Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fighting for Air in Des Moines (for the 2nd time)

Fight for Air Climb.  One of my favorite challenges. EVER.

This past weekend (my birthday weekend, none the less), I participated in my second Fight for Air Climb in Des Moines.  This was just coming off of the Fight for Air Climb in Chicago seven days prior, my 3.14 Pi run (an annual birthday event) on Friday afternoon and the Leprechaun Chase 10K on Saturday morning.

That's right.  I did some serious leg work in 8 days time.

This is one event that was just as exciting the second time as it was the first. Even though I knew what to expect (thigh fatigue, shortness of breath, dry mouth, sweaty forehead, etc.), there was still a little bit of "unknown" territory.  The three buildings we climb in Des Moines are off limits for participants to train in (two are business buildings and one is a hotel), so there is no "general public" access other than on Climb day.  I also live an hour away from these buildings, so even if there was free access, it's not worth my time to drive there just for training. And my legs took a bit of a beating with all the happenings in the week leading up to the Climb.

I did my training on the stairway in my house, both for last year's event and also for this one.  I take the steps two-at-a time, and sometimes I do three-step intervals.  Up and down, either 50 times per session (when I don't have much time) or 100 times (when I'm feeling bad ass).  The three-steps go slower, but work the thighs/buttocks more effectively and the two-steps are much faster, giving me some serious cardio work.

The Fight for Air Climb is affiliated with the American Lung Association.   Participants have the option to climb 1, 2 or 3 buildings, but they have to climb them in sequence.  You can climb as an individual or on a team, but every participant is required to raise $100 in donations (in addition to the registration fee).   This year the Climb in Des Moines raised over $241,000 and had more than 1,100 participants.

Since I had done this event before, I was hoping to beat my finish time from last year.  I had done the Chicago Climb 7 days prior, which involved  180 flights of stairs, though, and I knew my legs were still recovering from that.  The couple of runs I had done during the week were slow and sluggish, and my legs felt very heavy and tight for the Leprechaun Chase on Saturday.

We lined up in waves, and were escorted to the first building, the EMC Insurance Companies building.  I waited my turn (approximate 10-second intervals between climbers), and before I knew it I was back on the steps.  I was able to run the steps two at a time for the first 10 flights or so, then gravity took over.  I continued with two-step intervals, but had to slow my pace a bit.  I made it to the top in 3:17, which put me ahead of my time from last year (3:39).  Already, though, I was feeling very hot and slightly exhausted!

I drank a quick cup of water, rode down on the elevator and was escorted to the second building, the Hub Tower.  The climb didn't seem any more difficult (given the state of my over-taxed legs), but it did feel much hotter this year.  I remembered there being fans blowing in the stairways last year, but there weren't any (that I noticed) this year. Also, last year my climb time was early in the morning and this year I didn't start until 11:00, so there had been a lot of people before me probably breathing just as heavy (if not even more so).  I finished the second building in 4:05, still ahead of last year (4:39).

The final building, the Des Moines Marriot Downtown
More water, and a few minutes of lag time waiting for the elevator, allowed me the brief chance to catch my breath.  One building remained, and it was the tallest of the three (31 floors). My time from the first two towers had me almost a minute ahead of last year's finish time, so I felt great.  I knew if I kept climbing with my two-step intervals I'd be well on track to beat my 2013 time.  The third building starts off with the first few floors having split-stairways (going up 6-8 steps, then turning with 6-8 stairs in the opposite direction) and the remainder to the top are single-stairways (12-14 steps each) with a landing to walk around before reaching the next stairway right above it.  All went well, and I reached the top in 5:21, ahead of last year's 5:40!  Total time for all three buildings was 12:43, an entire 1:15 faster than last year's 13:58!

My cheering section

All finished with climbing, I headed back to the  main reception area to meet back up with my family (husband and two of our kids).   I stopped to check on my official finish time and they gave me a print-out with a breakdown of each times for the three buildings...and I also received a ribbon for beating my time from last year and an Alumni pin (since I was a returning climber).  The medals had a new design this year, it matched the medal I received in Chicago but this one had a "Fight for Air Climb - Des Moines" ribbon. It turns out I finished 5th out of the 44 gals in my age group, and I placed 226th out of the 828 climbers who did all three buildings.


As we were getting ready to leave, all the firefighters were lining up for their turn.  There is a separate challenge for law enforcement personnel as well.  This was a real neat thing to see, and very emotional.  Most of the people in the room stood and clapped and cheered for them as they filed out, heading to the first building.  True heroes.  They're not afraid to climb a bunch of stairs, in 70 pounds of gear none the less.


So, will I do this again?  Absolutely!  I love physical challenges like this, and now that I've done it (more than once) I have the added challenge of doing it faster each time.  This year I raised $187, almost double of what I collected last year, so I also have the challenge of increasing that next year as well.

Anyone care to join me?  You will not regret it!


Monday, March 17, 2014

Leprechaun Chase 10K---inaugurating the tutu

Have you ever dressed in a tutu?  Ever been in a group of gals being chased by a group of guys?  Or have you ever done an event with a St. Patrick's Day theme?  I can officially say I have done all of the above...all in the same race, none the less.

The Leprechaun Chase 10K is a fun-filled race based on the premise that the Lasses (gals) start the race five minutes ahead of the Lads (guys).  The Lads, consequently, chase the Lasses.  The first racer to cross the finish line then wins a free (green) beer for all of their "team."  This year the Lads were the victors, but us Lasses had fun regardless.

This was to be my inaugural running-in-tutu event.  I have done several fun races,  but have never worn a tutu in any of them.   And I was looking forward to just simply running for fun, with no self-imposed pressure to break a PR.  Seriously, I am not a competitive person.  I became a runner to become more fit, not to see how many other runners I could pass on my way to the finish line.  I'm not super fast, and I am quite content with that.  Although my speed has improved a lot in the past (almost) nine years, I will never be in the front of the pack.


The race began at 10:00, so we had to leave town around 8:00 to allow an hour or so of drive time and to ensure a close parking spot.  I drove up with my neighbor, Bill, a fellow runner.  We made a quick run to the porta-pots and headed back to wait in the car until it was closer to race time.

Almost everyone with a race bib was also dressed in green.  It was fun seeing all the fun costumes, stockings, tutus and kilts...not to mention various hats and wigs.


We had less than ideal weather for this grand event, though.  The temps were in the 40's, but the sunshine was spotty and the wind most severe.  I debated about wearing the puffer vest or going without...and decided moments before the gun went off to just wear it.  I did get hot a few times, but for the most part I was comfortable.

Just prior to the start of the race, we heard bagpipes playing, and discovered it was a family from our hometown of Grinnell!  They have a local band, Turlach Ur, and they make appearances at various events in our area.

As I crossed the start line, almost immediately I felt that weird little sensation that I should have used the bathroom one last time.  Oh well, this was only a 10K.  I probably would be alright.  I hadn't had a lot of water that morning, and it had been a few hours since I'd eaten.  As soon as the thought of food crossed my mind, I realized that I was feeling a little hungry, too.  Great.  Not even half of a mile into this race and I was already creating "what if" scenarios in my mind.

It didn't help that I also had run the day prior.  It had been my birthday and, as was customary for me, I did a 3.14 mile run in honor of Pi Day.  Usually a 3-mile run is not a big deal for me, but it was late in the day and also in some pretty strong wind.  My hamstrings were feeling a little stiff, and I was banking on them loosening up during the first couple miles of the Chase.

As I approached the 2-mile mark, that "hoping to find a bathroom" feeling had not gone away, nor had the hunger. I made it to the water station in about 17 minutes, which is typically a little fast for me (especially in the early miles of a run).  It wasn't too long before the first Lad passed me, followed by several more Lads a short while later.

I was really glad we had sunshine, even if it was intermittent.  The wind was pretty strong, but it was mostly at my back...until around mile 3, when we were headed around the north shore of Grey's Lake. My vest was keeping me warm, but the zipper kept sliding down (probably from the wind).  Then I noticed a strange little "side-effect" of the was creeping down between my legs!  Seriously?  (I could only imagine what that looked like from behind) So, by then I not only needed a plumbing intervention and my stomach was growling (I could hear it over my music), but I also had to keep reaching down periodically and drag the tutu fragments out from where they shouldn't have been.  I did manage to laugh at the humor of my situation, though.  Getting annoyed and uptight would serve no purpose anyways.

As we rounded the lake, I could see the public restroom up just beyond the 4-mile mark.  Knowing it would mess up my finish time, I made the command decision to just veer off course and head towards it.  I glanced at my watch, and noted the time so I'd have an idea of what my actual "running" time would be.  Another lesson's best to have all this restroom business done BEFORE the tutu goes on your body, because it's pretty crowded in the stall of a restroom.  Just saying.

Pit stop done, I headed back to the course.  I had lost about 7 minutes of race time (actually, technically, those 7 minutes were added), and I was back in the running.  The final two miles were straight into the wind, but also in the sunshine.  My legs had loosened up some, and I was able to run about a 9-minute pace for the remainder of the race.  There were a couple times I considered walking, since I already knew my finish time was whacked, but I knew I'd get out of the wind that much quicker if I just kept running.

I crossed the finish line in 1:01:15.  Subtracting off the 7 "pit stop" minutes put my run time around 54 minutes, which is just under a 9-minute pace.  I seem to average between 8:30-9:00 minute miles, so I'm content with that.  Given the fact I had run the day prior, battled wind both days, and also had done the Fight for Air Climb in Chicago (180 flights of stair racing)  6-days prior......this was a small victory for me.  It turns out, the gal who finished third place in my age group was actually a little behind that with her finish time, so I coulda/woulda/shoulda have placed.  Oh well.  Maybe next time.

Bottom line, this was a fun event.  It's neat going to a race where almost every participant is "actively" participating.  I love running, and I love bettering my finish times, but not every race has to be a competitive race.  Sometimes it's fun to run just for the sake of running itself.  And if you can do it in a tutu, all the better.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Fighting for Air in Chicago!

Last April, I did my first Fight for Air Climb for The American Lung Association.  This involved climbing 66 flights of stairs amongst 3 tall buildings in the city of Des Moines.  I am registered for the 2014 event next weekend.  This past weekend I was given the opportunity to venture to Chicago and do the Climb there.  YIKES!

This venue was a much bigger event, given the size of the city.  This Climb had participants climbing the four Presidential Towers in downtown Chicago.  That's right, four towers...not just three tall buildings like in Des Moines.  Oh, and each tower has 45 flights of steps, for a grand total of 180 floors. YIKES (again).

Last year I did the Climb as an individual, this year I was recruited to join Team 27.  Team 27 was formed several years ago in honor of and support for Tom Muselman, a Des Moines-based banker who was the recipient of a double lung transplant a few years ago.

Team 27...ready to go!
 This also was the Spring-Ahead weekend, which made for one less hour of sleep.  Fortunately, our scheduled climb time wasn't until 9:55.  We had plenty of time to rise and shine, pay a visit to Starbucks, hail a cab and get to check-in.

I didn't quite know how to prepare for this event.  I had done plenty of stair-climbing, and my legs are in pretty good shape from being a runner.  I wasn't sure if I should do a taper, since this climb was so much bigger and more demanding than the other one.  Or, should I carb-load?  I didn't expect to spend a long time climbing 180 flights, but I knew it would be strenuous and require a boost of energy.

Check-in was at the PepsiCo building, and we were escorted across Monroe to the first Presidential Tower, where we could check our gear and get out timing chips.  Seeing the four Towers was exciting, but a little intimidating.

Three of the four Presidential Towers...don't they look...TALL?
I must say this event was very well organized with numerous enthusiastic volunteers. As we lined up to take the stairs, countless people were cheering and high-5ing the participants.

We had the option to do 1,2,3, or all 4 of the Towers.  Well, my theory is "go big or go home," so I was registered to climb all four Towers.

Ready to take to the steps...180 flights do not scare me
As I began my climb in Tower 1, I could feel the excitement of what was before me.  I started out taking the steps two-at-a-time.  That lasted for the first 10 flights or so....and I knew things would need to change for the remaining 35 flights.  These stairways were narrow, making it difficult to pass other climbers, and only had handrails on the "inside" edge of the steps.  Also, the steps were steep!  Instead of going up one long stairway of 12-14 steps, each flight had double stairs...6 or 7 steps, then you'd turn and do another 6 or 7 steps (in the opposite direction) between each floor.  Catch-22!  Although the stairs appear shorter than normal, you have to do two of them for each floor, and you have to pause briefly as you change direction halfway through.

I finished the first Tower in 7:19.  I grabbed a cup of water and joined the other sweating/panting/breathless racers and waited for the elevator to take us down.  I was given a Team 27 shirt to wear, but was already contemplating stripping it off and just going with the tank top I had underneath.

We all had timing chips attached to our shoes.  There were timing mats in the hall leading to the stairs and also mats in the doorways, exiting the stairways at the top of each building.  This meant that we'd cross the "start mat" briefly after exiting the elevator (from the previous Tower) and we then had to make our way to the next Tower.

My strategy for Tower 2 was to start off taking the steps by two (again), but to do it slower, so I'd (hopefully) be able to maintain the two-step intervals longer.  My theory was thrown out the window after the first 5 or 6 flights.  UGH!  This was really tough!  The steps were a lot steeper than they appeared, and the stairways were stuffy (probably from all the heavy breathing!).  Thankfully, there were water stations on the 19th, 34th and 48th floors, so that gave me the chance to pause for a few seconds and slam some water and catch my breath.  I finished Tower 2 in 9:07.  And I yanked off the team 27 shirt and draped it over my fuel belt (which was holding my phone).  Normally, having a flapping tail-like thing hanging over my belt would not happen if I was running, but for stair-climbing it worked fine.

Halfway there.....this Climb was no joke!

Tower 3.  By this time, I had resolved to just single-step the stairs.  The crowd of climbers had thinned out (because some had bailed after the first two towers), so I didn't have to worry about passing too many people.  We had to cross the street (via the skywalk), so this gave us a little more time in between towers, but it also showed up on our chip time.  Some climbers ran between towers, but most others (myself included) walked.

So, onward I climbed.  I never felt fatigued, but I certainly felt winded and out of breath.  Another little "mind game" to overcome was the numbering system of the floors. We were climbing 45 flights of stairs. But when you start on the  third floor, and you finally reach the 45th still have three flights remaining. (ugh!)  This was a small detail that I kept forgetting each time I reached the 45th floor (in each tower).  I finished Tower 3 in 10:50.  Woot! Woot!  Almost done!!

The 4th Tower went well, though I was really feeling the effects of so many steps in the stairways.  More and more climbers were pausing on the landings and at the water stations. Very few people were smiling (except for the volunteers who kept encouraging us as they offered us water).  I tried to pay attention to the many posters on the walls of the stairways, which paid tribute to friends and family members who were no longer with us. I said several silent prayers for them, and felt so honored and lucky that I was able to climb 180 flights of stairs.  I bet they would have gladly traded places with me if they were able to do so.  I finished Tower 4 in 9:28.  And I drank several cups of water in celebration as I waited for the elevator.

WHEW!  I had to work hard for this medal!
This Climb was tough, no doubt about it.  The 66 floors in Des Moines got nothing on this challenge!  My finish time was 36:44.  I was hoping to be done within 45 minutes, so I am very pleased.  I finished 26th out of 171 women within my age group (this stat is from Tower 1; everyone climbed the first tower, but not everyone climbed all four of them).  Out of the 548 women who did climb all four towers, I finished 142nd and I placed 517th out of a total 1034 climbers (male and female combined) who finished all four towers.

Team Fight for Air Climb in Chicago