Chicago Stair Climbs

When I first moved to Chicago, I heard about stair climbs up the Hancock and Sears Tower. Ive always thought it would be fun to try, but registration fills up in minutes for each event. I’ve now managed to battle my instincts to hit the snooze button on registration day for both of these events.

Hancock Tower2009 Hustle Up The Hancock
Floors: 94
Stairs: 1632 stairs
Height: 344 meters
Time: 12:59

When i signed up I anticipated doing a bit of running over the winter as usual to prepare. Instead, nearly all my workouts that winter had been cycling specific. Also, I raced a 24 hour race the weekend before the stair climb. So, I was somewhat nervous going into the climb, thinking I may not be up to it.

Climbers are sent off every 8 seconds starting at 7am. I had hoped to grab a late start time, but ended up with 7:30 AM. It seemed to be well organized. It didn’t take too long to get from the start of lining up to the stairwell.

I started off pretty conservatively, 2 steps at a time. Eventually as I got about halfway up I had switch to 1 step at a time. There were occasional traffic jams, but nothing too bad. The climb seemed to go by quickly, but I figured I had done an average time and had a better idea of how these events go. As it turns out I ended up with 31st place overall.

Note for the future, never check anything at the baggage check for this event. I spent more time in line for baggage check than I did for any other part of the morning. It took 2 hours to get my coat back after the climb. I thought there might be a riot. Some very angry people at a charity event.

2009 Hustle Up The Hancock Results

2010 Skyrise Chicago – Willis(Sears) Tower
Floors: 103
Stairs: 2109
Height: 442 meters
Time: 18:21

This one was a very different experience, perhaps because I started in the first group. It seemed really relaxed. There was plenty of space to warmup. No standing in line until about 2 minutes before I started the climb.

I didn’t seem to learn much from my first stair climb last year. I went out too fast and pretty much gasped for air for the remaining 80 stories. It was interesting to watch some of the experienced climbers They didn’t seem to be running so much as pulling themselves up 2 steps at a time.

This one seemed quite a bit more difficult than the Hancock. Which really should have been obvious, but I was thinking “what’s ten more floors?”. It turns out it’s 5 minutes more. A long time when your lungs are burning. I had hoped for a finish time in the 15 minute range based on my flawed logic comparing the two buildings, so I was a bit disappointed with 18:21 at the finish. I was happily surprised when I found I’d placed 33rd overall.

I hate to admit it, but I had never been to the top of the Sears Tower before this day. The Ledge is pretty cool, especially with an oxygen starved brain from climbing up there.

2010 Skyrise Chicago Results

So, Im now signed up for another stair climb in the winter. The Fight For Air Climb – All 4 Presidential Towers 2,340 steps and sprints between the towers. Might have to work on my upper body strength to pull myself up a bit.

There’s a world cup for tower running: This graphic of the Ten Highest Buildings with running events is interesting.

Fireweed 400 2010

I’ve always wanted to see Alaska, so years ago when I ran across the Fireweed 400 in a list of RAAM qualifiers, I put it on the list of races to do.

3 Weeks before race
I raced well at the National 24 hour Challenge. My plan called for a couple of longish rides than easy going to store some energy for the race and hopefully shake a few nagging aches and pains. I also began checking the weather in Alaska. Every day the the forecast looked worse: 50% chance of thunderstorms, 50 degrees, 60% chance of showers, lows in the 40s. I pictured a cycling version of “To Build a Fire”.

I bought some new leg warmers to feel somewhat more prepared for cold. Its really difficult to buy leg warmers in Chicago in July. I tried to buy some warm gloves, as I keep losing mine, none to be found. Had to borrow some. I remind myself I raced through the Alps in sleet and rain last year. I’ve ridden Wolf Creek Pass in a heavy snowfall(complete with flat change). I’ve ridden all winter. I’m from North Dakota.

The crew came together when my friend Joe in Fairbanks put me in touch with Ken, a local who has raced and crewed the fireweed. Ken mentioned in our first phone call that many people drop out at night due to being unprepared for the the cold. “wind off the glacier” was the phrase i recall. My training ride was in 90 degree temps that day.

Each race I find one detail to become overly concerned about in my last minute preparations. This time it was staying warm. All those Jack London stories as a kid had an effect. I dont see the Iditabike or riding with Ken in my future anytime soon.

2 Days before race
I watched from the plane as the baggage handlers drove away with my bike still on the cart. Disconcerted, I wondered if I’d be able to borrow a bike in Alaska. Luckily, the the bike arrived 10 hours after I did.

I also experienced my first earthquake while sitting in the hotel in Anchorage.

1 Day before race:
Rider checkin and vehicle inspection in Anchorage was an easy going affair compared with some events. I saw a moose as we drove back to town. I’m told this is the Alaska equivalent of seeing a deer in Wisconsin. We bought supplies for the race and drove to the start, 100 miles down the Glennallen Highway. I spent a daylight lit evening before the race sitting out by a fire looking at the Chugach mountains.

Race Day
A very civilized morning and very sunny. Not a rain cloud in sight and warm. The race didn’t start till noon. I woke early and had a real breakfast 4 hours before the start. I typically skip breakfast on race day and immediately start on Infinit Nutrition for my first meal. I down a few bottles before the starting gun. I couldnt turn down pancakes. I paid for it later. We had plenty of time to load the vehicle, sit in the sun and talk.

The race profile shows a general trend downward to the coast for the first 200 miles, so I hoped for a high average speed over the first half. I had set a goal of a low 20s finish, but really had hoped to get in under 20 hours. As the race calmly started, I found myself in front and built a bit of a lead over the first climbs. I was trying to start more conservatively this time. Stay at 200 watts ideally and “Never go Anaerobic” minimally. I felt I reined myself in well. A strong headwind was having an effect, but I was feeling great.

A sunny and warm day racing through beautiful scenery. It is really easy to forget its a race when you are traveling along this course. A different look to the mountains here. Everything seems wide.

I felt fine through Glennallen, the one turn on the course. Shortly after that I had some stomach issues. I suspect I was a bit dehydrated or possibly the pancakes and bacon. While I had been concerned with cold, the first day was very warm. For a time I felt like I was barely moving and figured I would have another racer overtake at any moment. Michael McClintock rode a strong race preparing for RAAM in 2011. I often saw his vehicle close behind and that would push me to pick up the pace.

I managed to stay in the lead and as the sun moved closer to the horizon, I felt much better. By the time I reached the turnaround in Valdez, I was starting to get some strength back. My lead on the chasing racers was not large, so I had some work to do.

Every so often Ken and Carmichael would pull along side and say, “Are you seeing this?”. Extraordinary scenery. The sun rising behind a mountain after a very short 2-3 hour night was a sight I’ll always remember.

When I started randonneuring, I got in the habit of breaking rides into smaller parts in my mind. Rather than dwell on the 200, 500, or 2000 miles yet to ride, I would focus on the next turn. With the Fireweed, I had it in my mind that once I reached Glennallen, I was nearly home and could break out the Champagne or maybe the beer since it was Alaska. In reality I had 70 miles to go and a significant amount of climbing. Luckily the the 200,100 and 50 races had started that morning. I pushed on through those last miles and was greeted by cheers from the racers and crews.

I finished in 22:29:02 for 1st overall.

I spent the following week eating everything I could find and seeing a small part of Alaska. Hope I can make it back soon.

Thanks to Ken, Carmichael of Cycle Bike Shop, Infinit Nutrition, Lake Shoes, and CycleOps Power

Fireweed 400 Bryce Walsh takes the lead

ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Bryce Walsh takes the lead as sunny weather greets riders in the 400 solo race of the Fireweed 400 bicycle event Friday July 9, 2010 on the Glenn Highway. The two-day race to Valdez and back starts and finishes at Sheep Mountain Lodge, where the rest of the races and rides begin Saturday. Read more:

Fireweed 400

ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Bryce Walsh takes an early lead as riders take off in bright sunshine in the 400 solo race of the Fireweed 400 bicycle event Friday July 9, 2010 on the Glenn Highway. The two-day race to Valdez and back starts and finishes at Sheep Mountain Lodge, where the rest of the races and rides begin Saturday. Read more:

Wrigley Field Road Tour

Wrigley Field Road Tour

Wrigley Field Road Tour

I’m doing a 100 mile ride from Wrigley Field in Chicago to Miller Park in Milwaukee WI. All proceeds benefit World Bicycle Relief. I have great memories of spending every friday riding from Chicago to Milwaukee and back again when I was preparing for RAAM. If you are able, throw a few dollars toward a good cause at my donation page.

Gravel Road Cycling Races

I searched for a century ride in Minnesota this summer and stumbled across a series of gravel road races. I plan on doing Trans Iowa next year, but hopefully I can add a few of these in as well. Many have no entrance fee and most provide no support beyond a cue sheet.

Race State Distance(miles) Date Registration Dates URLs Twitter Notes
The Trans Iowa Race IA 300 04/24/10
CIRREM IA 62 02/27/10
Dirty Kanza 200 KS 200 06/05/10 01/10/10
D2R2 MA 112 08/21/10
Brevet(Not a race)
AGRS: Race for the Cup MN MN Gravel Series
Almanzo 100 MN 100 05/15/10
Ragnarok 105 MN 105 04/10/10
Westside Dirty Benjamin MN 100.5 06/19/10 April 1st to April 15th
Heck of the North MN 102 09/25/10 March 1st to March 31st
Trans Wisconsin WI 550 06/18/10

Race Across The Alps 2009

“…I believe that if someone starts out on a challenging activity, completely confident that they’re going to succeed, why bother starting? It’s not much of a challenge.” — Sir Edmund Hillary

When possible I pick my “A” races each year by looking for something that is so difficult in some way that I do not know if I will be able to complete it.  I also prefer it to be somewhere where good beer is served. So 540 KM and 45000 feet of climbing in the Alps with a start in Austria covered both requirements well.

In 2006, while spending the winter in Austin TX to prepare for RAAM, I visited Rick Kent. He had a poster on his fridge for a race called Race Across The Alps. I remember thinking I wish we still had races like that in ultracycling. I had assumed the race no longer existed. Fast forward a few years and I hear of another American doing Race Across the Alps , David Haase. I immediately added it to my “list” of races to do. In 2009 RATA made it to the top of the list. This is no leisurely jaunt doing one climb a day with lunch served at the top. There are no massages after 5 hours of racing. It is eleven alps passes in one race, one stage, 540 KM, 45000 ft of climbing. I wondered if I this is the race I would be broken by. I had so little idea how I would react to the excessive climbs and descents. Ive done races that had large amounts of climbing in them, but this is different. Its the alps.

Start Line

The Stelvio, the Gavia, the Mortirolo are names that are famous to cyclists. The 47 switchbacks of the Stelvio are the location of some of the historic battles of the Giro. Coppi cemented his victory there in 1953 against Koblet. The Gavia is remembered as the pass where Andy Hampsten fought through blizzard conditions in a decisive move on his way to becoming the only American to win the Giro. The Mortirolo was described by Lance Armstrong in this way: “It’s a terrible climb…it’s perfect for a mountain bike. On the hardest parts, I was riding a 39×27 and I was hurting, really hurting. (Mortirolo) is the hardest climb I’ve ever ridden.”

I arrived in Europe 3 days before the start with my crew Dave and Carmichael. As a warm up, I rode the the course out to the top of the Stelvio. 47 switchbacks once you get to the point where they start keeping track. It was a hard climb, but not too bad I thought. I had a big smile plastered on my face all day. My confidence was good.

There was the usual rush to get last minute details sorted: Food, water, GPS unit setup. Austria seems to be a bit stringent on the hours you are allowed to eat, so we were consistently relegated to the a small pizza and kabob place lined with smokers(Pretty good pizza though). Dave spent many hours trying to get the route converted to my GPS unit.

The race meeting was in German, so we listened in on a translation from Christiane, the organizers daughter. Had a great time catching up with Shanna Armstrong. A good dinner and I made an attempt at sleep.

Race Day(s)

Relaxing before the start

I arrived about an hour before the start and found a seat in front of a cafe to relax until it was time for the riders to line up. Met a racer and crew from England and they joked about getting a kettle for tea working in their follow vehicle.

The race began fairly easy but quick. I tried to stay in the middle of the front pack to conserve some energy until the first climb where I assumed the group would blow apart. Spent quite a bit of time weaving my way through support vehicles as i worked my way toward the climb.
Stelvio Climb

The Stelvio – 9045 feet, 7.4 %, 15.1 miles
I made good time up the first pass, moving up a few places here and there. Already having done this climb I went a bit harder than my pre-race ride and made good time to the top. There I put on an extra layer and proceeded into my first alps descent. It was freezing cold and a bit tense. Short free falls followed by quick braking and hard turns through the switchbacks.

Gavia – 8700 feet, 7.9%, 10.7 miles
The Gavia is often described as one of the most beautiful climbs in the alps. On this climb I started to realize what I might be in for. A light rain started to come down and fog rolled in. I had a good conversation with another racer as we climbed at similar pace and occupied my mind by reminding myself that if another North Dakotan can win the Giro on this pass I can at least put in a strong effort. At the top I had to stop and put on some warm clothes, a common theme. Luckily, Dave had a warm rain jacket that I co-oped around this time.  Fog and rain made me more cautious on the descent than I would have liked.

Aprica – 3852 feet, 3.3%, 9.3 miles
The Aprica came to be known in my mind as the recovery climb. Compared to the others this seemed like a flat road. Everything is relative.

Mortirolo – 6056 feet, 10.5 %, 7.7 miles
The deciding climb of the race. Not as high or as long as the Stelvio but steep and seems to go on forever. I was told after the race that this is the point where riders usually blow up and drop out. I didn’t consider dropping out, but I was painfully slow on this climb. It became apparent to me at this point that my goal was finishing rather than a particular placing.The follow vehicle could not follow behind me up the climb. It would stall at that slow of speed, so the support vehicles would jump ahead, wait, than jump ahead again. This could get a little dicey on what is basically a one car wide road or better described as a path. Along the climb I encountered a shrine to Marco Pantani, my first thought was yeah you’d have to be doping to climb this fast.

Aprica – 3852 feet, 3.3%, 9.3 miles
My favorite recovery climb again, though i could have used a nice Chicago overpass by this time.

Bernina – 7637 feet, 7.5%, 10.9 miles
Entered Switzerland to begin the longest climb. A hard rain during this period. I crashed, fell over actually, while crossing railroad tracks just before the start of this climb. This is where my memory starts to get a bit fuzzy as to which climb I was on. In my mind I was trying to to do the countdown of how many climbs I had left, but I couldn’t remember if there were 11 or 12 passes in the race. In hindsight I should have just asked my crew, but it never crossed my mind.

ClimbingAlbula – 7565 feet, 6.6%, 5.9 miles
Fluela – 7870 feet, 6.4%, 8.0 miles
Fuorn – 7050 feet, 3.1%, 13.4 miles
Umbrial/Stelvio – 9045 feet, unknown grade and distance
My remaining passes calculation was easily solved because from here on out it seemed like one big climb with an occasionally short downhill. There was a section on the Umbrial that was gravel during resurfacing, so I spent my time pretending I was riding the Giro back in Coppi’s era. After a great deal of climbing, I eventually reach a point where I can tell I’m back on the Stelvio. While there is one more climb near the end, this is the last monster. We were told by the bartender in a bar at the top of the Stelvio that it is easier from this side, but I dont think that considered the 300 mile warm-up I had just done. I slowly pulled myself to the top. I was ecstatic to have crested the last summit. Now a long descent and a fairly flat ride in to the finish line. I had plenty of time to get there under 30 hours.

The descent was not easy. Upon exiting each switchback I pressed the backs of my fingers against the handle bars and the joints would click back into place from their frozen position clinched to the brake levers. I had to stop because my hands were so tired from the braking required.

At the bottom of the descent is a left turn and 30k to the finish. I was feeling great. The race was over. Than an unwelcome surprise, a very strong headwind. I don’t know what the wind speed was, but at that point it seemed like a hurricane. I plodded along at a very un-race like pace, until my crew came up to tell me I was in danger of missing the 30 hour cutoff at this speed(I think they said 9km/hr). 2 riders were about 5 minutes ahead. If I could catch them, we could work together through this wind. I struggled to increase my pace. I couldn’t come all the way to Europe only to be a DNF. Eventually I saw the other racers and inched myself up to them. I offered to take the first pull. 40 seconds on the front and I motioned for them to pull through. They were gone. I sat up and looked around. They were long gone. Solo to the finish it is. I had energy again and thankfully it became a slight downhill.

Awards CeremonyI pulled into the finish cross-eyed from trying to get in under 30 hours. Race staff helped me off my bike and led me into a big tent. This is not like an ultra race in the states. Hundreds of people drinking, eating, and cheering for each rider as they arrive. I was brought up on stage for a quick interview and a good beer.

At the awards ceremony, I found out the cutoff is 32 hours to finish officially.

Official Time: 30:04

20th Place

2nd American to ever finish

Official Results
RATA website

Sebring RAAM Qualifier Recap

I signed up for the Sebring 24 hour race this year as a way to stay motivated over the winter. Last year, with my primary cycling goal not scheduled until the end of the summer, I felt like I was a bit stagnant over the winter.

This winter I’ve been in a good rhythm with my workouts. Many and regular hours on the Computrainer and twice a week doing functional strength training. Throw in a few indoor time trials to avoid boredom and a trip to Vegas to get some outdoor miles and I went into the race feeling great. I was optimistic, but cautious as I had only 3 rides 100 miles or longer this year, 1 indoors and 2 outdoors.

The usual rush to get everything ready the night before went well and for once I was asleep early before the race.

The first day loop went well. I tried to rein in my usual habit of going out too hard. The only difficulty was that my pace was nearly identical to the lead pack of drafting racers. It seemed i was always trying to get myself out of drafting positions, either trying to jump ahead, move to the side or fall behind. This was wasted energy. A support vehicle nearly hit me as I  followed an out of date road marking, sometimes colors are a challenge. This misstep dropped me far enough behind the pack that i was able to than ride my own pace.

I finished the first 100 miles in 4:30 approximately.  A good start. The afternoon loops began, it warmed up and a bit of wind arrived to make it a little more interesting. I always bonk a bit during the mid-loop at Sebring. This year was no different. All I could do is keep the pedals moving and drink as much as possible. Eventually, my energy returned and by the time I moved on to the race track for the night loops i was plugging along at good pace.

I like the night loops. Only 3.7 miles long, the race track is not an oval, but a winding Le Mans style track. It has enough variation to keep you alert and enough rough patches to wake you up. The night loops went well. I did encounter one more bonk, which required me to stop and shovel in some real food. A turkey wrap, pretzels, and a coke never tasted so good as they did at 1 am in Sebring.

As the night loops progressed I was hoping to pull out 460 miles, but my pace slowed toward the end. 449.1 miles, a good ride for this early in the year. Im looking forward to the upcoming races this year.

Power and Ride Stats on Training Peaks

Ultracycling Summary

Sebring Results

Sebring Split Times

First Outdoor Ride of the Year

32 degrees and some wind. 4 hours, 65 miles. Nice to be outside.

Along the way I encountered:

  1. An ice flow covering the bike path along the lakefront that made me look like a 5 year old on his first set of skates.
  2. A guy on a mountain bike wearing a motorcycle helmet with a spinning light on the top, made me think of Fahrenheit 451.
  3. Another in a ski jacket on ten speed who nearly crashed while trying to wave.
  4. Quite a few runners, a much saner activity this time of year.
  5. 5 cars that pulled out of parking spaces directly in front of me without looking.
  6. Very few other cyclists.

Indoor Time Trial #1

I did an indoor time trial this past weekend. I ignored my plan for a long outdoor ride and drove up to do a 30 minute computrainer race. 30 long minutes.  It always seems like a fun idea when I register.

A few years ago I did my first indoor time trial. I had completed some pretty hard races the summer before and was feeling pretty confident. It was 10K long. The shortest race I’d ever done to that point.  I placed nearly last. Next to me, a relatively obese older fellow pedaled along happily as i suffered miserably.

This one went a bit better. Though in my typical way I went out too hard, before realizing Im not Lance. Still, it was a decent showing. I’m sure it will be fun next week.

Ultracycling: Metamora (2008)

Ultracycling: Metamora (2008)

A short recap on the site about one of the races I did this year.  I never seem to do well in western Illinois/eastern Iowa. This one went well other than a collision. I felt great all day. Average speed was 22.22 for 210 miles. Even with a crash that required a wheel change.

Shortly after the start  of the race Larry bumped my rear wheel going into a turn and somehow flipped his bike in the air. It became lodged sideways across the seat stays of my (new)bike. Luckily I didn’t crash, and managed to roll to a stop while carrying his bike. Wish i had a picture of it. It took us a few minutes to figure out how to disentangle the 2 frames, however my rear wheel did not come out of it injury free. I nursed it through the rest of the 50 mile lap. Larry and John Schlitter were nice enough to wait for me while i did a wheel change and than helped me back to the lead pack.

Post Surgery Cyclocross Crash Picture

I face-planted on a barrier in the first cyclocross race of the year. Race was going good up until that point. Now I have 2 pins in my wrist and three plates in my face.Post-Surgery