It’s been a rather triumphant weekend, and I’m so proud to share it here. On Saturday, I competed in my second stair climb race, up the stairwell of the Aon Center in downtown Los Angeles, and it was a fantastically excruciating, wonderfully brutal morning. Grab your favorite hot beverage… and I’ll tell you all about it!
The event was the American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Stair Climb 2013. I did the same event last year (read about it here), and while I was nervous, I wasn’t nervous for the same reasons. Last year, I didn’t really know what to expect when I made my way up that stairwell, but now that I’ve done it before, I wasn’t so nervous about that. I was more nervous about how I’d do.
I was significantly less prepared than I was last year. Last year, I spent months and months training for this thing, and this time around, I only really started training in earnest a few weeks ago. Plus, I’d been battling a cold that kept me home from work one day last week and messed up my exercise regimen. Prior to the event on Saturday, the last time I had worked out was way back on Monday.
Then, of course, there was the realization that the Aon Center is still a big ass tall fucking building. I was reminded of that when I saw it looming in the distance as I drove downtown.
It only gets taller as you get closer.
The Aon Center is the second-tallest building in the state of California, and the third-tallest west of the Mississippi. It has 63 stories, and reaches 860 feet into the air. Getting from the sidewalk to the roof involves climbing up 1,393 steps. And that’s the task at hand when you sign up for the Fight For Air stair climb!
I got at the event around 8am – plenty of time before I was scheduled to begin climbing, at 9:15. I signed in and got my bib.
I did a lot of stretching, attached the timing chip to my shoe, and spent a lot of time looking at the behemoth of a building that I was about to ascend.
Participants in events like these are broken into groups before they’re sent into the building. The first group that enters are the Elite Competitors. These are stair climb enthusiasts who travel the country competing in events like these. They don’t mess around. Then, after they go up, the Competitive group goes up. This group is made of people who, while not as experienced as the Elite group, are legitimately racing to get to the top as fast as possible. I was in this group. After that comes the First Responder group, made up of fireman and paramedics who climb the stairwell in full gear.
HOLY CRAP. They’re wearing layers of protective clothing, helmets, and carrying oxygen tanks. These guys (and ladies) are amazing. After the First Responders comes the majority of participants – people who aren’t racing per se, but climbing at their own pace for the fun of it.
My Competitive group lined up before our 9:15 start time, and we were sent into the building one at a time, every 20 seconds. We start outside on the sidewalk, and head in through a nondescript door that leads directly into the stairwell – it’s behind the guy in this photo with his arms crossed:
Around 9:20 or so, I was off!
One of the big lessons I learned the hard way last year was to not go all out right at the start, and this year, I paced myself much better. Instead of feeling completely pooped by the 14th or 16th floor, like I did last year, I went pretty strong until the 30th or 35th floor.
I still got completely pooped, of course, because stair climbing is a ridiculously difficult endeavor. It’s wicked. Horrible. Torturous.
At last year’s event, I met a guy named Mark Trahanovsky, who is the very definition of an Elite climber. He’s competed in the Aon Center climb for the past 6 years (!), ever since the event began. He was featured in the NPR story last week hyping this event. (!!) This was his 44th stair climb overall (!!!). He set a world record for being part of a relay team that stair-climbed nonstop for 24 hours (!!!!).
Mark is the real deal, in top physical shape, and a helluva nice guy, and it was good to see him at this year’s event. Even he told me, before the race, that he gets nervous before he starts up the stairs. I saw Mark after finishing the race, on the roof on the Aon Center, and while we were catching our breath, he told me that “every time I leave for one of these climbs, I be sure to kiss my wife and kids goodbye, because I know there’s a good chance that I won’t come home alive.” You know how you can tell how difficult and taxing an event like this is? When the experienced experts still fear for their lives.
Here’s Mark and me on the roof:
Oh, and did I mention that Mark is 54 years old? Seriously, what an inspiration he is. Mark uses the rush and sense of accomplishment stair-climbing brings to fuel the other parts of his life. When he has a crappy task to do at work, he reminds himself that if he can make it to the roof of the Aon Center, he’ll be able to complete that task with no problems. He’s optimistic and cheerful, and a wonderful advocate for physical fitness and stair-climbing. He’s given stair-climbing a slogan that’s spot on. He calls it “the hardest sport you’ve never heard of.”
If you couldn’t tell from that last picture, I made it to the roof! I did what I did last last, and focused on making it to milestone floors as I climbed the building: 21st floor (1/3 of the way), 32nd floor (halfway), 43rd floor (2/3 of the way), and than I started counting down how many floors were left. By the 40th floor, I felt like crawling, but I stayed upright, never stopped, and pushed myself, relying on the handrail only when I had to.
The other noteworthy thing about stair-climbing is how isolating it it. We started 20 seconds apart from each other, and during the entire climb, I only saw two other competitors, both of whom I passed. Apart from them, and the volunteers handing out water and cheering every ten floors or so, it’s just you and the stairwell. No adrenaline from being part of a crowd, like you get during a 10k run. I’m so thankful for my iPod, because otherwise it’d be mostly silent, too.
By the time I hit the roof, I felt ready to collapse. Seriously. My first thought, after crossing the finish line, was “this must be what a heart attack feels like.” But being on the roof is worth it. It’s amazing up there. It was a cloudy day, but so much clearer than it was last year, and the city stretched out, as far as I could see, in every direction.
Here’s the last thing you want to see after doing a 63-story stair climb… more stairs:
We only had to walk down to the 61st floor, though – and then we took an elevator the rest of the way. Back on the sidewalk, I chugged another bottle of water, ate an apple and half a banana, and soon, they started posting results.
I climbed those 1,377 stairs in 17 minutes and 21 seconds. Woo-hoo! Given my illness and general lack of preparation, I was hoping to finish in under 20 minutes, and I did! It was about 2 minutes slower than last year (15 minutes, 24 seconds), but I’m elated. That’s a pace of 16 seconds per floor. I finished 174th out of 620 participants (excluding the 45 First Responders), 115th among all men, and 28th in my age group (men 30-39).
My buddy Mark, the Elite Competitor, came in 4th. Out of everyone. His time was 9 minutes, 45 seconds – wowsa!
A big thank you to my friends Heather and Joanne. This was a charity event, and I decided a few weeks ago that I was just going to pay the fundraising minimum myself, and not solicit for donations. I didn’t set up a fundraising page, didn’t ask ever for donations on this blog or on Facebook, but Heather and Joanne searched me out on the event website and made a donation anyway, and that means a lot to me. It’s very much appreciated.
Will I be back for the Fight For Air Climb 2014? It’s way too early to tell. For now, I’m going to bask for a while in this year’s climb. There are nearly 10 million people who live in Los Angeles county, but only a teeny tiny fraction of them have ever climbed to the roof of the Aon Center. I’m one of them, and that’s a feeling that can’t be beat.
KEEP IT UP, DAVID!