Monday, October 21, 2013

Cystic Fibrosis Climb Dallas

Saturday I raced in my third stair climb of the year (and only fifth ever) in Dallas, the 70-story Bank of America building, in an event benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The overall turnout was very low, there were only about 150 climbers, but there was good representation by "my team," West Coast Labels/X-Gym, with nine members racing. We did pretty well too, leaving with a combined five medals. I am pretty happy to have gotten one of my own, for first place in my age group, which for this race was a wide range of 26-39 (I was sixth overall with a time of 11:44). The other medals were for first and second overall male, third overall female, and first male age group 40+. However, we were all soundly beaten by Rolf, an elite climber from Austria who finished just under 9 minutes.

I headed up to Dallas after work on Friday, at 5, in the thick of rush-hour traffic. It was pretty awful; I was just getting out of the Austin area at 6. The traffic cleared up north of town, and it was pretty smooth sailing into the Dallas area. There was a bit of holdup caused by a minor accident, which gave me a chance to punch my hotel into my GPS to help get me there. I arrived and checked in about 9pm. I didn't want to go straight to bed, so I wandered around the hotel for a bit, and went to bed about 11.

I woke earlier Saturday morning than I needed to, at 6am. After getting ready to run, I went out and wandered around looking for some breakfast. I wound up getting some pastries a few blocks away. I ate it back at my hotel, and killed time for a while. At 7:45 I left the hotel and ran over to the race site. I actually circled around a bit once I got there for a little longer warmup, a total of about 1.5 miles. It was cool, in the 40s, outside, so I had an extra layer on. When I got into the warm building to get my race bib, I was sweating quite a bit. Then it was waiting around for a half hour until it was time to line up. In addition to chatting with the fast folks, some of whom I had met at previous races, I met two inspirational members of WCL. Mark Block had half his body paralyzed after a spinal cord injury; he wasn't first, but he wasn't last either. George Burnham is 70 and does quite a few stair races, even after having open heart surgery.
At 8:30, we lined up. Scott, more or less the WCL Team Texas captain, lined up the first few people based on his estimate of speed. Rolf was first, then Scott, me, Mike from San Diego, Robert from Houston, then it was less organized. The timing folks started us about 15 seconds apart, so for a while there was really no sign of anybody else. I started out pretty fast. I didn't feel like I was sprinting, but it was definitely not a pace I could maintain for 70 stories. I started running, two steps at a time, just using the railing for the turns. That lasted until about the 15th floor. I didn't have a strategy/technique planned for when I hit that first "wall." I tried doing one stair at a time, with a high cadence, for a bit, but that didn't feel sustainable. I was about ready to throw in the towel and walk, but I thought I'd give the technique of doing two steps at a time and pulling up on the railing with both hands. That worked pretty well, it was fairly quick without totally relying on the legs. Around the 20th floor, I got close enough to Scott that I could hear him breathing (and he could hear me panting). I never saw him, but I was close. Then I got to the 40th floor and ran smack into another "wall." I was seriously looking for an exit or a cup of water or anything. Since there was nothing, the stairwell felt deserted, I kept going up; there had to be some relief there. I walked, one step at a time, with one hand on the railing, from 40 to 60. Mike passed me; I moved over to let him go. When Robert was about to catch up, around 60, I had recovered enough for a second wind and moved quickly up the next couple flights to stay just ahead of Robert. I slowed down again some ~63-68. I picked up the pace for the final steps and burst out onto... a pretty barren space. There were just a few people there, and the space itself was quite raw, the floors were bare concrete. There were nice views at least.
The stairwell itself had to be one of the nicest I've ever been in. It was clean, the paint was fresh. It was a straight shot from the bottom to the top, all left turns. Frankly, I could have used some variety or other climbers to break it up mentally. Other than the numbers on the doors, there was no way to tell what floor you were on. I know I've complained about having to pass slower people in races, but there is a huge psychological component to it; it really kicks in the competitive drive. Just about anything would have helped me in this race.
It was pretty quiet at the top for a while after I got there. The rest of the "elite" wave finished, then the firefighters started finishing, then everybody else. At 10 o'clock pretty much everyone had finished, and their families were there with them; it was like a party up there. Then they started making there way back down while some of us stuck around for awards at 11. Then everyone said goodbye; I went back to check out of my hotel. I drove home, stopping for barbecue on the way.
I went for a long run Sunday morning. The weather was beautiful, and it was one of the best 10-mile runs I've had in quite some time. I did stop for a while when I ran into friends cheering on people doing the LiveStrong Ride. I'm not sure the break was entirely beneficial, my legs were pretty stiff when I got up and started running again. Pretty much other than during, and for a little bit after, the race, my legs have been fine.

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