I was pleasantly surprised with my first few climbs of the year. My 2013 time at Aon was the exact same as my 2012 time, I was a bit faster at Empire and had a solid performance during the power hour at Oakbrook. But Hancock would be the real test, this is such a big race and usually its one that I target but I just couldn’t get focused. Plus I had gained a few pounds, some people may react negatively when I say that and some may criticize saying that I could use a few extra pounds or that I have nothing to worry or complain about. But at my size, a few pounds feels like more and when climbing stairs, you have to carry your body weight vertically so I could see a difference in my training times at various weights too. I have a healthy range that I like to stay in, when I go above or below that, I try to get things back in check and I was definitely above that range so I wasn’t too pleased about it yet I lacked the discipline to really do anything about it.
A week or so before the race, I got my bib in the mail and saw I was #3. This just really shook me; I felt like I didn’t deserve to be slated so high despite the fact that I won the race last year and was close to the record. I thought about my training or lack thereof and I had a mini meltdown. I needed to get it together before race day. Thoughts of setting the course record at Hancock lingered in my mind although I knew it was a long shot with my training and lack of mental tenacity. I’d be happy if I hit around 11:00, I thought if I crashed and burned, I might end up at 11:15 or so. I took at a gander at my splits from last year, when I climbed a 10:56, and used those as my target.
The morning of the climb, I just wasn’t feeling it. My focus wasn’t there and I was definitely missing the extra fierceness that I needed to really pull out a stellar climb. Several people asked me if I was ok, said I looked stressed or tired and I was just kinda frazzled. I’ve suffered from some bad pre-race anxiety when it comes to climbing but this was different, I wasn’t feeling much of anything. I stood in line waiting for my time to come, the dreaded wait to enter the stairwell.
It finally came and I was off, I felt like I was going at good clip but could hear others rapidly approaching. Within the first few floors, someone was hot on my heels. I wasn’t used to this, usually I’m the one nipping at guys’ heels, grabbing their hand on the rail and politely asking them to step aside but this time, I was the one stepping to the outside and letting someone pass. I didn’t really know what to think of this, I was somewhat discouraged but there was nothing to do about it, perhaps if my inner racer kicked on, I would’ve gone with them although it was way too early in the race to risk anything like that.
The next thing I knew, Cindy was right up on me too. Now I really didn’t know what to do. Thoughts flashed through my mind, do I pick up the pace, do a quick sprint to shake her?!? Do I just stay where I’m at, do all the work, set the pace and hope she drops? I knew that she had a tendency to start off a bit quick and then usually faltered so I stuck with option number two and just stayed calm and relaxed. She was behind me for several floors before fading away.
When I checked my watch at the first check point, I was slower than my first 20 floors last year. Last year I was like 2:30 and this year I came in around 2:50 which was my actual goal time. Normally, I would’ve felt a sense of urgency, I would’ve thought I was behind and picked it up slightly. But this time, I just continued along at my sluggish pace. The next 20 floors weren’t all that great. When I reached the halfway point, I was 10-15 seconds off my goal time. I came in at 5:40-5:45ish but I needed to be closer to 5:30. Ugh, that’s not pretty.
I really took a dive during the next 20 floors. Terry Purcell once told us that the winner of these races is usually the person who loses focus the least, he said sometimes you get into that metal lull during this portion of the race but if you stay focused and don’t let your mind wander, you’ll be much faster because of it. Well, I definitely let my mind wander during those 20 floors. I felt like I was lolly-gagging, was I even trying to go fast? I didn’t have anything in me, mentally I was shot, physically, who knows what I was doing but I knew it wasn’t anywhere close to the kind of effort that needed to be there. Luckily, Cindy was still behind me and I couldn’t see or hear her so I felt like the coast was clear in that regard. By the time I hit 70, I was 40 seconds behind!!! 40 seconds, that’s absolutely horrendous, totally unacceptable. Usually I would get angry and dig deep and push and try to make up the time or at least do something to decrease the hole I had created. Ok, 40 seconds off my goal so I tried to calculate times in my head, would I finish around 11:30? That’s not too bad but still off of where I wanted to be or where I should actually be!
I didn’t even try to bound those last 20 floors, well maybe I did, but it was the weakest attempt I’ve ever made. I was totally content with what I was doing and content while climbing is not where you need to be, you shouldn’t feel content. You should always be pushing it and climbing higher and faster. I saw like 5 floors to go, at least finish strong so you look like you tried but I didn’t. I sauntered across the timing mat and sat down on the ground. I looked at my watch, 11:55. I didn’t know how to react, I felt like such a disgrace. I hit my watch to clock Cindy’s approximate time and she staggered in me at least 20-30 seconds behind so I felt like I was probably safe from her beating me. I didn’t feel like I deserved to win, I didn’t feel like I deserved anything. Numerous people asked me how my race went and I calmly and collectly told them I was lacking mental focus and they told me it couldn’t be that bad. When I mentioned my time and that it was a minute slower than last year, some people looked at me with shock in their eyes, others thought I was joking and believe me, I wish I was. They wondered how I climbed so slowly and I could tell they just didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t really know how to take it either, I said its ok. It’s a bad mental race, I’m just not there and I’m lacking the drive to really push myself to that level. I’ll be back next year and I’m taking the record with me! I had no idea whether my time would hold and if I’d win, who knows what would happen later in the day in the middle or back of the pack. There are always shockers and someone could take my time out, it wasn’t unbeatable that’s for sure.
When the results finally came out, I was relieved that I had won and I know a win, is a win but this one was ugly. It wasn’t pretty to look at and I really wasn’t happy with it, I just wanted to erase my time from the results. It was a bad fluke and we all have bad races but this was worse than I expected but I held my head high and continued to congratulate those around me and wanted to share in their joy. Several people climbed PRs including my dad; several others had discouraging races like I did. Some of us were way off our goal times but we learn from these experiences and take comfort in knowing that they don’t last and usually the next one will be better. If this had happened a couple of years ago, I’d be totally distraught. I recall cutting 50 seconds off my time but losing a race by like 4 seconds and being mad at the world, the guys wanted to avoid me at all costs because I was fuming and sulking and just a burden to be around. Last year, my attitude towards racing changed, I was much more positive. I lost at the Stratosphere by like 4-5 seconds and was thrilled that Kourtney beat me, which was a defining moment for me. Hancock was no different, I was disappointed and discouraged and I made it known that it wasn’t my best race, I couldn’t lie about that or deny it but I didn’t let it drag me down and I didn’t let it get in the way of encouraging and congratulating others. I kept my inner demons inside and in check and let them fester away on their own, luckily they’re army was dwindling in size so they couldn’t completely drag me down. I knew that I would get it the next time around, I already have my eyes set on my training come fall and I know I have big goals for the 2014 climbing season and at least the US Championship was only a week away so I could claim redemption, hopefully…