Running down a PR at Cayuga Trails 50

Top 10 USATF Females. Photo: Jared Avigliano

I had one simple goal coming into this¬†race – run a PR. After last year’s implosion (you can read about it here) I figured this would be an attainable goal for my 2nd 50 miler. I would be lying if I said a podium spot wasn’t also on my mind but after finally doing some research on my competitors (a mere 3 days before the race) I decided it was not wise to get hung up on that notion with the talented women coming to this race. I also had a “loose” goal of sub-8:30, but mainly I was concerned with the PR.

Race morning brought cool temps which was a pleasant treat when we knew what was in store for the day. The high humidity at 5 am was a stark reminder that the heat was on its way. I had some nervous energy as I was milling about and catching up with friends. For once I fully executed a taper and I was ready to go! Once I lined up at the start next to my friend and soon-to-be fellow Strong Hearts Vegan Power Teammate Jason Mintz I was also surprised by Ellie Pell who showed up to give me a good luck hug and, I was hoping, some of her speed ūüėČ First Caitlin Smith lined up next to me, then Sabrina Little, then Corrine Malcolm. The intimidation set in but also the excitement of seeing how this race would unfold!


The countdown clock expired and we were off! (I can’t say enough how much I love the relaxed start of ultra races!) The field slowly settled into a very relaxed pace. The lead pack was chatting, telling jokes, laughing… I was right behind Jason and we joked about how this felt like a group run and we would be totally happy if the pace stayed like this. As expected once we crossed the field and then the road to head out on the trail the race began. Sabrina took the lead within the first mile and Corrine was quick to tag along with her. I had to fight the urge to follow suit – I knew that if I wanted to have a successful race I had to stick to my plan. It wasn’t long before both Corrine and I passed Sabrina but then Kelsey Allen blew by and charged into the lead. I watched Corrine go with her and reminded myself to stay right where I was.

The miles were ticking by with ease and I felt totally relaxed. At each aid station I received info on the time gap between 1st and 2nd. It was fairly close which made me feel even better about how I was running. As I approached Lick Brook climb I caught up to Corrine. As we hiked this massive climb together it was great to be able to chat with her – she’s a cool girl with a great attitude. Once we reached the top she again pulled away and I again held off on chasing. It was still way too early for me to make a move I would pay for later. My Suunto beeped, ringing in mile 9, and I said out loud with excitement¬†“I only have 41 miles to go!” Who was this voice inside my head?!? That’s how relaxed I felt and how much I was enjoying this course – which was every bit as beautiful as I remembered!

Photo: Kate Paice Froio

Around mile 19 I was surprised to see Kelsey just up ahead. At this point the marathon runners were coming through and one of the guys yelled “there’s only 15 seconds separating the first 3 females – now this is a race! I knew that she was in reach and I would pass her soon but hearing this got me super-pumped. I had to tell myself to calm down, relax, let it happen. I stuck to it and made my pass on Lucifer’s stairs, moving into 2nd place. I was still feeling totally relaxed and started to question whether or not I was taking it too easy. Looking at my watch I saw that I was going to finish my first loop under my goal of 4:10¬†– I was not going too slow.

I thought about how much better I felt at this point compared to last year and as I approached the halfway point I was ecstatic to see my dear friend Kate on the trail with her camera. She cheered, she chased after me, screamed “I LOVE YOU!” My spirits were soaring. Just as planned, yet another Strong Hearts Vegan Power teammate, Jay Phillips was waiting to replenish my fuel. I swapped my empty flasks for new bottles of Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration and Hyper Hydration, along with 2 more packs of Skratch Labs Fruit Drops and Huma gels, and was on my way. Now the race begins!

My plan during the first loop was to take it easy on the downhills so that I could save my legs for loop 2 where I could ramp up the aggressiveness. For some reason this wasn’t working – both of my knees and my bad hip were in excruciating pain reducing me to a hobble on the downhills. I felt¬†fine on both the flats and uphills so I took advantage of these spots.

By the second loop¬†I was noticing how the rising temps were affecting me – I was already drinking more and realized I would need to focus on hydration for the rest of the race. The collapsible cup provided as race swag was a part of my fueling strategy as I stopped at every aid station to fill it with water – sometimes more than once. (thanks again Ian for reducing waste by avoiding paper cups!) Leading up to the race as I watched the forecasted temperature rise I decided to tweak my hydration plan slightly – and try something new. I knew that late in the race I could use a fresh, cold pick-me-up so I mixed a bottle of Vega Sport Sugar-Free Energizer that would be waiting for me at mile 37. Now after every beep of my Suunto I would look down and say “X miles to go-go!” (the name my sister and I use for this Vega drink). This helped me to have a goal and break up the race.

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Cooling off. Photo: Kate Paice Froio

When I arrived at the underpass aid station I was excited to see watermelon and after filling my water cup I enjoyed a slice before continuing. I also saw freeze pops which were so tempting and promised myself that I could have one on the way back¬†with only¬†7 miles to go. I set another milestone to look forward to! Climbing Lick Brook a second time the heat was definitely rocking. After you get to the top you run through a few fields where you are totally exposed to the sun. I realized that I made a major error at the last aid station – I should have drank¬†one of my flasks and refilled it instead of¬†trying to ration. Now my fluids were really low and mile 37 seemed so far away. I hopped out onto a road crossing and saw a man carrying a jug of water to the course marshal. “Is the water for sale?” “No, you can have it for free!” I stopped and waited while he adjusted all he was carrying and opened the jug for me and¬†oddly I only thought to have him fill my little cup¬†ūüė¶ I wasn’t thinking straight! It was still a relief and after thanking him and calling him my desert oasis I sped off.

About a mile from the aid station I came upon Jared who was hiking with a hydration bladder and I kindly asked if I could have some of his water. I stopped to take a swig and off I went again Рthis was getting rough! Finally I made it to Buttermilk Falls where I found Kate once again РI told her I was going to need my sparkle drop bag (all the cool kids have them) and she sprung into action Рsprinting ahead, hurdling coolers to get the go-go juice I had been so anxious to enjoy. This time I remembered to fill both of my empty flasks and leaving that aid station with a slap on the ass from Kate and 3 full bottles of fluids gave me a burst of energy. Home stretch!

At mile 39 I heard someone behind me and turned around to see Sabrina,
and feel the impending doom that came with it. Sabrina has way more experience in ultra racing and is a very strong runner. I knew that my¬†time in 2nd place had come to an end but for my own sense of pride I wasn’t going to go down without a fight! In that moment of despair I decided to surge – what did I have to lose at this point? I knew that it wouldn’t last but why not give it a shot. For 3 miles I was feeling strong – thank you go-go juice! When I got to the descent on Lick Brook I was once again reduced to a slow hobble and was sure it wouldn’t be long before she re-appeared.

I arrived at the underpass aid station anxious to claim my prize of a freeze pop. To my dismay I grabbed a purple tube of refreshment to find it was pure liquid ūüė¶ I said out loud “oh, they aren’t frozen” to which a volunteer responded “we have frozen ones!” I waited for her to retrieve one and cut off the top for me while I tossed back the liquid one anyway. I grabbed the green one she handed to me and off I went. I can’t tell you the last time I had freeze pops so I didn’t remember how vile they tasted. But I can tell you they taste the same coming back up – which happened within a mile of eating them ūüėČ It was still worth it.

I was approaching Lucifer’s stairs when I heard 2 runners coming up behind me. As expected, it was Sabrina and she now had a running partner, Zach Ornelas. They were chatting away and making it look like they were on a relaxed, easy run. Once we summited the stairs I stepped aside to let them pass. With my surge I was able to hold her off for 6 miles but it was time to face reality. Now I started to worry about who was next – surely Caitlin must be closing on me (I did not know that she had dropped). I convinced myself that I could muster one last surge in these remaining 5 miles¬†if needed. In all honesty I don’t think I could have, but I had to tell myself I could make it happen.

I was relieved to make it to the last aid station to fill one last bottle one last time. As I approached a spectator yelled “you can’t stop she’s only 5 seconds ahead!” An exaggeration for sure, and I assured him that I was not in a place to catch her at this point as I grabbed a slice of watermelon to power me through the last 3 miles. As I was about to turn onto the grass trail with about a mile and a half to go I see Jason Mintz in front of me! I knew this meant he wasn’t having the day he had hoped for but at the same time I was happy to have some company to finish the race. When we hit the home stretch and I could see that no one was behind me I could finally relax and enjoy the finish!

Jason and I crossed the line at 8:28:06 (that was my time anyway, his was oddly 4 seconds faster). I had a lot to celebrate – I ran sub-8:30, I made the podium with a 3rd place finish, and best of all – I ran my race and stuck to my plan! The heat was a factor but I think I handled it well (thanks to Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration – I swear by that stuff!) Sure there are plenty of areas I can improve on –¬†could I have run those last 10 miles¬†stronger had I been running higher volume weeks? I’m certain of it. This race was a step in the right direction and I’m excited to see what I can do next.

I cannot say enough great things about this race – Ian and his Red Newt Racing crew do a top-notch job at organizing and supporting this event. The aid-stations are well-staffed with knowledgeable volunteers – it really makes a difference. Thank you to all who donate so much of their time to make this event what it is! I also want to thank Topo for their support this year – this was my 2nd race in the Runventures and when you can run 50 miles without even noticing the shoes on your feet that’s a great sign! I didn’t have one single blister or even a hot spot. Also thank you to Skratch Labs for providing products that are easy on the stomach, ease my heat-sensitivity, and most of all taste delicious! I don’t think¬†I could ever grow tired of those Fruit Drops! Thank you to Jay Phillips for coming out to refuel me at the halfway point, and to Kate who never ceases to amaze me. She captures great photos, runs her tush off, plants kisses on my salty face, and she’ll even give you a slap on the ass to get you on your way! Every time I saw her on the course (which was a lot – she was everywhere!) it brought a smile to my face and recharged me. And last but not least, thank you to Jay Friedman who pulled me around the track and up the hills of New Paltz week after week preparing me for this race. I got to see him once – when I was heading out on loop two. Little did I know he was having a terrible time due to illness and was about to drop out. He was smiling and cheering for me – giving me support despite what he was going through. It was tough day for many – the finish rate was 68%!

Check out the video from the race!

 

 

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Topo Runventure Review

RV stock 1Now that I have about 200 miles on my Topo Runventures, it’s time to tell you about them. Weighing in at 7.5 oz (my size) with a 2 mm drop these trail shoes have certainly impressed me.

The good news: the shoes felt comfortable out of the box
The better news: the more miles I throw at them, the better they feel

Topo Athletic is relatively new to the scene but they are making waves by providing high-quality shoes while utilizing feedback received from athletes to constantly improve their line.

Fit
Topo Athletic’s¬†main feature¬†is the wide toe box on¬†their full line of shoes. As a runner with small, narrow feet I never saw a need to have a roomy toe box, and instead opted for that snug fit. After long training runs and races on trails my feet – especially my toes – would ache. I thought this was part of ultra running and shrugged it off. Now that I’ve been running in Topo shoes I realize that my toes don’t have to, and shouldn’t, hurt after long runs.

I will admit that I was skeptical of having a wide toe box on a trail shoe. Surely there would be slippage either laterally, into the front of the shoe, or both. This isn’t the case for me. In lacing the shoes I still get that snug fit through the midfoot and the heel is comfortably snug as well.

A view from above - check out the room in the toe box

A view from above – check out the room in the toe box

Benefits of a wide toe box include:

  • your toes will splay naturally, making them stronger
  • allows more power in the toe-off
  • provides a stable platform

Upper
The upper is made of a durable, dual layer, rip & abrasion resistant mesh. I have put quite the beating on these shoes and so far the upper is showing no signs of wear or weakness. The dual layer has an added bonus of helping to keep debris out, but at the same time allowing breathability.

Dual layer rip-proof mesh upper

Dual layer rip-proof mesh upper

Another¬†detail I find very useful¬†is the¬†ample toe bumper. I’m not the most graceful runner on trails so between the roomy toe box and the sturdy rubberized cap my toes have not complained once!

Toe bumper for added protection

Toe bumper for added protection

Midsole
A stand-out feature on this model is the midsole which includes compressed EVA on top of a full length TPU rock plate (which you can see at various spots on through the outsole).

A view of the TPU rock plate through the outsole

A view of the TPU rock plate through the outsole

In New Mexico I encountered sharp rocky terrain that I do not see as much on my local trails. Not once did I find a “soft spot” on the shoe where I could feel sharp rocks.

Outsole
I was most skeptical about the outsole of the Runventure. Mainly because I have been accustomed to trail shoes with aggressive soles and deep lugs. During my first true test Рa technical run in wet conditions РI started out holding back on the wet rocks and descents. However I quickly gained trust once I found that these shoes had great traction and before long I was pushing the envelope to truly test their grit. I was pleasantly surprised (and relieved) by their performance.

All terrain outsole with breaks to allow for a smooth ride

All terrain outsole with breaks to allow for a smooth ride

They may lose some traction on super muddy or loose terrain but in exchange they maintain the minimal ground feel. When I raced at TNF 50k it was a mudfest. At times I was wishing I had a lugged shoe with more traction to get through that muck, but quickly realized that I was happy to not be carrying around the extra weight of mud caked into the tread.

The Topo Runventure offers a ton of protection in every area of the shoe while also maintaining a light weight and minimalist feel. I even heard that Maggie Guterl raced in the Runventures at The Georgia Death Race, where she earned her Golden Ticket to Western States! If that’s not a testament to these shoes… Congrats Maggie!

If you’re interested in trying the Topo Runventure, or any of Topo Athletic’s shoes, you can use code TOPOKLINE20 for 20% off your order. If you want to know more about any of their shoes feel free to contact me!

Happy Training!

Mind the Mud – The North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50k

logoIt’s hard to put into words how excited I was leading up to this race. It was my first trail ultra of the year and I was ready! Even the deteriorating weather forecast throughout the week couldn’t suppress my excitement. A little cold, rain and snow wasn’t going to kill my vibe – this was looking like a fast course! I had a 50k PR time etched into my mind and I was itching to¬†grab it!

I woke up Saturday morning before my alarm went off Рa sure sign I was ready to race! First thing was peer out the window into the artificially lit parking lot РI could tell it had been raining quite a bit throughout the night but it appeared to have stopped. Next order of business was to check my weather app Рcloudy and staying below 40 throughout the race but the rain seemed to be gone during the window I would be racing. This put even more of a spring into my step. After eating 2 bananas and a packet of almond butter I mixed my Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration drinks for the day, layered up in plenty of clothing, and was on my way to the parking area where shuttles would await to take us to the start.

Riding on the bus it was still pitch black and I had my headphones in listening to my pre-race jams. I looked to the front of the bus and noticed the windshield wipers were on full speed and we were driving through a downpour. I was happy that I made the last-minute decision to dump my dirty laundry bag before leaving the hotel so that I could keep my gear dry. After a short hike to the race start in Algonkian Regional Park we were greeted with the most pleasant of surprises – they had 4 giant propane fire pits roaring for athletes to huddle around and try to stay warm. I had about an hour before the race start so there I stood – bundled up in rain gear with my¬†backpack stuffed into a plastic bag to stay dry. Without those fire pits it would’ve been a rough wait. As we’re talking amongst ourselves I was¬†listening to¬†stories about how muddy this course can get even if it hadn’t rained in the past few days. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill mud – it was like ice skating. The hills become big mud slicks and athletes have had to push each other up and over. The only “dry” area was at Great Falls Park. The stories didn’t stop and although I was assuming these were over-exaggerated tales I quickly realized that with the amount of rain that had been falling, it was time to forget about that PR.

Clearing up for the start

Clearing up for the start

As the 7 a.m. start time drew near the rain tapered off and you could feel the energy building as we had some relief. I shed my layers, checked my gear bag, and lined up at the very relaxed start where Dean Karnazes sent us on our way. The first 2 miles were grass to road to gravel trail and I ran them both at just over 7:00 minute pace. This was faster than I needed to go but I figured I should take advantage of these “clear” miles. Hopping onto the trail was refreshing as the mud didn’t seem nearly as bad as I had imagined. I can deal with this! At mile 4 we hit the first climb and it was great to finally have a change in elevation. But then…the trail dropped us down along the river and that’s where the real fun started!

Those early miles had hardly any mud!

Those early miles had hardly any mud!

So maybe they weren’t kidding about this mud! The single-track offered no option but to sink into ankle-deep slop. I’m not at all afraid of mud – I find it to be kind of fun. But yes it was slick and with all of the twisting turns you had to slow down significantly to maneuver through them. My pace quickly dropped into the 8’s and 9’s out of pure necessity to stay upright and not overshoot any of the sharp bends. I was loving it though! I knew that this slower pace would only benefit me later in the race. I also felt lucky to be in the top 10 at this point and getting some of the “fresh” tracks in the mud. We came to the next steep climb and there was no choice but to hike because, true to the stories, it was like climbing an oiled plastic tarp. Coming down the other side proved to be even more challenging, and I even considered sliding down on my rear as it may have been faster. However the random roots jutting out made me double-think that¬†option ūüėČ

Despite the slick and slow-running mud the miles were clicking by with ease. It had rained once and there was even a short hail storm, but neither were bothersome and I was feeling appropriately dressed for the conditions. I was only tiring mentally as I had to focus on every footfall. All I wanted was a short break from this terrain so that I could relax, settle into a nice pace, and enjoy the scenery. I could tell that the views around me were awesome as I heard the Potomac River roaring at some spots while at others it was completely calm and peaceful. For long stretches the single-track was twisting and turning through lush patches of bluebells. I was looking forward to reaching Great Falls Park where rumor had it there would be a much-needed break from the mud.

I was having fun in Great Falls!

I was having fun in Great Falls!

That break did not disappoint! Arriving at Great Falls Park I was greeted with stunning views of rock cliffs that made me say “whoa” out loud. At mile 13 there was another aid station¬†which was also a¬†main spot¬†for racers’ crew, so there was an abundance of spectators, cheering, and energy. And such a nice change of pace on runnable trails! I was definitely enjoying this section¬†(as were my ankles, knees and hip flexors) and¬†I could finally open up my stride. There were two out-and-back sections in the Great Falls loop¬†and around mile 16¬†I saw¬†the 2nd female. By my estimate she was about a mile back. Way too close for comfort! I knew it was time to shift into another gear and tackle the 2nd half of this course. However Great Falls seemed to bring a 10 degree drop in the temps (that’s what it felt like anyway) and after feeling plenty warm up to that point I was suddenly wishing I had more clothing, especially on my legs which now felt frozen in slow motion. At the 2nd out-and-back spot I hit the turnoff before seeing her again, so I felt some relief that she hadn’t gained any ground during those 2 miles.

Now it was time to mentally prepare for those long muddy miles on the return trip. I knew they would be in¬†bad shape, but they were way worse than I had imagined! I was still hanging tough up until mile 24 but¬†now the marathon runners were coming in the opposite direction making this tricky single-track even more challenging. Although my Topo Runventures were doing an excellent job in these conditions, I don’t think any shoes could tackle the muck that we were¬†trudging through. My pace had become embarrassingly slow, and at one point I said to myself “this is a race – get moving!” The reality was that I couldn’t go any faster. I was skating on the mud and each step was a test in staying upright, never mind trying to accelerate. The only acceleration was the exhaustion in my legs. My only thought was that the 2nd female would surely catch me at this pace. Thinking was not a smart idea, not at all, because the slight distraction caused a slip¬†I couldn’t recover from and down I went onto my hands and knees. I made it all the way to mile 25.5 without a fall.¬†At least the landing was super-soft¬†ūüôā I tried to wipe¬†a chunk of mud off my face which only caused it to smear. Okay, I have my war paint – let’s finish this thing! I was still¬†certain that I was going to be caught by the 2nd female and convinced myself that 2nd place would be okay. Quickly after I had this thought I said to myself “you didn’t lead this far to lose it in the final miles”, and tried to dig a little deeper.
MUDThat was a mistake. The next fall was¬†much more dramatic as I was attempting to move way faster than my feet could skate under me. I crafted a head-first dive and slid a good 5 feet. Safe! There was a guy behind me this time as he yelled out “are you okay?” and I could only laugh as I shouted back “yes!” I was completely covered in mud on my right side. I quickly stood up and tried to wipe the bulk of this mess off me as I suddenly felt a few pounds heavier. The mittens had to come off as they were full of very cold mud. Having nothing on my hands meant I quickly lost feeling in my fingers. The temps still felt cooler than the start thanks to the 30 mph wind gusts (that’s what I heard they were anyway). I was so close to the finish that having frozen fingers wasn’t an issue. Shortly after the fall the lead male of the 50 miler was coming up¬†behind me – I could hear his pacer shouting out every obstacle in his path. I took advantage of this fresh, helpful pacer and after allowing them to pass me, I hopped on for as long as I could manage. I could definitely feel his pain as I watched him navigate each step with caution. And he had way more many miles under his belt!

done

Instead of counting down the miles to the finish I was counting down the miles until I got to the gravel trail. I knew all I had to do was make it out of the endless mud pits. That point finally arrived and I thought “I don’t remember this stretch being so long!” I cannot even tell you how many times I looked back in those last 2 miles – convinced that the 2nd female was closing strong on me. Making that final turn to the finish line I saw that I had it! Way off my goal time but happy to have made it across the finish line in 1st place!

I may not have run the time I wanted and I could quickly tell that I was going to be way more sore than normal the next day, but I really had a great time! Racing in tough conditions makes the memory much sweeter. Being surrounded by such beautiful natural scenery makes the suffering much more enjoyable.¬†The¬†best part is how great I felt throughout the race –¬†that feeling trumped every other victory! ūüôā

Only 2 of us stuck around in the cold for awards

Sonja Hinish and I were the only 2 who stuck around in the cold for awards

This was my first North Face Endurance Challenge Series race and it definitely won’t be my last! I’m already signed up for the Championship race at Golden Gate National Recreation Area on December 3rd. And I would love to return to the DC race next year. The race was well-organized, the course was beautiful, and the volunteers…well they deserve an extra round of applause for this one!

This was my first race in my Topo Runventures and they served me well considering what I put them through. It was also my first race sporting my Ultimate Direction TO Race Vest. Both of these items deserve their own write-up and that is exactly what I will do. Look for product reviews coming soon!
shoes

Finishing time – 4:36:27

 

6 minutes, 4 seconds

FFA logo

It went by so fast yet it felt harder than any 6 minute race effort in recent memory. 6 minutes and 4 seconds was all it took for me to fall out of love with tower racing. A short but torrid love affair that left me feeling hurt, disgusted, and even deceived. Why did it have to hurt like that?

One Boston Place

One Boston Place

Why tower racing?
The Empire State Building Run Up has been on my bucket list for a few years, quietly tucked away in the “something new” category. Every year it pops into my head and then I go online to check it out only to find out the race has already occurred. So this time I was ready. And I was excited. I submitted my lottery entry, marked my calendar for the day the climbers were announced,¬†and planned my training for the event. The training itself was exciting to me. I am not at all bored with my current training but the thought of adding a new element sounded cool to me. Especially since I will be running the Cayuga Trails 50 again this year, and for those of you not familiar with the race, there¬†are a lot of stairs to climb!

At last the big day came and the entrants for the Empire State Building Run Up were posted. My name was not there. I was gutted. I don’t know why I so badly wanted this race –¬†I was super-bummed to not get in. I did something I rarely do – I called in a favor from a friend to see if there was any chance I could slip in through some back door. No go. I knew it wasn’t going to happen this year so I emailed the race director and asked what I needed to do to receive elite entry for 2017. The answer was:

“Next year’s qualifications are not set in stone, but being one of the top 15¬†ranked women in the U.S. would help.”

And that’s how I ended up in Boston last weekend to attempt my first tower race.

Training
This section will be short and sweet.¬†I didn’t¬†train on stairs¬†nearly as much as I thought I was going to. The best training occurred when I stayed at a hotel in Philly right before the holidays that was similar in height to¬†One Boston Place. I ran from the basement to the top 3 times in¬†a row. It was tough, taxing,¬†and exhilarating! It was also a great learning experience – by the 3rd climb I had a better grasp on pacing and ended up with my fastest split. I came back to New Paltz and suddenly that state-of-the-art stair climbing machine at my gym was not¬†so bad-ass. It did the job to get in some workouts but the top speed was not fast enough for me to put in any real hard efforts. Once you have a taste of climbing actual stairs the hamster wheel doesn’t provide the same experience. Not by a long shot. However I felt that my experience in Philly gave me the confidence I needed to perform well in Boston.

Race Day
The race starts at 8 a.m. with climbers being sent off in 10 second intervals. My start time was 8:12:15 which gave me time to scope out the start line. It was a quiet check-in during those early hours Рthere were 1,737 climbers scheduled to start throughout the day so it was going to get quite chaotic. The check-in process was very well-organized and after I went through my race prep it was off to the 39th floor where I would drop my bag before returning to the lobby.

Once my time came to line up in the chute the rest was pretty much a blur. You stand at the start line where a volunteer sends you off 10 seconds after the person in front of you disappears into the stairwell. You wear the timing chip on your wrist and when given the “go” command you¬†simply swipe your wrist across the table as you enter the stairwell and it’s time to start climbing! I ran into the stairwell feeling totally flustered and confused. How hard is it? You find the stairs, which are right in front of you, and you run up them. I was out of my element and, I guess, pretty anxious.

I learned in Philly that looking down at my watch to check my time was not a good option when trying to avoid tripping up the stairs. My goal for this race was to go under 6 minutes but I really wanted to get as close to 5:30 as I could. I set the interval timer on my watch to go off every minute. That way all I had to do is briefly look up to see what floor I was at. If I could climb 8 floors between every interval alarm I was in great shape to meet my goal.

Going into this race I constantly drew upon my climbs in Philly – what it felt like, what worked best, etc. That seemed to have all gone out the window. Within a few short flights I passed the female who started in front of me. Okay, passing was really hard. I don’t even know how to explain it. Once you catch someone you have to find that extra gear to climb past them quickly to avoid being in their way. It is a lot simpler on the bike and while running, but this felt totally different. I also noticed really early on that the air in this stairwell felt entirely different from what I experienced in Philly. I was having a tough time breathing within only seconds of starting.¬†I was hoping that this would even out as the climb progressed. My first interval alarm went off right as I hit the landing of floor 8. Perfect!

But my lungs were burning. Bad. I alternated between climbing a couple of flights taking 2 stairs at a time and using the handrails to utilize some upper body strength¬†to pull myself up the stairs, and then taking one stair at a time so I could “run” them. This seemed to be working well for my legs. The floors were flying by but at the same time I felt like there was no end in sight for the stabbing feeling in my lungs. By the time my 3rd alarm went off I was only at floor 22. This wasn’t too far off my pace but I was only slightly over halfway to floor 41! I was able to pass a few more people along the way – that never got any easier.

When my 4th and 5th alarms went off I didn’t even bother to look at what floor I was on. I felt dizzy and each shallow, labored breath caused searing pain. I could taste that awful acid in my throat. My legs weren’t hurting – why weren’t they hurting? I’m clearly not going hard enough. But I can’t possibly push any harder with this hot knife lodged into my lungs hampering my breathing. I felt like I was in some kind of dream sequence – I was dizzy, my head was throbbing, the lights seemed dimmed and hazy, and even though there were volunteers talking and cheering their voices sounded completely muffled. The only thing I could hear was breathing – not just my own breathing but everyone else who I would come upon. I¬†caught 2 more climbers – 1 right behind the other. I knew I needed to pass them but I needed to sit behind them for just a second or¬†two to muster up the energy to make the pass. At that moment my 6th alarm went off and I realized that we were at the finish line. 6:04.

Across the finish line you stumble into a hallway lined with chairs and volunteers. I was still very dizzy, my head was throbbing, and the sounds still seemed muffled. Bodies were everywhere Рlike the girl sitting on the floor draped in bags of ice and a puke bucket in front of her. I quickly moved past. Everyone was coughing and trying to catch their breath. I found a spot at the end of the hallway where I crumbled into the corner on the floor. A volunteer was following me and kindly took my timing chip. This area felt suffocating so I grabbed a cup of water and headed down another stairwell to the 39th floor to collect my belongings.

I will spare you the ugly details of the events that took place as I struggled to regain composure. What I will say is for an effort this short, it was one heck of a recovery! At least I wasn’t the only one struggling in the bathroom. During that recovery I tried to come to grips with what just transpired. I was frustrated that my race didn’t go as planned. I wasn’t even paying attention to make my final kick up the last flights like I had practiced. Had I done that I would’ve passed the last 2 competitors and reached by sub-6 goal at least. I couldn’t understand why it felt so different from when I ran the stairs in Philly. I was expecting my legs to tire and my calves to burn. Sure I¬†was expecting¬†to have a hard time breathing. I was expecting my whole body to feel spent by the time I reached the top. I did not expect to have pain so sharp in my chest that it held me back. And fresh legs. Moral of the story: I need to train my lungs. It was a huge positive that my legs felt great and I wasn’t even sore the next day. It was a huge negative that I had a hacking cough and rattling lungs for 2 days after. The running miles I sacrificed for this race really brought me down mentally. I vowed that I would never race a tower again unless I had nothing else in the lineup that would be hindered by it. By now my attitude has softened, at least a little ūüôā Missing workouts is always tough for athletes but once you straighten your head out you forge ahead.

A few hours after the race I was able to determine that I was sitting in 1st place for females and 12th overall. Of course this end result was not final with the time trial start so I was on pins and needles up until the awards ceremony. But alas I was able to hold that position, barely edging out the 2nd place female by a mere 4 seconds! Despite having a rough start in the tower racing world I was happy with my result and it felt great to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new. I have yet to plan my next one but I know there will be more to come!

Sau-Mei Leung (red), Me, Kelly Spencer (2nd)

Sau-Mei Leung (red), Me, Kelly Spencer (2nd)

The Fight For Air Climb participants raise funds to support the mission of the American Lung Association, helping to make a positive impact in the lives of those affected by lung disease.