Sunday, February 19, 2012

I Fought For Air, Alright


Yesterday, I participated in the Fight For Air Climb in Springfield, Illinois.  It's a fund-raising event for American Lung Association in which participants climb the 32 flights of stairs in the Hilton hotel.  I competed in the Ultimate Climb for the second year, completing as may trips as possible (descending via elevator) in one hour.  In the 2011 climb I completed nine trips and my fastest was 3:53 (slowest was 5:27).  Five climbers completed more than nine and I was the fastest person to complete just nine.  So, I was sixth out of forty-plus climbers.  My first goal for 2012 was to complete one trip under 3:30.  Second, I wanted to complete between ten and twelve trips--my primary focus.  I knew I could do ten because I came very close last year and this year I'm stronger and lighter.  I really wanted to get eleven, but twelve would be awesome.

My wife, Pat and I drove over Friday afternoon to do some shopping before I registered for the race and we checked into the Hilton for the night.  We then had a relaxing evening and listened to my friend's samba band play as I pre-hydrated.  I also had a look at the race start and the stairwell to refresh my memory.
Race morning, I was up early--didn't sleep well anyway.  I had a refreshing shower, then got a half-caff coffee and some oatmeal at Starbucks in the hotel.  Then, I waited....the caffeine made me jittery and by 7:00ish, I was becoming impatient.  We received our chips and last-minute instructions in the basement and lined up according to our bib numbers.  The eighty or so Ultimate Climbers would depart every 10 seconds starting at 8:00.  I was number eleven.

Many of the competitors start very fast since the time of the first trip is counted in the overall competition for the fastest single-trip climb.  This wasn't a big concern of mine.  As I previously stated, my main goal was a big number of trips within the hour, so I needed to conserve energy.  However, in the heat of the moment........I took off just a bit fast, pushing the pace, but remembering that I would be able to rest in the elevator on the way down.  I was feeling pretty good on this climb because I wasn't being passed.  I pressed the lap button at the top and saw 3:15.  I smiled inwardly: first goal achieved.  I had a quick trip down and jog from the elevator to the stairs and started trip two. After a while all the laps ran together and I had trouble keeping track how many I had done.  I think it was after the second--but it might have been the third--as I neared the top, I started getting nauseated. Uh-oh. I stayed by the trash can as I waited for the elevator at the top, hands on knees.  Same thing on the ride down.  I also paused a bit at the bottom before I started climbing again. When the feeling was mostly gone, I was back up the stairs.

After four or five climbs I settled into my pace and felt pretty good.  I remember being passed a few times by just three or four people, so I felt confident about the overall too.  As I had planned, I alternated between running up, pulling myself up with the railing hand-over-hand like a rope, and walking, pushing on my knees with my hands. I nearly always took steps two-at-a-time.  Early, Pat was in the stairwell cheering for me and taking photos as I passed.  Later, she was in the basement accompanied by my cousin's family--he was climbing too in his firefighter gear.
Last year, I remember chatting with people in the stairwell and in the elevator a lot more.  This year, I was breathing too hard to be as sociable.  Both years, I have breathed harder than in any other events in which I have participated.  The event is aptly named.  In fact, my throat was still a bit scratchy this morning.

My plan was to complete six climbs in the first hour and hang on.  I really, really wanted to get eleven trips.  I just had to complete ten trips and get to the bottom and start my eleventh before my sixty minutes were up.  If I start the climb, it counts.  As the hour wore on and I checked my watch, I knew I was getting close.  Just like last year on trip number nine, on trip number ten I really pushed it to get to the top, get in the elevator, and sprint around to the start line.......only to be told I was done.  #$%&!  Last year, I was about a minute too late.  This time it was less than ten seconds, I think.  Oh, well.  Nothing to do about it.  I'm certainly not going to make excuses either.

Results: My fastest single trip was 3:15 (The fastest I saw was 2:07. A-MA-ZING.)  I completed ten trips--two did thirteen; one did twelve; three did eleven; four of us did ten and I was the fastest of that group.  So, I was seventh overall.  Compared to last year: faster single trip, faster average climb, more trips, higher percent ranking overall, and it took me less time to complete.  Of course, I am pleased.  

I earned a finisher medal and received a black, technical t-shirt and some other goodies.  The expo was good with about a dozen vendors.  Post race treats included Clif Builder bars and Lara Bars--two of my favorites--and doughnut holes that went down quite well.  However, I saved myself for our planned brunch with friends at Cafe Brio where I had the tamale cakes with eggs and bacon--excellent meal.

Next up, Quivering Quads trail half marathon........

Sunday, February 5, 2012

When All the Pieces Fall Into Place

I had a great run today.  I rocked it!  I was supposed to do 9 miles at half marathon pace plus 20 seconds.  I have been struggling a bit with some hip pain--IT band, I think.  My feet and ankles nag me a little too as I continue the transition to running in minimalist shoes.  I have also been a bit worried that I'm over training.  Then, I started my run this morning.  I felt good and settled right into my stride.  After about a mile, I checked my pace.  I was about 12 seconds too fast, so I tried to slow down.  I checked again at about 2 miles--13 seconds too fast.  Oops.  I tried several times to slow down, but couldn't.  After my pit stop at around 6.5 miles, I was still feeling good and decided to maintain my pace.  I was convinced I wouldn't bonk and sped on.  I finished about 15 seconds under my goal pace for the workout with fuel left in the tank and no pain.  (And, I still feel good a few hours later.)  I was elated!  My average heart rate was very near my predicted lactate threshold.  This is a good performance indicator for the one hour of stair climbing I'll be doing in 2 weeks and for the trail half marathon I'm running in March.  It was a good day.

My performance today was surely the result of several factors.  I've been getting more rest lately.  My nutrition has improved--more high-quality carbohydrate and less sugar.  Complementary cross training and losing about five pounds have probably helped too.  The weather was nice--sunny and cool, but not cold.  I layered appropriately.  Everything went right.

As I was mentally debriefing following my run, I recalled a conversation from this week with a client/friend/colleague.  She was telling me about qualifying for Boston with her first marathon which I hadn't realized.  I was, of course, very complimentary.  She was modest.  She said that she worked hard, but lots of others have worked harder.  She told me that everything went perfectly on race day.  It was a basically flat course.  The weather was perfect.  She had an experienced pacer.  Her training and nutrition were good.  It was the perfect storm.

Sometimes everything just falls into place.  Of course, sometimes things go wrong too, but I'm trying to be positive here.  We give ourselves the greatest possibility of success when we plan, when we're prepared.  Louis Pasteur said, "fortune favors the prepared mind."  I agree, I would also add that we make our own luck.  In this case, we can do that by training smart, not hard.