First off: this headline is not an arrogant, holier-than-thou brag. Yes, I raced. Yes, I’m proud. But not for the reasons you think, because it was actually a really crummy day. This headline is meant to inspire reflection on your own accomplishments, big and small, because they all matter. More on all this to come… Let’s just get right into my own crummy day, shall we?
This building was the setting (that’s me at the bottom!)
Meet the 75-story US Bank Tower, which is the tallest building west of the Mississippi and the host for the Downtown-Ketchum YMCA’s annual Stair Climb for Los Angeles. More than 3,000 people race up the stairs to the roof every year (all 1,664 of them!) to raise money for the Y’s community and after-school programs.
This was my third year racing, and I worked hard training for the big day. My goal was to set a personal best. My time was 20:29 the first year, and last year, I knocked nearly two minutes off, finishing in 18:30.
For the first time at this race, I was accepted into the Elite wave of racers – the fastest of the fast – and we got to enter the building first. I also got an awesomely low bib number: 31!
It was a hot day, but I was excited to go, get this over with, and celebrate my new PR. We waited in the adjacent building’s lobby for our chance to enter the stairwell – one person every 15 seconds.
I entered the stairwell at 11:37am and started an impossibly long trek up a seemingly endless stairwell. IT WAS ON!
The race was grueling, but I pushed myself, stayed positive, and climbed aggressively. The nice thing about the Elite wave is that stairwell is nearly empty – so there wasn’t much passing going on, and I could focus solely on what I was doing.
Like at most races, I got to a point where my legs were screaming, my lungs were aching, and my heart was pounding… only to look up and see I was still dozens of floors from the finish line on the roof. All I could do was keep going. And I did.
One of the most exciting moments in this race is when you see natural sunlight streaming into the stairwell from above. It means you’re almost done, and it’s time for the final push. So I pushed. I flung myself across the finish line and collapsed on the roof.
I felt good (especially after my heart rate cooled down a little bit) until I checked my watch. Could that time be accurate? It seemed unreasonably high. I decided to wait for the official results from the timing company, and headed to the recovery room on the 67th floor for fruit and water. I didn’t fully enjoy any of it – not the views, nor the sense of accomplishment – with this lingering question of my time looming, so I checked the results as soon as I got on the ground.
My time was 20:35. It was my slowest time yet. Over two minutes from my goal. My heart sank. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. I worked hard for this race. I didn’t slack in the stairwell. What happened?
I have a couple reasonable theories about what went down:
- I’m heavier than last year. Not by a lot, but every pound counts, especially when you have to carry them up 75 stories.
- I used a metronome during the race, despite having not trained with it very much. I thought the metronome would help me from going out too hard too fast (a common problem I have), but introducing a major element during a race probably wasn’t the best idea.
- As I mentioned, it was a hot day. The stairwell seemed even hotter. Heat can be a killer!
- It just wasn’t my day. It happens to everyone, including the Michael Phelps and the Usain Bolts out there.
They didn’t seem like reasonable theories at the time, though. I felt crushed. I felt like a failure. All I wanted to do was run to my car, go home, and head to bed – and maybe hit a drive-thru or six on the way.
I stewed like that for 20 or 30 minutes, and after lots of introspection and a pep talk or two from friends, I realized I had an opportunity to salvage the day. I could turn this all around. I could make this day really special. And to do that, all I needed was… A STAIRWELL.
I returned to the US Bank Tower stairwell, and climbed it again. There was no pressure, no bib, no time. (Race organizers allowed as many repeat climbs as desired.) I turned a timed race into an endurance workout, and by the time I got to the roof, I felt so much better.
So I climbed it a third time. My legs groaned as soon as I entered the stairwell on that third ascent, but they hung in there, and I pushed myself up, up, up… and eventually there was nothing but blue sky above me.
My third visit to the 67th floor recovery room felt especially sweet. I love the views after the race – and there was no doubt in my mind that I had earned these views. These views came after 225 floors of stair climbing – 4,992 steps!
What I reminded myself, in the elevator, as I came down after that third climb, is that I showed up. I showed up at the race, certainly, but what I really did was take a negative situation and wrestle it into a positive one, and, by doing so, I showed up for myself.
I showed up because I’m not a quitter.
I showed up to silence that voice in my head – the one that tells me I’m not capable, good enough, able, or strong enough. I AM STRONG. I AM ABLE. AND I CAN.
I showed up because I have so much invested. I trained for the race, yes, but I’ve been working towards this day – and every day – for 5 1/2 years – ever since I woke up, at 402 pounds, and decided it was time to take a step in a different direction.
I showed up because these races are an integral part of my weight loss success – 160 pounds lost and kept off – and I don’t want to imagine a life where I’m not competing in the first sport I’ve ever found that I honestly love.
Which brings me back to the headline of this post. I managed to turn a crappy day into a successful one, and that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating. EVERY accomplishment is worth celebrating, and sharing those accomplishments is a good way to celebrate. What did YOU do over the weekend? No matter how big or small, every step in the right direction is an achievement, and who knows? Your steps may inspire someone else to keep plugging away at their own goals.
I’m going to channel this energy into my next stair race – this weekend, at the Space Needle in Seattle. If I can climb 225 stories within a span of a couple hours, I sure as hell can race up 52!
KEEP IT UP, DAVID!
PS: For more stair race recaps from all across the country, click here.
PPS: Huge thanks to the generous donors that got me to my fundraising goals. Laura, Dana and Stu’s contributions to the YMCA will do a lot of good in Los Angeles, and I’m so thankful!