Sunday, March 18, 2012

Aon 2012 ( rewind )

Coming into the AON i knew i was going to have a very tough month ahead of me. The empire state building run up was 10 days after the aon, then oak brook terrace was just a few days after that. The following weekend was the springfield hilton, which i was considering, then the hancock, then presidential towers. I was ready for the challenge, but not sure how i was actually going to handle it.

My training was mostly stair master at the gym. I had been steadily increasing my steps/min count and setting new PR's by a second or two every week. I felt good about my progress. I had struggled with my weight over the past years, but i was coming into this race at about 185, ten pounds lighter than i'd ever done it before.

My start time was early, but not right after the elites. I was still hoping for a mildly clear staircase so early in the day. I was also going to return to the bottom of the building after my finish and pace my 9 year old cousin kyle for his race, his first time doing the full climb after winning the 1/2 climb the year before. It was going to be a fun day!!!

I showed up feeling pretty good. Hopped into the bathroom, changed, checked my gear. Unfortunately, after the elites went, there was a large contingent of employees, friends & family, etc that went up. None looked concerned about their times, so i expected my early start was not going to help me a bit, and perhaps hurt me, as the stairs were going to be full of noncompetitive people. 2 years back when i went at nearly noon, the stairs were fairly empty, and i had gotten my best time yet.

I lined up. My timing track was set to pace me to 3:10, a time that on one hand seemed far too ambitious, and on the other, seemed realistic based on my time at the sears tower, and my improvement since then. Soon, i was at the door, hit start, and headed up.

I held my pace until about 20, passing people, sometimes several per floor. The longest clear path i got was 2-3 floors. My legs, specifically my hamstrings and glutes, quickly began to feel sore. A bad sign for so early in the race! I still held my pace, but every time i got behind someone and took a few seconds to prepare a pass, i lost a few steps. I was unsure what to do, and feeling very mentally out of it. I began to chastize myself for not training correctly, but forced myself to refocus on the race. I decided to let my time slip, but to set a pace i felt i could maintain. I was confident that my secondary goal of setting a PR could be accomplished if i didn't risk burning my legs out. So i went conservative, pulled back my pace a bit, and plodded up the steps. My plan was to build up some energy and finish strong, perhaps sprinting to the finish.

My goal time of 3:10 arrived at about 68, with 12 floors left to go. At that point, i realized that there was some chance i might not set a PR if i didn't start to surge immediately, but i was feeling mostly recovered, so i took off up the stairs. There were a lot of people on the top 10 floors, as there always were, but i didn't wait to pass anyone. My timing track went on counting-- 13:30, 13:40-- 13:50..

Soon i popped though the door, thankful to be done.. That finishing 12 floor sprint had taken it out of me. A few seconds anfter i was through the door, i heard my timing track announce 14:30 and i cut it off. I had pr'd by at least 40 seconds, not too bad.

I had some drinks, a few pieces of muffin and danish, a nice post-race treat, and headed down. I made some quick phone calls and status updates, then my cousins showed up. Soon kyle and i were lined up. We talked tactics, and agreed that 25 minutes was a good goal for him. I also reminded him of my credo that it is always better to slow down rather than maintain a pace that will force you to stop later.

Soon we were though. He started off a bit fast, and i slowed him down to a 25-minute pace several times. By 20, he looked entirely ok, so after the water station ( he took a cup, but kept moving up the stairs, just as we had discussed ) i let him go. I did slow him when he looked to be getting out of breath, i kept up a conversation, as i wanted to make sure he was breahting regularly and still cognizant. At about 50 i told him i thought we were on a 22 minute pace and he seemed happy.

By 60, he stopped responding to my conversation for the most part, so i switched to encouraging words every few floor or so. We had discussed a finishing sprint, so when we got close to 75, he perked up and asked if the sprint was soon, and i told him it was, and he should slow down a bit and catch his breath. He did, then at 75, we took off. Those last 5 floors went fast, and soon we were in the ballroom. He'd come in just about 22 minutes, an excellent time in general, amazing for a 9 year old!

Kyle walked to the wall, and sat down for a few minutes, focusing on his breathing. We got up, and i felt like a jerk, because i had been telling him about all the pastry and sweets at the top, and they were already all gone. But not to worry, we soon went to wishbone, and had a great meal.

As i was digesting my disappointing performance, i realized the problem, obvious in retrospect, was that i had done far too little training on real stairs, and in particular, i had double-stepped the whole race, and could only single-step my stairmaster. So, my legs hadn't been adequately prepared for the rigors of double-stepping. That, and mentally, i was unprepared for real stairs in some fundamental ways. I was pretty disappointed, but i was glad i'd learned those lessons before heading to the empire state building race, a much more prestigious and novel event.

I was terribly disappointed to discover that my time had not been recorded on the official race results. I e-mailed the race organizers and told them i had worked hard to come in under 14:30 and would really appreciate it if they could find my result. Soon i was posted to the site as 14:29; i expected they had just used my claim of "under 14:30" as their metric. I expect i had come in closer to 14:25 or so, but didn't really care.

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