Yesterday was my second time doing the American Lung Association's Fight For Air climb in Houston. Unfortunately my time was 12 seconds slower than last year and I dropped from second overall to fourth. More important though was that I got to hang out with my "step siblings" Sarah, Robert, Heather, and Dan (whom I'm not sure I had met previously; he used to live in Texas but is now in the Seattle area). Frankly, if it wasn't for them I probably wouldn't spend six hours driving for eight minutes of racing.
I ran Friday morning, and it went fine, but I must have strained my right VMO as it was bothering me the rest of the day, particularly going up and down stairs. This was obviously concerning. The only thing I really did was to massage it and hope for the best. After work I drove out to Houston, getting to my hotel around 8:30. I ate a pasta dinner in their restaurant. I didn't sleep well Friday night, waking up a couple times before getting up for good around 6:30. I didn't have any real food on hand, just some snacks, so once I was ready I laced up for a jog/breakfast hunt. I headed toward where the map showed a place, but I didn't find it, so I headed in the direction of the race venue (1001 Fannin). I would have gotten something at a bodega, but they wouldn't take a card for the $2 charge and I didn't have any cash on me. I wound up only having some crackers for breakfast; I can't say for sure it hurt my performance, but it was a disruption to my normal pre-race routine.
My teammates and I were lined up ready to go at the advertised start time of 8am. The timing company was set up and ready to go, but there were no ALA people around. Finally someone came over and said they were having trouble with the sound system for a pre-race pep talk outside and the race wouldn't start until 8:30. A few people were impatient and went early. I skipped the opening ceremony for a last-minute restroom visit. It was after 8:40 before the race director declared the official start. Robert was first, I started 10 seconds later, and Dan, Heather, and Sarah led the field. I started pretty fast (way too fast) and for a while could hear Robert somewhere ahead of me. Less than two minutes in I was redlined and looking for an exit. I was thinking I had to be somewhere in the 20s, and was crushed to see I was only on 13. I had a thought that there was no way I would make it to 48 and I should quit right there. I didn't quit, I figured I could at least finish, even if the time was terrible. This is a tough stairwell, something I had obviously forgotten from last year, fairly steep with an odd number of steps per flight. I double-stepped, albeit slowly, to maybe the 20th floor, then just plodded my way to the finish. I passed a few of the early-goers in the top half, including a guy in firefighter gear and carrying a hose. Near 40 I could hear Dan coming up behind me. I started going quicker, hoping I could maintain a good pace for the last 8-10 stories, but I just couldn't breathe enough. I summoned as much power as I could to run up the final two stories, arriving to nothing on 48. The door was open, and I was quite glad to find that it was in fact the finish line. I'm not sure I would have continued if someone said "Oh, no, it's one more up."
After catching our breath the team took the elevator back down, exiting to the outside. I had originally wanted to go up some more times for "fun," filtering in with the "ordinary" folks, but I hadn't realized how low the turnout was (while moving the date from April made it possible for me to attend, it put the race right into the start of summer). The lobby was nearly empty when I got back there, everyone was in the stairwell. My friends were more interested in some breakfast than climbing again, and I joined them. We went back for the awards, which wound up being at 10. Even though the medal presentations didn't necessarily reflect it, Robert was the overall winner, Heather, Dan, and I won our age groups and Sarah was second in hers. West Coast Labels also won the team award (they didn't explain how this was calculated, but typically it's ranked by the sum of the top 3 times). After goodbyes, I went back to my hotel for a shower and to check out, then drove home.