Sunday, 17 November 2013

Eureka Tower Climb 2013


Eureka Tower
Sitting atop of a mountain above Canazei, Italy, having just finished my first Vertical Kilometre (VK) event, my newly made Aussie friend James Stewart and I were discussing races he had done. Having recently been initiated into the world of steep ascents James jokingly suggested that I should do the Eureka Tower Climb (88 floors, 1642 steps) in Melbourne, which he had done the previous year. He suggested that I submit an application form for an elite entry which would guarantee me a little more space in the start waves. Now that he had seeded the thought in my mind I put it aside until the entry dates opened a little later in the year.

Filling out the elite entry form was a little peculiar. Amongst your name and contact details were questions such as:
Times for your most recent runs: 1500m - I have never raced anything so short before, 3000m - still too short, plus I know 13 year olds that can run faster than me over that distance.
Have you completed a stair climb event before? No.
So I didn't have anything to write on the forms for those questions, but whatever I wrote was good enough and I got the start I applied for. I found out on the morning of the event that the elite start was so elite that only 3 other girls and 9 guys had secured one.

So with my entry sorted it was time to start some sort of specialised stair training. Where I live and work there is a serious lack of stairs; plenty of hills but no stairs. To start there is the gutter outside my house which got a serious work out under my training regime. So much of a workout that I’m sure I started to wear a groove into it. The next closest stair is behind my local primary school which has 65 steps in total spread over 7 flights. Not much to train on, but better than nothing. For some speed work I had been doing a weekly interval session and some cycling.
Why are there bees on the building?
For me most event weekends involve travelling to the event for gear check/rego, then the event, then recovery, followed by presentation then the trip back home. This event weekend came around pretty quickly and was unlike any event weekend I have been to before. Brian and I flew down to Melbourne the day before the event and enjoyed the sights, sounds and tastes of the city. The next morning we turned up just before the wave start to pick-up the bib number, have a 30 second brief, queue briefly for the start, climb, rest, wait for Brian, then go back to the hotel for a late breakfast, before departing for home. It was all very civilised really.
A brief briefing.
Standing at the start area was a little daunting. Not an unusual feeling for me, but this was for  different reasons. To start with I didn't know anybody (clearly no one from the ultra trail running scene was there that I recognised). Around me were a lot of very fit and strong looking people. Ahead of me was an open door with a dark room beyond. Never have I started a race running through a doorway! Above me was the large glass fa├žade of the Eureka Tower, which I was about to ascend. Runners in the elite wave we were given 15 seconds clear between each runner. I watched the nine elite males head off, then the two elite females in front. There would be one more elite female starting behind me. I watched those ahead of me sprint off when the red numbers of the race clock ticked over.
Possibly the fastest start I have ever done!
When it came my turn I sprinted off the same as those before me, but it didn’t last very long. Through the doorway I sprinted into what turned out to be a very short dark corridor. My eyes strained to adjust to the darkness and my pace was quickly halted by a red rope directing me to do a very sharp right hand turn into the stairwell. The stairwell was better lit than the corridor and I quickly fell into a rhythm of bounding up two stairs at a time. The stairwell consisted of one continuous flight of 18 steps stairs running between floors repeated 88 times up the full height of the tower. At every floor was a closed red fire escape door with the floor number stencilled on it, which was pretty much the only thing that varied from floor to floor.

It didn’t take long before Brooke Logan (the elite female who started behind me and eventual winner with 10:28) to come bounding up behind me at around Level 15. I could hear her getting closer and closer as her breathing was heavy and laboured. My breathing wasn't nearly as laboured and I was left wondering if I was pushing it hard enough? The night before I had been discussing with Brian the best way to race the Eureka Tower. His advice was to go out hard, reach my threshold early, then try to hold it until the end. I do feel that when I exercise I have a subconscious desire not to exert myself. This inhibits my ability to push hard over short distances.  I'd much rather race over longer distances keeping well within my fitness threshold than burn myself out in a shorter period of time. I consider it to be my innate survival instinct.
My stair running technique is almost as good as my snow running technique.
Photo courtesy Eureka Climb Facebook page. 
The event rules are to stick to the right and to overtake on the left. Brooke followed closely behind for a while and I didn’t break my rhythm so she had to sprint to finally get around me. I observed Brooke when she came up beside me and then eased past. She wasn’t sprinting up the stairs, but instead was power walking up them two at a time. Once in front she slowly pulled away and I didn’t see her or any other competitor until the top. The occasional event marshal were good supportive substitutes though.

Taking the stairs two at a time was becoming exhausting. I could feel the lactic acid build up in my legs and they were becoming heavier. I switched to walking the stairs one at a time. This felt too slow so I went back to two at a time but pushing off my knees with my hands, the same way I saw Brooke do it.  This felt more comfortable and I could feel my pace pick up a little. Occasionally I tried using the hand rail for variation, but this felt clumsy and awkward so I reverted back to hand on knees technique.

The floors quickly passed by without much variation. At around the 84th floor I could start hearing voices and cheering from above. It is surprising how poorly sound travelled in the stairwell. I would have thought it would be noisier with so many people in it. Perhaps it was a mixture of other exhausted people being unable to make much noise, and me being unable to hear them over my increasingly deep breathing. Sooner than I expected the stairs stopped and we emerged at the 88 SkyDeck to a cacophony of noise. Again the barricading led us into a series of very tight turns and reversals before coming into a small finish area.  I found a nice spot to settle down and wait for Brian who was starting a little later. I finished with a time of 11:41 and Brian finished in a time of 15:41.
Its a rewarding view from the top.
I learnt a few thing about myself while climbing the tower. Firstly,  although I am competitive, I do struggle to really push myself to exertion in such a short event. Secondly, I really do enjoy the trail running above all else. Thirdly, I enjoy the exhausted feeling that comes from long periods of running.

All up it was a fun event to experience and I’m glad I’ve ticked it off. It was also good to have finished it so early in the morning where I could return to my hotel room well before breakfast ended and check-out. After having a short rest and some food I'll admit that I was tempted to don some running gear and give it another crack in one of the afternoon waves.