This weekend was the American Lung Association's Fight for Air climb in Austin. This year, they added an "extreme" division, where they combine the times for two runs up to the 31st floor of the Frost Bank Tower. Of course I signed up for that, which I figured wouldn't be a big deal, since even three times up is fewer floors than I did last November in the Willis/Sears Tower. I was hoping to do well, but I did not expect to win, even if my "win" was based on a technicality. A large contingent of the national stair racing team, West Coast Labels/X Gym (two of whom I met three weeks prior in Houston) was expected, and expected to do well. One team member did have a better time than me, but because of issues with the timing equipment they couldn't sort out in time for the awards, they gave me the trophy for the overall best time. The upshot is, since they gave me a team t-shirt, I guess I'm on the team. Now I have a bunch of stair fanatic friends to fuel my interest in the sport.
One of my main goals of the day was to beat my 4:01 climb time from last year. That one second really killed me, I had to get below 4 minutes this year. After a bit of a chaotic start, a pretty quick pace, a little slower above the 20th floor, I crossed the finish line the first time in 3:45. I'm glad that worked, because I wasn't entirely sure it would after being kind of disappointed with my climb in Houston. They didn't give us a lot of time to rest before the second run up. A few minutes at the top, the elevator ride down, a few minutes on the ground, then it was time to go again. I didn't really expect to match my first time, but I was hoping to not lose as much time as I did. I was shooting for a combined time under 8 minutes. With a second time of 4:18, my combined time was just off the mark at 8:02 (my watch actually said 8:07).
I'm not sure why exactly, but I'm pretty sure the start did not go as the organizers had planned. The pre-event speeches went a little long, and the last guy pretty much just said "Go!" and six or so of the extreme division dashed for the door. I can only assume they got more control of the start after I went through. I passed a few people in the "prelude" section, the first flight of stairs from the ground level, before a little traverse to the "regular" section of stairs. I was fighting my urge to sprint away at full speed, to save some for the higher floors, but I've never been very good at that. A few flights up, I just edged past Scott, one of the WCL/XG guys, and pulled away a little bit each flight of stairs. When I got up in the high teens, my major motivator was not to let Scott catch me. Not so much because I was desperate to beat him, but because I always feel stupid when I pass somebody and they wind up beating me because they paced themselves better.Around the 22nd floor, I finally gave in and slowed down to one-stair-at-a-time. I did that for a story or two before resuming two-at-a-time to the finish, but not as fast as the early floors.
The roughly 15 minutes between climbs was not enough for my legs to recover to a level where they felt anywhere near as strong as before the first climb. I only made it to the ninth floor going two-at-a-time before slowing down to one-at-a-time for a few flights (this building has two flights of stairs per floor). I picked up the pace again before slowing down once again at the 18th. I was moving a little faster after 20. When I got to the water station on 25, I slowed down for a quick sip. My mouth was so dry from panting the whole second climb, I was desperate for just a sip of relief. That gave me a boost (at least psychologically) to do the last sets of stairs at a decent pace. It wasn't a full-out sprint to the finish, but it was better than walking.
The conditions in the stairs were pretty good this year. None of the crowding of last year. They had some fans blowing, which felt pretty good. The air was pretty humid that day, so I didn't wind up with the "track hack" I got terribly in Chicago, and to a lesser extent in Houston.
It took a while after the second climb before my legs felt stable again, even with the help of food and water. Unlike most of the WCL/XG team, I did not opt for a third climb in order to compete in the individual climb division as well. Instead, I went for a run. I was originally planning to go for 10 miles, but because I wanted to get back in time for the awards, I cut it back to 5 miles. I wound up going a much quicker pace than I had anticipated being capable of, averaging about 8:10 per mile. I probably had enough time to do a couple more miles, but somehow that didn't occur to me at that time. When I got back I was a little surprised that the timer had me as first. The preliminary results I had seen earlier had my time totally messed up, and the time on my watch would have put me second. Even though Bob was still trying to get his time corrected with the timer, the team and a co-worker were already congratulating me on the win. Bob was magnanimous and did not at all try to diminish my "win," nor did he seem upset with the timers and organizers. No surprise the WCL/XG team won the extreme division team trophy (I did not race on their team, if I had the team would have had the top six times). We all went out to lunch after, and a few of the conversations were actually about something other than stair racing. Of course, as some of the most fanatical members of a niche sport, most of the conversations were related to stair racing.