Sunday, November 6, 2011. It was the big day. Time to face the stairs at the
Sears Willis Tower.
When I did this last year, it was a bit of a shock. I’d never climbed so many stairs before, and I really didn’t know what I was getting in to. It was sort of like my first stair climb all over again. But this time I was more ready. I had an idea of the torture I was in for, and I was mostly ready for it.
On Saturday, we’d gone to the Museum of Science and Industry, and they had a huge HO-scale model railroad, complete with a piece of downtown Chicago. Even in 1/87 scale, the tower is big.
They’d assigned me to start in the first group, between 7:00 and 7:30. But I decided that I wanted to go later. Partly so I could have some breakfast, since our not-very-expensive-but-kinda-swanky hotel room came with breakfast. But also because I didn’t want to be climbing at the back end of a line of guys who are all faster than me. That was how it was last year, and I ended up being alone the whole way, aside from two guys who passed me. That was hard. So this time I wanted to start in the middle of a bunch of regular people. It helps me psychologically if I have people to pass. It was that way back when I was a bicycle racer. I was a pretty good time trial rider, as long as I had people who started ahead of me to catch and pass. I just can’t get motivated to push hard unless I have some sort of metaphorical rabbit to chase.
We got to the tower at about 8:15, and I got in line. There was a mix of people around me, so I knew I’d have lots to pass. I saw Oz in line ahead of me. He’d already gone earlier and turned in some stupendously fast time, but he was back to do it again. This time, he was going to walk up alongside his son, who was doing it for the first time.
When I got to the front of the line, I remembered to start my watch when they said to go. It’s good to have an idea of how much time has passed while climbing. It helps me to know if I’m on schedule.
At the dinner last night, everyone had said that the steps here are steeper than normal skyscraper steps. I’d noticed that last year, but I thought it was just my imagination. So this time, as I went up the first flight, I slapped my right hand against the front of one of the steps to do a quick measurement. And sure enough, it was just about 1/4 inch taller than a standard step. I did that rough measurement a few more times on the way up, and it seems that the stairs in the lower part of the building are indeed about 8 inches per step, compared to about 7.7 in a standard building.
This time, I really wanted to avoid burning out too fast, so I started off deliberately going slower. But I’ve learned how to do the turns on the landings more efficiently, and when I looked at my watch at 10, it said 1:46, which meant I was on schedule.
I passed Oz and his son at about 35. They stepped to the side so I could go by, and Oz said something encouraging. I was already getting to be kind of out of it by then, but I kept going. I managed to maintain a pretty steady pace the whole way. I was using the railing more this time, which not only helped go a bit faster, but it was also something to lean on. So I managed to avoid going on all fours like I did for a time at about the 85th floor last year.
Near the top, I was running out of energy to put on the bursts of speed to pass people, and I got stuck behind someone for a couple of floors in the 90s. But when I saw 99, I knew we were near the end, and I managed to muscle past her, and I somehow found the strength to put on a final sprint of sorts from 101 to 103. At the top, I stumbled out of the stairwell and flopped on the floor. It was a few seconds before I realized to stop my watch. I just laid there panting for a few minutes and then managed to move off and find a wall to sit against until my breathing returned to normal. When I looked at my watch, it said 21:36. This was good, since I didn’t stop it right at the top. So I knew my time was certainly faster than that, and that time was over a minute faster than last year. This was good.
I spent a few minutes looking around at the view before getting in the long line waiting for the elevator back down to the lobby. When I got there, we went to the results table and got my time. It was 21:17, which was still short of my goal of 20 minutes, but still was a full minute and 32 seconds faster than last year. That’s almost a second per floor for the whole climb, and I really can’t complain about that.
On the way out, we saw that there were a couple of ambulances parked in front of the tower. I wonder why they were there…
Overall, it was a good outing.