Going Vertical at the Sears Tower

Yesterday, I competed in the GoVertical Chicago – Sears Tower Stair Climb. This grueling race sents competitors up the stairwell for 103 storeys, and 2,109 steps to the top of the tallest building in North America. Last year in this race, I started out way too fast and had to crawl the last 30 floors to finish in 5th place. A year of stair racing experience now under my belt, I started yesterday’s race much more intelligently and conservatively. I set a good hard pace that I knew I could maintain for the entire 103 floors.

As I neared the 40th floor I could hear what sounded like a steam engine coming up the stairs behind me. I was quickly overtaken by a man in his early 20’s whose iPod was turned up so high with heavy metal that I couldn’t hear myself breathe as he went by. Experience told me that this “kid” would soon hit the wall and that I’d find him crumpled in a heap in the stairs gasping for air somewhere around the 60th floor. So I let him go, and maintained my pace. I didn’t again hear the roar of his music until the 85th floor. At this point in the race I knew that even if I caught him by the finish, I could not make up the difference of his start time behind mine, So I conceded first place, and hoped my strong steady “mature” pace would garner me second honors. When I passed through the door at the top I still had gas in the tank, it was a good solid performance. In a tower race it is nearly impossible to judge your pace and how much energy you will have if you step it up just a slight amount… will you make the finish? Or will you collapse before the finish like I thought the eventual winner would do? It’s a challenge of the mind as much as it is a challenge of the body.

After a few minutes of catching my breath and getting the jelly out of my legs, I approached the heap of a man lying on the floor who had claimed victory in the world’s tallest staircase. It turns out that it was the new kid on the block of tower racing, Eric Leninger, who placed 4th last year, in this same race, beating me by just a few seconds. Eric has been training very hard, all Summer and Fall for this race he said… this was his moment. Both of our times were dramatically improved over last years efforts.

When the results were finally in, I discovered that another elite runner who started much farther behind me nipped me by 10 seconds, so I will settle for third. It’s hard not to have doubts about what would have happened if I had stayed with Eric as he passed me instead of assuming he was a runner with no experience and just letting him go. But I ran a smart race, had a phenomenal time, and I’m quite proud of a 3rd place out of 2,000 people on this, the mother of all stair races.

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