On Sunday, I competed in Scale the Strat, the annual race up the stairs of the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas. Here I am, a few steps away from the finish line, 1,391 steps above the Las Vegas strip!
I tend to get nervous before all my races, and I like that. It’s a reminder that these events are important to me. But I felt differently before Scale the Strat: the nervousness was at higher-than-usual levels… and was paired with an impending sense of dread.
This wasn’t my first time climbing the Stratosphere. I did it two years ago, and I struggled. I don’t have fond memories. It’s a challenging stairwell. It has long, 20-step flights, and it’s narrow, which can make passing tricky. I had studied my performances in other buildings, and calculated a goal time for the Stratosphere, and then failed to reach it, which bummed me out, even though I had a good time. (That was the first and last time I set a goal time for a new building.) Read more in my 2014 Scale the Strat race recap.
Returning to the Stratosphere meant one of two things would happen: 1) I’d kick butt and take names and replace crummy memories with wonderful ones, or 2) I’d have another shitty race and never want to come back ever again. I really wanted the former to happen – hence that combo of nervousness and dread.
Never been to Las Vegas? The Stratosphere is the tallest observation tower in the country, with the top of the spire reaching 1,149 feet in the air.
At the top there’s an 8-floor pod of restaurants, observation decks, lounges, and so on, and the race ends on the upper-most floor. They call it the 108th floor, but that’s misleading, because it’d be roughly the 63rd floor in an office tower of similar height. I’m not suggesting the Stratosphere is short, because it’s not!
Despite my nerves, I was looking forward to the fact that I only had to climb the stairs once. My last three races were all multi-climbs, with me climbing the Rainier Tower in Seattle and the US Bancorp Tower in Portland four times each, and Republic Plaza in Denver five times. Doing a one-and-done in the Stratosphere was going to seem like a breeze, relatively speaking. It also meant that I had to no excuse for not giving it my all during that one climb.
My time two years ago was 15:06, so my goal was to beat that and set a new personal record. I also wanted to stay positive throughout the climb, and make sure I didn’t go out too hard at the beginning.
I was towards the back of the line in the first wave of racers, and we were led into the building at 8am, and sent into the stairwell one at a time, every 15 seconds. When it was time to go, I swallowed those nerves and went for it.
I succeeded in not starting too strongly, and I knew that because I didn’t get overly tired in one fell swoop a few floors in. I focused on double-stepping and climbing consistently. I secretly savored the fact that I was passing more people (perhaps a dozen or more) than were passing me (two).
The race felt good! Really good! I was about 3/4 done when I glanced at my watch and realized a personal best was easily within reach, and that provided the jolt I needed to finish strong.
There are two short jogs (probably 10 feet each) when you transition from the tower core to the pod at the top for the final eight floors, and it was during those jogs that I realized how exhausted I was. I felt like I could barely move. But with only eight floors left, I pushed on.
I barely made it 15 feet beyond the finish line when my legs gave out and I collapsed to the floor.
After a few seconds, I realized I hadn’t looked at my watch, so I did. My friend Madeleine happened to capture the moment when I realized I had reached my goal and set a personal best… and had no strength to react at all.
Madeleine later shared, in a text, what she saw when I looked at my watch. “Your shoulders started to shudder and I didn’t know if you crying or laughing! It was an emotional moment. I hope you don’t mind that I totally intruded on that. But it makes for awesome pictures!” Of course I don’t mind.
Truth be told, I was laughing and crying, from the elation and aching muscles, respectively. My watch told me I had set a personal record by two minutes, and I didn’t stop my watch until a little after crossing the finish line. My official time, which I got a little while later, confirmed this and more. My time was 12:43 – a whopping 2 minutes, 23 seconds faster than last time!
REDEMPTION! What an incredible feeling. And what an incredible place to feel it in, with all of Las Vegas below.
This race attracts elite racers from all over the country and world, so I hung out on top for a long time, chatting with friends from all over. We took a team photo, and we all barely fit in the frame!
My friend Tavi made a last-minute decision to race as well (he decided the day before!), and he shaved 15 seconds off his time from last time, too.
My official stats:
It may seem impressive that I finished 8th in my division, but due to a clerical error, they put me in the wrong division. I wish I was 18-29 years old! My time would’ve put made me 21st in the M30-39 division.
I’m most excited about the Overall Place. I finished 78th. Last time, I was 177th.
A couple other things:
- I had been fighting a cold all week, but somehow my body pulled it together just in time. After days of having a runny nose, it stopped on race day. Then, after the race, it came back. I was sneezing and blowing my nose the rest of the day. I still am, as I write this.
- I got interviewed! This race was sponsored by and benefits the American Lung Association, and they sent a camera crew to get footage to promote next year’s race. My buddy Jeff suggested I would be a good interview subject, and they pulled me aside during a pre-race mixer the night before, and again after the race. Maybe I’ll end up in their 2017 video!
I’ll wrap it up by tooting my own horn one more time. This was the fourth consecutive race where I’ve set a personal record. (This excludes Denver, where I couldn’t set a personal record, as it was my first time racing there.) Between those four races, I’ve beaten my old times by 8 minutes, 30 seconds.
That’s the power of training. I’ve been busting my butt for the past couple months, and it is paying off. In a major way!
Keep it up, David!
PS: I have to thank my stupendous donors: Sandie, Heather and John, Suzanne, and my parents. Their generous donations to the American Lung Association on my behalf totaled $405! I also want to send lots of love to Bowflex, my sponsor for this race. My Bowflex MAX Trainer has been an invaluable training tool, and I expect it will be a big part of my stair race training for a long, long time.