‘Sky-raising’ my expectations too high?

SkyRise Chicago 2013 turned out to be probably my biggest disappointment so far in my whole entire, albeit young, “weekend warrior” race career.

It probably shouldn’t be too disappointing considering it was only my second-ever stair climb, especially since it was more than double the distance of my debut climb in Milwaukee back in March. However, the problem is that I went into the race with what I learned afterward to be naive hopes and expectations of how I would perform.

I finished in 20:01, good for 94th place out of 2,295. Not bad, I guess. But when you compare that to my expectation of finishing somewhere between 17 and 18 minutes, that’s not too good. It’s even worse than my hope of finishing sub-17. And then, not only do I have to deal with the disappointment of being 3 minutes slower than I thought I’d be, I also have to deal with the additional “kick-you-while-you’re-down” sting of being a mere 2 seconds slower than finishing sub-20!

My ideas of my envisioned performance stemmed from the weekly stair training sessions I’ve been doing for the greater part of the year at the 13-story building where I work.

When I learned of stair climbing back in January, Stephanie and I registered for the ALA’s Fight For Air Climb at Milwaukee’s 47-story, 1,034-step US Bank Building in March, and then promptly began training at my work building.

Being that we could run a max of only 13-stories at a time, we ran both 13-story repeats as well as intervals that included what we called “up/downs,” where we climbed two or three stories, ran back down one story, climbed back up two or three stories, go back down one, etc., all the way to the top.

I timed myself back when we trained for the Milwaukee climb, and I had an idea of how well I should finish. I projected myself to finish in around 8 minutes. Not only did I finish in 8:01 — pretty much smack dab right on what I expected — but I actually felt that if not for three separate instances of being slowed down in the stairwell, I could’ve finished in the 7:30 range.

So fast forward to this past summer when I registered for SkyRise: even though I had kept light stair climbing at work part of my weekly program through the spring, it was then that I ramped it up. I brought the timer out again, I increased my total stories climbed, and I started tracking my times.

Each week I would tally up my total stair climb time, and calculate the Willis Tower 103-story, 2,109-step equivalent time. My fastest 103-equivalent of 13:13 would’ve been fairly close to the record time at the building, while my slowest 103-equivalent of 17:35, which was based on interval times that included “up/downs” (which always padded my time since I include the one flight down as part of the climb time), would’ve placed me near the mid-20s finish times.

While my work building is 13 stories and 250 steps from basement to roof level, they’re pretty steep steps — 7.1 inches apiece. Upon completion of the Milwaukee US Bank Building climb in March, Stephanie and I both thought my work’s steep steps made the actual climb easier than we thought it would be. In prepping for SkyRise, I figured this would again work in my favor, and that the times I put up in practice were sort of inflated because of the stair height.

With that in mind, I figured those slower, padded times I recorded during training that included the times of the one flight down in the “up/downs” were realistic; I presumed that since I can’t scale large amounts of stories at a time, the active rest of going down one flight would be roughly equivalent to the increasing wearing of my stamina as I climbed higher and higher up Willis Tower.

In looking at my time afterward, I feel decidedly foolish for having believed that. I greatly overestimated my equivalent pace timing and I greatly underestimated the effect of climbing so many stairs at a time, even if they weren’t as steep as those at my work.

The bottom line is that climbing 13 stories over and over again, even to the point of nearly doubling the total of Willis Tower stories, is NOT the same as climbing 103 straight. I knew that going in, but I thought my training was putting me in a position to have reasonable hopes and expectations.

Now, stairs aren’t the only training I do. I have a trainer who puts me through a fair amount of body weight and plyometric routines, and then I also run. Mind you, I don’t run long distances, but I try to run fast.

Maybe “run hard” is a better way to phrase it. That’s because while I’m decently faster than most regular recreational 5K runners, the 20-minute to 21-minute range I’m putting up isn’t exactly making any serious/hardcore runners tremble. But it does mean I have fairly good cardio. I figured this was enough proper cross-training.

Shows what I know. Or more like what I don’t know. And what I need to learn.

While I do consider this to be a disappointment, I am trying to look at it as a learning experience.

Stephanie and myself were able to talk to some people who shared insights about their training and experiences doing other stair climbs, which I think could help.

While my lungs were mostly fine for the climb, and my legs were sufficiently strong enough to do this without stopping or slowing down too bad, I learned I need stronger legs. I never got truly “lead legs,” but they did feel sluggish for about 20 or so stories somewhere between floor 65-ish and 85-ish. Another thing I learned is that I need to learn how to use the railings better. Stronger arms and quicker movement on the rails could help save me from having to rely so much on my legs.

Things I’m considering adding to my training include a weight vest to do climb training in, as well as spinning/cycling.

Stephanie and I are registered for Hustle Up The Hancock in Chicago next April (94 stories), and we’re all but signed up for Milwaukee’s Fight For Air in March, as well as another climb in Minneapolis in March.

Hopefully this SkyRise experience can help me step my game up for those and other future climbs.

Get it? “Step my game up”? Eh? EH???

Yeah, whatever.



  1. […] I found the SkyRise Chicago stair climb at Willis Tower this past Sunday to be the biggest disappointment of my young “weekend warrior” race career, then I must be a sucker for […]

  2. Stair Climber · · Reply

    Why do you hide your Athlinks results?

    1. Out of habit, I tend to opt for max security/anonymity settings anytime I create an account anywhere. Plus, I never really intended to actually use Athlinks for social reasons. I don’t really spend a lot of time there. I’ve not found it to be a big deal, though; I may change that when I don’t feel too lazy to go in and figure it out.

  3. […] I was greatly disappointed and frustrated by last year’s experience, but this year I came in knowing how hard it was. So I did the logical thing and I got more serious […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: