April 28, 2012

Go Big Or Go Home

March 31st was a stormy Saturday morning, with gale-force winds and a torrential downpour that threatened to derail my plan to walk out the front door in my Vibram shoes.  We were about to climb 52 flights of stairs, and my feet would not have had it any other way.  @dbt1959 was going to pick me up, and had hinted that Brigid, two weeks fresh with a learner's permit, would be at the wheel.  No way, I had thought.  Not in that kind of weather, not all the way from Novato via the Golden Gate Bridge.  But sure enough, the vehicle showed up with a fearless teenage girl steering.  And thus we rolled, rather slowly but adventurously, towards the Bank of America Building in downtown San Francisco.  We had passed the first test: no pansies on board.

I first learned about the American Lung Association's Fight For Air Climb in 2008, shortly after earning my RKC certification.  Eager to put my newfound strength and endurance to the test, climbing up a tall building sounded like the perfect challenge.  But I had nobody to do it with.  I did not have friends who were hardcore athletes, and it would take weeks and months of inculcation to instill in the minds of my existing pilates clients that henceforth we would train as upright animals with the sole purpose of cultivating the power to play.  Fast forward to 2012.  I have amassed a tribe of like-minded folks around me who delight in the pursuit of strengthiness and happiness.  When I found out that the Stanford Club of San Francisco was putting together a team for this year's Climb, my first thought was, "I'm going to do it this year."  Second thought, not surprisingly, went exactly like this: "Fuck it, I'm going to form my own team."

It's the tall brown building.  I used to work
there in the mid-90's as a financial analyst. 
I went into this with the mindset that it's a life experience that I would like to include on my CV, or Cupcake Vitae.  Certainly we, Team prAxis, are well differentiated from the hamsters who spend 45 minutes on the StairMaster for their "cardio workout."  We climb real stairs.  You have to lift your feet off the ground.  God forbid!  My inner posse is small but full of awesome: Micah, the pistol freak (check out this video of him at 1:31 doing a 70 lb. pistol at 120 lb. bodyweight) and @dbt1959, who is my one and only workout partner.  (Brigid did not officially get on the team roster because her dad signed her up the day of and obviously fucked it up.)  What we set out to do, I wrote in my Manifesto.

I didn't really train for the event.  I took my class on a field trip to Moraga Steps for Super Bowl Sunday, but we were racking kettlebells and stopping to do swings along the way, so it wasn't anything like climbing 52 flights of stairs straight up.  I figured I was generally well conditioned, had strong legs, and did not have a lot of ass to haul.  I had this notion that I would do a steady-pace jog all the way up, but I really had no idea.  When we arrived at the venue, the building lobby was a scene of utter chaos, and I mean UTTER CHAOS.  Live music rendering all announcements inaudible.  Hundreds milling around. Volunteers with a look of confusion on their faces.  It was a miracle that my team separated and united and separated and re-united and actually found ourselves at the starting line co-mingled with the 79-person strong CrossFit Palo Alto team, slowly being prodded along like cattle to the stairwell, where the sensor strip attached to one shoe would trigger the clock to start ticking.

To the organizer's credit, we had a staggered start, and the stampede that a former participant alluded to did not materialize.  I am a sprinter, not an endurance athlete - that mid-life crisis that compels one to attempt a marathon having apparently eluded me - so I bounded out the gate and upwardly, and reached the fourth floor with nary a breath, that is to say, anaerobically.  The subsequently burn was breathtaking.  Ooh la la.  I needed a Plan B that did not involve aborting.  The ignominy of jogging meant that my only other option was to walk up briskly.  Switching gears proved to be surprisingly fatiguing: fast twitch muscles still bathing in lactic acid, slower twitching ones kicking up to speed, legs not wanting to cooperate.  Much to my relief - if you've never done a test run, everything is a surprise - the ramping up did not last forever.  Beyond the tenth floor, I settled into a rhythm, which I will grudgingly call the ignominy of steady state aerobics, and so it became a mental game of counting down till done - 30 more, 20 more, 10 more ...  On the 32nd floor, this volunteer girl was cheering, "You're halfway through!"  Her imprecision irked me.  I composed a snarky Facebook update in my mind to break the monotony of my surroundings.  If you can't do math, you should just shut up.  But it is rather striking that I clung on to the import of being more than halfway through.  "This, too, shall pass - at a precise endpoint" turned out to be such a powerful motivator.  If I had been tasked to run up as many floors as I could, I might have stopped at 30, or 51.  Knowing the destination makes the journey easier.  It's not just the journey, stupid.

(Life is full of unfinished businesses.  So is this post.  C'est tout.)