For the 2 days before the Aon race, i let my body rest, taking only a yoga workshop friday night, and doing easier versions of a few poses. Saturday, i stayed in, tidied the house, and caught up with a few e-mails. Roxanne showed up around 4, and we hung out, then went to visit some very cool friends of hers, then headed out for dinner. We were near amitabul, my favorite restaurant, so we went there. I had over-eaten there before my previous race, so i was very careful with my food choices this time, ordering soup, and only eating ½ of that. That being said, their bowls of soup are utterly ginormous, and half of that was plenty of food for me. We each brought ½ of our meals home, and snacked a bit. I had a few of the dark chocolate peanut butter cups roxanne got at trader joe’s. I could have eaten half the container, i had to work hard to stop myself at two. There is a good reason why i don’t keep things like that in the house!
My clock was set for 6am, but i woke up at 5:30. Unable to grab any more sleep, i went to dunkin donuts to get our per-race coffees. I always have a big coffee pre-race, not only because the caffeine provides some extra energy, but ( this gets a tad graphic here ) because it gets my insides moving, and with any luck i can leave few pounds behind that i would otherwise have to carry up the stairs. Every little bit helps! And it did that morning.
We dressed and got ready. I was anxious, but not overly so. The drive to the race was non-eventful and the guard at the lot waved us by without checking our race materials, saying “You look like those athletic types”. Very funny. We checked in, got our bibs and chips, and said hi to old friends. I had to pee, but i was pretty early. I could stretch a bit, then go, then check gear, then line up.
Then i noticed a problem. My bib number was 16, but my chip was 15! My bib had my name on it, so my chip was wrong. What to do?!? I contacted a volunteer, then got led around to different race personnel as they tried to figure out what to do. Time was ticking, and i still hadn’t checked my gear or gone to the bathroom. I started to get really nervous. They started to lead me to the start line, but i told them i had to check my gear. A volunteer kindly took my gear to the check for me, and then i was led to the timing table, through the rapidly gathering crowd. They started to make a new bib and chip for me, but it was going to take a while, and make me miss the start, more than likely. I was bummed out, with the probability of missing the elite start i had worked so hard for, and likely therefore not making my goal time.
Then someone pointed out the runner that actually HAD bib 15. I went over to him, and, amazingly, he had my chip. We quickly switched chips, and i told the timer what had happened, and he complimented me on being a solver. But it was time to start, and he started sending up runners. And i still had to pee. Well, i was hoping to finish in 13 minutes, could i hold it that long? Probably. I has no idea what was going to happen, but i was wired, anxious; i hadn’t gotten a chance to warm up, and my bladder was full. Mentally, i kissed my sub 13 minute goal goodbye, but i decided i was just going to go do my best. Karen lined up right behind me, and roxanne just after her. Karen had been with me at both sears tower and US bank, finishing faster than me both times, but providing me a lot of inspiration in the steps. And, she’s been encouraging and boosting me tremendously, so i was glad to have her there. Before i knew it, it was my turn, and i crossed the timing pad and headed up the stairs.
As i crossed the pad and heard the beep of my chip registering, i pressed play on my ipod. I make mp3 tracks that have music themed for the parts of the race ( for example, starting with relax, to remind me to start slow ) , as well as a synthesized voice that counts off floors and times. My goal was to do the first 69 floors at 10 seconds a floor, then the last 10 at 9 seconds floor, for a small closing sprint. Again, much of that now seemed unlikely, but i was going to do my best.
Right away, i was behind, presumably because the first few floors were taller than the others. Also, with the stress and distraction of my bib situation, i forgot to tuck my headphone cord into my shirt, so i promptly knocked my headphones off and nearly tripped over the cord. Idiot. I had to let go of the handrail and deal with this situation, but kept climbing as i put the headphones back on and looped the loose cord around my neck, hoping it wouldn’t somehow tighten and cut off my air. I was nearly a floor behind, but put on a surge and caught up. I had decided beforehand not to let myself fall off my pace unless i was physically incapable of keeping it up. Maybe i would burn out at 15, but i didn’t want to be cursing myself at 70 for being 5 floors behind with fresh legs.
I focused on my step pattern. Aon is almost 10 and turn all the way up, and i had figured out the most efficient step pattern. Single step with the inside foot, two doubles with each foot, then a long single step with the outside foot so the left could skip the landing entirely and go from the 9th step from the staircase behind me to the 1st step of the one in front. You can do the reverse, pivoting on the inside foot, and a few times during the race, i did that for a little while, but i was focused on only putting one foot on the landing whenever possible. Many racers take 2-3 steps on a landing, and also double step every step, which means one leg is doing 2 steps and the other 3, leading to a more tired leg. Also, by mixing in single and double steps, you utilize different muscle fibers helping to keep the legs fresh. I figured it was better to do my efficient step pattern slowly and deliberately, and conserve energy. And i was still moving at a very good clip.
But someone was catching up to me! Karen was quickly on my heels. I peeked back to see if she looked as if she wanted to pass me, but she seemed to be ok, using me as a pacer for a while. I must have misread that, though, because soon she passed me on the outside. I felt bad, it was very poor etiquette on my part to not get out of her way so she could pass on the more efficient inside. She started to pull away from me, and i resisted the urge to go after her, but my pacing track kept reminding me of my 10 second a floor goal. Soon karen was a floor ahead and almost out of sight, on floor 15 of a 80 floor race!
But not quite! She remained a floor ahead for a few floors, and then my predetermined pace gradually caught me up to her. I knew i was not going to ask her to let me pass, but she stepped aside once i got close, and i again felt bad for making her go around me. She settled in behind me, and i just focused on sticking to my pace. She had gone a little too hard at the start, and i could keep both of us on track.
That worked from about 20-30, but then she started to drop back. By 35 or so, she was out of sight, and i was sorry to see her go. But i was still feeling great, still periodically slowing myself down so as to not get ahead of where i wanted to be. From 35-50 i didn’t see anyone but the volunteers thrusting cups of water towards me. I wondered if they were feeling bad no one was taking water, but i knew none of the elites would.
At 50 i saw a large figure obscuring the light from above, and realize it was Sid, another friend of mine from the races. He looked back, smiled, stepped aside, and said “Good going dave” as he slapped me on the back. I said something back, but i forget what. That was quite a boost for me, and i felt re energized seeing him. I was still on my pace, and still feeling good, now starting to wonder if my goal was achievable after all.
My legs were starting to feel tired, but i started to play a game i often played in the gym. When i have a workout planned, say 140 steps/minute for 18 minutes. Often at only 5 minutes i find myself thinking i can’t keep up my pace for as long as planned. So what i do is say “Ok, maybe i can’t do 10 more minutes, but i can do 2 more and see where i am.” Often i can keep doing that until i hit my original goal. In this case i had 30 floors left, and the last ten were going to be at a faster pace than what i was doing now. I wasn’t sure i could do it, but 5 more seemed like no big deal, so i focused on going 5 floors, and reassessing. at 55, i felt exactly like how i felt at 50, so i just focused on keeping the same pace to 60.
At 60 i saw someone else ahead. It was Scott! Soon i was on his heels, and he stepped aside to let me pass, saying something along the lines of “Doing great, Dave”! Again, it was a huge boost to see a friendly face in there, and i felt re-energized.
Then i decided to employ a bit of race planning i hadn’t expected to be able to make use of. I had decided in the extremely off chance i still felt good at 60, i was going to pick up the pace a little, so i had some time in the bank when i hit 70. It was hardly much of an increase, but i started to hit the landings a second ahead, then 2, then 3. By the time i hit 70, where i was supposed to go to 9 second a floor pace, i was a whole floor ahead. Automatically, i picked up the pace a little more.
Then i was almost 2 floors ahead at 73 and it hit me: i had the race in the bag: 7 floors left and i was almost 20 seconds under my goal. I could take it easy and still be under my goal. Even if i lost 20 seconds over the next 5 floors, i would be on track, and with all that rest, i could easily sprint the last 2 and still come in under. If i kept pushing it, who knew, i could face plant or black out or just trip over my feet and screw up.
So i backed off, still double-stepping but focusing on good form, deep breathing. I started to lose a few seconds, but before i knew it, i was on 79, and i popped up the last staircase and across the mat. I stumbled out into the ballroom, and several seconds later heard my timing track count off “13 minutes”. It was over, and i had crossed the mat about five seconds before my timer had counted off 13 minutes. I had succeeded!
I looked around for a group of people, but everyone seemed far away in corners and along the wall. And, the room was pretty empty. I realized i had probably been only the 12th or so person to emerge from the door into this giant ballroom, and that was why it was eerily quiet and empty. I walked towards the center, and thought that even though i could probably walk it off, it was a perfectly fine to go to the floor. I laid myself down, and doubt much could have gotten me off the floor for the next few minutes. I had spent most of the race feeling pretty good, but as i lay on the floor, waves of exhaustion washed over me.
About 2-3 minutes later, though, i felt fine, and more of my friends were emerging from the stairs, or had already emerged and were recovering themselves, so i mingled and checked in how everyone had done, getting some photos. Kristin had apparently won the women’s, possibly tying her course record, which was great, as she had been very pessimistic about her training. Sproule had apparently won the men’s. When people asked what my time had been, i told them i estimated 12:55, and since i had been declaring my goal was sub 13, i got a lot of hearty congratulations.
We went back down, and several of us climbed again, but i went to look for my cousin, kyle, so i could pace hm up ( he’s 11 ). Kristin went with me, and we waited in line to go up again. Kristen took off at her torrid pace, and one of the climbers behind me and kyle saw i was a pacer, and stuck with us. I watched the clock to keep kyle on or under his goal time of < 25 minutes, slowing him down a few times to avoid burn out. The woman stuck with us until 70, where despite my encouragement, she slowed down. Her goal had been 23, and i thought she was in danger of missing it, but i wished her luck and kept on. At 75, kyle sprinted, and we were at 80 before we knew it! We had gotten a little under 22:30, several minutes faster than the previous year. Even better, when we had hit the top in previous years, all the food was gone, but this time there were tons of cookies. We took the elevator down after getting some pictures, and there were great muffins at the base; i took two cinnamon crumbs for myself. Nice reward after two 80 floor climbs!
We gathered the team together, and decided that instead of driving distance for a pancake eating contest, we’d go next door and have a regular meal. We had a great time, and scott purchased food for us. Rox and i drove scott to the airport, but because we were stuck in the Aon parking lot for 30-40 minutes, we missed scott’s flight. Fortunately, he was able to get on the next one. We had a great time, even given the adversity. I drove rox to my place, and she quickly packed and left, hoping to beat the ice storm.
Soon the results were posted, and i saw that my time estimate had been spot-on at 12:55. That was good for 23rd place, both tremendous accomplishments for me! Kyle had gone 22:18, surely placing him highly in his age group.
I went to a yoga class that evening, and did most of it, except for a few of the squats where i had to hold my weight up. It was my favorite teacher’s last class, and i couldn’t miss it. Afterwards we went out for beer and pizza, and i had a little of both, though i made sure to fill up on the protein bars i brought.
All in all, a fabulous day!!