Thursday, November 15, 2012

SkyRise Chicago, etc.

On November 4, I participated in SkyRise Chicago, a race up the 2109 stairs of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, to the 103rd floor SkyDeck. As the tallest tower race on the planet (and more than 3x taller than the Frost climb I did in May), it is a brutal, lung-searing affair. I probably could have done it quicker, but my time of 19:47 was within the range of what I expected. The sub-14 minute time of the winner seems absolutely superhuman by comparison. As a result of this experience, I might be hooked on tower running, as if I needed another hobby sport.
Also, to piggyback on this post with some things I've done since that don't quite merit posts of their own, the subsequent weekend I did part of the Tour das Hugel, a 100+ mile ride of the steepest hills in Austin; then on Sunday raced in the Daisy 5k.

Not having ever spent much time in Chicago, I flew up Friday and back Monday for the Sunday race. It gave me a chance to see some of the sights and attractions of the city, as well as a run along Lake Michigan. I saw, at least briefly, the shops of Michigan Avenue, Navy Pier, the Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, and some of the park spaces. I also took an "architectural" boat tour along the Chicago River and into Lake Michigan to see all the great buildings of the skyline. And of course I sampled some of the local cuisine, including pizza from Gino's East, and a hot dog from Portillo's.

Based on my fifth-place finish at the Austin stair climb, I qualified for the 7am "elite" wave of climbers. It was a rather varied group of people up front, at least one guy from Europe, various ages and heights. The woman who won was very tiny, barely 5 feet tall, if even.
There were over 2000 total participants, so they had waves of 250 people every half hour, going all morning. Most likely the stairwell was a bit crowded (and probably humid from sweating and heavy breathing) later in the day, but it was rather sparse when I went up. I was in the first ten or so people to start on the climb. I didn't try to be first, in fact I was trying to hang back to let the fastest people go ahead of me. There was one guy who obviously had done this before, and had a target time of 18 minutes. This being my first time, I had a vague target of sub-20 minutes, so he jumped in front of me. I'm not sure if he hit his target, I passed him at one point, he passed me back, we caught up again, and then I didn't see him until the top.
In a word, the race was brutal. Not just because of the steep vertical climb, but also the air quality in the stair well was rather low. My lungs were totally fried by the end. I had a bit of a cough beforehand, but after it was much worse, and remained so for the rest of the day.
The stairs themselves were steeper than anything I'm used to. The treads were relatively narrow, and the rises were relatively tall. The rises were mostly contiguous, it wasn't like we had to run to the other side of the building at any point. They did, however, change several times. They started going up counter-clockwise, then switched to clockwise (or vice-versa, I can't quite remember). Near the top, the number of stairs per flight went down, so there were more turns.
I wish I could give a breakdown of which floor these changes happened at, but I rarely knew which story I was at. This was partly because many of the doors were open, obscuring the floor number, but mainly (at least past 30 or so) because I paid so little attention to anything other than the stairs themselves.
There were three water stations along the way. I slowed down at each long enough for a sip or water. Just a sip, I wasn't really thirsty, just that my mouth was so dry from panting.
I started out doing two stairs at a time, but that didn't last past the 20th floor. I hit almost every stair after an initial burst. I tried to keep moving swiftly. Other than the water breaks, I kept moving the whole time.
I went up along the inside railing the whole way. I wasn't utilizing the railing like the pros, I was just using it for a bit of stability. The veteran tower racers, however, were using the railing to help pull themselves up. I guess that uses more of the body, to keep it from just being a leg exercise. At first, I thought I was on the correct side of the stairway (staying on the side the organizers said to in order to allow people to pass), and the faster people should go around me. After a couple people seemed adamant that they should have the inside railing, and I should step aside, I gave up on being "right." There were about a dozen people who passed me the whole time, and I could hear them coming, so I would move away and give them the inside line.
Near the top, there was a sort of fake out. I heard a lot of clapping, so I thought I might be close enough to the finish that I could hear people cheering the finishers. It turned out it was just a volunteer with a clapping toy that made a lot of noise, and I still had a few flights to go.
I finally made it to the top and burst out onto the SkyDeck. There wasn't quite as much fanfare as the woman in the stairwell with the clapper, but it was still quite nice. I got a finisher's medal from a guy in a wheelchair, presumably somebody being helped by the event's benefactor, Rehabilitation Institute Chicago. After catching my breath a little (it took many hours to fully get my breath back), I chatted with some of the other finishers. They were all really nice, including the guy who finished second overall. A lot seemed to be local to the Chicago area, and do all of the half dozen or so tower races in the city. So, there was a lot of talk comparing Willis to Hancock, the Presidentials, etc. It was nice, and kind of made me want to come back for them all.
The view from the SkyDeck was absolutely phenomenal. It was really too bad I didn't have a camera with me (didn't want to lug any extra weight up all the stairs). I enjoyed the view for a while, and got a picture taken in one of the glass boxes that jut out, giving a clear view straight down all the way to the Chicago River. It was kind of unnerving, but I'm not really afraid of heights. Some people were rather reluctant to step out, while many others practically jumped to get their picture taken in one.
Eventually I took the elevator back down to the ground floor, retrieved my stuff, and walked back to my hotel. I spent the rest of the day touristing. When I first ventured out, I ran into hordes of people who had just finished a hot chocolate run. It was nice to see that the city can support two major races on the same day.
I had just enough time Monday morning to finally go for a run along Lake Michigan. I was pretty surprised my legs felt pretty good. In fact, they never really hurt much. It was more my lungs that were sore.

Back in Austin, the following weekend I did a little of the 100+-mile Tour das Hugel, an underground cycling event. I never planned to do more than about 40 miles, but after 13 miles of roads steeper than I even knew existed, I was looking for the exit. I stuck with it a little while longer, doing most of the first loop. I missed a turn somewhere and didn't do a few of the hills. I was not heartbroken.
That Sunday, the 11th, I did the Austin Runners Club's Fall Daisy 5k, at Camp Mabry. It turned out to be a really tough course, with two pretty fair uphills. It was also quite windy, which didn't help. I wound up with a time of 21:58, well short of my PR.

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