I look back on the race that was now 12 days ago as I am just getting around to typing this post. As I try to recall the events that took place on my visit to NYC it just seems like a big blur. I’ve always wanted to visit New York and my chance came through my new found passion of stair climbing. As I land in LaGuardia Airport I was unfortunately on the wrong side of plane so I don’t get a view of the skyline, which I was hoping for. None the less I did get a quick shot of adrenaline when we landed. The airport is right off the water, so when we were landing, for a second, it looks like we were going to land on water. You may think big deal, but I rarely get to fly so it’s exciting for me. I always make sure I get window seats and I never sleep because I’m to busy looking out the window the entire flight. At the airport I waited for Kristen Frey’s flight to arrive so we could split a cab into the city. A half hour later Kristen and I were scrounging $55 dollars together to pay for a 30 minute cab ride. A $55 dollar cab ride into the city, are you kidding me. I’m from Springfield IL and sheltered from any big city living but that just blew my mind. Once we were dropped off we walked down the streets of Manhattan to our hotels. On the way we stopped and looked at the Empire State Building and thought about what it had in store for us the next day.
The ESB is a funny sight to see because on the NY skyline it sticks out like a sore thumb but in a good way. When it was originally planned and built people thought it was a horrible place to put a building that size on that side of Manhattan because it was so far away from the financial district that office space would never fill up. For a long period of time it was just that, a vacant structure, with only 25% of the floors taken up. Even today, with much taller structures around the ESB it still sticks out above everything else. The grandeur of the tower even continues inside with huge marble walls and hallways with copper embroidered pictures and doorways.
Once I arrived at my hotel I decided to go out for a little shake out run to get the blood flowing from the long flight. I intended to go out for a 20 min easy run. My easy shake out run turned into a 50 minute long run at a decent pace. I don’t know what it was. Maybe a combination of just running the streets of NYC for the first time with all the people, the sights and sounds, exploring and dodging traffic. Once I spotted the new freedom tower I decided to run that way and get a glimpse of the new WTC area. I didn’t realize security would be as tight as it was down there, I guess I should have known better. Also when I got down there it was dark so I decided to loop back toward the hotel. Then I found myself on the other side of the city running on a bike path along Hudson River. 50 minutes or so later I turned in a solid 7 miles. Not the ideal prescription for the night before a race but oh well Im in NY for the time what do you expect.
Woke up and grabbed breakfast with Kevin Crossman at the hotels breakfast café. Not too bad of a spread. After that Kevin, Norbert Lechner (from Austria) and I went down to see the WTC Memorial which was definitely eye opening. I watched what happened on 9/11 on TV and I have seen pictures and videos but you really don’t get a sense of what really happened down there until you see just how tall these buildings are and how close they are and the amount of people around. It gave me goose bumps just thinking about what went down that day for that city and those people. Afterwards we grabbed some Whole Foods for lunch. Relaxed a bit and took a nap. Went for another short, and I mean it this time, short shake out run. This year the race landed on a Wednesday night which was unusually for this event. Walking down the streets of Manhattan towards the ESB it starts to snow. We look up and the tower is lit up in an orange color, which happens to be Kristen Frey’s favorite color so it was a good omen for her. Registration was simple enough. I found a spot to myself to warm up, a nice long hallway to do some drills and running to warm up. Mentally and physically I felt ready to go. The race director called all the elite racers to the wave area. But only 6 of the elite field were actually where they needed to be. The corral area was somewhat crowded and hectic. As we were lined up Dold is just getting back from his warm up while everybody is ready to go. We walk down in order down some stairs, down a hallway and to the start line. There were cameras and media everywhere. I had never seen such a thing for a stair race. Usually at the stair races I got to in the US you race and they mail you a ribbon a couple weeks later, if you’re lucky.
This was my first time doing this race but from what I gathered this year was a lot different and not in a good way. I sensed a lot of negativity towards the setup of this years event from past years. For one they changed the time and date of the race. It has always been on a Tuesday morning. This year it was on a Wednesday night at 8 pm. Also, the elite wave has always been 50 individuals deep. This year there were only 21 elites toeing the line. There is usually a lot of pushing and shoving with people losing shoes and getting trampled down but this year it was a clean start with only 21 guys. I was mentally prepared for all this but it was just not what I was expecting. Even though the elite was smaller the talent was still there no doubt about it. European world mountain running champions and highly sponsored athletes were there and here I am in just my first season of stair climbing. I felt a little over whelmed by the atmosphere.
I was in the 3rd row, which any other year would be great but this year the 3rd row was the back row. No matter I still got a clean start and got some running room for the first few floors. The pace went out just as expected, unrealistically FAST for a stair climbing race. I knew this race would go out fast but when it came down to actually getting into race mode, the pace was just ridiculously fast for a stair climb of 86 floors. The mass start produces this effect. I thought I went out fast yet the leaders pulled away like I was walking up the stairs. I got up to floors 40 and I looked behind me and noticed Tim, Jesse, and Kevin closing fast on me. I let them go by and floors 40-60 became a blur. I remember floor 66 because I found a big wall waiting for me. The last 20 floors I was held to a crawling, just surviving pace. I was miserable. I was thinking you have got to be kidding me. This is what Ive been training for seriously for 3 months now and Im not racing up the ESB Im crawling up to the finish. All that hard work I put in was just not showing today. Frustration and a loss of words. Everybody tells you good job, you just climbed the ESB, you did it. In my head I didn’t though. I finished in a time of 12:35. The first female was only 4 seconds behind me. Granted she is not human but none the less. I was shooting for something close to 11 minutes. Was my goal to lofty, maybe. People told me nobody races well their first time at Empire and that 12:35 is solid. But Im not satisfied. Next year.
Bottom line I didn’t race as well as I would have liked. It was good experience for me though. My first season of stair climbing and Im still getting stronger overall over the course of the year. I have room to improve on my longer races and Im fixed on doing that. I tell myself there are some people out there who can even breath, walk, talk, they have a limb missing, etc. and that makes my problems of not having the race I wanted seem so small. Those people would kill to have been at a race like this and to climb such an iconic building. After every race when I have a chance to be alone on a cool down run or something I do thank God my talents that he has given me. I am lucky to able to run, and climb, and breath and travel to these places and do these races. I can’t take anything for granted, take everything in stride and take in and enjoy the little things that happen along the way. Next year I am going to come back an animal and in even better shape than this year. It is a long ways away but the long road realistically starts the day after the race. Day 13 now of training, here we go.
Javier Santigo, Kevin Crossman, Erika Akufi, me, Tim Van Orden
Race Footage provided by Tim Van Orden