Monday, November 04, 2013

Climbing a Stairway to...

Arts Tower from basement level
I had some great reaction to my last post about stairs. Alas, I don't have any mysterious wilds into which I can trek nor vast unexplored ranges of mountains. However, obsessively climbing stairs seem to be sufficiently strange for people to engage me with questions (and concerns) on the topic. This is not going to be an FAQ, but I am going to share a bit of my process with you in hopes that it will answer some common queries.

Most of this post was inspired by my friend, Dave. He wasn't the first one to ask me what I thought about when I spend an hour and a half climbing the same set of stairs, but he did cause me to think most deeply about it. He is no stranger to feats of endurance. I was in the process of formulating a short one paragraph answer, when I realized that I couldn't honestly do that. Answering in one paragraph I could've come up with some inspiring snippet of honesty about why I do it and the effect it has on my life. I guess I think you guys are interested in more than that. I think we're capable of actually getting into the details here... (hint: this is your last chance to escape).

A typical climb...

I try and always listen to music. The level of monotony is very high so I choose driving, inspirational songs. I have a dedicated mix for running in general, but not stairs in specific.

1st ascent: I always run this one full out. my thoughts are all about optimizing my turns, breathing at the right time and pushing myself to accelerate. I visualize my quads and calf muscles bunching and extending. Because I am working at an anaerobic level here, I am hyperventilating by the top as my lung struggle to rid themselves of excess CO2. I stop for 30 seconds at the top to enter my time in the web form with shaky fingers. If my time is sub 55 seconds I am elated. Slower and I will be briefly disappointed.

I run down 2 steps at a time, being mindful to catch my very ragged breath. I try to imagine I'm rappelling down a long wall and my feet are just tapping the steps keeping me from colliding with it. At each turn I push off the opposite wall and grab the handrail, letting momentum propel me around the corner. I strive to land with light steps. I know that a lot of jarring wastes energy and will weaken my climbing later. I pick up my camel pack or water bottle at the bottom where it was hidden under the steps and carry it for the remainder of the effort.

Stairs in Thorvaldson. Nice to visit, but I'd never climb there
2nd ascent: One of the toughest mentally. I'm more tired in the legs than I will be for the next 10-12 ascents as my muscles try to shed the lactic acid they built up during my all out sprint. My breathing is still in gulps. I force my breath to become slow and steady. I will alternate running several flights and then two-step walking. I always make sure to run the last flight. I call it the "zombie level," imagining that if I don't run, I will be caught and eaten :)

3rd ascent: I've recovered from my sprint and become rhythmical. I listen to my music and let the lyrics push me -- Citius, Altius, Fortius. I can't think terribly deep thoughts here or allow my mind to wander. I stay focused on the physical motions or I find that I'm walking too much. As soon as my breath normalizes, I run 2-5 more flights. I think about +david aschim and hope my diligence on the stairs will keep me fit for the next time we can climb a mountain together.

10+: My thoughts drift. I start to imagine that I'm Lawrence of Arabia, going back to the desert one more time or Frodo, borne down by the weight of the ring as I climb Mt. Doom. I've been dripping sweat since tower 5. Every time I turn a corner, droplets shake loose from my hair and nose. I wonder if I could climb enough times to cause a slipping hazard.

I talk to myself--a lot; keeping count of my tally and how many floors are left until I can go down again. Losing count is demoralizing and significant effort goes into keeping track. Recently I've started using my stopwatch's lap counter and that helps immensely, but I still make mistakes once I stop thinking clearly.

I walk more than run. 4 out of 11 by this point is Herculean. I try and look determined and stable when I pass people who work or study in the building. I don't want them to call security because of the sweaty mad man careening down the stairwell. Still run the zombie level, though. They will never get me ;)

I nurse each descent (now in single steps because I'm too shaky to risk the speed) and try to gather myself mentally to want to climb one more time and then one more time and...

...eventually, I stop.

This is what I will say...

If I'm ever asked for a quote by a media outlet. You will have to decide for yourself which description is most accurate.

Climbing inspires me. I rush upwards towards the clouds thinking about staying physically and mentally healthy for my wife and two teenage daughters. I come back down to earth because, for now, they still need me here.
Coming back to Earth