Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Oak brook terrace

Two days after returning from the empire state race in new york, i was again heading to a stair race--this one, however, only a ten minute drive from my house. 15, if you count my stopping at starbucks for a mocha.

The building was nice, the lobby well-laid out. I arrived in my gear, but still checked my jacket, which i probably didn't technically need to do, but it was quite chill outside, so even the short walk to my car was a painful one.

There was a little time to kill before the race, because the "ultimate" was still going on. I watched the climbers make up to a dozen trips up the building, and was incredibly impressed. Part of me wished i'd signed up for the ultimate, but another part of me was glad i was only going to be scaling the stairs three times.

I was wearing my shirt from the empire state run-up and it broke the ice with some of the elite climbers i'd seen on facebook and at the top of race results. It was really nice to meet them in person. Soon we lined up, them at the start of the line, me a ways back.

My plan for the race was to go conservative, to shoot for about 4:30, but try to do that for every climb. I wasn't going to win no matter what i did, but i could learn to pace myself. Soon it was my turn, and i headed up the stairs.

The stairwell was very consistent, which i liked. The floors seemed very far apart compared to the empire state building, where a single short series of steps brought you to the next level. I was passing people quickly, trying very hard to maintain a constant pace, one that was challenging, but would not leave me entirely spent and unable to execute a sprint finish or have a good next two climbs.

Before i knew it, the top of the stairs were there. I didn't sprint but the last floor, but it was a long one. At the top i took a minute to catch my breath, but felt good. A few people i'd passed reached the top, and they congratulated me on how fast i'd been going. I thanked them, and asked them about their experiences. When i went downstairs, i saw that my time was 4:45, good for 13th place so far. I saw the elites taking rest, so i emulated them and waited for my legs to fully recover and my breath to return fully to normal.

My second trip up the stairs i felt even better. I knew the staircase and felt really good. I started my sprint with three floors to go, and when i popped through the door, i felt pretty ok, with little need to cool down or rest. Downstairs, i was disappointed that only the first trip's times could be determined at the race. I imagined my time might be a few seconds faster than the first.

I waited about 10 more minutes, and made my third trip up. This time, i decided to follow the precepts of "body mind and sport" and use deep breathing and make the climb a transcendent experience. The staircase had mostly emptied out, so i just breathed slow and deep, kept my eyes up, and thought happy thoughts. I hardly felt the climb at all, and before i knew it, i'd crossed the finish line again. I had no idea what my time might be. It had seemed like a blink, so part of me thought it might have been by far my fastest climb of the day. But based on how i felt, i thought it might have been right in line with the other climbs.

I went downstairs to the refreshment area, and grabbed some water and a banana. I saw the elite climbers sitting at a table, and gingerly walked over, made contact with justin, who i'd already spoken to, and asked if i could sit there. My empire state shirt broke the ice again, and soon i was talking to Jesse Berg, who was the highest american placer at the empire state race, and had won almost every major US race. There was chatting, but i was mostly listening to the guys talk.

Soon, justin brok out his video camera and said he wanted to tape a fun run up the stairs, and jesse looked at me, asking if i wanted to come. I was in shock; i was going to be running the stairs with three of the fastest climbers in the world. I was sure they would drop me almost immediately, but it was also an opportunity not to be missed. We went to the single climb stairwell, they held onto the camera, and two went up, and eric pushed me along to follow.

Faster than i would have imagined possible, i was following them up the steps. The pace seemed crazy; we were zigzagging around slow climbers, flinging ourselves off the rails, really RUNNING the stairs. I didn't even think about what i was doing, merely focused on keeping jesse and justin in my sights, and not slowing down eric, who was on my tail.

At about floor 15, Jesse slowed down and the group resumed a brisk walking pace. I was madly catching my breath, but i couldn't believe it. I had kept up. I knew i wasn't close to these guys, and they had all had a much harder racing day than me, and they were the ones parting the crowd, but for a minute i had kept up.

At about 20, they took off again, and that was it for me. I got out of eric's way and he took off again. Could i have pursued. I don't know. At the time, it wasn't my reflex, and i expect it was because i was too tired to chase at that point. Now, after the fact, i wish i had tried--even if i'd gotten dropped after a few floors, i would have given it my all. I met them at the top, we headed down, and after a bried fist bump, it was home.

I learned later that my times were 4:45 4:47 and 4:57. It had seemed i was getting faster at the time, but really i'd lost a little, especially during my zen run. Exhaustion mattered more than i thought! Still, i was remarkably consistent. I was overjoyed when i first looked at the site to see me listed as 4th place in the triple climb! My time soon dropped to 5th, and the next day i was down to 10th, as, i suppose, timing errors were corrected.

Still, that was an excellent result for me, especially as i was consciously holding something in reserve, and i considered the fun run with the super climbers the best part of the day. This was also the first race where i garnered world cup points; 5.6 points put me precisely nowhere, but i would be happy to be on some sort of list at the end of the year. All in all, a fantastic day!

The race results!


  1. Top 10 result! Way to go, Dave! And how cool is that to have tested your legs with the elite runners afterwards? I've always wanted a chance to do something similar on the bike...

  2. Thank you, Andrew! I really feel my interaction with the top racers is providing me with knowledge and motivation to join their ranks.