Climbing To The Top

With one of the biggest races in Running Raw history only three days away (US Bank Tower Stair Climb in Los Angeles on September 26th), I thought I’d keep you posted on my preparation for this monumental event – 76 storeys, 1,500 steps.

The US Bank Tower Stair Climb is one of the top three tower races in the country, and always attracts an incredible elite field. Last year I narrowly defeated Jesse Berg (Sears Tower winner) by 3 seconds to claim victory in the tallest building west of Chicago.

I was informed that this year’s climb had attracted several stair climbing superstars including Terry Purcell and Tommy Coleman. Terry is one of the top three stair climbers in the world, and the top stair climber in America. Not only does Terry own course records in many of the tallest buildings in the United States and Australia (the Sears Tower for one), but he’s NEVER been beaten in the US by another American in his 12 year stair climbing career. Terry Purcell is the Michael Jordan of Stair Climbing. Tommy Coleman could easily be considered the second best stair climber in the US. He’s won numerous elite tower races around the country (including the US Bank Tower in 2006) and placed as the 2nd American finisher at the unofficial world championships at the Empire State Building (6th overall). I have trailed Tommy in every race that I have competed against him thus far. This was going to be one hell of a climb.

To add to the pressure of this event, The Food Network had decided to come out and film the race. After a disappointing performance at Mount Washington, they felt it was in the show’s best interest to showcase me in my strongest sport – stair climbing. They were expecting me to defend my title and win.

Knowing full well the new level of fitness that I must achieve to retain my title in this year’s event, I have undertaken a most rigorous training regimen. The high mileage that helped me on the roads and mountains this summer has been replaced by weeks of 45 to 60 miles with 3 hard days per week. These hard efforts include races, leg strength at the gym, running up stone steps on the Appalachian Trail to failure, 10 minute all-out bursts on the elliptical machine and stepmill, an intensive core regimen, and 10 minute “sprints” on a rowing machine to build rail pulling strength and endurance. My hard days include a hard morning and hard afternoon workout, and occasionally a hard late evening workout. I have never felt or looked stronger in my life. I have improved significantly in ALL my fitness tests.

The most important of these tests is a section of the Appalachian Trail in Woodford, VT that climbs Harmon Hill. We locals call this ascent “Thousand Steps”. This part of the trail is considered to be one of the toughest sections of the entire 2,174 miles of the AT. Climbing 900 feet in 4/10ths of a mile, this trail consists of hundreds of uneven stone steps, some as high as 18 inches. It’s the hardest quad workout that I’ve ever done, and there is no railing to pull on to take the strain off of the legs as you would have in a stair climb race.

In November 2006, when I was back in Vermont preparing for the Sears Tower Stair Climb (103 storeys), I took on the Thousand Steps to test my fitness. I ran 2/3rds of the way to the top before my legs failed and finished in a time of 10:40. One week later I finished 5th at the Sears Tower. The following October of 2007, I again tested my strength and endurance on this course and managed to run all the way to the top in a time of 9:37. My placement at the Sears Tower weeks later was 3rd. My best friend Dave then informed me that he used to train on this course when he was an Olympian (’92 and ’94) competing in the sport of biathlon. This was his test of fitness as well, as he could find no better terrain to see what one was made of. At the peak of his fitness Dave clocked an 8:32.

Four days ago I put the hammer down and charged up this course with wild abandon. But at the same time I repeated two words in my head the entire ascent – “joy” and “ease”. I relaxed into the pain and repeated the words over and over again. The harder it got the louder I said them… until they became real for me… until I felt joy and ease in the midst of the intense pain… until I chose the pain instead of fighting the voices that told me to quit. I crossed the finish point and my legs promptly gave way. Sitting in the mud and leaves I was afraid to look at my watch. Afraid that I was not as fast as last year. I was now 40 after all. It wasn’t until I had walked all the way back down the mountain that I finally had the courage to see my time. It was 8:27.

US Bank Tower here I come!!

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