Friday, March 7, 2014

Scale the strat 2014

After my fantastic race in Oakbrook, i had races the following three weeks, a trail run, springfield, and scale the strat.  This article is about scale the strat, but i’d be remiss to not write a paragraph about these other races:

* The trail run was 5 miles in the deep, messy, treacherous snow.  It was pretty cold that day too, and i felt entirely unprepared for the event. There seems to be some technique for running in the snow i don’t know.  I didn’t really have the right gear, and barely finished in the top ⅓. The next day, my legs were so sore, i had to grab them with my hands to lift them into bed.  I took the week pretty easy to get ready for springfield, though my legs did seem to knit fast, and i was able to do some easy cardio.  I also didn’t eat before the race, ate just beer and M&M’s after, didn’t have a real meal for a long time, and was freezing cold for a long time.  I think this is why & where i picked up a cold. Not smart in several ways.

* The morning of the springfield power hour, i woke up feeling headachey and stiff.  My plan was to do 4:30 laps, and and i started out doing that, but even at that pace, i was falling behind my goal of getting in 11 climbs, as the elevator rides were slower than anticipated.  But i started to feel pretty bad ½ way though, and reduced my pace, though i was still easily on pace for 10 laps.  I kept barely missing elevators down and cursing my bad timing.  For the last 20 minutes of the race, the hotel took away one of our elevators so i had to wait 3 then 5 minutes to get downstairs, which resulted in my missing starting my 10th lap by less than a minute.  I was very disappointed and quite frustrated.  I worked so hard to have a good result despite feeling sick, and bad luck then hotel interference with the elevators had cost me even that, even worse, by under a minute.

So, i was going into this race with my confidence levels so-so.  With my goal being 10 minutes, i more or less had to climb 140 steps a minute for 10 minutes, which i found tough even on the stairmaster.  On the other hand, my “fast” climb at oakbrook, #5, mid power hour, was 4:40, which translates to 137 steps a minute, and those steps are taller than strat’s.  It was hard to know if i could keep that pace up, fresh, but for more than double the time, but i at least had some reason to think i could. Also, after the presidential towers boot camp, i did a 4:27 climb of that tower, where my race PR was 4:42, but it was post boot camp, 95%, etc.  It was a good PR, but again it was hard to know what that meant for strat. I also felt quite sore from springfield and the boot camp late into the week, and thought it might affect my strat climb.

So i was into strat with a bit of bad taste in my mouth, as well as so-so confidence, but was determined to at least have a good experience.  I felt i had suffered a bit by going along with other people’s schedules and plans pre-race, so i decided i was going to stick to my own patterns for pre and post race activities.  I packed enough food so if i wasn’t able to find suitable nutrition, i could at least fuel for and recover from strat.  I also made sure i had my reusable water bottle, so i’d have no excuse to show up at the line dehydrated yet again.

Walking through the airport towards my flight, suddenly my left hamstring started to hurt, and badly!  I sat next to one of the other climbers who was going to be travelling with me, and did my best to stretch it before and during the flight. After we landed, Syd picked us up from the airport and ferried us to the strat.  I love walking up to that building and thinking i’m going to be climbing the stairs! I missed the opening party and photos, as well as packet pickup, and determined i’m going to arrive on friday next year and just pay for an extra night.

We all went to roxy’s for dinner, and the black bean burger looked good, so i had that.  I even let myself have some fries, which i rarely do.  After dinner, I went upstairs quickly to my room so i could drink lots of water and sleep early.  I knew cody was going to be arriving late, possibly only hours before the race, but while he could likely do well on little sleep, i didn’t think i could.

I was woken a few times by screaming drunk people in the hall, but managed to get a halfway decent night of sleep, but was up at 4:30 after only about 5.5 hours.  Still, i reminded myself cody would soon be arriving with no rest.  He soon did turn up, chugging red bull, which reminded me to go get my standard pre-race starbucks soy mocha.  In my room, i drank the mocha and had a cliff buzz bar.  

I went downstairs to sign my race release, and meet people.  With ½ hour to go, i made the final choice to not try to sneak headphones into the race for pacing, and went to my room to write splits on my arm.  The splits would be one a minute, to alert me if i was going too fast or too slow.  My insides twisted, i laid in bed and tried to zone out. I had planned on warming up, but thought i needed a little calm. My goal was 10 minutes flat, and i just had to have the confidence i could do it.

Ready to rock & roll!

I got back down as we were lining up.  I got behind cody, as he’s beaten me in the last few races, and in front of michael doherty, as i’d finished sears tower slightly faster than him.  With a 30 second gap between each of us, odds are we’d see no one in the stairs, and passing wouldn’t be necessary.  

At the start line, the director asked my name, and when i told him david, he knew my last name as well.  Nice touch!  I could watch the clock counting down to my time to start, which i liked, as i had time to get prepared.  I stepped forward, hit my watch, and started to climb, going steady.

The first split, i hit a few seconds early, so i slowed down a bit.  In that second minute, my legs began to feel stiff, and i regretted not warming up.  But no time for that.  I hit the 2 minute split a little behind, but the marking was not quite what i was expecting, so i wasn’t sure if i was really off pace or not.

By the three minute mark, i was for sure behind, maybe 15 seconds or so.  Also, Michael Doherty was fast catching up to me. I looked back and asked if he wanted to pass, but he didn’t get any closer or say anything, so i kept my pace.  Pushed by him and the fact, i was behind my pace, i picked it up a bit.

At 4 i was maybe 20 seconds behind, but felt too bad to pick up the pace for 6 more minutes.  I was legitimately feeling pretty bad, and had half accepted having another crappy race at strat.  Michael was out of sight, so i didn’t have him to push me anymore. I even single stepped for 10 steps in a row, thinking there was no one to see me taking a break, then realized that was, at least in a way, giving up.  I mentally slapped myself, and made myself go back to double stepping.

By 5, i was about 25 seconds behind, and knew the race was in the balance.  I could go at the same pace and have another terrible race at strat, and most of me wanted to do that.  I knew no one was going to judge me. But i decided to just go a little faster until 6 minutes.  If i had to slow up then, i could, but i could go faster until 6, so i put my head down and picked up the pace.

At 6 minutes, i was just under 20 seconds off, so i had made up 5 seconds.  Super happy, i decided i could survive another minute and even go a little faster, so i picked it up a little more.  At 7 i was ecstatic to see i was only 10 seconds off pace, and i was actually feeling alright, and was also happy to think i had only 3 minutes left.  I decided i had one more burst in me, and held onto the same pace, and as if by a miracle, i hit 8 minutes exactly where i wanted to… I was back on pace for a 10 minute climb! I'd hit an 8:20 pace ( 166 steps a minute, faster than the stairmaster will go! ) from minutes 6-8, after i was already feeling tired and awful, and it had not only not killed me, but i felt good and was back in the race.

However, i was tired and didn't think i could keep it up.  I backed off the pace a bit to what i thought was exactly on goal, about 70/140 steps a minute.  I reminded myself, 2 minutes.  2 more one minute periods at this pace.  I knew i could do that. One of the volunteers at 750 feet told me i was close, and i knew i was as well.  

At 9 minutes the pod started and there was a little horizontal movement to be done, and potential mistakes to be made.  I moved carefully and quickly, and began hoofing up the shorter flights. I could hear someone ahead, and by 103 there was a gawky kid i didn’t recognize in front of me.  He must have started way in front of me, but he didn’t look like he was going to move to let me pass.  I was losing precious seconds deciding if i should try to pass him.  I was so close to 10:00, i kept glancing at my watch.  With 3 floors left to go, i said “three left, run, man, run! Sprint, go!” and he did, if fact, take off.  If he hadn’t , i would have dived inside of him and sprinted myself.  I sprinted after him, and while he didn’t go quite as fast as i would have, i saw 10:00 appear on my watch as i crossed the line.  I was utterly spent!

Eyes on the finishing mat!

I walked into the pod and laid on the floor next to cody, and we took a few minutes to catch our breaths.  Walking around and talking to people, it seemed most people were pretty satisfied with their times.  George Heimann had flown in from germany, and put down an amazing 7:20, apparently easily winning.  Alex had won for the american men, going sub 8 for an incredible time!  Erica for the american women, and women overall.  Both were #1 in points too, so the US cup had all worked out.  

I felt really wiped out after this race.  Going in not feeling well, the extreme effort, as well as my nerves, had drained me quite a lot!  I had a few glasses of orange juice, then a few of us went to the buffet, and i had two heaping plates of vegetables, and a little ( not much ) cheat food.  My post-race eating was much improved, and hopefully would help me do well at presidential, just a few days away!

I went to the mixer at randy’s house after, then to IHOP with some of my friends to eat, but after that, my body was shutting down. i was sneezing, coughing, and congested. With hiking planned the next two days, i wanted to recover, so i passed on the opportunity to party until late at night with my friends in vegas, and went to bed around 9:00.  Wild and crazy times!

We left for hiking the next morning, and two days of hiking was just what the dr ordered.  I also got a lot of healthy food, including one salad bar a day, several pieces of fruit a day, though i did eat too much trail mix.  Back from the trip, i feel tired, but well.

Overall, i am very happy with how this race went.  I was not feeling at all confident, and even a bit sore and sick, but still came away with a very good time and a solid PR.  I took much better control of my state, pre and post race.  This is the national championship, and I ended up finishing 25th overall, 23rd male, 20th american male, for a nice haul of world and US cup points. My burst from 6-8 minutes makes me think that with more endurance work, i could be a lot faster than i am right now.

Here are some quickie letter grades:

Conditioning: B+ : i finally feel my training is back on track, and i will be going into the summer with a solid base and plan on how to really improve next season

Physical state: C- : I started with some nagging pains, and the tail end of a cold.  It was in my control to show up without any of this via better eating, sleep and physical care. 

Planning / execution: A- : took control of diet and hydration, had a solid split plan.  My one major oversight was not warming up.  If i’d felt loose the first ½ of the race, instead of hitting halfway 25 seconds behind, my 10:00 goal would have been much easier.  Next year i will arrive friday so i can get checked in, bib pinned to shirt, etc, and have nothing to do race morning other than get loose and line up.  

Effort: A.  I had a few brief flashes of “back off” during the race, but reminded myself why i was there, and renewed my high intensity, even, for 3 minutes, going significantly faster than the 140 steps a minute pace i'd been worried about being able to hit.

Overall: B+ My training was pretty good, but far from perfect, and i came in a little sick and hurt. I also neglected to warm up. But like oakbrook, i came in with a solid plan, executed, and pushed hard for a good results. Definitely a race to build on!


* Before major races like this, make sure nutrition and sleep is perfect so i don’t show up feeling ill.  That trail race hurt me due to my own neglect of my physical state, poor eating afterwards, as well as running in the snow with zero snow running practice.

* It seems clear i start races very slow.  I did a huge negative split at strat, and at oakbrook did a very fast climb mid power hour.  I need to allocate time to warm up for races, as well as practice my max efforts warmed up so i’m used to this was well.

* if i’m going to be staying at strat before the race, bring earplugs so i can ignore the drunk idiots in the hall and get 8 hours of sleep.  

To sum up, i’m quite happy with this result, and already consider this race season a big success.  I’m glad i have only two more races left, and would be happy with nothing other than a tiny PR in each.  I’ve learned a lot, and am eager to apply it to a summer of training and trail running, aiming for a big PR at sears tower nov 2!  


  1. Fantastic write up and stellar performance. Great lessons learned and improvements being made. I think you are still in the rapid improvement phase of the sport, and with your training and approach, you will easily be in the low 9's next year. Keep up the great work, buddy!

    1. Thank you, Jeff! I feel good about where i am, and i hope my summer training plan takes me to the next level. :) All your advice and support has helped me immensely, and i own you major thanks for thta!!

  2. Great post, Hanley. Super impressed by all the thought and consideration (and math) that you put into preparation and pacing! See ya at another race soon!

    1. Thank you, david! I'm a nerd, what can i say!!

  3. David, you are truly one of the biggest inspirations in this sport. Whenever I feel down about my fitness/performance, I think about how far you have come and how you are truly an elite stairclimber without having an elite athletic background. Thanks for sharing your stories. Keep getting faster!

    1. Thank you, Leland! I do take some satisfaction in the fact i don't at all have the body type or natural aptitude for this sort of thing, so it's just sticking to diet and training!

  4. Hi David! Wow! What a drama-filled climb! Definitely an Academy-Award performance with a happy ending! Your finish-line photo is a gem! Fortunately I had experienced the middle-of-the-night drunks & jet-propulsion toilet flushes in the adjacent rooms during 2013, so this year I set up multiple background noises to help get a solid sleep. I also brought my own mini-refrigerator to ensure I had a healthy breakfast waiting.

    1. Thanks, i liked the ending pic too. :) I guess you drive, so you can bring the mini-fridge?

  5. (P.S. Forgot to check the "notify me" button.)