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........