Race Recap: Climbing To the Highest Roof in Town!

It was a great weekend, ladies and gentlemen, and it started with an incredible event: The 20th Annual Stair Climb for Los Angeles, a charity race up the stairs of the US Bank Tower, the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

Us-Bank-Tower-Los-AngelesHow tall is it? The roof is over 1,000 feet off the ground. There are 75 stories. There are 1,679 steps. On Friday, I raced up all of them.

This is my third tower race, but my first in the US Bank Tower. My first two races were in the Aon Center, a 63-story tower a few blocks away, but the US Bank Tower is 12 stories higher. And that’s a big difference when you’re climbing stairs!

But I was mentally and physically prepared. I’ve been training hard for weeks (and feeling it afterwards). I was ready to go. The race was on a Friday afternoon, and it was a huge event. There were nearly 3,000 climbers, compared to 600+ for the Aon Center events. The whole thing was organized by (and benefited) the Ketchum-Downtown YMCA, and racers were scheduled to enter the building, one at a time, every 8 or 10 seconds from 11:45am until nearly sunset.

My start time was 3:30, and I got there plenty early so I could relax, stretch, and warm-up. That also meant lots of time to stare at this gargantuan skyscraper in front of me:


I got my bib – good ol’ lucky number 1681!


The US Bank Tower rises out of a hill, and alongside the building is the beautiful Bunker Hill Stairway, which has 101 steps. I jogged up them as part of my warm-up.


I entered the building around 3:40pm. My goal for this race was good pacing and consistency. I exerted too much energy at the get-go during both my Aon Center climbs, and got exhausted way too soon. I didn’t want to do that again. So I tried to conserve energy at the beginning, and move at a pace that was maintainable but still aggressive.

And you know what? I still got exhausted, quickly. I need to start remembering that no matter how I attempt to pace myself, I’m still running up stairs, and that’s really difficult. Pacing is important, sure, but to run up 1,679 steps and not be exhausted requires super-human endurance.

So I welcomed the exhaustion. I took it as a sign that I was giving this challenge everything I had. I focused on making it to key floors, like 25 (1/3 of the way), 37 (1/2 way), and 50 (2/3 of the way). I listened to my favorite music, and dug deep to keep going. The stairwell was hot and, at times, cramped, and parts of it were really noisy, but I tried to dismiss all that so I could keep climbing.

When I reached the 60th floor, my legs pretty much felt like pudding, and it seemed like the landings were getting further and further apart. When I hit floor 70, I tried to ramp it up and finish strong, but I had very little left in the tank. I crossed the finish line and stumbled onto the roof, ready to collapse into a puddle of bones and sweat and tears. I didn’t care, though – because I WAS ON THE ROOF!


With my finisher’s medal:


We couldn’t get close to the edge, but the view was still phenomenal.


I caught my breath and headed down to the 71st floor, where they had water and apples and you could enjoy the view a little more.


My favorite part was that I could see the Aon Center roof. I’ve climbed to that roof – twice – but now I’m here, 150 feet higher!


I took elevators back down to the ground, where I met up with some friends. My buddy Mark was there, who I met at my first Aon Center climb, and he’s part of a big team of tower running enthusiasts. These people are hard-core – they travel the country doing events like this, and they’re frequently among the top finishers. Mark’s team all gathered for dinner at a restaurant in the US Bank Tower, and Mark invited me to join them.

After showering and changing at the YMCA, I saw that my time had been posted. Check it my official race results!


20 MINUTES, 29 SECONDS! BA-BAM!  I’m elated – I had given myself a very generous goal of finishing in under 25 minutes, and I didn’t just reach my goal, I CLOBBERED IT.  I averaged one floor every 16.4 seconds – slightly faster than my 2nd Aon Center climb pace (16.5), but slower than my first (14.6). Even now, as I write this two days later, I’m bewildered by the notion that I climbed a 75-story skyscraper in under 21 minutes, but I did. That’s a true, documented fact.

At the dinner, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Tommy Coleman, the dude that won the entire race. He made it to the roof in an astounding 9 minutes, 27 seconds – which was not only the fastest time this year – but also a building record. In the 20 years that this event has been going on, no one has made it to the top faster than Tommy. DAMN!


Tommy’s a really nice guy, and very down-to-earth and humble about his first-place finish. He’s also, as it turns out, a crazy talented leather accessories designer and craftsman. In addition to his other workouts, Tommy trained three days a week running up the stairs in San Diego hotels. He told me he eats throughout the day, often every 30 minutes or so, and kickstarts his metabolism every morning by drinking, first thing, 20 ounces of cold water. One of his upcoming goals is to complete on “American Ninja Warrior,” and given his focus and abilities, I bet he has a good shot.

Tommy wasn’t the only inspiring person I met that day. I met a few more people that finished in the top 10 or 15. I met people that competed twice that day, and managed to clock a faster time on their second race up the stairs. I met a man in his 70s that had competed in this event for years. He gave me what turned out to be a great tip – to shove a piece of gum in the back corner of my mouth, on each side, so I’d salivate, preventing my mouth from drying up while I race.

Mark’s team, West Coast Labels, is a wonderful, supportive community of people that congregate from all over to compete in these tower races. I got invited to events in Seattle, Portland, Chicago, and Springfield, Illinois. And everyone welcomed and embraced me warmly – in fact, a lot of them already knew who I was! Mark had shared my blog with everyone, so all day, people were coming up, introducing themselves, and saying the kindest things about me and this website. That was unspeakably cool.

Before he left, Mark gave me a second medal, in honor of the awareness that I’ve brought to the sport of stair climbing and the inspiration I’ve provided by writing about my experiences on this blog. The whole thing touches my heart. I do these tower climbs because I like the challenge (and the views), and the thought that what I’ve done has inspired others – including the best of the best in this sport – well… that kinda makes my legs feel like pudding all over again.

One more time: 20 minutes, 29 seconds…. WOO-HOO!



10 Responses to Race Recap: Climbing To the Highest Roof in Town!

  1. Michael (AKA Dad) says:

    Proud is not a strong enough word, I am awe-struck at your achievement and I get “pudding legs” too, just thinking you are my son!

  2. Laura says:

    That is such an amazing result. I would get pudding legs at floor 5. You are inspiring. What you say is very true and something I remind myself of when working out – it’s hard because it is. Even for people that are better or faster than me – it’s still hard for each of us in our own way.

    Well done !!!!

  3. Mom says:

    Wow, David, You really rocked this event. I can’t imagine climbing 75 stories and in that short time. I also would be down by the 4th floor!! I also like the fact that the event benefits a charity.
    You continue to make your parents very proud.

    • David says:

      Thanks, Mom! I remember you taking me to the B’ham Y for swim lessons when I was a kid. And now, 30 years later, this Y raised $500,000 from this stair climb. Thanks for donating! xoxo

  4. I am pleased to meet you David. Your blog is heart felt and well-written, and you’ve become a role model for healthful weight loss.
    Hope to see you at the Cystic Fibrosis Stair Climb this November at the Wilshire Building in LA!

  5. John Van Gaston says:

    Congrats David. This was my second year doing the YMCA stair climb, so I appreciate the time and effort you put into training and completion. I was able to finish the climb in 16:36 and at times the crowd did make it a bit more challenging. Good luck in your future climbs and I’ll see you at the top.

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