Every November, there’s a cluster of stair races all within about a week or a two week span: two races in Chicago and one here in Milwaukee.
Due to my passion for stair racing, combined with the general lack of stair racing opportunities (at least compared to road race opportunities), I obviously aim to race the entire November cluster.
The races are thus: SkyRise Chicago at the 103-story Willis (Sears) Tower, CF Climb Chicago at the 58-story 300 N. LaSalle building in Chicago, and CF Climb Milwaukee at the 47-story US Bank Center in Milwaukee.
As 2016 marks my fourth year of stair racing, it also marks my fourth year climbing at both SkyRise Chicago and CF Climb Milwaukee (formerly known as CFF Climbing For A Cure).
It would be only my second CF Climb Chicago, as the event’s minimum fundraising requirement is a tad ridiculous. However, last year they offered a competitive climber discount since the race fell the exact same day as SkyRise Chicago. Many of the competitive climbers, including myself, did SkyRise, then made their way several blocks over to the other climb and made it a doubleheader. This year, CF Climb Chicago was a week later, so it didn’t offer the same discount; it did, however, offer restructured registration pricing for competitive climbers: a steeper registration price, but no fundraising minimum.
Like last year, where I PR’d SkyRise and finally cracked the sub-20 mark with a 19:26, my training goal was to treat SkyRise as though it were a 10K. So my running coach guided me through a 10K training approach. My training was going really well, too. Probably even better than last year, actually. I was hitting 8 miles on my long runs pretty comfortably, and even had a solid 9-miler in there, too. My base was there and I was stretching my tank out even more. I was also nailing some pretty solid 5-mile tempo workouts. I was doing them at a local high school track, so I was able to keep on pace pretty easily. They got easier as the weeks crept along, and I was doing them faster, too.
Then about three weeks before SkyRise, I got sick. Not even all-the-way-sick, either. Pretty much just very minorly sick. Just sick enough to throw a wrinkle into things. My run program had me staring a taper around the same time, so my run coach had me back off a little more to get as healthy as possible for the race.
I feel like it helped a little, and I felt ready to go heading into the week of races, but in hindsight, I wasn’t really ready until probably the Wednesday after SkyRise.
Let’s break down the week, race by race:
Willis (Sears) Tower, Chicago, IL
103 stories, 2,115 steps
Time: 7:00 a.m.
I was not mentally prepared for this climb. It’s a hard one to be truly *ready* for in the first place, since it’s such a beast of a climb. But I’ve been mentally ready for the mess I’d be getting myself into with this climb before. Not this time.
I think, 1. I forgot what it truly felt like to grind out that PR last year, and I took that effort last year for granted, and 2. The lack of truly HARD, mentally challenging workouts in the couple weeks leading into the climb–in favor of more rest simply to be healthy enough to race–worked against me.
Being healthy enough to race is vital, but taking on a 103-story building without the feeling of some brutal stair workouts fresh in your mind doesn’t apparently work too well for me. Once I got the go-ahead to do one hard-ish track run workout the week before SkyRise, it was harder than I expected. I had also tried a not-so-hard stair workout the Sunday before SkyRise, and it was a bust. My effort was there, but my energy and endurance were not. I tried to ignore it and keep moving forward.
I’d have felt better if I’d come in with at least one good stair workout and one good hard run leading up to the climb. Instead, I didn’t get either. The beginning of the climb was fine–I was just using a pacing track on my iPod that I used last year, in hopes of matching about what I did last year–but the pace started feeling a little fast around the 25th floor. I maintained it all the way up until about 60, though, which is when it started getting really hard. It wasn’t a full on blow-up, but I definitely needed to have been moving at a slower pace for those first 60 floors.
In the end, it was my slowest SkyRise ever. My watch said 21:02, which was pretty much inexcusable. I was aiming for sub-20 again, and over-21 felt sickening. I was angry, frustrated, and disappointed in myself. What a terrible race. To my surprise, when I printed my timing slip afterward, it read 20:45. But that seemed a bit off–I’ve had timing discrepancies before. Usually only a couple seconds, though, not 17 seconds. I later found out there was about a 12-second timing issue with the timing company. My official result will go down as 20:57, which I’m still not happy about, but happier than 21:02. My progression at this race now goes 20:01, 20:11, 19:26, 20:57.
I really think I can get below 19. I have my work cut out for me next year.
CF Climb Milwaukee
US Bank Center, Milwaukee, WI
47 stories, 981 steps
Time: 6:15 p.m.
If you look at how fast I’ve done this climb immediately following SkyRise the past three years, my approximate finish, based on my SkyRise time this year, should’ve probably been somewhere around a 7:16 or so.
After SkyRise, I took Monday off, ran an easy 4 miles Tuesday, and then took Wednesday off. That Tuesday night I got some great sleep and felt super rested. Wednesday I felt as good as I’d felt since before I got sick, and that gave me a mental boost, too.
Thanks to SkyRise, I had the feeling of a hard stair effort fresh in my head, but combined with feeling fully charged up again, I was ready to push myself back home in Milwaukee on Thursday. I knew my fitness was great prior to getting sick, and I knew I hadn’t lost all of that. I was hopeful I could rejoin the sub-7 club, so I strategized my pacing plan around that.
Early-ish in the race, I got passed by a guy I beat by four seconds last year. He was big-time into climbing a few years ago; he was *THE* Wisconsin guy among the crowd of elite climbers around the country. Then he dropped off the map. Last year’s CF Climb was a comeback of sorts for him. Just to climbing in general, but not to the “climbing scene,” as it were. Anyway, he must’ve been TRAINING this past year. Because last year he climbed as part of a trio behind me and a Chicago guy I was trailing for about 30 stories, and when he finished, he was gassed. This year, he passed me like I was standing still, even thanking me without sounding winded as I stepped out of his way to pass. He ultimately went from a 6:47 last year to a 6:10 this year. That’s a beast effort. And a beast improvement. That’s the kind of jump I’d love to make. I was super impressed.
Anyway, the guy in front of me at last year’s climb is a Chicago climber I’m friends with. After that *THE* Wisconsin guy passed me, I caught up to the Chicago guy and decided to stick with him again like I did last year. I had written splits on my arm in an attempt to stay on track. Once I caught up to him, though, I sort of just used them as reference points to see what kind of pace he had us on.
I had chunked the building into quarters. I wanted to hit floor 9 at 1:45, floor 20 at 3:26, and floor 31 at 5:07. That would have me finish in 6:49 at floor 42 (the 47-story climb starts several floors below ground, and has a couple “missing” floors along the way). While I was aiming for 6:49, I was sort of accounting for a slight fade, and I really would’ve been happy with a 6:59.
As I attached myself to my Chicago friend’s pace, I noted he seemed to be attempting to negative split the climb. I was behind schedule the first half, as I hit floor 9 at 1:47 and floor 20 at 3:29, but then floor 31 at 5:04. Right about another floor or two later, he dropped me. I tried, but couldn’t keep up with his kick. According to my watch, I hit the finish in 7:00-flat.
Not the sub-7 I was aiming for, but a much better effort than SkyRise. I was happy with that. When it was all said and done, I actually had myself faster than the timer, as I ended officially with a 7:03.
This climb was also a little mentally taxing on me for other reasons, as I was on the committee for this climb and helped reach out to elite and competitive climbers to get them to participate. I also captained a set of teams for Stair Club Milwaukee. One of my cousins and a friend of his drove to town for the climb, too. The Milwaukee Fight For Air race director showed up at this climb and chatted with me before the race. I felt like I was all over the place. I barely got a warm-up in, and I still feel like I didn’t get to talk as much as I wanted with some people.
Speaking of my team, one guy on my team had a REALLY good climb. He’s already a crazy good runner, but in the stairwell, the dude is an absolute animal.
CF Climb Chicago
300 N. LaSalle, Chicago, IL
58 stories, 1,333 steps
Time: 9 a.m.
Age: (no age results provided)
To say I didn’t care about this climb is a little harsh, but it was definitely the least important climb of the week for me. If not for the competitive climber registration pricing, I wouldn’t have even done it.
That said, my only goal was to finish faster than I did last year. Last year it took me 10:01 to climb this building about 2 and a half hours after I’d just finished a PR effort at Willis Tower. This building’s stairwell is pretty easy, although it does have a crossover at floor 22 with a hallway to run, where the turns switch from right to left.
Prior to the start, I lined up behind an Indiana climbing acquaintance of mine. A couple years ago this guy was a few minutes behind me at most races. This year, though, this guy leveled WAAAY up. He’s put in crazy work. He bested my Los Angeles climb PR by almost a minute last September, and even beat me by about 40 seconds at Willis Tower this year. I felt fine lining up behind him.
But then in line, out of nowhere, some more fast-ish people show up. One of them is an older doctor guy from Chicago who has a bunch of money and a passion for stair races. He flies EVERYWHERE to climb. He must drop a ton of his doctor money on these things, including a whole bunch of international climbs. Anyway, the guy seems nice enough, but his overenthusiastic zeal wears on me from afar. I generally try to keep my distance.
I wasn’t able to this time, though, because he just walks right up to the Indiana guy in front of me in, says something to the Indiana guy about how the Indiana guy should be in front of him, pays me no mind, and then essentially just inserts himself between me and the Indiana guy.
I did everything I could not to bark at him right there on the spot. I mean, really, guy? Seriously? I just beat this guy by about a minute at both Willis Tower a week earlier and at the Milwaukee climb two days earlier. But he thinks he should be lining up in front of me?
Okay, look: I know I’m not the fastest stair climber out there. I have no reason to get huffy about where I start in a line of elite and competitive climbers. There have even been plenty of times where I’ve actually lined up farther back than I should have. But this pissed me off. Of the known climbers toward the front of the line, the Indiana guy seemed to be the slowest guy faster than me. I was arranged properly. I’m sure part of my annoyance at the perceived disrespect was that this particular Chicago guy does tend to come off a certain way to me.
But I didn’t say anything. I just bit my tongue, kept in line in my spot, and tried to guess what floor I’d be asking him to move over so I could pass him.
Turns out, it was about the 25th floor or so.
Actually, what happened was I caught up to him around floor 10 or so, didn’t ask him to pass, kept pressing on him for a little bit until we both caught the Indiana guy. From the time I had the Chicago guy within range, I could hear him breathing… breathing HARD. I checked myself — I wasn’t breathing hard at all. I wondered if I was doing something wrong, actually. When we caught up to the Indiana guy, he seemed to be climbing really comfortably. I knew he was on a different level this year, though. The Chicago guy asked to pass him, and did. I didn’t. I stuck with the Indiana guy.
I don’t know what happened to the Chicago guy, but he disappeared. Flew way ahead. Indiana guy and I stuck together at a solid pace. We hit the 22nd floor crossover, and when we got to the hallway, we both gave it a hard jog to the next stairwell. When we got there, the Chicago was in the hallway, too. Moving a lot more slowly in his jog.
Indiana guy and I gained on Chicago guy in the hallway, and then a couple floors later, the Chicago guy seemed totally gassed. The Indiana guy went in for the pass, with the Chicago guy stepping out to the side to let him. I half wondered if he’d try to step back in front of me to cut me off, and continue his disrespect toward me. I stuck right on the Indiana guy, though, and didn’t give the Chicago guy a chance to jump back in. Almost immediately, I lost track of the Chicago guy behind me. He fell OFF.
(Note: generally speaking, don’t pass someone in a stair race only to have them have to pass you back later. It certain circumstances, usually with high level guys, it might be okay. But at our level, just don’t be a d-bag and blaze past people you know you’re not faster than.)
Anyway, I stuck with the Indiana guy all the way until somewhere around the 35th-40th floor or so. I can’t remember exactly. But he was staying strong while I was starting to fade. I looked at my watch and estimated my projected finish based on the floors I was hitting. I decided I could back off a little more yet and still finish below 10 minutes. Basically, I was just deciding not to kill myself for the fastest possible finish.
Around floor 50 I thought, “Just give it one last solid effort for a decent finish.” I picked it up slightly. Then about two floors later I heard the Chicago guy breathing HARD again a few floors below me. Was he really getting close enough for me to hear him??? That really put a charge into me, and I cranked it up for a stronger finish than I was planning. The stronger finish worked out okay in the end, though, because I crossed the finish with 9:53 on my watch, which was a bit closer than my effort had me believe I should’ve done. The 3 seconds I lost from the timer in Milwaukee I got back here, though, as my official time went down as 9:50.
The 6-floor final burst did take something out of me at the end, as I felt pretty spent. Strangely, I was more spent after this race than either of the other two earlier in the week. I also got the worst “track hack” I’ve had in a while from a climb. Runny nose, constant sneezing for the day and a half after the climb. Not what I expected for the climb I didn’t care about that much.
* * * * *
Now it’s time for a little mid-stair-season break. Stair races don’t pick up until after the start of the new year, and my running coach always recommends taking an “offseason.” I’ll need to get in gear for the early-year stair racing, so a true, full offseason isn’t really an option, but I will be looking for a mini-recharge in the next week or two before I build back up for a hopefully strong 2017 winter/spring season.