No point in burying the lead: I set a personal record at the Fight For Air Climb in San Diego! Here I am, seconds after the race ended. On the outside, it looks like I’m exhausted and hurting…and I am. But believe me: my insides were bubbling with joy, excitement, and pride.
I’m especially happy with the results because I wasn’t sure if I could pull off a PR at this race, for a couple reasons. The first is that two weeks ago, I had to take an unexpected week-long hiatus from exercise so my knee could recover from an overuse injury, and the downtime obviously affected my training.
The second is that, even on a good day, setting a PR during a sprint is hard, and this race, which benefits the American Lung Association, is a sprint. It’s in One America Plaza in San Diego, which, at 32 stories, makes it both the tallest building in town and the second-shortest building I’ve ever raced in. (The shortest is across the street; read about it here.)
Thirty-two stories may seem like a lot, but the race is short. When I did it two years ago, I made it to the top in 5 minutes, 32 seconds – a feat I’m incredibly proud of. I knew I’d have to really bust my butt to beat that time this year.
Race organizers offered, for the first time this year, the opportunity to do a double climb, and I jumped at the chance. I’ll do all the stairs I can! Trying to set a PR was important to me, so I decided to give it my all during the first climb, and try to beat my PR then, and then do the best I could on the second climb, knowing I’d probably be hampered by exhaustion.
After stretching and loosening up, I lined up with the other competitive climbers for our 9:30am wave, and there were a lot of friends in the lobby.
There’s no game plan during a 32-story climb. No pacing or strategy. I just went for it on every step, every flight. I didn’t hold anything back. I didn’t even want to be tempted to look at my watch, so I found two songs on my workout playlist that added up to be 5:35 long, and I knew I had to cross the finish line four seconds before that second song was over to have my PR. (I’m going to share those songs in an upcoming post.)
I tried to ignore the floor numbers, but when I started noticing them, I was already in the high teens, and even though I was panting and aching, knowing I was past the halfway point was a huge motivator. The stairwell is on the narrow side, so I used the railings on both sides, and racers were spaced far enough apart so that I passed no one, and no one passed me – a rare and appreciated treat.
This was my sixth stair race of 2016, and some of the others involved climbing for an hour or more (like the multi-climb races I did in Seattle, Portland, and Denver), and compared to those, this race went by in a blur. It seemed like I had barely blinked my eyes when I was heaving myself across the timing mat on the 32nd floor, and stumbling down the hall to a corner so I could collapse and catch my breath. I remember knocking a folding chair over as I fell to the carpet.
They wanted the double climbers to do the second climb as soon as possible, so I stayed on the ground for only a couple minutes, while my heart rate fell from the 170s into a more normal range, before standing up.
Double climbers had to put on a new bib and timing chip before doing the second climb – something I’ve never done before during a multi-climb race – and I was skeptical how smoothly that would go, but the organizers had a great system in place. There was one volunteer assigned to every two double climbers, and they were all waiting at the top after the first climb, so all I had to do was go over to my volunteer, Sandra, and she helped me take off one bib and put on the new one. It only took a minute, and then I was in the elevator zooming to the lobby.
We waited a couple more minutes in the lobby before entering again, but altogether, I only had 10 minutes break between my two climbs. My goal for the second climb was just to hustle up as fast as I could, and I’m glad I wasn’t more specific in that goal, because it got very hard, very quick.
At this point, 30-something races into my stair race career, I’m quite familiar with the feeling of screaming muscles, aching limbs, a pounding heart, and burning lungs, but that doesn’t mean pushing through all those impairments gets any easier. Somehow, though, I pushed through to the 32nd-floor, and before long, I was back in the corner, gasping for air. That’s when I took the first photo in this post.
Let’s just jump to the results: I set a 9-second PR on my first climb, finishing in 5:23! Woo-hoo!
My time of 5:23 made my overall rank 27th out of 236 – just a hair shy of being in the top ten percent! This is one my best finishes ever!
My second climb, while 55 seconds slower, was also pretty strong. That climb was 55th-fastest overall – not too shabby.
Oh, and check this out – I made the paper! A photographer from the San Diego Union-Tribune was there, and included a photo of me and Madeleine, exhausted after crossing the finish line, in the online photo gallery:
Plus, I got to chat with San Diego celebrity Steve Atkinson, anchor of the evening and late-night news on ABC10, and I was flattered and surprised that he remembered me from when we briefly met at the race two years ago. Steve was the emcee at the race, and is a super nice, friendly guy.
This race had a firefighter wave, and if you think running up stairs is challenging, well, you’re right. But try doing it while wearing 50-60 pounds of heavy boots, equipment, and flame-retardant, non-breathing clothing! These guys are rock stars.
Want more inspiration? Meet my friend Tisa. I was honored when, a few months ago, she asked me to join her team for this race. Teams are often just for social and fundraising reasons at these races, and Tisa’s team is made up of people associated with the UCSD hospital where, five years ago, Tisa received a double-lung transplant because she had cystic fibrosis and her own lungs were slowly killing her. Tisa has done this stair climb race every year since. She’s a rock star too!
And I got to meet Gunner, Tisa’s therapy bulldog, who came along and hung out in the expo area. Tisa brings Gunner to meet kids staying at the hospital, and he naturally reminded me of Maude, who is part bulldog.
Another great part about this event is that Stretch Zone was a sponsor, and after the race, I got stretched by Rocio, an awesome woman from the San Diego location, for a solid 20 minutes. She strapped me down to a table and pushed and pulled on my arms and legs, and it felt great.
I drove over two hours to get home later that day, and sometimes I get so sore and stiff after a race I can barely get out of my car. Thanks to Rocio, though, I felt loose and limber. Visit the Stretch Zone website to see if there’s a location near you.
With San Diego in the books, I have my next race to focus on… and it’s a hometown race in LA this Saturday! If I can get a PR in LA, it’ll be my seventh PR in a row!
Keep it up, David!
PS: Huge hugs and thanks to the folks that so generously donated to the American Lung Association on my behalf so I could compete in this race. I couldn’t have done it without Lisa, Sarah, and parents, and Joanne. You guys are awesome!