At one point during the day on Friday, I collapsed onto the floor, and, for a few minutes, I couldn’t have gotten up to save my life.
Every muscle burned. My heart was pounding close to 170 beats per minute. I could have filled a bucket with the sweat dripping down my face and soaking my clothes.
This is what happens to me at the end of a stair race, and on Friday, I raced up the tallest building on the west coast. The building is called the US Bank Tower, and every year, the Downtown-Ketchum YMCA hosts a fundraiser race called the Stair Climb For Los Angeles, where you climb the stairs as fast as you can, from sidewalk to roof. The climb is 75 stories. There are 1,664 steps. The finish line is 1,005 feet above the starting line. This race is no joke.
This is my second year competing. Last year, I made it to the roof in 20 minutes, 29 seconds (read my 2013 Race Recap here). This year, my goal was simple: to beat that time.
I’d been training hard. I climbed a 55-story building 13 times in the six weeks leading up to the race, and, before that, a 20-story building 12 times. I also trained at an outdoor stairway that an Olympian has trained on, and when a heat wave prevented me from training outside, I blasted my legs with 105 box jumps at my gym. Climbing the US Bank Tower is not an easy undertaking, but I was ready, and when I arrived on Friday morning, I couldn’t wait to get inside.
This race is the biggest in the region, attracting over 4,000 participants, including a few hundred firefighters and first responders, who compete wearing full gear. It’s a well-organized and well-run event, with people entering the stairwell every 5 or 10 seconds from 11:30am until nearly sunset.
I had one big advantage this year that I didn’t have last year: the stairwell wasn’t new to me. I remembered how, as the building gets higher, there are a bunch of irregular floors that threw off my rhythm. I remembered how, because of the heating/cooling systems, some parts were really noisy, and how, last year, parts were crowded. Good thing there were plenty of signs around reinforcing a cardinal rule of stair racing:
My race started off strong. I double-stepped, I made efficient turns on the landings, and I moved along at an aggressive clip that I could maintain. The first half was a blur – and then I reached the 40th floor. That’s when my side started to cramp up. I slowed a little bit, but pushed through it, and by the time the 50th floor hit, it had mostly subsided.
Even though the cramp was gone, exhaustion had set in. Double-stepping had become too difficult, although I tried to keep doing it every fourth flight or so. I started taking additional steps on the landings, but I never stopped. I smiled at the volunteers manning the water stations every 10 floors or so, but I didn’t want to lose seconds pausing for a drink, so I kept going.
The final five floors were brutal, but I tried to kick it back into high gear to finish strong. When I collapsed just feet after crossing the finish line, I knew I had succeeded in doing that.
After a few minutes on the ground, I was able to get up and enjoy the moment a little more. Being on the highest roof in town is an incredible feeling, and the view is spectacular.
Post-race selfie time!
Most of the roof was roped off, but there was tons of space to congregate on the 71st floor, where there was water and fruit to help rehydrate and refuel. I hung out up there for the better part of an hour, chatting with fellow friends and racers, comparing notes, and enjoying the view. We eventually headed down to the street, and soon after that, they started posting results.
Remember my goal of setting a new personal best? Mission Accomplished.
- Last year: 20:29
- This year: 18:30.
Almost exactly TWO MINUTES FASTER than last year! I shaved almost 10% off my time! I was in the top 25% of all finishers!
This was exhilarating news. And how did I celebrate? By climbing the US Bank Tower two more times. Neither of these climbs were official – I removed the timing chip off my bib, and just did it for the fun of it.
The second climb happened roughly two hours after my first climb, and I entered the building with my friends and West Coast Labels teammates PJ and Beverly, who came down from Seattle for the race. (Check out my post about hanging out and climbing stairs with them on my recent trip to Seattle.)
PJ and Beverly zoomed ahead quickly, but I kept a casual but consistent clip, paused at the water stations, and made it to the roof in about 22 minutes.
About an hour after that, I entered for my third climb, with a slightly larger group of friends, although we got separated quickly. My buddy Nandor, who’s a much faster racer (and a personal trainer by profession), encouraged and pushed me the entire time, and even though this third climb was by far the toughest, we still made it to the roof in about 24 minutes. Nandor’s always good for a fun photo, too:
The volunteer at the finish line recognized me. “Was that your third time, or your fourth?” she asked. “My third,” I said, between gasps for air. “And my final.”
After the third climb I could barely stand. I used the YMCA’s facilities to shower and change, and then hung out in expo area with friends. And by “hung out,” I mean “laid down in the street (it was closed off to cars) until dinner.”
What’s cool about the US Bank Tower race is that is draws folks from everywhere, including most everyone I know in the stair-climbing world. All my local friends were there, like Madeleine…
Also in that picture is Karen and Maggie, who came from Illinois and San Francisco, respectively. There were West Coast Labels teammates that came from, among other places, Seattle, Colorado, Texas, and Indiana. I met a new friend, Martin, who came from Denmark. (!) It was fantastic to see everyone, and the day just confirmed how I already felt about these folks – which I shared a few months ago, in this post.
One of my favorite pictures from the day was taken by a complete stranger, who took this photo in the lobby after my first climb.
I love a good architectural model, and it was impressive to see, at a more manageable size, a representation of the building I had just climbed.
By the end of the day, I had climbed 225 stories in this skyscraper. That’s 3,015 vertical feet – the equivalent to a stairwell reaching almost 3/5th of a mile into the sky. And, in the process, I crushed my goal and finished the race in 18:30.
I felt my accomplishments in every single muscle. It hurt. But that feeling of being on the roof, with 1,664 steps below me, is so much more powerful, and will be so much more memorable.
Keep it up, David!
PS: A BIG HUG and SHOUT-OUT to Suzanne, Felise, and Joanne & Joe – the donors who very kindly contributed to my fundraising. Their generosity helped make this race possible for me, and I’m extremely grateful.
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. There’s also a “Sign Me Up” box at the top of the right-hand column on this page where you can subscribe to receive new posts via email! (Seriously, you should sign up – I’m only a few people away from having 700 subscribers!)