Around a month ago, I ran across this race that took place up the stairwell of the Sears Tower (yes I know it's called the Willis Tower now but I'm stubborn...deal with it). After being somewhat burned out on racing - and running in general- from ten years of no off-season, I had severely slacked off on getting out and pounding the roads in my Asics. I needed new motivation to get myself back into a routine again. Seeing how this was a unique endurance challenge, different than any road race I've ever done, I saw this as my gateway drug back into training. With a month to train, I figured I could start getting in a different type of shape. I set out to train everyday, gradually building up the amount of repetitions I did running up and down the stairwell in my apartment building. I had it all planned out.
Then real life happened. As I told PJ the other day, running "for fun" ends up being a road of good intentions and empty promises if you have nothing to train for. Especially if all your training the last ten years served a specific purpose. Unfortunately that's what happened to my training plan. My first day of training took place on a day that I was actually sick and resulted in me taking the next day off of work trying to fight the flu. Then the next week I traveled to Seattle on business and didn't have time to run. Then the next week I was sickish and jet-lagged and slept profusely.
So I decided to just throw in the towel on being competitive on this rapidly approaching tower climb and just try to finish.
After doing WAY too many stair climbs the Monday before and limping around the rest of the week from sore calves, I wasn't expecting a whole lot. This was my first race of this nature and there were people from all over who travel from place to place specifically for stair climbing races. They knew what to expect, how to train (some had actually trained quite a bit) and what pain was to come. I was oblivious. But a little after 8am Sunday morning, I found out for myself.
They lined us all up in this corral like cattle and sent us off one by one up the steps in ten second intervals. Since they were using chip timers in our shoes, when you took off really didn't matter as much. When it came to my turn, my foot crossed the timing mat and I clicked the start button on my watch to gauge my progress going up. My goal was to just make it without any real problems. If I could break 20 minutes, that'd be nice but not completely necessary.
Mistake number one: taking off a tick too quickly. I noticed people were taking their time getting up the steps and that should've been a cue for me. After making it up the first 25 floors in three minutes, I realized I was on race record pace. I also realized I wasn't in shape to finish in race record pace. This realization brought forth the reality that I was in for a world of hurt soon.
It was a completely different kind of pain than I had ever experienced. My lungs weren't really burning at all like normal races. However, my legs were singing a different tune. I had never felt every muscle in my leg lose power like that in any race. Each flight gradually became harder and harder and my legs became heavier and heavier, yet I was still finding a way to continue passing people. Even passing people that were doing their best to block me out and not let me by up the stairwell.
Arriving at the 95th floor, they had "Stairway to Heaven" blaring on speakers. Coming up to the 101st floor (or maybe the 102nd...I was delirious at that point) I was greeted by a photographer flashing a camera bulb in my face. I had about as much warning with that as one does getting their picture made on a roller coaster. Too tired to care, I breezed past her and made it to the 103rd - and final- floor, greeted by a crowd of people and a guy handing me a medal for making it up to the top. Taking a look at my stopwatch, I saw "17:26" and feeling pretty good about not only making it up but breaking 20 minutes by quite a bit.
The big surprise came with the results. I didn't really know where my time stood in the world of competitive stair climbing. However, in the final results, I showed up finishing 20th overall in a field of roughly 2,000 people. I was stunned. After sitting on my butt for several weeks, I managed to pull something out of it.
What's the moral of this story? If you're looking for one about how hard work breeds success, this isn't that kind of story. After spending a month sitting on my butt, I was able to go to the race and pull something out of it. However, I believe my attitude toward the race had a lot to do with it. Not having adequate training changed my outlook from one of competitiveness to one of "just go out there and have fun." Without any real race objectives, I was able to enjoy just being part of that event. Having fun with it helped me to achieve moderate success, which I think is true for just about anything. If you're having fun with a task, you're more likely to succeed.
This experience did get me back to being enthusiastic about running and excercise in general. I guess maybe with that planned month of training I would've broken into the top 10 and maybe received an age group award (and not felt so trashed the rest of the day).
I reckon that'll be motivation for training next year.