I woke up in Portland on Sunday with a very peculiar combination of feelings. I was still riding high with pride, thanks to my record-breaking performance during the Seattle Fight For Air Climb just 24 hours earlier. I was was also sore, achy and stiff, also thanks to that Seattle race, because racing up 160 stories is, to put it mildly, difficult. Then, when I flung open the curtains in my hotel room and saw the race venue right across the street, I started feeling really, really nervous.
The US Bancorp Tower (which the locals call ‘Big Pink’) is about the same height as the Rainier Tower, which I raced up in Seattle. Both buildings are 40 stories, and I opted to race up each four times. But while the Rainier Tower is surrounded by buildings that are even taller, US Bancorp Tower looms over everything in the immediate area, so it looks bigger. Much bigger.
And bigger still when you’re standing on the sidewalk out front.
My nerves stemmed from my desire to do well. I set a high bar with my 3:37 personal record (PR) in Seattle, and I knew better than to expect to match that performance. But I still wanted to get a PR here in Portland, and I knew it was going to be excruciatingly hard, because this race, which is grueling all by itself, came so quickly on the heels of another equally-grueling race.
I did this race, which benefits the American Lung Association, last year (read my recap), and the predominant thing I remember is how quickly utter fatigue set in, and how powerfully it took hold, because my body hadn’t fully recovered from the 160 stories I climbed the day before.
So, yea, I had reason to be nervous. But, as yesterday proved, I am strong and up for the challenge, and I armed myself that morning the best way I could: by warming up and taking the time so do lots of stretching. I also got my bib – lucky number 28!
I was in the first wave of climbers to enter the stairwell, right at 9 AM. I entered the building and started climbing, and for a moment, I was pleasantly surprised by how fresh and nimble I felt. The aches and soreness that I had felt when I woke up seemed to have melted away.
That didn’t last long. Not at all. By the tenth floor of my first climb, every part of my legs were moaning and groaning. I knew this would happen, but it was hard, in the moment, to not immediately think about how I had 150 stories of agony in front of me. I forced myself to keep going, challenging myself to keep positive, but that was a tall order. Towards the end of that first climb, I started questioning if I could ever reach a PR feeling that shitty.
That grumpy attitude continued into my second climb, and it culminated on the 21st floor, where there was a water station. I don’t stop for water during a race, because I don’t want to spare the seconds, but as I passed, the volunteer cheerfully encouraged me on: “You’re almost there!” To which I snapped back, “What, are you joking? It’s only halfway!” Oh, and did I mention the volunteer was a kid? Probably around 12 years old.
So… yeah… what a jerk I was. I was immediately sorry I said that and decided, mid-climb, that an attitude adjustment needed to happen, right then and there. So I started focusing on two things:
- I really struggled last year, too. This is old news, and I pushed through it before, and I can do it again.
- No more worrying about if I would set a PR. I reframed the question, and decided that a PR was inevitable. The only question now was how big would that PR be? That’s why I should push harder, so that PR would be as big as possible.
When I got to the top after that second climb, I found a couple more things to focus on. First, I was so physically burned out and exhausted that I could barely move. Hell, I could barely get up off the floor!
But I didn’t dwell on the pain and exhaustion. Instead, I realized that it was born out of extreme endurance and strength – so I was doing it right, and giving it my all. Plus, I had managed thus far to maintain good race technique (fast turns, double-stepping, effective handrail usage), and that was also worth celebrating.
Those positives powered me during the third climb, after which I collapsed in the hallway, face down, lying on my stomach, gasping for air, practically crying into the carpet. That’s when I felt a tap on my shoulder, and I looked up to see a complete stranger staring down at me. “I wanted to thank you,” he said, “for your training posts. They were super helpful.” He was probably talking about this post in particular, but it didn’t matter. It felt good. So good. “Thank you,” I stammered. “I’d be more gracious about it, if I could only breathe.” We both laughed, and he went on his way.
During my last climb, I reminded myself of the immense pride I felt after the Seattle race yesterday, and told myself to get ready to feel it again. It was 30 floors away… 20 floors away… 15… 10… keep pushing, because that feeling isn’t automatic, I had to EARN it, so don’t stop, keep double-stepping, keep ignoring the pain, keep it up!
I was practically crippled with pain when I crossed the finish line. I was beaming on the inside, but felt like Frankenstein’s monster on the outside, like parts of my body were no longer my own, or had fallen off entirely. Even smiling was painful for those first few minutes. This is the face of a man who just climbed 320 stories in 2 days.
A bunch of my friends and West Coast Labels/X Gym teammates were at the top when I finished, so we got a team photo:
I got my official times a couple hours later. Remember how I decided that a PR was inevitable? Well, it was. I improved on last year’s time by 20 seconds! Here’s the data (click on it to see it larger):
I completed 160 stories in 35:30 – compared to 35:50 last year! My fastest single climb was 7:42 – six seconds faster than last year. As my buddy Jason (who finished 1st in Seattle and 2nd in Portland) pointed out, you can’t expect to do much better than that, given the circumstances, and he’s right. A 20-second PR is spectacular in every regard, and my chest is still puffed with pride.
One of my favorite parts of the Seattle and Portland races is that they distribute stickers at the top, after you finish each climb. I put them on my bibs, because they don’t stick to sweat-soaked shirts, and now I have these awesome mementos, with eights stickers representing 40 stories each – a visual reminder of an extraordinary physical feat that most people probably wouldn’t even attempt.
With 320 stories under my belt, there was only one thing I wanted to do that afternoon in Portland: soak. So that’s what I did. I earned it.
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!