

I reached 61 at 8:15 which meant, I was back to being about dead-on my goal pace.  Not quite sure how that happened, guess I subconsciously perked myself up and picked up the pace without realizing it.  The negative thoughts still erupted inside my head, at least at this point I knew I had 3:00 or less to go; the suffering would be almost over.  I wanted to really give it my all with 15 floors to go but we know that’s not always the case.  That’s when mind games are played, I know I need to pick it up but can I do it?  It seems like I’m stepping faster or grabbing the rail more but is it just an illusion?  it’s incredibly hard to tell whether you putting forth the same effort and it just feels harder or if you’re actually pushing yourself harder, giving yourself a chance to reach the edge and possibly topple over it.  With only 5 floors to go, I put in a little extra effort but I still doubted myself and thought I’d be lucky to hit 11:15.  I felt like I was slowing down and there was nothing I could do about it, at that point, I didn’t feel mentally strong enough or capable of pushing myself over the edge.  I didn’t wanna reach that level, not today.  It wasn’t in the cards, with like 1 floor to go, I gave a semi-burst and saw the mat.  I just kinda casually walked across it without much urgency, usually I’m putting more pep in my step or falling down right on the darn thing or at least immediately after it.  I walked a few steps and then just sat down.  Kinda laid on my back and looked at my watch, 10:48!!  That must be some kinda mistake!!  I hit the same time as last year?!?  I didn’t even think that would be possible, I thought for sure I was going over 11:00 and with the way I felt mentally in there, I didn’t think I had any chance of pulling off a time like that.  I kinda laid there in shock and waited for Brady to finish.  My throat was on fire big time and my lungs were burning, the raspy cough and yawning started immediately. 

I’m really not sure how I pulled off trying my time from last year and tying my own course record (10:49 in the official results).  Just completely surprised.  I’d have to say this was one of my worst races mentally, I’m not sure a shred of positivity existed at any point during that climb.  the fact that I really just wanted to sit down on the landing or walk off wasn’t a good thing, wasn’t where I needed or wanted to be mentally in order to excel at the sport I’ve grown addicted to.  I just wonder, what would’ve happened if I came in a bit more rested or with a positive attitude, perhaps I could’ve shaved a few seconds off my time and broke my own record?  Guess we’ll never know.  Plus side, we went to breakfast.  The originally planned pancake eating contest was put on hold due to weight loss goals of the contestants so normal amounts of food were consumed (well kinda). Of course, I had oatmeal, my vegan breakfast staple.

Aon gave me encouragement for empire.  the fact that I could hit the same time as last year without being at race weight, without faster times during my workouts and without a strong mental attitude was beyond comprehension.  I think all the endurance climbs came in handy for this taller tower, I think the endurance training helped but I’m lacking bursty sprinty speed for the normal 21 floor workouts.  that’s gotta be it, I was still putting the time in the stairwell even though I was only in there once a week and wasn’t doing any sprints.  I was also still doing my mountain runs even though they were sparser than I’d like them to be.  This race made me think that I could do better at empire that I could be faster than last year, that I could go under 13:00.  Now all I had to do was keep telling myself that mentally and stay strong. 


I tend to tell myself that empire will be a target race for me; it attracts some of the top international climbers so it lets me climb against the best.  Something always seems to come up and distracts me, last year I decided to do the Vertical World Circuit Championship race in Brazil.  It was a shorter tower so I did more speedy bursty shorter intervals to get ready for that instead of keeping my focus on empire.  This year, I was burnt out and just not into my training and thought I’d be slower.  I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do the race, seemed like most people were complaining about the lottery system and starting waves.  I didn’t know if anyone would be there and thought maybe it’d be a way to save time and money.  Brady was accepted to the lottery (and then later granted entry into the men’s invitational heat).
After Aon, I thought I actually had a chance at cranking out a good climb.  The thoughts of sub 13:00 lingered in my mind, usually it seems that other top climbers are about 2 minutes slower at empire than at Aon/Hancock and about 2 minutes faster than their time at sears so it’s about right in the middle.  Based on my 10:49 at Aon and 14:57 at sears, I should be able to go under 13:00.  I thought I was possibly capable of this last year but I started off too fast trying to hang with some of the faster female climbers and faded in the back half.  This year, I wanted to start off a bit more conservative and then pick it up as the climb progressed, as we climbed higher and higher.  I knew, I’d have to let those girls do their own thing.  I needed to focus on my race and just stay calm and cool without getting discouraged about them darting off once the race started.  A few days before the race, Brady got his hands on the starting wave.  There were 9 girls in my heat including Suzy Walsham, Erika Aklufi and Cindy Harris.  I figured those would be my main competitors, this might finally be my year to crack the top 3.  There were a few other names I didn’t recognize, googled them and found recent races or past empire climbs.  One girl from Australia, Brooke Logan, was a mystery though.  I couldn’t find any info on her but being from Australia like Moon, McNamara and Walsham, I thought she might be a hidden threat. 

The race is on a Wednesday night at 8 pm so Brady and I left on Tuesday afternoon.  We walked around a bit that night and did a little exploring during the day on Wednesday, went for a short run on the treadmill to loosen up our legs, get the blood flowing.   I wasn’t a fan of the night start; it gave me all day to think about the race.  I started to get really anxious as the day progressed and we got closer to the start time.  We went for coffee and the caffeine didn’t help any, just increased my nerves.   We got there around 7:00; the place is a media frenzy which doesn’t help any either.  We loitered around for a bit, talking to people and taking it easy.  At about 6:45, they started lining up the elite females so I rushed to get in line and of course that just meant more standing around but in a different area.  Earlier in the day, Brady came up with some splits for me.  Floor 21 would be about 2:45, at this point in the race, the stairwell is still somewhat normal.  The long flights with running landings don’t come up until 21.  After that, its funky, there are long floors, long landings, a few hallway runs and then you finish with a jaunt outside around the observation deck.  Brady estimated that it would probably take me another 3:00 for each set of 20 floors so I’d just shoot for that. 

We stood at the starting line for a while, just kinda standing around while the media cameras flashed.  The starting guy gave us some last minute instructions; I was situated between Cindy and Erika on the line.  I turned back, gave one last wave to Brady, took a deep breath and looked towards the doorway with my finger on the start button of my watch.   The horn blew and we were on our way.  It all happened so quick, the next thing I knew, I was getting shoved and tripped up.  My feet were getting taken out from under me; I thought for sure I was going down.  Thoughts of being stepped on, trampled, jumped over flashed through my mind as I struggled to gain balance and composure, the next thing I knew I was in the doorway and on the stairs. 

I immediately slowed up the pace; the top girls darted off including Suzy, Erika, Cindy and Brooke.  I hung back, needed to follow my initial plan unlike I did last year.  Other girls darted by me and I knew I’d have to pass them later one.  Not really sure why they were all running the stairs.  Ugh.  I kept my cool and climbed on.  I had to pass a few within the first 20 floors which wasn’t ideal because I had to use up valuable energy going on the outside. I was somewhat frustrated with that but nothing I could do about it, just made a move on the outside and cut over back to the inside.  Then I was gone. 

When I looked at 20-21, I was about 2:40-2:45 so I was on goal pace.  Now the fun would begin, hunting down the 5 girls in front of me.  I was up for the challenge.  The stairwell configuration also switched up at this point, it went from a standard stairwell to the long flights with long landing format.  This race seems like it caters to runners as well as climbers, it’s harder to get into a climbing rhythm when you constantly have to run across a long landing.  Originally, I thought this was my kinda race since I came from a running background and I think it still suits me but at the same time, I miss the normal turns associated with the usual stairwells, where I can just cruise along. 

During the next 20 floors, I came across the girl in 5th; I could hear her breathing and knew I was approaching someone.  I’m not sure how long I was directly behind her, trying to figure out my next move.  I tried using both rails and getting right up on her but she wouldn’t budge.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to pass on the outside either; the landings would be a good place to make a move but there wasn’t enough time.  Eventually I just shoved my way through on the inner rail, this isn’t a move I normally make but I was desperate.  Usually when I come up on a guy, I get behind em for like a flight or two, grab at their hands and then politely ask them to get outta my way.  For some reason, asking a girl to move out the way wasn’t something i wanted to do.  This was a race, we were in head to head competition and I just wanted to blast by her.  Once I squeezed through, I never heard her again.  The next person i came up on was Cindy.  I climbed behind/beside her for a while too, also not wanting to make a move on the outside.  I tried to pass her on the landings but she’d pick up the pace as well, I was getting frustrated so finally I brushed by on the outside and cut back in, ran across the landing and I was gone. 

At this point, we were already halfway through the race.  When I checked my watch at 41, I was somewhere around 5:50-6:00 so I was slower than I wanted to be which was like 5:45.  Not sure if I was fading or if it was the added energy / time having to go around people.  I kept on climbing.  I used the vertical spindle rails as a way to propel myself upward.  At 61, we had to run down a long hallway before getting back into the stairwell, at this point I was closing in on the 9:00 mark with a goal of 8:45 so still somewhere around where I wanted to be.  I couldn’t hear or see anyone else which was somewhat discouraging.  I kept on climbing.  I wondered where those top girls where, how far ahead they were.  It was kinda lonely and desolate in there.  Usually I’m used to the solidarity of the stairwell and can push myself to the brink because i have no idea where I am compared to anyone else, I don’t know what kinda times other people are climbing or what kinda effort their putting forth but now I knew I was in 4th and didn’t think there was anything I could do about it so I settled into a comfortable groove. 

With the long landings to break up the climbing, my legs were still feeling kinda fresh.  I wanted to pick up the pace with like 10-15 to go but the effort wasn’t there.  I think mentally I got somewhat discouraged not seeing or hearing the girls in front of me and kinda surrendered.  The taller flights kinda make the race go by faster because you climb and you’ve already reached the next floor.  The last 10 floors seemed like a blur and went by quickly, I tried to put in a final surge the last 5 and its like out of nowhere, I had only 1 floor to go.  I sped up that last floor and burst through the doorway and out onto the roof, my legs still felt good on the pavement, they weren’t wobbly and I ran towards the finish, crossed the line and glanced at my watch 13:13.  I hit my original goal of 13:15, my random goal of 13:11 was close but I missed my main goal of top 3 and sub 13:00.  I was happy because I finished 4th, 1 place higher than last year and I took 23 seconds off my time so that’s nothing to complain about.  I wandered around to find the other girls, Suzy finished with a blazing time of 12:05, Brooke was in 2nd with a 12:48 and Erika rounded out the top 3 with a time of 12:57. 

I left this race with mixed emotions, I was pleased with my time since it was faster but I was kinda disappointed and curious what might’ve happened if I would’ve stuck with those girls from the start.  Perhaps their pace woulda been took quick again and I would’ve faded like last year but what if i would’ve been able to hang with them and potentially squeezed into the top 3?!?  The thought still lingers in my mind, I know I was smart to start off conservative, that’s what I told myself from the start and I actually executed that.  But dang, I really want that top 3 finish and sub 13:00 time.  I’m inching my way closer!! 

Brady shared some of the same experiences in the stairwell; he got kinda content with his effort since he couldn’t see/hear anyone else.  I think it’s easier to push yourself when it’s an unknown but seeing people leave you behind can be discouraging.  We both agreed that the stairwell is tricky and hard to get used to; the consistency we get in other towers is broken up with all the running.   It’s a race that takes some getting used to and its one that I haven’t mastered yet.  I’ve hit all my goal times at the other major races I’ve done except for empire.  Brady and I wanna focus on it big time come the winter and wanna impress at empire 2014, that is if both of us are accepted again!  Before the race, Madeleine and I were interviewed for some NY fitness channel which was cool.  They found me after the race and talked with me and Brady. They loved the fact that we were a fit, healthy, active, competitive couple.  The fact that I was a smidge faster than him, really caught their attention.  

The next morning we went for a run in central park, which was awesome.  Such a great place to run, the loop around the park is 6 miles so was perfect, it was about 1-1.5 miles from our hotel.  Very scenic and a great way to start the day! 


Brady likes to come up with unique challenges and niche sports for me to get involved with, he initially got me hooked on climbing and is now proposing different ideas as well so I have a few things on tap for later this year.  After climbing season, I’m gonna up the running mileage a bit and will do long runs on the weekends to keep up my endurance.  Figured I might as well start this weekend with an 18 mile run out in Barrington.  Brady wanted some company and it’s hard for me to say no to long runs.  I haven’t been running that much, maybe a few days during the week which includes mountain miles and a longer run 10-12 on the weekends.  we did 16 miles a few weeks ago, 18 seemed a bit daunting but I consider myself an endurance creature so was up for it and Barrington has some hills so of course I couldn’t resist.  We cranked out the first 8 miles at 8:05-8:10 pace then picked it up the last 10, Brady really wanted to lay down the hammer the last 5 miles so he could simulate marathon race pace. 

Central Park

I was feeling pretty good and felt strong on the hills, as soon as we turned around for the last 5, we quickened the pace.  My knees started to ache a bit (they do that with cold weather, long runs, hills, etc) and I started falling apart the last couple of miles.  My quads were suddenly sore, one thing ached and then another, a sharp pain here, a sharp pain there.  With 1-1.5 miles to go there was a shooting pain in my quad so I eased up the pace.  Brady pulled away with me, looking super strong and just cruising along at 7:15-7:30 pace, no big deal.  I let him go and just did my own thing, just wanted to survive this run.  Usually I’m strong on the long runs but my body was not used to all this pounding and mileage.  I was immediately sore, my quads felt thrashed!!  I have a feeling Brady is going to demolish me on the pavement and in all our road races this year!!


Of course, this was the day before I was gonna do the power hour, ultimate climb at Oakbrook Terrace.  I decided to enter this race at the last minute; it would be a good workout.  I wanted to use it as such, was looking at is as fun instead of really pushing the pace and suffering.  I didn’t wanna lay it all on the line, didn’t wanna demolish myself.  Plus I was really feeling it from the run.  I checked the results from last year and 10-11 climbs in an hour seemed doable, an average pace of 4:45-5:00 seemed like it would be comfortably hard without overdoing it. 

I started off my first climb, sore legs and all.  Checked my watch at floor 15, was 1:55ish so thought I’d be around 4:00.  A bit fast, came in at 4:09.  This stairwell has a strange square rail, good thing I brought my gloves!  And the steps were metal.  Felt pretty fast.  The last floor is a long flight so I could kinda run up it and finish strong.  Reminded me of empire, perhaps running is an approach I should take next year?  I felt relaxed on the first climb, ran towards the elevator bank and waited.  The elevator wasn’t there and when it did get there, the paramedics were getting off with equipment and a stretcher, ugh, this is wasting my time.  At least, I wasn’t there to be super competitive otherwise I’d be quite annoyed.  I got down and ran towards the stairwell to start my 2nd climb, was a bit slower on this one 4:18.  Cranked it out and was onto climb #3 - 4:16.  After climb 3 or 4, I ran into Oz on the elevator and then started our next climb ahead of him.  I just kept cruising along, I was kinda started to feel it and could feel my form suffering.  When I’m strong, I’m using the rail but when I get tired, I revert to bad habits and start pushing on my leg and stepping wide on the landings.  Reminded me of my form during the epic climb, not the most efficient but oh well.  I was kinda frustrated with myself and tried to tell myself not to push my leg at least for the first 15 floors but usually that didn’t work. 

I hit the next 2 climbs in 4:27 and 4:35; I was kinda getting slower and still had about a half hour to go.  I was pushing comfortably hard, wasn’t going all out and killing myself but wasn’t totally taking it easy either, it was a good effort.  I just told myself, I was shooting for 10 so thought about it that way.  I had to go around people, usually on the outside unless people moved aside so that would slow me down a little bit but that’s ok.  I wasn’t sure where Oz was, I thought maybe I had a shot at winning but had no idea what his first climb time was or what kinda times he was cranking out.  The 6th climb was 4:39 then 7, 8 and 9 were all about 4:44-4:45 so consistent.  I hit 10 and knew I had time for at least 2 more, hit a 4:50 and started up for my 11th.  I knew it would be my last one, picked it up a bit more towards the end and finished in 4:46.  I started my last climb with Karen, she joked about how it was nice to see me even if it was only for the first couple of floors.  11 climbs, solid in an hour.  I knew both me and Oz cleared 11 but wasn’t sure on the overall time.  I was pleased with my effort, not sure if I would’ve been able to get in 12.  My usual rest was 52-55 seconds but the 1st rest was 1:15 so don’t think that would’ve given me enough time to get back in there but who knows.  I was happy to be done. 

The results were posted and I beat Oz, I finished with 11 climbs in 50:14 and oz had 50:26 so super close but I edged him out.  His first climb was about 50 seconds faster than mine but he smoked his legs, I played it safe.  I’m impressed with my climb today since I ran 18 yesterday and my legs were sore and trashed.  kinda cool.  The last time I won a race all out was the ultimate climb in Milwaukee in 2011 :)  I wasn’t even putting forth an all out dying effort, just cruising along.  Good stuff!!

Now its time to hunker down and get serious.  Hancock is only a couple of weeks away and its followed immediately by the Strat (US Championships) and PT, then the March Madness half marathon and the Big Climb in Seattle on March 24th.  After that, I can relax a bit before picking up the vertical training for my next adventure!!