Race Recap: Skyrise Chicago

Race Recap: Skyrise Chicago

A few months back, my sister called and asked if I wanted to do a fundraising event she had learned about from a friend at her gym. It was for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago with her, and we would walk up the Willis (Sears) Tower for SkyRise Chicago. I felt pretty hesitant at first because walking up 103 flights of stairs sounded less than awesome, especially two weeks after my marathon, but I ultimately agreed.

On Saturday, we packed up the car and drove down to the Windy City along with her husband and kids. They had three days of packet pick up, so by the time we got there, it only took a matter of minutes. We were back at the Willis Tower by 7am on Sunday morning (which between Daylight Savings Time and the timezone change was really painless), for our 7:30am wave to start climbing.

me and nicki

Overall, the event was very well organized, but the start felt quite chaotic to me. There were people milling about everywhere. Our instructions said to line up ten minutes before our wave, but there was never any really announcement. There was just a line that wove throughout the start area. There was someone wandering around with sign for the 7:30am start, but it wasn’t clear if that meant we were supposed to get in line, if we were supposed to follow her, or what to do. Nicki and I decided to get in line regardless, but ended up leaving when the photographers pulled out a group of people in front of us for a photo. We didn’t realize right away that it was a team photo, so went to the back of the line.

skyrise chicago 1

Eventually we made our way to the front of the line, and passed the hand cyclists who were “using stationary hand cycles calibrated for resistance and time to match the 103 floor stair climbing experience” (source).

skyrise chicago hand cycle

Once we reached the start of the line, they were sending climbers up about every 7 seconds.  Nicki started first, but waited for me to get the okay to start, and we headed up together.  We stopped every so often to grab some water and catch our breath. The climb felt like one big, monotonous blur, with just the white walled stairwells. The staggered starts made it so the stairwells never felt crowded.

Volunteers stood at every few flights with signs which they used as makeshift fans. With little air movement in the stairwells, the fans felt amazing! There were 4 or 5 water stations throughout the climb, and we both carried a bottle of water. After dehydration preemptively ended my marathon, that was truly my biggest concern for this event. I made every effort to stay hydrated. There was medical support throughout the climb. For anyone who couldn’t finish for any reason, there were elevator exits at two points.

I learned some pretty cool facts along the way  thanks to the signs they had hanging on the walls. They finished construction on the Willis Tower in 1973, for example. The view from the Skydeck is up to fifty miles on a clear day. This allows visitors to see four states: Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and my beloved Michigan.

I truly had zero expectations for how I would do with this event. While I did some training, marathon training was my priority leading up to this.  I knew that the endurance I built up training for 26.2 would help with stair climbing, but at the same time, propelling myself forward is a very different thing than propelling myself upwards. Even with the training I did, it was a very different experience.

I was training on stairs that were outside and there were only about 140 stairs in the set. This meant I had some recovery time walking back down to the bottom. I never had the opportunity to just climb up. Still, marathon training helped a lot more than I expected. While walking up 2,109 stairs was by no means easy, it wasn’t not as challenging as I anticipated. Nicki and I finished the climb in 55 minutes. While I had no frame of reference to set a goal, I knew I would be happy with anything under an hour.

At the top, I couldn’t resist standing on The Ledge. They are glass boxes that extend out from the side of the tower. Heights don’t bother me all that much. But, there is something unnerving about standing on glass 1,353 feet above the ground, looking straight down to Wacker Drive.

skyrise chicago 4

I’m a SkyRise Chicago finisher!

photo 5

Other than some chaos at the start, I felt this event was well executed. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a fun and unique experience. I am grateful for the opportunity to try, but I don’t think it’s something I have the desire to do again,. More than anything, I’m thankful for the memories of experiencing this event with my sister. I enjoyed a wonderful weekend in the city with her and her family.

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