Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Climb

Over the weekend, Sam and I participated with a team as part of a stair climbing event. The rules were simple: In one hour, climb the 50-something flights of stairs (in the tallest building in the region) as many times as possible. Although we were part of a team, our results would be individual. Our team, comprised of a group of several friends and a couple of new acquaintances, did an amazing job (with the exception of myself). Among our group, we had a 3rd and 6th place overall finisher, and a 3rd, 6th, and 8th place finishing spot for the females as well.
I had known this event was coming for several months. As I recall, we signed up back in late November or early December when I was somehow convinced that it would be a good idea for me to do this event. Truly, I think the team wanted Sam, and I knew the way to get him on board was to sign myself up, whether I was capable or not. I have definitely had time to train, but the problem has been that as soon as I seemed to be getting some relief from one injury, I'd fall victim to yet another and it continued to slow me down.

Never once did I actually climb a set of stairs in preparation for this event. It's not something I'm proud of, but in some ways, it may have helped me mentally because I had no idea what I was in for on event day. I did crank up the incline on the treadmill, used the elliptical at the gym, and when weather permitted, rode my bike. However, none of these were proper preparation for this type of event, as I quickly became aware of what I was in for at about the 5th flight of stairs.

On my way up, I knew I would be slow. We'll leave out the fact that I carry more weight than probably any other climber. But even excluding that fact, not only had I not trained on stairs, but I have multiple injuries that keep me from any sort of speedy pace with this type of event.

We had been instructed at the start to move to the outside wall if faster climbers were approaching. Having people pass in this manner felt a bit awkward to me; so instead, I would speed up to get to the next landing, and wait as a climber (or climbers) passed. Then, I'd carry on.

Reaching the top of the climb on the first pass, I had asked someone for the time. When I realized how long it had taken me to get up the first try, I knew I had no chance of getting to the top a second round within the time permitted. Still, I rode the elevator to the bottom with other participants, and started up again.

No matter, I thought. I can always get on the elevator at some point along the way and come back down. I couldn't see a reason to not keep going until time was up. What I hadn't realized in that moment is that getting on the elevator at any level wasn't a possibility, and that in order to get out I'd either be climbing to the top, or would need to walk back down the stairs to the main floor, the latter of which wasn't a possibility because another group would be starting a single-ascent challenge as we were wrapping up.

As I climbed, I continued to stop at each landing to allow faster people to get by with ease. When people were no longer coming up from behind, I realized time must be up. A bit of disappointment set in. I started to contemplate my decision to continuously stop to allow others to pass me and realized that had I not done so, I likely would've made the second trip in the allotted amount of time.

Still, I continued to move upward. It gave me time to think, and what choice did I really have anyway? Speed hasn't ever been my strong suit, but never was that more obvious to me than in this challenge as climbers continued to lap me (repeatedly). I have always been able to endure distance, but time is the factor that inevitably gets me. Had I been given unlimited -or even significantly more- time, I would've continued to climb the stairs and probably would have completed several more rounds. But, that was not a possibility on this day.

It would be easy to say that I just shouldn't or won't participate in timed events, but I think there is a benefit to doing these sorts of challenges - even knowing that I may very well be last.

First, it is still a marker of achievement, even if it is comparably much slower to others. Just because someone is slow, it doesn't mean s/he cannot get better, nor that s/he shouldn't attempt new endeavors. We all start somewhere and when the only place to go is up for improvement, it's actually a bit more motivating - at least to me - to keep pushing forward.

It is also an excellent reminder that I have my own strengths. I am not the fastest, nor even fast, but I have the ability to keep going. My endurance (and stubbornness, at times) can be a valuable tool. It may not get me to the finish line first, but I know that I can complete what I start - given that I'm in the right state of mind.

Additionally, I know how to pace myself. Several individuals passed me who looked ready to collapse (In fact, one of our own teammates had to get oxygen at the end of the climb from pushing a little too hard), and others were grunting and groaning in pain as they struggled to get up one last time. I was breathing hard too, but oddly, despite all of my injuries, the only thing hurting was one of my pre-event injured feet. I know that for me, as long as I keep moving, I can get to any point I desire.

This event was a good winter time challenge for me, and a nice break from the significant amount of upper body training I've done over the last few months. It's also a good reminder as we move into cycling season that there is always work to be done, no matter where a person starts. I don't know what bicycle adventures are in store this year, but I know my strengths and the areas that always need work. Even more importantly, I am slowly becoming aware that it's okay that we each have different abilities. It makes the world an interesting place to live - and even to compete in.

My point, more so than any other, is not one in which I'm trying to make myself feel better for being slow (it's never fun to be the slow one), but rather that I have come to accept that people are different. Pulling on each others' strengths, rather than making each other feel bad, seems to bring out the best in all. No one made me feel guilty or as though I wasn't pulling my weight during or after the climb. When my teammates (and even strangers) passed me up the stairs, I tried each time to take a moment to encourage them because they were each doing the best they could.

Part of being on a team means that we take the good with the bad. We must accept that not everyone may have trained as rigorously or that someone may be injured or ill on event day. In the case of this challenge, it was of no consequence if we all stayed together and my turtle-like speed wouldn't affect anyone else's outcome, but it was great to see others I know doing well and it was good motivation to continue to work toward healing.

Have you done any challenges that took you out of your comfort zone? Did it push you to do other events outside of those you previously thought possible, or did you find it better to stick with the things you enjoy or do well?


  1. I saw a meme on Facebook recently. It was an image of an upright bicycle in the middle of a field, and it said, very simply, "I'm not competing with anyone. I hope we all make it." These sorts of romaticized, pre-packaged images don't normally affect me much, but I was really taken with this one. The fact that it was a bike helped, but the message resonated with me. I am cheering for those who are pursuing their own goals, and I hope they are happy for me as I pursue my own. No need to compare goals.

    1. So true. Comparing goals is a good way to get into trouble, I have found. We have to do what works individually. It would've been easy to be depressed after this event if I were comparing to the top finishers, but when I took a second and realized that half my body is broken, the fact that I went up any stairs at all was an accomplishment.

      There is always a little piece of me though that revels in competition to some extent (not with everything, but on occasion it's kind of fun). Competitions are generally time-based though, and that never bodes well for me. Still, all I can really do is attempt to better my own results, but often that is enough to keep me going. :)


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