Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Race Recap: Race to the Top

As is the case with most of the short races I run, I decided to do the Race to the Top on a whim. Why not see how long it takes me to climb up a 50-story tall building?

Duke energy center
Okay, so I can't see the top...surely it's not much taller than what I can see, right?
Never having done this sort of race before, I had no idea how to pace myself, so I looked at last year's results. The fastest runners were finishing in about 7:30, and the fastest in my age group were in the 9-minute range. Since I generally tend to place in my age group, I figured I should shoot for 9 or 10 minutes. Since there are 50 stories, if I did five floors every minute, I'd be at the top in 10 minutes.

This race is run differently from most races because there's not a lot of room in the stairwell; you can't just start everyone at once or there'd be bedlam. So runners start every 15 seconds. The runners are divided into groups based on experience. Even though I hadn't done this before I signed up for the 8:30 a.m. "advanced" group. I thought I'd be faster than most climbers, and I didn't want to be climbing later, when hundreds of sweaty, stinky climbers had already left their mark on the place.

Here I am just before the start of the event:

Me getting ready for a climb
So far, so good....
All that was left was to run the race. The first few flights seemed relatively easy, but also very long. These were no ordinary "stories," and it took what seemed like forever to get to the 5th floor. Fortunately I was still running faster than my 1-minute-per-5-story goal. At this point the landings got closer together. When I reached the 10th floor I was still ahead of schedule, but I was tiring. I decided to walk a flight. Then I started running again. Every so often there was a photographer or video camera filming my ascent. Since I was running alone, it was very surreal. Now I know what the folks on "Big Brother" must feel like.

I finally settled in on taking a one-flight walk-break every 5 stories. This seemed to work, and I was not only staying on schedule, I was making up ground. But I was also severely out of breath. Would I be able to sustain this all the way to the top? After about 30 stories I started taking breaks for one and a half flights. I was still ahead of schedule at the 45th floor -- just 5 flights to go! Maybe I'd actually be able to break 9 minutes. But then the flights started getting longer again; it seemed as if every story was more like two stories. I passed one exhausted climber, the only other climber I'd see during the ascent. Finally I made it to the top. My time was 9:12 -- faster than the planned pace, but I hadn't broken 9 minutes. No one had passed me, so I guess I was right to sign up for the advanced group.

At the top a bunch of exhausted runners sat sipping water in some kind of utility room. There was no way to experience the view — although, since it was fogged in, I'm not sure what we would have seen anyway. Then we headed back down in the service elevator, and that was it!

When I returned to the bottom I found out what all the video cameras were for; they actually were showing live video of the climbers at the finish area:

Big Brother really is watching!
Overall it was a fun race, and once it was over, I realized just how short it was. Although it was over quickly, it's definitely a race that's worth doing at least once. I probably could have gone a little harder, though I'm not sure if I could have placed higher in my age group. The official results put me in fourth place (35th overall out of 432), but I would have had to have run more than 30 seconds faster to get third.

That said, it's also awfully tempting to try to beat my record next year. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

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