I ran a race over the weekend and it kicked my ass. I’ve done some tough races in my day, and even though this was only a 5K, it ranks up there among the most difficult. Why? HILLS. More specifically, HILLS and STAIRS. These are the stairs at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. They’re colloquially known as the Culver City Stairs.
There’s 282 stairs carved straight up the side of this hill. They’re made from recycled concrete, and each one is different: different height, different depth, and they’re very uneven.
The race was called Conquer the Overlook, and I did it last year. It kicked my ass then, so I knew it was gonna be tough, but this year I added a second event. There’s the 5K race, where the last part of the course is climbing the stairs, but there’s also a one-time sprint up the stairs. I didn’t do the sprint last year because I thought you could only sign up for one or the other, not both, but I was wrong. So this year, I did both.
The one-time sprint came first, at 5pm, and there was a small crowd participating: only 13. They started us two-at-a-time, and the timing system was… um… lacking. A race coordinator wrote our starting times on our bib, and after we crossed the timing mat at the top, another coordinator tore that part of the bib off, and subtracted one time from the other. Lots of opportunity for timing errors! (This, my friends, is foreshadowing.)
I had climbed the stairs once, when I arrived, both as a warm-up and to refresh my memory, because even though I’ve worked out there a couple times, I haven’t been there since last year’s race.
I started at the same time as my buddy Jeff, which I knew would be a good boost, because he’s super speedy, and if I kept him in my sights, I knew I could make pretty good time myself.
Jeff took off like a rocket, and I realized that keeping him in my sights was going to be a challenge, because 1) the stairs are so uneven that you have to watch where you’re going, and 2) the organizers weren’t able to close the park to the public, so we were racing alongside (and sometimes dodging and weaving through) other folks climbing the stairs at their own pace for fun or exercise.
No handrails. No rhythm, due to the unevenness of the stairs. No relief until the top!
I timed myself on my watch, and made it, exhausted, across the finish line in 4 minutes, 1 second. My official time was 3:44. Ugh. Sorry, folks, even though the official time pegged me as 17 seconds faster, I trust my own watch on this one.
After sitting for a spell, I took in the view, which is definitely a highlight of this event. It was pretty clear, which meant views from the ocean all the way to downtown. Those with good eyes and good sense of geography can spot landmarks like the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, and the Getty Center. You can make out the downtown skyline in the distance near my left elbow:
And, as always, it was great to see friends. Jeff ended up winning the sprint, with George coming in second and Lisa finishing second among the women. I came in 6th!
An hour later, the 5K started. George and Lisa took off, but Jeff and I stuck around, and were joined by our friend Madeleine for the main event. The 5K starts at the top of the hill, and the course winds all the way to the bottom, and then back to the top, via a winding, curvy road, then back down a second time, and up a second time – this time via the stairs. About 90% of the course is on a hill, either going up or down. Does that sound awfully challenging, or just plain awful? It’s both!
There were over 200 folks doing the 5k, and while Jeff positioned himself near the front of the pack, Madeleine and I stayed in the middle.
Because we were upwind of the guy starting the race, we didn’t hear the start at all. We only knew it was go time because the crowd in front of us started moving. Madeleine and I stuck together for the first few minutes, and then went back and forth taking the lead.
Did I mention it’s a hard course? It is. The trails are dusty and narrow at points, and the corners are sharp and tricky. I felt happy to transition from the trail to the road, but the road was all uphill – and it was steep. I cramped up a little bit, in my side, but I worked through it.
I tend to motivate myself by pushing myself to keep up with other runners, and when Madeleine passed me on the second descent, I tried my damnedest to keep up, but she made it difficult. Once she got too far ahead, I picked a couple other guys – identifying them by their shoes, because I was looking down so much – and tried to keep up with them.
Both guys got pretty far ahead, but when it came time to climb those stairs at the end… guess what? I passed them both. Every part of me felt achy as I approached the top of the climb, and once or twice I had to pause to catch my balance – but I made it, struggling to breath, and promptly sat down, off to the side, to catch my breath. Then, a finish line selfie with my medal…
…and one with Jeff and Madeleine.
My official time was 40:43! It wasn’t a PR – I was about two minutes slower than last year – but I have no doubt in my mind that I did the best I could that day, and left everything I had out on that course. I was 121st out of 231 finishers.
Another nice thing about this race: they have tacos afterwards!
The next day, I was so sore and stiff that I could barely move. I winced every time I stood up, from the tightness in my entire lower body. I didn’t want to take a rest day, though (the day before the race was a rest day), so I used my SelectTechs and focused on upper body weights, since that half of my body wasn’t so sore.
I was still slightly sore that day after that, but I managed to take Luna, the dog I’m dogsitting, for a nearly three-mile walk, and that actually felt great. Until a couple hours later, when I realized the soreness had mostly passed, but there was a throbbing in my left foot. I twisted or sprained something in there, so I gotta go really easy on my foot for a little while until that heals.
Apart from that minor set-back…
…Keep it up, David!