Time: 7:00 a.m.
This is a beast of a race. The Willis (Sears) Tower is daunting, and it’s just plain hard to climb. Not only is it 103 stories and 2,115 steps, but each step is steeper than most building’s stairs.
Aside from that, there were a few frustrating things about this year’s experience, which culminated in a 10-second slower performance than last year, which I’ll get to shortly.
Now, 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 about my training.
I got on a regimented running program with more volume and different kinds of speed work (which is more aimed at my running goals, but should in no way detract from my stair goals), I got on a more serious strength training program, and I tweaked my work in the stairwells at my work building to include more volume and different kinds of exercises, including some with a weight vest.
After some foot issues in August and September that interrupted my training, and then a lackluster performance at the Ketchum-Downtown YMCA Stair Climb For Los Angeles, I felt like I got back on track. Until about two weeks ago when I got a cold.
Frustrating Thing #1: illness
It was my first cold in about two years. In that time my eating habits, activity levels, and general rest levels have gotten much better, so illness hasn’t really been an issue for me for a while. I’m not totally sure what brought it on — overtraining? Personal stress? Just a really nastier-than-usual bug going around? Whatever it was, it lingered. I trained through it as I felt okay enough to, but took more days off than usual, including a few stair days.
I don’t know how much fitness I lost during those two weeks, if any, but I didn’t really feel that great until probably sometime Saturday afternoon. That’s not a lot of time to actually be feeling good prior to a race. But then I even got some pretty good sleep before the race. About a full 8 hours, in fact (which is much more than the staggered 4, then 2 hours I got prior to last year’s SkyRise).
I felt as ready for the race as I was going to be, all things considered.
Frustrating Thing #2: the “elite” start wave
When Stephanie and I lined up for the race, we lined up with the elite start wave, which we’d been approved to start with. Much like other elite start waves, we had to provide other stair races we’d finished highly at.
That wasn’t a problem this year. Last year, I had one result where I was in the top 50, but this year I could fill out all three spots on the application. Stephanie, too. Last year she didn’t have any, so she just started behind the elite wave.
Much like last year, though, the elite wave wasn’t really monitored well, except for maybe the top 25 people or so, who self-ordered themselves based on the fact that they all know each other and know how fast they all are. After that, it gets a bit scrappy. Polite people ask how fast people around them expect to finish in and line themselves up based on that, but not-as-polite people just sort of jockey around, cutting in front of people for better positioning, even if they’re not really that fast and will be a nuisance for faster people to pass.
I saw several people do this, most notably some of the West Coast Labels’ posse, whose likely only elite qualifying criteria is “I know elite people.” As I’ve stated before, they’re super nice people, I’m cool with a few of them, and a good handful of them are super legit stair racers. But not all of them are legit. And the “not all of them” group is really turning me off to them.
Somewhere between the 20th and 25th floors, I hit a bottleneck of traffic consisting of approximately half West Coast Labels people who lined up closer to the start line than they should have. It didn’t take too long, but I wedged my way through the middle of them (no one in the bottleneck seemed to be interested in moving for faster climbers) and kept on going.
Frustrating Thing #3: the dude in my way at the end
If totally healthy, I was really hoping to finish in the 18:30-19:30 range. But I wasn’t totally healthy, so I adjusted my expectations. That said, I was still hoping/expecting to break the 20-minute mark.
For pacing purposes, I had been trying to click the split button on my watch as I saw specific floor numbers I had taken note of ahead of time. I broke it down into approximately 250-step chunks, since that’s the step total at my work where I train, with a goal of 2 minutes per chunk, or about 2.08 steps per second. I knew there would be some dropoff, though, of course — there was no way I was finishing in 17-ish minutes, which that pace would’ve put me at. I still thought it was a good outline to try to follow to make things manageable, though. My first two splits were a little faster than my goal, then the rest were slower than my goal.
I don’t remember a ton about the climb itself, other than the aforementioned bottleneck, which didn’t appear to slow me down, and then that I got caught behind some dude in a blue sleeveless shirt with dark hair at the end who was grabbing both rails in the narrower section of stairwell at the top.
In the heat of the race, I knew he was climbing slower than I was, but didn’t think he slowed me down *THAT* much. However, this morning I put together a table of the splits I was clicking off at certain floors, and in looking at it in hindsight, I think if I’d been more aggressive with him, I could’ve cracked sub-20.
When I hit the 90th floor or so, I glanced at my watch and knew I needed to speed up if I wanted sub-20, so I did. It was a few floors later when I caught this guy — I was behind him for about 6 or 7 floors until the top. I kept some space and didn’t really run up on him, but I probably should have. Instead, I was literally yelling, “GO!”, “LET’S GO!”, “C’MON, MAN!”, and “SPEED UP!” at him to go faster because I knew I could go a little faster — I just didn’t have the big burst of energy in me necessary to pass him.
I felt my request was pretty clear, but since I was behind him, I wonder if maybe he didn’t hear clearly and/or understand what I was trying to say, though? All he did at that point was start to count down the remaining floors aloud, like maybe he was trying to be inspiring or something? I don’t know. It was pretty aggravating, though.
(The full stair can be found chart HERE, if you’re interested in looking at it turn-by-turn.)
Looking at the table is pretty frustrating. I really should’ve summoned some energy to pass that guy. My pace at the end was WAY below the rest of my pace the rest of the entire race! If I’d have gotten to floor 98 in 18:49 like I did, but then finished the last 5 floors in 1:10 for a 19:59 overall time, that would’ve only been an SPS of 1.50 for those last 5 floors, which was more than achievable. I should note that there were more turns/landings at that point in the climb, which tend to slow things down, but I had just cranked it up for a strong finish and still wanted to push; I don’t think those turns and landings would’ve slowed me down THAT much on their own.
Redeeming factor: lemon ricotta pancakes
One of mine and Stephanie’s favorite on-the-way-home-from-Chicago restaurants is Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook. We have a head start home and we’re out of the city, so traffic and general hassle aren’t an issue. Most importantly, though, the food is high quality and delicious.
This was our third or fourth time eating there, and it left my taste buds tingling. I think all our visits have been after stair climbs, with our first time eating there coming after last year’s SkyRise. The awesome thing is we’ve managed to have the same awesome waitress, Pearl, every time we’ve been there. At this point, she even remembers us and that we live in Wisconsin.
After a hard race, I should really consume some high quality protein, like eggs or an omelet or something (which is what Stephanie does), but it’s hard to resist the delectable carb-prominent breakfast treats Prairie Grass has to offer. Specifically the lemon ricotta pancakes. Our first time there, Stephanie told me I should try them because she thought that, based on things I like, that I would like them. I didn’t get them, though. I got blueberry pancakes instead, which were predictably delicious. The ricotta threw me off and swayed me away from those pancakes; it’s cheese, so I wasn’t really sure how that would work in pancakes.
Well, incredibly and ridiculously deliciously, as it turns out. I had lamented not trying them after our first time there, so the second time there, I made sure to get them. It’s the only thing I get now. Which sucks. They’re so good I don’t want to try anything else, but the rest of menu looks so good I doubt I’d regret any choice I made there.