Climb-‘bling’ higher!

Thursday’s CFF Climbing For A Cure was a first for me:

I TOOK HOME SOME BLING.

By that, I mean I placed/won my first medal for a stair climb. Before I get ahead of myself, let me clarify: I DID NOT WIN. I actually finished 16th place overall. Thankfully, it was a rather small race (278 individual participants), which thinned the competition and helped me to take home 3rd place in my age/gender division (men 30-34). FAKE BRONZE MEDAL WHAT WHAT!

I finished this climb, which took place at Milwaukee’s 47-story US Bank Center, in 7:39.

Now, I’ve won medals in two 5Ks before: I finished 2nd among men 30-34 in the first-ever 5K I ever ran in back in April 2012, even though that easily ranks as the slowest 5K I’ve ever ran, and back in September this year I finished 1st among men 30-39 in a small local 5K (although I was actually more excited about finishing 3rd overall).

I don’t know whether I’m more pleased with this medal than those two 5K medals, but I’m definitely more pleased with this race experience than probably any other race experience I’ve had — running or stair climbing.

Firstly, in this stair climb, my 7:39 was 22 seconds faster than I finished my first-ever stair climb back in March, which took place at the same building. Coming off of training for the Sears Tower earlier in the month, I knew I was in shape enough for this, but I was determined to finish better than I did in March. And I did.

Secondly, Stephanie was a beast at this climb. Not only did she chop her 9:03 from March down to 8:26 (that’s 37 seconds!), but won 1st among women 30-34, and finished 2nd AMONG ALL WOMEN. Total beast. I’m almost more excited for how well she did than for my improvement. The crazy thing is I really think she can drop to sub-8 and win first among all women at the US Bank Center, if not next March, then next November for sure. In the year-plus we’ve been together, she’s always been strong, athletic, and a super-hard worker on her fitness, but under her new trainer she’s had for a few months now, she’s even stronger, and her cardio is WAY improved. For not being a runner — except when she runs 5Ks with me — her 5K times have improved tremendously. Again: total beast!

Thirdly, a small crew of West Coast Labels racers showed up for this climb, including Jesse Berg and PJ Glassey — both of whom I got to meet and talk to. I was not expecting WCL representation at all. This was a Thursday night race at a 47-story building in Milwaukee. There were less than 300 participants. I was walking out of a bathroom when I first noticed a guy with long hair and a WCL shirt going into the bathroom. I’m not sure of the full extent of WCL’s reach, so while mildly surprising, I figured maybe they just occasionally send some random “better than normal people” climbers to show up at various races like this one.

But then while Stephanie and I were standing near the waiting area to start, she was like, “Hey, that’s the guy from the video we just watched.” She was referring to PJ Glassey, whose stair climb bootcamp and rail technique videos we’d just watched on Glassey’s XGym website a day earlier. I didn’t think it looked like him at first, but sure enough, it was him. So I made Stephanie walk over with me to talk to him. Then when I introduced myself, he introduced himself and also Jesse Berg, who was standing there with him.

Jesse Berg is a multiple time Sears Tower winner, and has won like a zillion other big stair climbs. I’m not quite sure of his highest finish in the Tower Racing World Cup, but I know he’s a regular competitor for the top. Also, dude’s from Chicago, so that automatically makes me a fan. The level to which he’s good at stair climbing is ridiculously next level: he finished Thursday’s US Bank Center in 5:06 — which, not only was no one else sub-6, but that’s actually slow for him. He’s done that building sub-5.

It seemed like the West Coast Labels posse must’ve been granted special permission to go first. When Stephanie and I finished, they looked to have been well settled in to the post-race spread. After we finished eating, I walked to the results table to get Stephanie’s and my results; Jesse Berg was walking there at the same time. He gave my fist a pound and I asked him how he did.

Fortunately, I’d seen previous results of his at the US Bank Center before, so asking him “Five minutes?” was not ignorant or out of line. He was like, “I think a little over. I didn’t push as hard as I usually do here.” Then he told me PJ was back over by the table they were set up at if I wanted to go talk to him and give him my email address for a pamphlet on stair climbing from the bootcamp video I had asked about before the race.

After I brought Stephanie her results, and after her initial disappointment waned a little (she expected to be even faster than she was), we walked over. PJ saw me coming and was pointing to me like he wanted to chat. When we got there, he asked Stephanie and I how we did, and seemed genuinely interested. He was encouraging toward us in our improvements over our previous times at that building, and we chatted a little bit about training, nutrition, and also our experience at the Sears Tower. He was a super nice guy. A great ambassador for, and representative of the sport of stair climbing. Just a good dude in general.

After that experience, I would say my enthusiasm for improving at stair climbing has greatly exceeded my enthusiasm to improve at running. I still want to be a faster runner, but I really think improving my stair climbing abilities is where my focus is shifting. Not only that, but I do think it will also help my running. It’s good for the legs and the lungs. I don’t know how that’s bad for running. Or anything, really.

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