Saturday, May 19, 2012

American Lung Association Fight For Air Climb

Today I did the Fight For Air Climb, a big fundraiser for the Austin chapter of the American Lung Association, and a race up the Frost Bank Tower, one of the tallest buildings in Austin. I've wanted to do one of these for a while, but this is the first time I actually did. I did very little training specifically for this event, so fifth overall in a time of 4:01 is a pretty good result in my book.

I wanted to do this race last year, but it conflicted with something else I was doing. This year I was free, and my company was a sponsor, and a co-worker works with the ALA, so I jumped on it this year. In addition to just plain wanting to climb up a tall building, my grandfather suffered from emphysema, so I'm glad the event benefits lung health.

Other than my everyday activity of running up the stairs to my 5th-floor office, the only specific training I did for this event was to climb the stairs up Mount Bonnell last Saturday. There was a group of people also training for the climb there, but they were doing additional exercises at the top and bottom, "boot camp" style. I wound up doing two or three times the vertical distance of the tower after going up and down 15 times. I figured with the building's stairs being more regular, and not having to climb back down, I would have no problem making it to the top on race day. Once we were all done for the day, I chatted with a couple of nice folks planning to do the race.

I woke up much earlier this morning that necessary, as is usually the case. I was parked and more or less ready to go by 7:15, and had to wait around until the 9am start time. Six of my co-workers, plus two of their daughters, made up our team. I don't get much chance to chat with them normally, so it wasn't bad passing the time. At 8:30 they started the "opening ceremony" and as soon as that was done, a big mass of people queued up to start. I thought there would be at least some gap between people at the start, but it was just a steady stream, and the people who started right before me did not look like they would be going nearly as fast as I was planning to. I paused when I got to the timing mat, hoping to let people go a little, but I was encouraged to get started.
I closed the ~5 second gap between me and the person in front of me in about 6 steps, and that's when I started fighting through traffic. It was very frustrating, as many people didn't seem to consider that others would want to pass, and some, much slower than I, were passing people going even slower than them. It was extremely frustrating, and I was following behind a woman similarly frustrated trying to run. Somewhere around the 10th floor we passed the largest mass of people, and I took off, leaving that woman behind. I must have sprinted at least 5 floors without even being conscious of anything but stairs, because when I finally slowed down a little to keep my heart from exploding, I was already on the 16th floor, over halfway. I had another burst, and I think the next floor number I remember noticing was 22, 2/3 of the way. I had to slow down a little from there. I was still going two stairs at a time for the most part, but not as fast. Pretty much the only "traffic"/obstacles I ran into from there were boy scouts who were going up the left side of the stairs, unlike everyone else I was passing. I was having my own fight for air by the 25th floor, as my heart rate had spiked to about 180 bpm. I kept moving at a reasonable pace, and was actually a little surprised when I saw my watch was reading 3:20. I slowed a little for a couple flights of stairs, and then at the 29th floor, I gave it all I had left. I crossed the finish line on the 31st floor to little fanfare, completely breathless. I started to catch my breath as I made my way down the hall, in a bit of a daze, to the elevators. There were other people waiting at the top for their friends, but I jumped straight into a waiting elevator. I barely was conscious of my surroundings, but it didn't seem like there was really anything to do up there.

When the first results were posted, I was second, and my team (based on the top 3 finishers) was first. I decided to stick around in case I won an award. As more results came in after the waves that were going every half hour, I was still pretty high on the leader board. In the end, both myself and my team were shown as being fourth. The awards finally started at noon. When it got to my age group, I was a little disappointed to get second. The results sheets had indicated that they were awarding first, second, and third overall, so I would been off the podium, but would have won my age group. What they wound up doing was just awarding the overall winner, and everybody else was competing for age group. It wasn't too bad, really, I did get my picture taken with Miss Austin and Miss Teen Deer Park.

While 9am sounded like a better start time than, say, 11 beforehand, in the end a later start would have been preferable for me. For one thing, they figured out there should be gaps between starters some time after 9, plus it would have left less time to wait around after finishing to get my award. After I finished, I was kind of complaining about the traffic to the timing guy, whom I know a little bit from other events. He offered to zero out my time and give me a second run, but I was pretty sure at that point I didn't have enough left in my legs to do any better.

So, in summary: good event, good cause, I look forward to next year.

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