I probably should've expected it. When I showed up for the Willis Tower stair climb benefitting the Rehab Institute Sunday morning, they showed me the trophy the winner of the media division would win. They had me carry it around, pose for pictures with it, and even meet the patient who designed it. They acted like they expected me to win it. And in truth, I probably expected the same thing. Bad sign.
I looked at the field before, and (somewhat smugly)didn't recognize the name of anyone I expected to be tough competition. As a previous winner, they even gave me the coveted race number 103 (the number of stories we climb). In retrospect, these should have been warning signs.
So we took off up the stairs, one after another, in a group. I was almost the last to enter the stairwell and start climbing. For some of the others, this was the first, or one of the first stair climbs they'd done. Since I've done probably 20 or more over the years, I figured experience would be my advantage.
But despite having done many of them before, I apparently got amnesia about how tough they can be. While they provide a great cardio workout, I've never really enjoyed stair climbs. You're in a cramped stairwell, with little oxygen, and trying to pass people in the cramped space without being rude is difficult.
Nevertheless, I managed to get through a logjam of people in the first couple flights. I thought most of my media competition was in that group I passed early on, so I figured if I stayed ahead of them I would be fine.
I concentrated on trying to keep a steady pace up the stairs, and ignore the fact that my lungs were screaming! By about ten stories, I was already breathing hard, and feeling my quads straining. That's the part where you start to question whether you can make it another 83 flights.
I kept plodding along, trying to keep a steady pace, taking one stair at a time. Eventually I got to the 30th, then 40th floor. I was pretty beat by then, but relied on experience to trust that I would make it. My pace definitely slowed however. But, thinking I had passed all my competition early on, I relaxed a little and didn't worry about it.
There were plenty of moments along the way where I was reminded of how fortunate I was to be able to to this in the first place. A number of patients and former patients of the rehab institute were climbing. They were the real heroes!
So, I never started my watch, In fact, I paid no attention to the clock. I really had no idea about my time. In my experience it makes no difference anyway. I have no real frame of reference for stair climb times anyway.
So eventually I heard the many volunteers offering encouragement that we were near the top. I crossed the finish line, and looked for a corner of real estate to collapse and try to catch my breath. We were on the observation deck of the Willis Tower, arguably the best view in the city, but I barely noticed. I was more concerned about survival at that point.
After everyone finished, they held a little tropy presentation in front of the glass enclosed Ledge on the observatation deck. They announced the top three places. I stood in the back, while they announced 3rd place, waiting til they got to my name, and I could collect the trophy and go on with my day. Except that they got to second place, and announced my name!
Yeah, like I said, I should've known. I realized I'd seen this guy, who I'd never met before, walking around afterward like he wasn't even winded! It turns out I'm a fan of his. Jason Thomas is the afternoon DJ on WXRT. He was the first to cross the line. I don't know our finishing times, but I don't think I was even close!
See you on the roads....................