WHAT. A. WEEKEND. You wouldn’t guess it from the pain and misery on my face in this first photo, but this weekend delivered outrageous amounts of happiness. I wouldn’t be surprised if my blood was currently comprised of red and white blood cells, plasma, platelets, and PRIDE.
You may already know the headlines if you follow me on social media (find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), but here’s the nutshell: I competed in two epic stair races, the Seattle Fight For Air Climb on Saturday, and the Portland Fight For Air Climb on Sunday. Each race was 160 stories. And I set personal records during both!
There’s too much in share in one post. So let’s start with Seattle, and save Portland for next time.
The race in Seattle was in the Rainier Tower, a 40-story building that rises up off a narrow, curving pedestal.
The building looks like it’s sitting on top of a golf tee, or maybe like giant beavers have been gnawing away at the base. It’s kinda hard to photograph it from the street in a way that does the architecture justice, and I didn’t try very hard on Saturday, because it was raining. Off to the right is a photograph from last year.
The race benefits the American Lung Association, and you have the option to climb the stairs once, twice, three times or four times. I chose four times – that’s 160 total stories – because that’s crazy and I’d regret it if I went home having done anything less.
When I did these races last year (read my recap), I was extremely nervous, because I didn’t know what to expect, and I hadn’t done back-to-back races in the same weekend before. I didn’t have those specific nerves this time around, but I tend to get nervous at races anyway. I want to do well. I want to improve my times. I WANT TO KICK ASS. It’s torturous work racing up stairs, and it’s important to me that I deliver the best performance I can muster.
I got to the race early, accompanied by my friend Collin, with plenty of time to get my bib, jog around the adjacent shopping center to warm up, and stretch.
Lucky number 104!
The start line for the race is in a courtyard off the lobby, tucked around the corner from the tent, which protected the timing equipment from the rain.
I was in the competitive wave of athletes, which got to go first, one at a time, every 20 seconds. There were plenty of athletes faster than me, so I hung towards the back of the line, but even so, I started nice and early. The event began at 9am, and I entered the stairwell a minute or two after I posed with the clock.
Outside, there was squad of cheerleaders from Cheer Seattle, and one asked for my name, which they promptly worked into a cheer. It was fantastic. This is one of my favorite photos:
Then it was time to pocket my phone and start climbing. My goal for this race was to set a Personal Record (PR), but I didn’t think too much about it. I tend to psych myself out when I focus on actual numbers, so I didn’t even look up my results from last year before the race. My super scientific strategy was to give the climb everything I had, and hope that it was enough for a PR. And if it wasn’t, I could still be satisfied knowing that I left everything in the stairwell.
I noticed from the get-go that the actual climbing seemed to be going smoothly. It wasn’t easy – stair racing is never easy – but executing good form (like double-stepping, quick pivots on the landings, and using the handrails advantageously) came naturally, and I found a good rhythm, which I trouble doing last year, because this particular stairwell changes configurations a few times as you go up.
My heart was furiously racing and I was already sweating up a storm by the time I finished my first 40-story climb, and it felt great, and I couldn’t wait to keep going. I had a strong feeling that this climb was faster than my first climb last year, so I embraced that feeling and used it as fuel to keep going.
I took the elevator back down and hung out in the lobby for a few minutes to let my heart rate go down a little more. Only the first climb starts in that courtyard. The rest are in a different stairwell, off the sidewalk on the other side. Here I am about to start climb #2.
Fatigue sets in quickly during stair races, but this race was no exception. But I felt good and strong, and my determination to do well made pushing myself seem a little easier. I also noticed that breathing seemed easy. I’ve done all my stair training so far this year wearing an elevation training mask, which restricts oxygen, and being in a stairwell without it was definitely noticeable.
There was another exciting epiphany that happened during this race, near the top of my third climb. I had been double-stepping the entire way, and my quads and calves were quivering with pain. During many races I get to the point where I can physically no longer double step, so I switch to single-stepping and keep going. This time, though, when I tried switching to single-stepping, all these alarms rang in my brain. Everything about it seemed wrong, felt wrong. So I switched back to double-stepping and found a way to push through the pain. It was the first time that I unequivocally prioritized good race technique over my own comfort, and it struck me as a turning point in my evolution as an athlete. I was hurting so bad, but it felt so good!
I was counting down the floors as many ways as possible during the fourth climb – anything to distract from the pain radiating through my whole body. “25% done with this climb – keep going!” “You’ve done 140 – only 20 more to go!” “Final ten floors. FINAL TEN FLOORS!” I finally crossed the finish line, soaked to the bone, heart pounding like a drum, gasping for air. I found a spot by the elevators and sank to the floor.
The information I had at that time was that I burned 740 calories, that my heart rate peaked at 176, and that it took 61 min., 9 sec. for me to do all four climbs, including elevators down and rest periods. My official time would be significantly less, because they only count the time in the stairwell.
It was a few hours before I saw the official results, and I held my breath while I searched my bib number and waited for it to load on my phone. Hoping for a PR…
I BEAT LAST YEAR’S TIME BY 3 MINUTES, 37 SECONDS! HOT DAMN! Last year’s time: 35:13. This year’s time: 31:36. That’s a 10% improvement – the largest improvement in my stair climbing career. Here are my official results (click it to see it bigger):
Some other statistics that blow my mind:
- My fastest climb this year was 6:54. Holy cow, I raced 40 stories in under 7 minutes! That’s also 47 seconds faster than my fastest climb last year.
- I improved during all four climbs: 0:47 faster during climb #1, 0:12 faster during climb #2, 1:20 faster (!) during climb #3, 1:19 faster during climb #4.
- My fastest climb during both years was the first one (understandably so). But this year, I was remarkably consistent with climbs 2-4. I finished all three within a 12-second window of each other. Last year, my times fluctuated within in 63-second range.
- I finished 8th in my division (Men 30-39) this year, up from 11th last year.
- I finished 26th among all men this year, up from 31st last year.
- I finished 32nd overall this year, up from 43rd last year.
Plus, I got to see and hang out with a bunch of friends! Here I am with PJ (3rd place finish in the 40-story race)…
..and Dan (6th place finish in the 160-story race)…
…and Jason and Tristan, who finished 1st and 2nd in the 160-story race, respectively.
How fast do you have to go to win a race like this? I finished 160 stories in 31:36. Jason finished in 18:17!
Like I said at the start of this post, my feeling of accomplishment and pride after this race was second-to-none. I’ve created a memory to draw on when I’m struggling or stressed, because it’s this giant, neon-colored, scream-from-the-rooftops reminder of all of the thing I know are true: Hard work pays off. I can do anything I put my mind to. I AM CAPABLE OF AMAZING THINGS.
And guess what? My weekend wasn’t over. I signed up to do the exact same thing, the very next day in Portland. No rest for the wicked! More on that race in my next post!
KEEP IT UP, DAVID!
Time for some thank yous. One is to Bowflex, which is sponsoring a number of my races this year, including this one. Their support is making it possible for me to travel to do something I love, and I’m grateful for their generosity and friendship. And their products too! Because they’re awesome training tools for this sport. I also wanted to thank Sandee, whose donation to the American Lung Association single-handedly allowed me to race in both Seattle and Portland. You’re the best!