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One year ago today, I published my first post here on Anyone Can Enter.
In the 12 months that followed, I’ve stuck to my mission of competing in at least one offbeat, obscure, wacky, or just plain ridiculous event each month, so long as anyone can enter. Along the way, I have succeeded (winning a national championship in egg tossing) and failed (in nearly everything else). More than anything, I’ve had fun at every step. Even when I was earning the title Last Ass in a pack burro race in Colorado or listening to my friends crack on me for failing to complete the Krispy Kreme Challenge.
The way I see it, this occasion deserves a professionally baked cake. It may seem crazy—buying a cake to celebrate the anniversary of a blog—but is it really any crazier than jumping into a freezing cold lake on New Year’s Day or throwing yourself down a hill after a wheel of cheese? I don’t think so.
Plus, this blog is responsible for more than a series of wacky adventures. Back in that first post, I set a few additional goals. One was to lose about 20 pounds. The other was to run a marathon. I’m happy to say that I have exceeded my weight loss goal and that in four days, I’m running in the Tobacco Road Marathon.
As for next year, I doubt I can stand to lose 20 more pounds and I’m not sure I can continue competing in one event each month. But I do plan to maintain this blog. Sometime after the marathon, expect a more sentimental retrospective, complete with a year-in-review video and a more detailed plan for the future of Anyone Can Enter.
For now, let’s take a look at the first year of Anyone Can Enter by the numbers…
11,975—All-time blog views (not including my own views)
8,667—Miles traveled to and from events
1,776—Stairs climbed at the CN Tower Climb
650—Approximate number of people who endured my attempt to holler at the National Hollerin’ Contest
365—Days my awesome, beautiful wife Carie has had to put up with all this nonsense
350—Most blog views in one day, largely thanks to @darrenrovell
349—Second-most blog views in one day, largely thanks to Penn Holderness
335—Comments you’ve made on the blog
253—Miles I’ve run since October, when I started training for the Tobacco Road Marathon
149—Votes I lost by to the eventual winner of the News & Observer’s Ugly Sweater Contest
86—Percentage of people who voted for me to shave my head for the Warrior Dash
62—Feet between Mike Hepp and I when we completed our winning toss in the National Egg Toss Championship
50—Approximate number of people who jumped into a freezing cold lake with me on New Year’s Day
42—Stone skips registered by Russ Byars at the Pennsylvania Stone Skipping Tournament, 27 more than my best effort
25 (and counting)—pounds I’ve lost since starting this blog
15—Trees we planted during the Asheville Idiotarod
10.5—Doughnuts I managed to eat at the Krispy Kreme Challenge, 1.5 less than the necessary dozen to complete the challenge
10—Men, including me, who entered the Idaho Springs Pack Burro Race
9—Men who finished ahead of me in the Idaho Springs Pack Burro Race
4—Orange habanero peppers I ate during the Bailey Farms Chile Pepper Eating Contest before bowing out to the Toothless Pepper King, who ate 14
3—National champion coaches who declined my request for advice leading up to the National Egg Toss Championship
1—National championship won without the help of national championship coaches
The official results from the CN Tower Climb are in, and I’m proud to say that I finished more than 80 minutes in front of the last-place finisher.
Officially, I finished in 774th place (apparently, my name is 43846JP). Not bad when you consider that more than 4,000 people climbed the tower. That means I finished in the top 17 percent of all climbers!
However, I finished in the top 33 percent of male climbers. Carie, on the other hand, finished in the top 31 percent of female climbers. I’m pretty sure that means that she actually beat me.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, first-place finisher Gail Hammerschlag (how awesome is that name, by the way?) finished in just 9 minutes and 13 seconds.
It’s official. We are tower runners!
Both Carie and I finished the CN Tower Climb for WWF (or what I will from henceforth refer to as The Great People Herding Climb: see 6:25 a.m.) in respectable times.
Since today is Carie’s birthday and we’re in a fun city, I don’t want to take too much time reporting about the climb. But here’s a quick log of this morning’s events.
Both our phone alarms sound. We wait 15 minutes to actually wake up.
Our cab driver tells us he goes to Greensboro, NC, on a regular basis. Weird.
We begin standing in line. Forever. The event organizers have line waiting broken down to a freaky science. First, they make you wait in a registration line. Then in a coat check line. Then in a train station walkway, where there is honestly a group of volunteers tasked with the job of holding you inside like cattle, until they finally let a small group outside to face the bitter cold and run a quarter mile to the actual tower entrance. I imagine most of these volunteers are farmers.
We freeze while waiting in another line to get into the CN Tower. I look up at the tower and notice that it appears to be raining at the observation deck, even though I can’t feel any rain. Great, I think, we’re climbing to a totally different level of weather system.
A security guard searches us with metal detectors. This is a hands-free climb, which means we can’t take cameras or cell phones to the top. Apparently, they’re not joking about this.
Once inside, we wait in another line to have our picture taken in front of a green screen.
Another line. This one is to enter a futuristic security checkpoint that blows jets of air all over your body. I’m not ashamed to admit that I rather enjoyed this.
I hand my time card to a volunteer who swipes it through a machine, she hands it back to me, and we’re off!
I break away from Carie. Fortunately, we had previously decided that we wouldn’t try to climb the entire thing together, so there’s no heartfelt goodbyes.
I’m grooving. Who knew this would be so easy?
I’ve been passing folks on nearly every flight to this point. Finally, I pass my first climber who isn’t a girl or a 60-year-old man. And he appears to be in pretty good shape. I’ll be up this thing in no time!
I start to notice that on every landing between flights, there’s a few people taking breaks, sucking wind.
I start to notice that I should probably be one of these people taking a break. My legs feel like the consistency of just-mixed concrete.
Having given up on achieving world-record pace, I stop running and slide into a steady walk. I’m not cruising like I did on the first 30 flights, but I’m still passing plenty of people.
I begin using the handrails to help pull me past many of my fellow climbers.
I continue my steady climb, refusing to stop. But I start to despise the presence of motivational finger paintings hung on the walls by area schoolchildren. Oh, what’s that Jimmy, you want me to HURRY UP and KEEP GOING? You think I’m ALMOST THERE? Jimmy, did your teacher actually make you climb these stairs before you made your latest masterpieces? Do you have any idea how incredibly difficult this is? And, no, I don’t care if I’m SAVING ARCTIC BUNNIES!
I try to start running again. Six steps into it, I start to choke on my own phlegm. I decide to walk again.
I look at my watch. If I start hauling butt again, I could make it to the top in less than 20 minutes. Again, not even close to world-record pace (7 minutes, 52 seconds), but much better than the 30-40-minute clip that most people achieve. I pick up my pace just a bit.
It’s all or nothing. I remember Thomas Dold’s advice to save everything for the last couple of flights. Too bad I’ve got nothing left. Somehow, I summon the strength to run up the final six flights.
Floor 144/7:49:14 a.m.
I hand my time card to another volunteer. I’ve finished in 18 minutes and 17 seconds, well under my goal! Exhausted and drenched in sweat, I nearly cry on the CN Tower for the second time in my life. This time, however, it’s for a good reason.
Wait, what’s this? I’m still climbing up stairs? What the hell’s going on? Apparently, you have to go up another couple flights of stairs to get to the actual observation deck. At least there’s not a line for these steps.
Carie completes her climb in 22 minutes and 48 seconds!
We weave our way through a crowd of hundreds packed into the indoor portion of the observation deck and walk outside. That rain that I thought I saw from the bottom. That’s actually snow. Seriously.
We wait in line for the elevator. Big surprise.
We have our pictures taken with a panda! Sort of.
I realize that it’s time to start thinking of my next endurance challenge. Sure, there’s a potato peeling contest, hollerin’ contest, and egg toss championship in my near future, but none of them call for the kind of butt-kicking training of tower running.
I ride an escalator for the first time in three weeks.
I type this in our hotel room and am thankful for many things since starting this blog about one month ago. Thanks to those of you who have offered support and encouragement. And special thanks to those of you who donated to our climb. Combined, Carie and I raised $250 for the World Wildlife Fund.
For now, I’m going to go see what else Toronto has to offer.
We walked to the CN Tower tonight.
Check out this short video for proof.
Unfortunately, the CN Tower Climb is a hands-free event. That means I can’t carry anything to the top with me. The official Web site goes so far as to explicitly lay out a number of things that aren’t allowed, just in case you couldn’t grasp the concept of hands-free. They are: bottles, camel packs, backpacks, cell phones, BlackBerry devices, digital cameras, MP3 players, iPhone, iPods (in case you tried to argue that it’s more than an MP3 player, I suppose), other portable music devices or infants/children.
Most of that stuff I can understand, but seriously, who carries a kid up a tower? You realize that if it’s on their list, somebody tried to do it before. There’s a huge part of me that wants to carry something ridiculous and unlisted, just to see if it will make the list next year.
When I tell people that we’re going to Canada to run up all 1,776 steps of the tallest building this side of Dubai, most people smile, nod, and simply say, “Yeah, but why Toronto?”
For the past month, I’ve been telling them the obvious.
This is a great way to kickoff the blog with a unique, somewhat challenging event. And if you’re going to start tower running, why not start at the top? Plus, we’ll get to explore Niagara Falls and Toronto. And I’m dying to use a winter coat in mid-April.
Most of these are true, but they’re also hiding a secret.
The main reason I chose the CN Tower Climb has nothing to do with stairs.
It’s so I can ride its elevator again. This time, without crying.
And I’m not talking about captivated-by-the-beauty-of-the-view tears. I’m talking about uncontrollable, I-want-my-mommy sobbing.
In a nutshell, that’s what happened on my first trip to the CN Tower.
It was the summer of 1992. Or maybe 1991. Nobody bothered to write those details in the summer photo album, so it’s all just a guess.
What we do know is that I was either 10 or 11, and that I was delightfully chubby. Not incredibly chubby, but just chubby enough that no girl was going to talk to me for at least another 5 years.
My parents threw me in the back seat of a 1989 Mazda 626 with two bags of Cheetos, a Walkman, and a cheap, handheld LCD video game with graphics no more exciting than an Etch A Sketch.
We drove from Raleigh to Wisconsin to visit my uncle, aunt, and cousins. Next, we drove clear around the Great Lakes until we reached Toronto. With only a few hours to kill before going to Pittsburgh for another family engagement, ascending the tower was an easy decision. Having gone to the top of the World Trade Center the summer before, I was excited to cross another tall building off my list. (Not that I had an actual list.)
My excitement turned to nervous apprehension as soon as I stepped into the glass-bottomed elevator and heard the operator proudly inform us that the car would shoot to the tower’s observation deck at a NASA-grade speed of 15 floors per second.
I was used to riding elevators that traveled at creepily slow paces. Now, this elevator trip was starting to feel like an amusement park ride. And not the kind of oversized-teacup-spinning, flying-elephant amusement park ride I could tolerate.
Even now, I’m still cautious of getting on rides that have height requirements. Or that require seat belts. But back then, you couldn’t drag me on a scary ride for anything.
I remember going to Busch Gardens with a friend and refusing to ride any of the major roller coasters. When my friend’s dad pulled me aside to explain that the whole point of coming to Busch Gardens was to ride scary rides, I told him we should probably just go home. He then parked me on a picnic table and proceeded to ride the Loch Ness Monster three times with my friend while I watched an army of ants drag a fried dough crumb into the bushes. Maybe it wasn’t what the park’s marketing directors had in mind when they promised a taste of the old country, but, for me, it sure beat a taste of lunch creeping back up my esophagus.
It’s not that I was scared of heights. It’s just that I valued the central, steady, reliable location of my stomach.
So there I was in the CN Tower elevator, a 4-foot-10-inch pile of baby fat, unwillingly recruited for my first launch into the stratosphere. If I had more wits about me, I would have punched a hole through the emergency stop button (if one even existed). Instead, I bit my lip and watched the ground disappear underneath the glass floor. As we raced skyward, I could swear I saw my stomach, intestines, and colon far below on the CN Tower lawn.
The worst part about getting shot out of a cannon is that time stands totally still while it’s happening. While the elevator ride felt like a normal 10 seconds to the rest of the passengers, I went through puberty, applied to college, and bought a house on that ride up. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the top, I was no less of a giant sissy. Once my brain could account for the whereabouts of all members of my digestive system, all its power shifted to our next hurdle—the trip down.
This is where I lost it.
I don’t remember exactly what happened because I’m pretty sure I blacked out. If my stomach dropped that much on the way up, I thought, what might happen on the way down? My panic achieved maximum climax. The tears immediately followed. In streams. And that wasn’t the worst of it.
Here’s how my mom remembers those moments.
“You weren’t just crying,” she said, “you were shaking.”
As the tears subsided, I strongly considered two possible plans of action. One, I would ask a security guard for access to the stairs, and I would meet my parents at the bottom an hour later; or I would live the rest of my life at the top of that tower.
Unwilling to disturb a security guard from the practice of actual security and no less enthused about Christmases shared with tourists in a cramped observation deck, my parents turned to the next best, brilliant solution—bribery. Take the elevator back down, they promised, and I could have my pick of the lot from the tower’s gift shop. That and a fresh bag of Cheetos for the road.
I was still clinging to the stairwell exit plan, but I also had my eye on a new hat, so I eventually agreed to their plan. I even managed to enjoy the view for a bit.
Minutes later came the moment of truth, my date with a death drop.
My tear ducts were on high alert.
Turns out, I didn’t even need them.
The ride down was smoother than a perfect landing. Before I knew it, I was giggling in the gift shop, trying on goofy hats and posing for pictures, as if I hadn’t experienced a complete meltdown just 20 minutes earlier.
Nearly 20 years later, I’m excited to climb the stairs I so desperately wanted to descend as a kid.
And after running up that many steps, that elevator ride down seems like the perfect exit strategy.
The countdown clock on the CN Tower Climb’s Web site keeps shrinking. By the time you’re reading this, it might even say that the climb is in less than 3 days.
Just a few days ago, I proclaimed myself fit for the fast-approaching task.
Perhaps I spoke too soon.
For starters, I never took champion tower runner Thomas Dold’s first bit of advice for novice tower runners. Notably, “check if you have any problems with your heart or other organs.” I mean, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I didn’t need my doctor to check me out for any heart conditions, but what about my other organs? What if my gallbladder just shuts down on the 23rd story? Or what if my hypothalamus stops doing… you know… whatever it does? I’ll have nobody to blame but myself, that’s what. But as Carie mentioned today, nobody wants to call up the doctor and say, “Hey doc, I’ll just need to be scheduling my annual organ checkup. Are you free next Tuesday?”
I can honestly say that we have decently (notice I didn’t say completely) dedicated ourselves to training for this climb. I plan on setting no records. While I’ve never been in better shape to climb 1,000 steps, give or take, this hardly puts me in the ranks of Dold. That would pretty much be like taking up cycling for the first time in your life, getting over sore-butt syndrome, and announcing your entry in the Tour de France.
I had that mentality last weekend when I thought that making it to the top of an 8-story parking deck six times without wobbly knees meant I couldn’t be stopped. Tonight, however, we finally got a chance to climb something substantial.
At 19 stories, the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel is miniscule in comparison to the CN Tower, but its stairs cannot be any less forgiving. On our third trip up, I had to walk the final three flights. Having climbed less than half of the equivalent of the CN Tower, I realized I’ve been sprint training for a marathon. If 57 stories are kicking my butt, imagine what 144 will do?
If only I could wind back that countdown clock…
In preparation for our upcoming CN Tower Stair Climb, champion tower runner and backward runner Thomas Dold graciously answered a few questions for me. Due to his schedule and the fact that Dold lives in Germany, I e-mailed him some questions instead of trying to interview him on the phone. The five-time winner of the Empire State Building Run-Up even added his own bonus sixth question and answer.
Anyone Can Enter: What is the best advice you could give to someone who is just starting tower running?
Thomas Dold: Most important, check if you have any problems with your heart or other organs. Then you just have to start at a low and easy level because, at the beginning, tower running is a very high intensity sport. But, after a few sessions, you can enlarge the training and then you burn a lot of calories in a short time.
Anyone Can Enter: What do you think about while you are tower running?
Dold: Nothing! During a hard training or competition you are not able to think about anything. So it is a very good exercise for someone who likes to forget everything for a while. And after the training, mentally, you also feel very relaxed.
Anyone Can Enter: What’s your favorite tower to run up and why?
Dold: You can’t compare the races. (The Empire State Building in) New York is special for me because I’m the most successful runner at the most popular run. That’s a big honor. And I think the race in Taipei is the most challenging one. You have to be so strong, physical and mental. I really like that.
Anyone Can Enter: Is there a tower (or anything) you haven’t run up that you’d like to run up and why?
Dold: Burj Chalifa (recently built in Dubai, it’s the tallest building in the world). Right now, I (don’t have) an invitation to have a look in the staircase. But looking forward to have a run there. It doesn’t matter if it is a competition or not. I (would) just like to run that unbelievable building.
Anyone Can Enter: Do you ever take elevators? What about escalators?
Dold: I not only studied economics, I’m an economist. So I (don’t) search for half an hour in the shopping mall for the staircase. I take the elevators and escalators you see just when you walk in. Also, for coming down the buildings, I take the elevators after the races. But if I’m in a hurry, probably at the train station, I use my experience and run the stairs and save a little time.
Dold’s bonus question: What would be the strategy for a good race?
Dold: DON’T push too hard at the beginning. Just start slow because the race will be much longer (than) you ever can expect. So if you have power enough in the last 15 floors there is enough time to use that energy. But if there is no power left, you will lose a lot of time and it will get much harder.
After making six trips up an 8-story parking deck this morning, I can proudly say that if the CN Tower Climb was today, I would stand a somewhat decent chance of survival. Good thing, because it’s one week from today.
I felt so good after training that I was brave enough to pose for a picture on this ledge.
I should probably mention that the dropoff on the other side was a mere 10 feet to the 7th story parking deck.
But I’d like to think this still makes me pretty darn brave.
Ever since I started courting German tower running/backward running champion Thomas Dold to answer a few questions, I never stopped to wonder what probably should have been an obvious question.
Does he even speak English?
My travels in Germany taught me that most Germans not only speak English, they can tell whether or not you speak English a mile down the street and will be sure to greet you in your native tongue. It seemed preposterous that Dold, the five-time winner of the Empire State Building Run-Up, wouldn’t know enough English to answer a few of my silly questions.
But late last night, I worried I was wrong. Although Dold has an English version of his Web site, he still speaks German in all the videos on the site. What if that English-written version was only for foreign journalists and English-speaking tower running enthusiasts?
For a moment, I thought I had a concrete reason why Anyone Can Enter was failing to score its first big interview. I wanted to believe that it had nothing to do with the fact that Dold is a star athlete with little time to worry about a start-up blog, especially one in which its most-viewed post is an entry detailing the creation of a potato car.
I ran to my computer, only to find several YouTube videos of Dold speaking English the same way he climbs stairs—quickly, efficiently, with total ease.
Turns out, however, that I was right to believe in some form of a translation error. And I have a junk e-mail to thank.
Thanks to those geniuses at Google, I’ve barely seen a trace of junk mail in the past 6 years. Geniuses or not, Google can’t stop every e-marketing spammer from slipping through my filters. So when I had an e-mail labeled COMPARE THESE FORKLIFT PRICES AND SAVE in my inbox this morning, it hit me: I contacted Dold through a form on his Web site. A German Web site. Since I had not contacted him directly from my e-mail, Gmail must have figured that an e-mail from Dold would be no more valuable than a solicitation from an illegal viodin dealer.
My heart raced as I opened Gmail. For the first time in years, I went to my spam folder not to giggle about the promise of an extra 10 inches. Nope. I was on a mission, and I’d hit the jackpot. 617 junk messages awaited me. And all I needed was one from Dold. I loved my odds as I typed his name into the search bar. Somewhere in this folder, hidden between an offer for a free credit report and a great deal on a timeshare, I could have a note from a world famous athlete. This was the equivalent of keeping a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth in your dirty clothes bin.
One click later, I saw exactly what I wanted to see:
Thomas Dold–Re: contact enquiry from http://www.thomas-dold.com–Apr 5
Immediately, I pumped my fist and somehow stopped myself from screaming “Yessssss!” in the middle of the office. Suppressing my delight forced me to look closer at that subject line.
April 5. Oh crap! That was exactly two days before I posted a video practically begging Dold to critique my stair climbing form. In all, it was the fourth Anyone Can Enter post solely dedicated to Dold, including an open letter and a cry for my readers to contact Dold on my behalf.
In all my excitement about staring this blog, perhaps I’d gone too far. Asking a guy to do an interview is one thing. Posting a video of yourself, sweat-drenched and asking him to do you a favor, borders on obsession.
Suddenly, I was mortified, embarrassed by my recent blogging exploits. I could see my college journalism professors shaking their heads, groaning in disapproval of the disgrace I’d bestowed upon their profession. I had failed them, all for the sake of a few pointless blog posts, by antagonizing my source.
It’s amazing how quickly one’s emotions can change. Ten seconds before, I couldn’t wait to open that e-mail. Ten seconds later, my index finger was paralyzed. Maybe, I thought, this was just one of those automatic response e-mails. I’d click on it and see a message informing me that, due to his intense training schedule and lack of availability, Mr. Dold is unable to respond to notes from fans and deranged bloggers.
I clicked it open, and after days of anticipation, I was finally staring at a personal note from the fastest stair climber in the world.
And he wasn’t exactly thrilled. And I felt like a used sneaker.
Yes, he received my e-mail. And the note from his manager. And he’d seen the blog posts encouraging strangers to flood his inbox. And he all but accused me of being the least patient person ever to contact him. And he was probably on the phone with a lawyer applying for a restraining order in advance of his next trip to the US.
Forget the autographed Babe Ruth ball in the laundry, this was Ruth holding a shotgun in his driveway, telling you to stop staring at him through his window at night. And to quit sending him love letters.
In my embarrassed state, I focused on the first few sentences so closely that I almost didn’t read the rest of the note. The part where he wished me a great race in Toronto. And the part where he agreed to answer my questions. And the part where he even added an important question, to which he added a :-).
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here first. I have been emoticoned by a world-class athlete!
This is huge. Thanks to Dold, Anyone Can Enter just took an epic step towards legitimacy—towards something greater than a home for feckless musings on obscure competitions. No. Soon, it will be an actual SOURCE for obscure competitions!
But not for another couple of days. Dold’s responses deserve their own post. And I need to write a short letter of apology.
Not to Dold. To my journalism professors.
Tower running champion Thomas Dold still hasn’t responded to my interview requests. Obviously, this calls for a video message.