I competed in my 15th and final race of 2015! On Saturday, I competed in Hike the Halo, an annual event benefiting the Orange County chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. It’s a fun morning in a fun setting: Angel Stadium.
The race is unique: it’s a combo of running and stair climbing. You start in the outfield, run into the lower deck, and then run up and down the aisles: up one aisle, over to the next, down that aisle, over to the next, and so on. Here’s the course map:
Once you traverse the entire lower deck that way, you run through a tunnel to the concourse, then up a series a ramps to the upper deck. You can see the ramps behind me in this photo:
I don’t know for sure what grade they are, but the maximum steepness allowed by most building codes is 8.3% (for a 1:12 ramp), so not more than that. There’s five long ramps.
You emerge onto the upper deck, and do the same thing again: up one aisle, over to the next, down that aisle, and so on. The upper deck is much steeper and challenging, so they actually have you skip aisles: you run up one, then over two, than down, then over two, then up, all the way through the upper deck.
The race isn’t over yet, though. After coming down different ramps, you run along the concourse, behind the outfield and Jumbotron, and exit the stadium, onto the sidewalk. All that’s left is one complete lap around the perimeter of the stadium, before entering the outfield and crossing the finish line. The entire course is about 2 miles, and includes 2,000 stairs.
This was my third consecutive year competing, so I knew what to expect, and how difficult the race is. I was cocky last year – I thought it was easier than racing up a skyscraper because the stairs were broken up by running. I didn’t make that mistake this year. Hike the Halo is neither easier nor harder than tower running – it’s just different. And I don’t go to races to pussyfoot around. I push myself as hard as possible, so they’re all difficult. At least, though, this race is outdoors, and not in a confined, ugly stairwell. I love that.
I’m not a baseball fan, but it’s still very cool to hang out on a Major League baseball diamond. This was the first year we could stand at home plate (it was roped off two years ago, and covered by a rain tarp last year), so I took advantage of standing at the same spot as hundreds of super-famous, top-notch athletes, like what’s-his-face and that one guy, you know, with the hat.
They allowed competitive racers to go first (a new, welcomed change for this year), so my friends and I hung out by the start line, stretching and getting ready. Group selfie with Esteban, Madeleine, and Jeff!
I had the best vantage point to enjoy a local high school marching band while they played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Eye of the Tiger.” They sounded great.
There was an unintentionally hilarious moment when they began playing the national anthem, and hundreds of racers, spectators, and volunteers all began looking around for the flag – except there was no flag. So after much searching, nudging, and neck craning, we put our hands on our hearts and saluted the empty flagpole and the giant yogurt ad directly behind it.
The competitive racers started one every 20 seconds or so, and I was the 6th person to cross the start line and make my way into the stands. The stairs in the lower deck are super shallow, so I could basically run them at the same speed that I was running in between the aisles. I smacked my leg against a seat back while turning a corner, but not too bad.
I kept my eye on Esteban, who had started before me, and was one aisle ahead. Esteban is faster than me, so he’s a good person for me to tail. I tried to gain on him, without any luck. And then… he was gone. Disappeared. I thought he must’ve gotten way out ahead of me, but a few minutes later, he came flying past me. Some parts of the course weren’t well marked, and Esteban had taken a wrong turn and gotten momentarily lost. (He had bad luck at our last race, too, cramping up pretty badly.)
Running up the ramps is my least favorite part, but I motivated myself by reminding myself that I’ve done much harder things – namely, the Palm Springs Tram Road Race, which was 3.7 miles up a road that was much steeper than those ramps.
There was no break after the ramps, because then the upper deck stairs begin. Luckily, there’s a handrail, so I was able to double-step the entire time, and pull on the rail, which always helps. It was on the stairs that I passed a couple guys that had passed me earlier, and that’s always good for an energy and morale boost.
The upper deck seemed to go on forever, but I stayed strong and kept going, never stopping, never pausing. It was towards the end of the upper deck that it started to sink in that I was probably on track for a personal best. I rarely look at my watch while racing – but I knew how long the songs were on my playlist, and I was making good time.
That was all the motivator I needed for the final lap around the stadium. Running isn’t my strong suit, but I pretended like it was, and keep pushing towards the finish line, which seemed to get farther and farther away. I turned the final corner, heard cheering as I entered the outfield, and collapsed on the grass after crossing the mat. A volunteer double-checked to make sure I was OK.
My buddy Paul owns the timing company that ran the race, and he shouted out my time a few minutes later: 27:21! My time last year was 29:31 – so I smashed my personal record by 2 minutes and 10 seconds!*
*I have to be honest, hence this asterick. Remember how I said parts of the course weren’t well-marked? Well, I inadvertently missed a turn in the upper deck. They had arrow signs pointing the way, and this one had either fallen or didn’t exist in the first place. The guy in front of me did the same thing, and afterward, another racer said he did the same thing. I hate that I skipped one aisle down and one aisle up, but that wouldn’t have added 2:10 to my time – maybe 30 seconds. It’s still a PR, and a well-earned one!
Let’s take a look at my Hike the Halo history, shall we?
- 2013: 30:20
- 2014: 29:31
- 2015: 27:21
So proud of that continued growth!
I ended up 11th among all men. Also super awesome. One spot away from a top ten finish!
My friend Jeff noticed that they were live-streaming, on the Jumbotron, racers as they crossed the finish line, so we went and got ourselves on camera, and our friend Madeleine snapped a picture of the big screen. This is proof I’ve been on the Angel Stadium Jumbotron!
We also got a group photo in the Angels dugout:
That’s Madeleine, Jeff, me, and our friend George. How’s this for inspiring? George is 73 years old, and Hike the Halo was his 164th career stair climb race. I see him at races all across the country!
Oh! Another awesome moment happened when a complete stranger thanked me for the Hike the Halo recap I wrote last year. He didn’t know what to expect, and found my blog while researching the event, and thought it was super helpful. That happened last year, too!
Shattering a personal record by over two minutes is a great way to end the year – I recommend it to everyone! See you next year, Angel Stadium!
I won’t have much downtime. Races start up early in the new year – I’ve been putting together my 2016 race calendar, and I’m gonna do seven in the first four months alone! More news to come on those soon, but, until then, here’s a well-deserved…
…Keep it up, David!
Big thanks and lots of love to my parents, Suzanne, Dacia, Felise, Dierdre and Dana – all of whom donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on my behalf, so I could race. I have you to thank for an awesome morning!