A Sick Performance in San Francisco (Fight For Air Climb Race Recap)

Two Race Recaps, back to back? Yup, that’s what can happen when you compete in four races in one month, which is what I just did. First, stair climbs in Detroit and Phoenix, then the Warrior Dash last weekend, and now the American Lung Association’s Fight For Air Climb in San Francisco.

These races are often in landmark buildings, but this day had a bonus landmark. We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to get into the city!


I saw “we” because I had a cheering section for this race: my brother Steven, sister-in-law Alexis, and nephews Maren and Eddie:


Photo credit: Alexis!

The race was held at the 555 California building, which was the city’s tallest until the Transamerica Pyramid opened. (It still is the city’s tallest, if you don’t include spires.)


Who wants some fun facts about 555 California? I do, I do!

  1. It’s nicknamed “The Triple Nickel” and I’m sure you can figure out why.
  2. It used to be Bank of America’s headquarters, and there’s still a Bank of America branch there.
  3. The sculpture out front (which you saw in the photo with my fam) is nicknamed “The Banker’s Heart” because it’s cold and black.
  4. Alexis used to work there, on the 32nd floor. Sometimes she and friends would take the stairs down, until they were busted by security.

That’s a LOT of corner offices!

The race was to 555 California’s 52nd floor, but it actually higher than that, because there’s about 3 stories’ worth of stairs before you reach Floor 2, and an extra Mezzanine floor before Floor 3.

I felt a little nervous going into this race, and that’s because I wasn’t fully over a stomach bug that had hit me pretty hard a few days before. I don’t want to be too graphic, so let’s just say that everything I ate and drank for the 2.5 days prior to the race passed right through me – and quickly. That morning I no longer felt queasy or nauseous, but I did have to use the bathroom a few times before my 8:45 start time. I’m glad my system was flushed out before entering the stairwell!

Waiting for my turn to enter, with my friend Cindy photobombing.

Waiting for my turn to enter, with my friend Cindy photobombing.

Mostly, though, I felt a little weak – understandably so – but I decided to not think about it during the race. I didn’t want to have any reason to not give this race my all. I was going to do my best, and if my best was compromised thanks to 2.5 days of the shits (there goes my attempts to not be graphic), than so be it. I can live with that. But I’d regret if I didn’t try my hardest, so that wasn’t going to happen.

RELATED CONTENT: Many More Stair Race Recaps Here!

I quickly learned, once the race started, than I didn’t really care for this stairwell. It seemed steeper than most, had narrow square handrails that were awkward for my big ogre hands, and wide enough that I couldn’t really use both the outer and inner handrails simultaneously.

But those are the unknown factors when you’re racing in a building for the first time, and I found a way to keep going (which basically involved hardly using the handrails at all). There stairwell had lots of volunteers asking if I wanted water, and even though my answer is always no (I don’t want to spare the seconds), those distractions help keep my eyes away frm the floor numbers.

Also distracting was some some recurring jockeying with another climber. She would pass me, then stop for a breather at the next landing, where I would pass her. This happened about four times before she finally zoomed ahead.

Before I knew it, I was at the 32nd floor – where my sister-in-law used to work – and then I started counting down the final 20, which were a blur. I used a final reserve of energy to burst across the finish line, where I promptly plopped down on my ass from utter exhaustion. Once my heart rate left Crazytown and returned to Normalville, I went to the post-climb event space down the hall.


Speaking of heart rate, my monitor captured a couple cool stats:

  1. My heart maxed out at 183 beats per minute, which is my highest recorded heart rate, beating the 181 I reached at the Sears Willis Tower race in Chicago.
  2. My average heart race for the race was 172, which would seem crazy unless you’ve done a stair climb race. (I don’t know how it compares to other races, because I’m using a new heart rate monitor that I’ve only had for a month.)

I didn’t look at my monitor for long, though – there was a view to enjoy. And what a view! San Francisco is a beautiful city, and I got to see it from some of highest windows in town, and on a gorgeous, clear day.

The Golden Gate Bridge!


The Bay Bridge!




I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many, many more times: It’s hard to beat the pride that comes from than seeing an entire city and knowing I got myself up there.


The other thing I did at the top was check my time. FOURTEEN MINUTES, TWENTY SECONDS! I ended up in the 75% percentile among all 988 climbers, and 48th out of 132 men in my age group.

San Fran results

It was a little slower than what I’m capable of. There’s a building in Los Angeles that’s exactly 17 steps taller, and I’ve raced it twice in under 12.5 minutes, so that’s a good barometer of what I can do. But you know what? I was true to my word. I gave it my all, despite not wasn’t feeling 100%, and I have no reason to be upset or disappointed. No reason at all.

My brother and his family were waiting on the plaza when I went back down (via elevator), and my 8-year-old nephew, Eddie, had a bunch of questions. I ended up showing Eddie some basics on the stairs in the plaza, and he raced up them more than 10 times. Look at him go!


Nephew Selfie!


Competing while still sick and introducing the next generation to stair racing? I’d say that makes for a successful day.

Keep it up, David!

I’ll never forget about my donors! A bunch of people cut a check to the American Lung Association so that I could race in San Francisco, and I am thankful and appreciative. Thank you for your support, Dana, Stu, Joanne & Joe, Jen, and Liz!


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2 Responses to A Sick Performance in San Francisco (Fight For Air Climb Race Recap)

  1. Sarah Van Houten says:

    Love the family photos!

  2. Mom says:

    That’s JUST what I was going to say – great family pictures!

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