This was a stair race with multiple events participants could enter, so, much like many of the other competitive climbers who do this event, I entered two — the single climb and the triple climb.
Time: 8:45 a.m.
Finish: 17:45.5 (5:52.0, 5:55.4, 5:58.1)
I thought I would be faster at this race, both in the single climb and in the triple climb. But I’d never climbed this building — the 36-story, 780-step OneAmerica Tower in downtown Indianapolis — so it’s probably pretty dumb to come into the race with an expectation of how I’d finish.
(This isn’t the first time, either. I still haven’t learned that having expectations in unknown buildings usually results in my being let down by my finish times, because they’re almost always slower than I think they should be.)
There were positive takeaways from this race experience, however.
While my times themselves were about 30 seconds slower than I thought I could/should do, based on last year’s times I projected my triple climb time to notch me a 15th place finish among all men; I ended up being 12th. While that had more to do with the caliber of people who didn’t compete in the triple, I’m taking it as a positive nonetheless.
Simply racking up additional race experience, especially in that of a multi-climb was also good. Hopefully this helped build on the fitness I’ve been trying to establish coming into this race season, because pretty much all of my remaining upcoming races this year are multi-climbs: the power hour at Oakbrook Terrace Tower in February, all four Presidential Towers buildings in March, and then the power hour in Milwaukee in late March.
The main positive takeaway, however, was getting to hang out with and spend time around a lot of other climbers who are WAAAY better than I am. I should say, though, on one hand it was disheartening because I tend to view myself as decent at this and being around such stair climbing talent was pretty deflating. One the other hand, it was reminiscent of running as the slow man on a team of seasoned, skilled, veteran runners in the Al’s Run 8K in September.
Simply getting the chance to soak in all of conversations about stair racing that some of the top climbers in the country were having, and even getting to ask them questions, was as valuable as any experience pushing up a grueling stairwell.
I carpooled with two elite climbers from Chicago and split an Airbnb house with them, ate dinner the night before with them and a couple other veteran climbers in town for the race, hung out in the same staging area throughout the entire race morning with them and even more tower running vets (including another from Chicago, who’s arguably one of the legit fastest in the country), and then had a late breakfast/lunch with all of them afterward. Among other things, it was pretty cool hearing how upset they were when they clocked a slow climb that still happened to be more than a minute faster than my fastest, and then how they changed their approach and rebounded for their subsequent climbs.
My personal race experience wasn’t terrible. I feel like I gave what I could for most of my climbs, though maybe not as much in the second or third climbs. My main concern coming in was my start times, which ultimately ended up being a non-factor.
When you registered, it asked you to provide a previous stair climb time or 5K running time so they could place you where they thought it would make most sense, with the fastest starting first, of course. I tried entering another stair climb time during registration, but the site was wonky when I tried it, so I ended up having to just use my 5K PR (even though it’s over a year old, I figured I’d still live up to it in a stair race). I feel like this impacted me negatively, though, as I was given an 8:55 start time for my triple climb and a 10:40 start time for my single. Both were among later times for each event.
While the triple climbers started in the same time window as the highest-seeded single climbers, I was distressed because I wanted to do my single before my triple, as I was planning to go all out for that one, and then pace myself better in the triple (plus, I knew I wouldn’t have as much left in the tank for multiple near all-out efforts in that one).
The event handed out different start bibs and timing chips for each, and in the triple, you needed to get a new chip for each climb. Since I grabbed both the bibs and chips for both my single climb and the first of my triple, I figured I might be a little sneaky and wear my triple bib with my single chip so I could do them in the order I was hoping to. After all, the talk was that the lady letting people into the stairwell was being pretty strict about not letting people in who shouldn’t be let in. And since bib numbers and colors corresponded to start times, my white 507 would stick out like a sore thumb among white sub-100s and the yellow triple bibs.
I decided I’d abide by my 8:55 triple climb start time, even though everyone else I was with had start times 10 minutes earlier. At 8:45, though, I started to make my way over toward the stairwell area. The gatekeeper lady saw my yellow bib and told me I was late, and that I needed to go start. I was like, “But my start time isn’t for another 10 minutes,” and pointed to the sticker on my bib. She just chirped back, “The triple has started. You gotta go!” So off I went. For my single. In a triple bib.
It ended up working, too. Well, they were calling out bib numbers at the top, so when preliminary results were posted in the lobby/staging area after my first climb and I didn’t see my name, I talked to an event volunteer and told her I “accidentally” wore the wrong chip. She got my info and said she’d let the timing company know. But honestly, I’m not sure it was even an issue, though, because there seemed to be delays on a lot of the results throughout the morning.
As for that first climb, though, I probably started out too fast. My plan was to finish right around 5 minutes, so I aimed to be halfway (floor 18) at the 2-minute mark, and then hope my second half fade wouldn’t be too bad. I didn’t pay close attention to the floor numbers right away, but happened to notice when I hit floor 9 — since that was the quarter mark, I figured I’d check my watch, knowing I should be at about 1 minute. Nope, I was already behind: 1:04. Crap. So I kept pushing harder than I probably should have. I fell behind a little more by halfway; my watch read 2:15. I didn’t think I was in bad shape, though, until I got to about the 30th floor, when I checked again. I was at about 4:30. I thought I could do the final six floors in 30 seconds (I’m pretty sure there wasn’t enough oxygen left for my brain during that thought process). I tried pushing, but I had nothing to give. It was almost like the more I pushed, the slower I got. The last six floors were HARD. All I remember thinking was, “I STILL HAVE TO DO THIS THREE MORE TIMES???”
After I crossed the finish line, I struggled just to stay upright while a volunteer cut the chip off my shoe. Once I did, I ambled into the observatory room and fell down. I laid down for a couple minutes, huffing and puffing until I could muster the energy to stand again. It was rough.
Once I got back downstairs, I was ready to grab my chip and start my next climb — the first of my triple. Well, maybe not really “ready,” but I was expecting that’s what I’d do. Then when I reached the staging area to grab my next chip, all the other climbers who’d started 10 to 15 minutes before I had were just hanging out and talking. Apparently this event — between the you-pick, two-stairwell format, combined with triple climbers getting three hours to complete all their climbs — lends itself to ridiculously long recovery breaks if climbers so choose. And that’s apparently what these climbers were doing. So then I followed suit.
I took it easy with a 45-minute break before I went up for my second climb. And when I went in, I made sure not to go out too hard; I paced myself a lot better, though I still didn’t know what time I’d expect to put up. My watch read 5:52. I was okay with that. My next two climbs had similarly long breaks beforehand, and I managed to stay under 6 minutes for each of them, which became my goal after I saw my first triple climb time.
After the climbs, the event held an awards ceremony, which I sort of felt out of place at. All participants could attend, but usually it’s only people who will actually be receiving something who go. And everyone I was there with seemed to be in line for at least one award. I knew my single climb wasn’t fast enough for even an age group award, but I’d hoped my triple might be. However, people around me were saying they didn’t think the event gave age group awards for the triple, since so such a fewer amount of people participate. So, I mostly just sat at the awards ceremony talking to people around me, oblivious to names being called out, aside from those I recognized. Then, near the end, I heard my name! Apparently I won an age group award for the triple climb after all!
I got a pretty cool glass, which was nice. I’ll always take swag, even if it’s for the lowest of the low awards possible.
After that weekend, I debated registering for an 80-story climb in Chicago this upcoming Sunday, which many of the climbers at this Indy race are scheduled to be at. However, since I’m running in as part of a team in the Icebreaker Marathon Relay the day before, I figured it wouldn’t be a good idea. My legs would probably be trashed and I want to run well, so I didn’t want another stair race to cloud my focus in my last minute preparation for the run.