A 22 Storey Sprint

Planning is not my forté. In fact, I’m pretty darn awful at it. I had intended to compete in the 52 storey Climb California race in San Francisco. Last year I placed second in this event and was eager to come back and demonstrate my new fitness. That didn’t work out, so I decided on plan B – the 38 storey Climb Pittsburgh race. Well, that didn’t work out either, so I had to settle for plan C – a 22 storey climb at the University at Albany SUNY in Albany, NY. Third time’s a charm.

At 289 feet, the Livingston Tower is barely a skyscraper and compared to all of the other tower races I’ve done, this race could be placed in the “spint” catagory. I consider myself more of an endurance athlete, and the height of this building had me concerned. The University at Albany has a top notch athletics program, which meant that this race was going to be packed with top athletes. A short race like this is much more about power and speed (which I feel I’m lacking in) than endurance. Which means that this race could belong to any of a number of people entered. During registration I bumped in David Tromp who narrowly beat me at the 42 storey Climb Albany race a month earlier, and who finished 4 seconds behind me at the Empire State Building race. David is a great athlete and one of the top stair climbers in the country. After assessing the competition in the registration area, I was hoping to be in the top 5.

The race began shortly after a failed attempt by a group of aerobics instructors to get us up warmed up in the freezing 18 degree temps (there was no lobby for us to wait in). David was one of the first through the door. I got held up a little bit at the start by a timing chip confusion, but still managed an early start. It was an all out sprint from the very start. I flew up the first 17 floors without any noticable pain. The theme music from “Rocky” was now filling the stairwell as I hurled myself up the last few floors. With half a flight to go, my legs started to fail, but I had plenty left to finish up and burst through the door. As I wobbled around the room on jellyfish legs, I noticed David doing the same. I approached him and asked him how he did. He said it was over before he knew it and that he’d like to do it again, knowing now how short it was. His time was 1:15. I looked at my watch for the first time, it read 1:13. That pace was more than twice as fast as any building I’ve run up to date. I knew that I had narrowly nipped David, but there were a lot of great athletes still to come, and a victory was not to be mine yet.

I was a bit frustrated with the timing chip fiasco at the start, so David suggested that we do it again. We ran down a different stairwell and prepared for our second round. This time we would do it head to head. David launched ahead at the start and I tucked in behind. The pace was faster, I could feel it. At the 15th floor David began to slow and offered to let me by. I charged around him and picked up the pace. When we hit the 20th floor my legs began to buckle, so I pulled harder on the railings to take the strain off of my legs. Seconds later I burst through the door, exhausted. David was a few seconds behind me. My watch read 1:11, David’s read 1:14. We had both improved.

I felt that I could have gone a bit faster in the beginning, and David wanted another crack at me, so we decided to do it again. After about 10 minutes of rest, we were at the starting line once again, but this time David wanted me to lead. As I’ve learned numerous times in my life, if you want me to run faster, just put someone on my heels. I launched up the stairs like a man possessed, moving my body as fast as I possibly could. If I could keep up this pace all the way to the top, I could break a minute I thought. Gravity had other plans. When I reached the 17th floor, my legs were done. I mean DONE. I didn’t think I’d be able to make the last 5 floors. I hobbled and pulled on the railings with everything I had just to keep moving. With 2 floors remaining, I was walking, and not elegantly. I had given up on getting a good time at this point, but at least I was getting a great workout. Moments later, I stumbled through the door and collapsed on the floor. The race officials and spectators that had been following our repeat climbs thought we were crazy, and just watched as I writhed around in pain. Eventually I hobbled to a chair and sat down with David. He informed me that he had run a 1:13 on the final climb, his fastest yet. That didn’t make sense to me, because I must have done it in two minutes and he didn’t pass me. When I found out that my final ascent was 1:09 I was shocked. Third time’s a charm. Unfortunately, our first ascent was the only one that officially counted, as we would have had to pay additional entry fees to get the 2nd and 3rd ascents entered.

An hour later I was informed that I had won the race and set a new course record. David finished a close second, and third went to Fred Eames of NY in 1:24. Fred has been one of the best stair climbers in the east for over a decade now, and held the course record at the Corning Tower, until David and I broke it a month ago. Fourth place was was quite a ways back in 2:02.

Apparently, all the training that I’ve been forced to do at the gym has paid off.

The best part of the day for me was hearing that since meeting me at the Corning Tower climb, David and Fred have been spending time on my website learning about a raw vegan diet. Another victory for Running Raw.

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