Stair Training Has Resumed…and I Really Need Your Advice

I had a very nice two-month hiatus from stairs, but now that’s over. I’m back in the stairwell! Training began last week. I’m not quite ready to share my entire fall racing schedule, but the first one will probably be the Stair Climb for Los Angeles, in the 75-story US Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles (more on that in a future post, but here’s my recap from last year’s race). One of the cool things about this race is that they arrange training sessions in a neighboring skyscraper, which is awesome, because the best place to train for a stair race is on stairs!


This is the Wells Fargo Center. It’s 55 stories tall.  I trained in it last year, but this year they gave us access to a different stairwell, and it’s like bring in a whole new building.


The first training session of the year was last week, and I went. I just wanted to feel it out, since I hadn’t done a race since One World Trade Center in May, but I did set one simple goal: No lazy, sloppy climbing. I wanted to focus on my form, so even if I went at a snail’s pace, I would pivot on the landings, use the handrails, and double-step (as much as I could). I want good form to become habit for me, the default way to move when I’m in a stairwell.

I did three climbs last week, and wasn’t sloppy at all. It felt really good to meet my goal, and the climbing felt good too: challenging yet familiar, exhausting but empowering. Plus, I saw a bunch of stair friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Here’s me and Madeleine at the top:


I compiled data on my climbs:

(Climb number/start time/climb time/calories burned/average heart rate/maximum heart rate)

  • #1/6:00pm/14:38/263/158/168
  • #2/6:23pm/16:50/322/163/172
  • #3/unknown/unknown/>257/167/177

I went again last night, and it was a whole different story. It didn’t feel good. I felt weak, exhausted, and my attitude soured within minutes. I still climbed three times, and now, hours after it’s over, I feel good about it. But at the time, I was miserable. More on that in a second… First, here’s the data:

(Climb number/start time/climb time/calories burned/average heart rate/maximum heart rate)

  • #1/6:00pm/15:21/302/164/172
  • #2/6:24pm/18:23/348/163/171
  • #3/6:49pm/18:04/351/163/173

I would love some advice from the other athletes and warriors reading this post. Namely, what do you do when you start feeling like shit super early during a workout? How do you power through? How do you combat a pisspoor attitude?

What happened last night was that by a couple minutes into my first climb, I just wasn’t feeling it. I felt sluggish and worn out, and that feeling of weakness wormed its way into my brain. Soon, it was spreading throughout my body, like a toxin, and I was fighting negative thoughts about throwing good form out the window and quitting for the day. I even caught myself thinking things like “you’ll never achieve a personal record at US Bank Tower, so why even try? Why are you here?”

There have been plenty of other times I’ve felt unmotivated during a workout, but if I’m at the gym, I’ll just switch machines. There’s not much you can do when you’re in the middle of a 55-story climb and there’s literally no way to go but up.

The thing is, the shitty feeling goes away when the workout is over. I look at those stats, and I’m glad I went and proud of what I accomplished. Those are strong, consistent heart rate numbers, and I burned over 1,000 calories in 70 minutes (the actual total is 1,001!). And let’s not forget that I climbed 165 stories in one workout.

In the moment, though, when I’m in this mid-workout funk, nothing is good enough. Those reminders of what I’m accomplishing don’t stick in my brain. I think my times are crap. I start moving slower, and then I get annoyed that I’m moving slower, and I slide into a downward spiral that quickly escalates. All I want is to leave and cry. Or maybe cry then leave.

I wrote a very similar post last year, and here’s the big takeaway from that post that I need to remember:

“I’m not going to be some sort of rock star every single day. I need to remember and embrace that stair climbing is difficult, and that’s why I train. Training is practice. I won’t become better at something without practice. And I won’t show improvement at every practice either, and that’s OK, because that’s not the point. It’s just practice.”

I’m curious what other things I can try. What mental tricks or tips do you have for battling the demons in your own brain? What can I try or do differently? How do I shut down my inner bully? Share your thoughts below.

One thing I’m going to do next week is set a new goal. It’s possible for me to do four climbs in the Wells Fargo Center if I push myself. (I have to make it to the entry door for the fourth climb before they close it for the evening.) In addition to maintaining my ‘no sloppy climbing’ goal, I’m going to take the pressure off by not recording times for my individual climbs, and instead, focus on the big picture, and get to that door for a fourth time before they shut it.

Also, I recorded a Periscope broadcast immediately after last night’s workout, giving a little tour of downtown LA and the buildings I race in, and if you have the Periscope app, you can check it out! Gotta hurry, though, Periscope broadcasts are only saved for 24 hours, so this one will go away around 7:15pm Pacific time on Wednesday, 8/12/15. I’m ‘keepitupdavid’ on Periscope (duh) – so follow me, and you’ll get notified every time I start a broadcast! (A couple times a week.)

In the meantime, I’m gonna embrace the fact that somehow, I made it through last night’s workout. I’ve climbed the Wells Fargo Center SIX TIMES since last week, and you know what? That’s awesome.

Keep it up, David!


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4 Responses to Stair Training Has Resumed…and I Really Need Your Advice

  1. G.M. Grena says:

    On Tuesday nights, my mental trick has been figuring out something witty to say to the beautiful young lady handing out Vega Sport samples! Still haven’t thought of anything yet, but at least it diverts my mind from the feeling of sandpaper in my throat, & the lead-weights inside my legs! Misery loves company, so thanks for being there with us! It’s comforting to see other climbers going through their own fitness struggles to maintain their own peak performance level.

    • David says:

      Great to see you there, too, George – and one of these days you’ll have the perfect bon mot for the Vega lady. I haven’t ventured over to check out her wares yet. Have you?

      • G.M. Grena says:

        Yes, of course I checked out her wares the first time I saw her. They’re great, & really energize me, thereby improving my cardiovascular system. I also checked out the Vega Sport samples she offered, & they’re okay too. Some other tips for diverting your attention during the climbs: change your position occasionally (go up slightly sideways to the left/right), focus on the exact position of your feet, begin each flight with the same foot (left or right) for 2 flights in a row, then focus on alternating which foot begins the flight. If you single step, focus on wiggling each foot from side to side as you raise it. When that gets boring, focus on your arms by swinging one outward (being careful not to smack another climber who doesn’t deserve it). If you’re wearing a heartrate monitor, try brutal intervals like the ones I was doing (& plan to continue doing) on Tuesday nights. Sprint with all your might till you can’t take another step, ending up on your hands & knees wondering if you should call 911, wait 1 or 2 minutes for your heartrate to drop below your metabolic threshold, repeat. Most of the ones I did this weak weren’t brutal enough, & I was able to remain standing. MIght need to bring kneepads next week…

      • David says:

        Love all the suggestions, George! Quick question: Can I smack a climber that DOES deserve it? Is that OK? I’m sure I’ll see you tonight – until then!

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