A View from the Top: Hustle Up the Hancock 2015

94 Floors. 1,632 steps. 22 minutes and 45 seconds. That’s how long it took me up get to the top of the Hancock Center on Sunday. I made it to the top.

Hustle 2015

The climb was both harder than and easier than I expected. Having picked up our packets and finding out we had wildly different start times – I had the “coveted” 7am start time and Rick was at 1:45pm – we had a bleary eyed beginning to our Sunday. We got to the Hancock by 6:30am, at which point I lined up by an escalator to wait for my wave to get the green light. Participants are released into the stairwells individually, so it was a few minutes after 7am before I stepped on the first stair.

The first thing I noticed: the riser height on those stairs was greater than the riser height on the stairs on which I trained. For 5’3” me, this was potentially a big deal. I had trained taking the stairs two at a time, but I had to revise that and began taking the stairs individually. I quickly realized that wasn’t going to work, as taking stairs two at a time uses your muscles differently than taking stairs one at a time. It wasn’t going to be enough to just admire the new definition in hamstrings and glutes – I was going to have to use them. I gave myself a few flights to acclimate to the height difference, then gingerly began taking every other step. To provide myself some extra balance, I gripped the handrail and used it to help propel myself forward with each step. Because I had not done this during training, this extra bit of power proved exceedingly beneficial.

It is, at first, disheartening to see climbers breeze past you as you struggle with your first few flights. It is less so when you later see those climbers fighting with every bit of strength they have to get up those higher floors. As with any race, pace was key. I started slowly. I continued slowly. I made my goal to keep going, to tackle one flight after the next, to just not stop. I distracted myself by counting my steps on each flight: two, four, six, eight…two, four, six, seven (the flights were uneven). I told myself to keep going just until the end of whatever song was playing on my phone. With each passing flight I felt more and more encouraged. By the 45th flight, I knew I was going to do it.

It is a funny thing when you complete a major physical feat that when you hear your name announced you feel the need to wave to the crowd, kiss your index and middle fingers, and offer up a peace sign. Or something. After 94 flights I’m not exactly sure what I did, just that I was surprised to hear my name as I came through that final door and I did some sort of waving thing while hacking up my respiratory system. I grabbed my medal and a bottle of water and sat down on the observatory floor to catch my breath.

I wish I had some sort of lesson to tie all of this into, but truth is that I trained for the climb, I felt confident going into it, and I did it just as well as I suspected I would. Perhaps that sounds a bit egotistical, but I think it’s a product of the fact that as I’m participating in more of these types of events, I’m getting to know my body and my physical abilities better. I know what is outside of my reach, but I also know that what I’m truly capable of. Maybe that’s the lesson. That and the view from the 94th floor is often so much more spectacular when you’ve worked really hard to get there.

Hustle 2015 (2)


Why I Work Out: To Be a Badass

“Maybe you can do the recumbent bike? Or elliptical? Although, I can’t see you getting off on the elliptical.”

These were suggestions from my physical therapist on what I could do during the running break he was about to prescribe. After making a face and laughing at the accidental double entendre (I have the humor of a 15-year-old), I wondered what he meant by that. He must think I’m a lot more hardcore than I am, I thought. Of course, I recently suggested as much when I asked him about a pain I’d been feeling in my shoulder since starting wide-grip pull-ups.

“Is there any reason in particular why you’re doing these?” he asked, after explaining the pain as biceps tendinitis.

I answered, “To be a badass.”

My response was without hesitation and while I laughed immediately after saying it, it wasn’t untrue.

Here’s the thing: I love action movies. The more punches, round-house kicks, and general testosterone thrown, the better. Part of it is that, well, said movies often feature a nicely built, good looking gentleman as the protagonist and, also often, there is reason for said protagonist to be shirtless at some point in time. Here is one of my favorite examples of this:

I maintain that watching Jason Statham fight is like watching a well-choreographed dance.

While part of it may be that I want to get with the action hero, another part is that I want to be the action hero. How awesome would it be to have your body as your weapon, ready to take down any foe that comes your way?

Now, I was never an athletic child. I never played sports, I quit ballet classes because I was heavier than the other girls, and I had a pretty solid relationship with Dr. Pepper. I remember quite vividly being in high school PE class and while a friend showed me the proper hand placement for push-ups, the coach came by and told me to drop to my knees because girls didn’t do push-ups on their toes. Maybe that’s when my quest for badassery began, because when I embarked on my fitness journey in college, you better believe that doing full form push-ups was high on my list of goals.

Add to this that I am 5’3”. I am not the shortest person I know, but in any given interaction, I tend to be the smallest person in the room. Typically I don’t give this a passing thought, but there are times when I am hyper-aware of the physical inequalities between my interlocutors and me. This usually happens in the presence of men: I’ve found myself craning my neck upwards to talk to three 6’+ contractors in a work meeting; I’ve shrugged away from men literally twice my size, taking up half of my seat on the bus; I’ve had dudes step in front of me to board the el first, as if I weren’t even there. For as much as I know I can hold my own in a room full of men, there is still a part of me that knows I’m viewed as the wounded gazelle amongst a pack of hungry lions. It’s disconcerting, being made to feel physically inconsequential, and I don’t like it.

For me, working out allows me to forget about these inadequacies. When I run 10 miles, I know I’m doing something that not everyone else can do. When I do planks and v-sits and hanging leg raises, I know I’m building myself up into something that will be harder to knock down. When I do a pull-up, I know I’m defying my gender norms. After all, women can’t do pull-ups.

I know I’ll never win a marathon or a pull-up competition or fight off seven bad guys wearing nothing but bicycle cleats and a thin layer of oil. It’s not that I need to prove myself to anyone else, but that I get great enjoyment out of proving myself to…well…myself.

And I think I am pretty badass. It’s pleases me to imagine someone else thinks so, too.

Why I Work Out: To Reach the Top


Twice a week, this has been my view. In February I’m going to climb to the top of the John Hancock Center for Hustle Up the Hancock, a stair climb that benefits the Respiratory Health Association of Chicago. 94 floors. 1,632 steps. For someone who lives on the top floor of a three-story walk-up, who bounds up the stairs to catch the el, who mentally shouts at the people in front of her to go up faster!, training for this has been surprisingly hard.

Back when registration opened, I coerced Rick into doing the climb with me. Now that we’re both immersed in our training routines – I on the stairs in my building and he on his gym’s stairmaster – we’ve started to wonder what in hell we were thinking. Not only is stair climbing really, really, ridiculously difficult, but what happens once the climb is complete? What’s the purpose of our workouts? “Is it to train for the stair climb, in which case, once the climb is complete there is no longer a need to work out,” he asked, “or is the stair climb just a way point in larger/longer lifestyle change?”

This question made me start to think about my own reasons for maintaining fitness. I’ll explore them in several posts, but in thinking about the stair climb I realized that one of my biggest motivations is simply getting the opportunity to finish something. I remember being a few years out of college, going to work every day, coming home, going out on the weekend with friends, only to repeat it all over again, week in and week out. It was all the same and while I enjoyed no longer being under the weight of paper deadlines and the necessity of reading four chapters when all I really wanted to do was watch the next episode of The X-Files (that’s how long ago I went to college, people), I missed working toward something. I missed having something to achieve. I missed putting in my best effort and seeing it all come together in some tangible way.

These end goals have changed throughout time. Originally, like most people, my goal was to lose a certain amount of weight. Once achieved, the desire to maintain my weight was enough to keep me going for a long time, albeit with some occasional wavering in dedication. But then my goals became something else. I wanted to be able to do 20 push-ups. To do one pull-up. To do the splits. (Still working on that one, but I am now significantly more flexible than I have ever been.) To run 5K without stopping. To complete a half-marathon. To climb up 1,632 steps. These are not easy things, but I’m fairly certain that if I put in the work, I’ll make it to the end. I find gratification in this.

Simply put, I’ve fallen in love with the challenge. I went from being an out-of-shape, completely unathletic teenager who believed that this sports thing wasn’t in her genes, to someone who has a half-marathon medal hanging off of her bookcase. Fifteen-year-old me never would have guessed that was possible. Thirty-three-year-old me still kind of can’t believe it that I did that, nor that I’m crazy enough to put myself through it again. But that’s where the fun is – in going further than I did before, in going faster than I did before, in feeling a little less like dying than I did before. The goal itself will never be the end. The process is the purpose.

1,632 steps. I’ll see you at the top.

7-11-14 Lakefront (3)