Time: 11:30 a.m.
I have mixed feelings about this race.
First Things First
Competing in this race brought along with it a series of firsts for me: it was my first time in Los Angeles, it was the first time I’ve competed wearing a watch to pace myself, and it was the first stair race I’ve ever competed in that advised slower climbers to stay to the outside of the stairwell and allow the faster climbers to pass on the inside.
(Most races advise the opposite — for faster climbers to pass on the outside — which is just plain stupid. Faster climbers are generally more competitive and are trying to be fast. Passing on the outside is less efficient and burns a lot of energy, which can cost competitive climbers valuable time from their finish. Seeing the sign advising slow climbers to stay on the outside was a refreshing change of pace.)
This race included an elite start wave, which is awesome. For those competitive stair climbers out there, it’s always a hassle to deal with congested stairwells full of people who aren’t climbing competitively or who are just really slow. Climbing a tall building without really seeing anyone during your race can seem a bit dull and odd, but it’s generally much better than the frustration of dealing with crowds and/or passing.
Apparently since this race introduced the elite wave in the last few years, however, it’s been taken advantage of by people who have no business competing among the fastest climbers. This year, though, they clamped down on who could be included. From what I can tell, the race had 50 available elite slots, which participants had to apply and qualify for. Apparently the race’s new stringent standards scared some people, including deserving candidates, away from even applying, as only 38 total competitors were included in the elite start wave.
Although I don’t really consider myself close to “elite,” I applied with Stephanie, who came into the race ranked 17th among all women in the US and 63rd in the world, thus cementing her elite female status. Presumably thanks to the small field of applicants, I was accepted to start among her and that group of elites.
This was actually my third time starting in an elite wave. The first time I did, I had no business doing so. It was at last year’s Willis (Sears) Tower race, which was only my second stair race ever, and my 40th place finish in Milwaukee from earlier in the year is what (somehow) qualified me. The second time I did was at this past March’s Presidential Towers race. There were actually two elite waves at that race, and I was in the second. And I had more climbing experience by then, with a few good finishes, but I knew I wasn’t as good as the people in the first wave, so I felt appropriately-placed.
This time I felt like I probably shouldn’t be in an elite wave at this competitive of a race. At the same time, I know I’m not slow. More than that, I had no intention of passing up the opportunity to start in a clear stairwell.
Rubbing elbows with the rest of the elite crowd was interesting and even weird, especially people I’m only aware of through the internet. Most stair climbing elites are affiliated with the West Coast Labels clique (don’t be mistaken, though: not everyone in that crew is elite). They all know each other, they all hang out together before and after the races, and they apparently even have pre-race routines. I came into the race acquainted with a couple of them and made a couple more acquaintances with some cool people from their posse at the event. But I mostly felt like an outsider and came away no more informed about how someone even gets to be part of that group. Well, aside from REALLY, REALLY good climbers, that is, who I sort of have the impression simply get warmly welcomed. As for the people who aren’t that good? No clue.
At the same time, competing amongst such a large group of them sort of brought them down to earth for me. I know I can get better at stair climbing. And that’s what I’m working to do. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to be as good as the truly elite, but I no longer feel intimidated by, or in awe of, those highly-recognizable WCL race shirts.
I came into the race with a highly-ambitious goal of finishing in 12:30. In the back of my mind, I knew it was unlikely, but I didn’t think it was impossible. Nonetheless, I approached the race as though I would finish in that time, which I, of course, fell way short of.
While I feel like my increased aerobic base from additional running mileage helped (although my base could always be better), I mostly feel like more work in the gym on my legs’ and posterior chain’s muscle endurance would’ve really helped my race more.
For a while my gym workouts were the more consistent and structured part of my routine, but then I switched who I was working with and what I was doing. It wasn’t until only about a month ago that I got that fully back structured again. But I’m still new to my current gym program, and in the time prior to getting settled there, I feel like I was definitely more concentrated on my running coach’s program, and not necessarily balancing running and strength training in the gym.
So, considering that I probably wasn’t as prepared as I should’ve been in my strength development, I should admit that my goal of 12:30 was likely more wishful thinking than a realistic goal. I didn’t expect, however, that I would finish above 14 minutes.
My hopes and expectations for time came as a result of consulting with the stair chart for the building to develop a pacing plan, as well as consulting with past results of people who’ve done both the Hancock building in Chicago and this building in LA, as both have similar step counts (Hancock: 1,632; LA: 1,664). Thanks to Hancock being a 94 story building and having more turns than this LA building because it’s *only* 75 stories, most of the few people I could find who’ve done both buildings seem decently faster in LA. Considering I did Hancock in 14:29 in April, plus I have greater base conditioning now than then, I felt sub-14 was a given, so I aimed a little higher. Maybe that was foolish.
I gave myself two pacing options, both of which I wrote down on my arm so I could glance at when I needed to. The first was an “every-250-steps” plan. My work building is 250 steps, and the steps are steep (7.75″). I also train with a 24-lb. weight vest. I know what a reasonable time for me to do those hard 250-step intervals is. Considering this race was without a vest and on steps that were only 7.25″, I figured a 1:50 pace per 250 steps could be sustainable in a tall building and get me close enough to my goal time to be satisfied. My other option was to break the race into quarters — four 416-step chunks.
At race time, I still hadn’t really decided which option to go with. I figured I’d look down at my watch at the 11th floor (the 248-step mark) and see where I was time-wise. But at the 11th floor, I forgot to look at my watch! So at the 15th floor when I realized that, I figured my only option was to go with the quarter approach. For that approach, my aim was to maintain a pace of 3:08 for each quarter. Regardless of which option I selected, I feel like, even more than in running, not starting out too fast is very important in a stair race. So, being that I was quartering the course, hitting that first quarter at 3:08 was crucial. I didn’t quite meet that goal — and not because I was too slow — but I was close enough not to be worried. I started faster for the first couple flights than I wanted to, but backed it off pretty quick before I felt it would take a toll.
I only half-paid attention to my splits during the race, but in the second half of the race I mostly couldn’t even think straight anyway. In any case, after reviewing my splits afterward, it was really a race of two halves, as my splits were 2:57, 2:59, 4:09, 4:11. Being at a sub-12 minute pace halfway through the race likely did me in. Most of the third quarter, even though I apparently sucked then, didn’t really feel too bad, honestly. I felt like my lungs and breathing were still doing pretty well; however, I did notice my legs were starting to fade. By the start of the fourth quarter, the whole thing just felt hard: the legs, the breathing, everything. It was just all mental not to fall even further behind at that point, and I’m not sure I’d really give myself an A+ in that category at that point or anything either.
With an even harder building next on the docket — Willis (Sears) Tower on Nov. 2 (103 stories, 2,109 very steep steps) — I have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it. But October will be a small chance to hit the reset button, so I’m hoping I can make the most of it.
For the purposes of tower running rankings, both in the US and internationally, this was a big race. Being that I wasn’t as fast as my 12:30 goal, this ultimately didn’t end up being that beneficial of a race for me. Which sucks. Because this was an expensive trip. I came into the race ranked #147 in the US. An 83rd place among all men at this race won’t really help elevate me to where I want to be. Between this and November’s Willis Tower climb, I was hoping to crack the top 100 men in the US. I don’t know where I’m ranked internationally because their World Cup rankings show only the top 100. If I can’t crack the top 100 in the US, I’m nowhere near cracking the top 100 men in the world.
This race was, however, beneficial for Stephanie rankings-wise. While she’ll likely only move up one place, from 17th to 16th, in the US, I think she stands to gain even more ground in the Towerrunning World Cup. I’m eagerly awaiting the updated world rankings. I’m probably actually way more excited about Stephanie’s place in the stair ranks than she is.
She definitely likes the competition of stair racing, but her focus has shifted more toward getting stronger and continuing to compete in strength and CrossFit competitions, which she’s been fairly successful in already. She seems somewhat resigned to the idea that if she’s going to continue to focus on strength work, and not really much, if any, sustained cardio — like running or cycling or something — she’s never going to be as high in the stair rankings as she would want. And while she would want to be ranked higher, it’s a matter of priorities and, I think, the reward of it all.
Not only are her priorities more about CrossFit than stair climbing, being good at climbing stairs doesn’t really get you anything. You pay a ton of money to do it, you pester people to support you so you can meet your fundraising minimums, and then if you win, or if you’re ranked high, you don’t really get much. Or anything, actually. No one sees you climb, and awards ceremonies at most climbs are usually small events with a medal at most. At CrossFit competitions, people see all your hard work, they cheer you on, and then you get a bunch of stuff — potentially even cash prizes — if you do well enough.
Plus, unless you’re part of the West Coast Labels clique, the sense of community in stair climbing isn’t really the same as CrossFit. Stephanie really seems to like that aspect of her gym and CrossFit in general.
That was a tangent.
In addition to this race including an elite wave and recommending slow climbers to pass on the outside, it also surpassed the Milwaukee Fight For Air Climb as having the best post-race spread and festivities I’ve seen at a stair climb. Milwaukee’s post-race is great, and they offer an awards ceremony with food held at a bar a few weeks after the race, but this climb event was on another level.
This event included a block party outside the building in the heart of downtown LA where the climb was at. There was music, food trucks, a beer/wine garden, a rock climbing wall, and this bungee/trampoline jump thing that looked awesome if you’re into that kind of thing. Dave & Buster’s had a representative on hand with a prize wheel that Stephanie & I each won $20 power cards at. And all the climbers hung around afterward. It was a really cool event. If it weren’t so far away and so expensive of a trip, this climb would be on my “must-race” list every year.