Thursday, January 30, 2014

Aon 2014 -- not peaked, and it showed.

Aon chicago is the first race i ever did, of any sort, so it is special for me.  I also very much like the race and usually do well at it, so i also look forward to it very much.  

Over the summer, i was doing high-intensity training 3 times a week, and cratered before US bank, and had a poor race there. I had over trained and burned myself out. 

To try to recover from that, I did a lot of low-intensity cardio and good-old fashioned rest, and managed to make a small PR by sears tower, just over a month later, and a larger PR at 300N, just a week after that.  

Buoyed by that, i decided to keep “base building”--ie, doing lots of easy cardio and cross training--until AON, maybe mixing a few sprints in there.  Last year i did 5 weeks of race simulation climbs every 3-4 days before Aon, so i went into the event pretty confident, but this year i’d have none of that.

All lined up!

At the start line, i was a few pounds lighter than last year, and a fair bit leaner.  But with my non-specific training, i had no idea how i’d do.  When it was my turn to go, I started off doing 10 seconds a floor, and at 50 i’d switch to 9 seconds a floor, with a goal time on 12:40, just 15 seconds faster than the previous year.  

For the first 15 floors my legs felt stiff and heavy.  A few people started to get close to me, but by 20 they had dropped away, and my legs warmed up and i felt good.  I got a little ahead and a little behind at times, but stuck to my splits.  The 40th floor came up at 6:30, exactly where it should have been.  I was feeling generally tired, but not bad.  Right then, a woman started to catch up to me, single stepping and not using the rails.  It was impressive to see, and i stepped aside for her on about 45.  Her cardio must be incredible to climb like that! She finished with 12:30 and i think she could do significantly better with superior technique.

50 was to be my “go” floor.  But when it was time to dig down and pick up the pace--i just didn’t have it.  I can’t precisely say what went wrong, but i just felt bad, really bad!  In the past, i’ve known what went out on me, my legs, my lungs, my heart, but this time i just felt “bad” and was convinced if i didn’t back off, i’d crash and burn. So, back off, i did.  The last 30 floors were a painful slog. I remember thinking people were sure to start passing me soon, but no one did.  The floors seemed to tick off slower and slower.  Finally, i dragged myself the last few floors to the door, and popped through.  I thought my time had been 13:30 or so, far off of what i had hoped, and much slower than the year before. Bleh.

Despite being slow, i was still exhausted. I walked to the middle of the ballroom, and rolled onto my back for a few minutes trying to catch my breath.  Then i got up and took some pictures and found what people’s times where.  Eric had apparently won with 9:44, a really impressive time.  We took a team photo, had a few snacks, and headed down.

Fastest stair team around!

When we all went back down the elevator, i saw there were boxes of sample sized snickers. Volunteers were handing bars to the runners as they emerged from the elevator.  Eric is well-known for eating snickers before races, so i thought it’d be funny to give him a box of them as his trophy.  He loved his trophy, and everyone got a good laugh.

We all did a group climb, and one of our friends who hadn’t gotten into the elite wave was there, so we chaperoned him up.  It was fun all climbing together. It amazing how easy it was to climb in about 20 minutes… Just no effort, walking, talking, laughing.  I did 2 more fitness climbs, clocking in about 16 minutes, then my cousin Kyle showed up.  I paced him up the steps for a time of 20:55, very high in his age group.  So i ended up with 5 climbs for the day, one race pace, 2 tough, 2 easy.

As for my disappointing result, If my recollection and math is correct, instead of doing the last 30 floors in 9 seconds each, as i hoped, i did them in 11 seconds each, which entirely accounts for the amount by which i was slower.  But only a few days later, at the gym, i did a workout as hard as what i’d done before i killed the race the year before, and found it not that difficult. So i think the entire problem was me not being “tuned up” for the event--i simply hadn’t done a 13 minute hard stair effort, so i was not physically, and more importantly perhaps, mentally ready for the event.

With stratosphere coming up in 5 weeks, my goal is clear: try to cash in my fitness and base for a better result at that race. I’d messed up my training both by going too hard and going to easy.  My plan now is to do a hard stair session twice a week, and focus on recovery: yoga, post-workout shakes, foam rolling, etc.

The wednesday after the race i did 10 minutes at 135 steps/minute. Then i did 10 minutes of intervals at 162 steps a minute.  Since my goal is to do strat in under 10 minutes, this should get me ready.  10 minutes at strat would be 129 steps/minute, but real stairs are always harder than the stairmaster.  So 135/min for 10 straight isn't fit enough. But there is time to improve that.

After strat, i’ll be focusing on hancock, so i’ll lower the intensity and increase the time periods of each to 13 minutes. My goal at hancock would need me to average 125 steps/min

If this is successful, after race season is over, i’ll re-adjust this workout for my sears tower goal, and do it once every 5-7 days, aiming for tiny increases at the most, but increases i can maintain over the summer.  My sears tower workout would be 17 minutes as hard as possible, then 17 minutes of intervals at max pace.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bop to the top 2014

I’d heard about bop to the top for a few years, but never really considered going until Syd told me it was a great race, and i should stay at his place. This sounded like a great time, so i agreed.  The fact it was a relatively cheap race ( $25!! ) and had cash prizes also helped.  Soon before the race, Josh told me he was going to sign up, and i asked Syd if he would host Josh too. Syd agreed, and Josh and i arranged to drive down together. I signed up for both the single and triple climb, so i’d be ascending the stairs 4 times that day.  Pretty much everyone else i knew was doing the same.

Another thing that excited me about this race was the fact that it had 5 year age groups, so i’d be in the 40-44 age group with such small age groups, i thought i had a decent chance of placing in mine, potentially even winning.  I’d never won anything at a race, so i was pretty excited about this possibility!

8 days before the race, on a friday, i did 8 climbs of presidential towers.  My first climb i took it easy, warming up and getting a feel for the steps.  My second climb i pushed pretty hard, following one of my timing tracks and picking up the pace at the 35th floor.  I thought i had managed a 4:11 and was ecstatic, as my race best had been 4:42.  However, i soon realized my mistake, and saw that i had gone 4:39. Still a PR, not pushing as hard as i could, but not the ridiculous climb i thought i had managed.  I did 6 more climbs, doing some sections single-stepping, occasionally triple-stepping, usually pacing myself until 35, then sprinting until the 49th floor.  A pretty brutal workout!

The following sunday, i did a really tough running workout, running 5 mile repeats on the treadmill.  Tuesday was to be my last pre-bop cardio session, but i only managed to stay on the stairmaster for about a minute.  My legs felt utterly dead. Previously, i might have tried to push, but i decided if my legs were dead, i should rest.  One of my mantras this year is that it’s better to be undertrained than overtrained.  I stretched, did some upper body weights, and went home.  I did yoga wednesday and thursday, not loading my legs too much, and left friday workout-free.  

Friday afternoon, Josh showed up at my house, and we hopped in my subaru to drive to bop. After an uneventful drive, we got to Syd’s.  He greeted us, showed us to our rooms, and took us to dinner at a superb french restaurant that even had vegan options. So very winning!  We chatted for awhile, then went to sleep early.  

The next morning, i was up before six, taking in a little dried fruit, and having some coffee. We all prepared for the race and set out nice and early.  Soon we were there putting on our bibs and chips.  The race was well run, with lots of sponsors & vendors, giveaways, snacks, etc.  One of the super-elite climbers, Eric Leninger, who had retired from the sport, was there, looking fit and ready to destroy the race.  I greeted Cody as he arrived, and went to do the first climb of my three.  

The line was short, and the start was different than most races.  Usually, you are sent, then you walk across a mat that starts your chip.  At bop, you stand on the mat directly at the bottom of the steps, then you are told “go” at the 10 second boundary.  There was also a choice of staircases, and i started with the closer ‘a’ staircase.

I didn’t hit my timing track until i was halfway through the first floor, but it was still helpful to have it.  My legs felt heavy and leaden pretty quickly.  I worried it would be like tuesday, and i was overtrained, but forced myself to stick to my pace.  After about 10 floors, my legs felt better. Soon, i was nearly a floor ahead of pace and feeling pretty good.  Around then i had to pass a few people, which slowed me down a bit.  But by 30 i was back where i should have been, and ready to make a surge.  However, i hit 2 more people, who, though they moved over, held me up a bit. I still thought i might have crossed the mat a second or two before my goal time, which would have been great.  I sat on the floor and sucked air for a few minutes before heading down.

Downstairs, i saw my time had been 5:31, so i had been right that i had sneaked in a second or so under my goal.  I rested a good 30 minutes, then went up again.  This time my legs felt better for the first 20 floors, then i got pretty tired, and again had to deal with traffic.  I was about a floor and a half behind with 5 to go, but put on a surge and managed a 5:40.

Talking to people, i found Josh was already done with his 4 climbs(!) and Eric had done his three.  Josh’s times were all in the 4:30 and 4:50 range, super impressive.  Eric had crushed it, with his triple climb times all between 3:45 and 3:50.  I waited and snacked a bit, then went for the third climb of my triple.  Again, i felt good at the start, then had to deal with traffic when tired, and managed a 5:44.  All solid times in my goal range, so i felt good.  Better yet, i was the fastest person by a good margin in the 40-44 age group, so i was going to win something at a race for the first time ever.  

I took a long rest, hoping to crush my single climb.  Crushing for me would have been 5:15 or so, which didn’t seem likely, but i planned to stick to my pace and pick it up after 15 floors if possible.  I looked at the standings, and saw that someone in my age group had managed a 4:11 single climb, which was obviously not something i could contemplate trying to beat. I was just climbing for myself, to see what i could do after 3 climbs.  

However, there were a lot of slow-looking people in line in front of me, so i was worried. When i started, i wasn’t able to get my timing track going, and climbed with no pace.  Not very helpful.  

At only about 3 i hit a family, father, mother, kid.  None of them wanted to get out of the way despite my asking several times.  I had to squeeze past each of them individually, which i thought had cost me at least 10 seconds.  I could have bulled past them, but tired, and sure i wasn’t going to win anything in my age group, i didn’t have the desire to perhaps ruin the race for people.  

At that point, with no chance of placing even if i had done perfectly, i sort of quit, and just decided to have fun.  I thanked volunteers as i passed, and tried to smile as best i could.  I encountered a biker-looking dude at 25 or so who had a death grip on both rails and would not relinquish it.  Another 10 seconds or so gone until i managed to duck inside as he released the rail for a second.   I popped out of the top and for once didn’t need to sit down.  Looking at my time, it had been a 6:05. Essentially my estimated 2 10 seconds delays had added 20 seconds to my time.  Made sense.

The awards ceremony was cool, seeing my friends win so many prized.  I was really disappointed, though, because for triple climbers, the age categories were 10 years, vs 5 for the single, so i hadn’t won. James harris had, with times of 5:13, 5:16, 5:23.  I was disappointed, because those climbs seem attainable to me, had i trained just a bit better, or even come in 5-10 pounds lighter.  But they would have not been possible to me that day however tantalizingly close i might have been able to come had i had them as goals. I did get second in my age group, which got me a cool trophy ( a nice bowl ) but no cash prize.

We all grabbed breakfast/lunch, which was a lot of fun, then headed out.  Josh and i considered staying for an extra day to avoid the storm, as Syd offered, but we both wanted to be home. The drive would have been fine in the subaru, it stuck to even the sloppy roads like glue, but other drivers were the issue.  Too many people doing half the limit in the left lane, with people passing at reckless speeds on the right. The interstate was closed near lafayette, and driving through town to get back on past the accident took nearly an hour.  Past that, there were far fewer drivers, and they seemed to know better what they were doing, and i averaged about 60 much of the rest of the way home.  Even with snow tires, i would have been scared to do that drive in the BMW, but the subaru handled it just fine.

I had a big salad and went to sleep, and felt fine the next morning. That’s one of the amazing things about stair climbing; i can push myself as hard as possible and feel 100% fine the next day.  My sunday workout was 8.5 slow miles on the treadmill, which left me feeling very creaky and sore the next morning.  Stairs really are the best workout.

In any case, there is no rest for the wicked! 8 days after bop is Aon chicago, which is my favorite race, and i normally do the best at.  My time there last year was 12:55 which i feel i’ll be very hard pressed to match, much less improve upon.  My goal time for Aon is 12:40, but taking even 15 seconds off my awesome race from last year will be very tough indeed! I frankly don’t know if i’m in that sort of condition, but i’m going to make the effort.

Until then, keep climbing!!