I competed in my 16th and final race of 2016 on Saturday, and the setting was a truly spectacular venue.
Yes, it’s a stadium. Yes, it’s a big one! (It holds 93,000.) And YES, it has hosted the Olympic Games TWICE. It’s the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum!
Despite nearly 15 years of living in Los Angeles, I’ve never been to the Coliseum before. It’s where the USC Trojans and the LA Rams play football, but I’m not really a sports fan.
The Olympics, though, are another story. I’m glued to the television each and every time. The size and scope are what hook me. The best on the planet come together, after lifetimes of preparation. The stories behind these athletes have me riveted: the dedication, the sacrifice, the resolve. I’m screaming at my TV, cheering and crying, anxious and elated. The Olympics summon many emotions, but the one I walk away with is inspiration.
Los Angeles is one of only seven cities that have hosted the Olympics more than once. (Pop Quiz! How many others can you name? Answer below.) The games were here way back in 1932…
…and again in 1984.
Los Angeles is one of three cities still in the running to host the 2024 games (along with Rome and Budapest), so there’s a good chance it’ll become the second city, after London, to host them three times! We’ll find out next September.
It’s fun living in a city with an Olympic history. I’ve taken advantage of a local Olympic facility before, when I swam laps in the pool built for the 1932 games, but I’ve never competed in an Olympic Venue.
UNTIL THIS RACE. The Los Angeles Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation was holding their annual CF Climb at the Coliseum. I’ve done this race three times before, when it was held in a 54-story skyscraper (read my 2013, 2014, and 2015 recaps), but this year they moved it to the Coliseum. The thought of running stairs in the same place where so many world-class athletes have stood was thrilling. It still is.
The course for the stair climb is a challenging one. We started at one end, below the big arches that held up the Olympic torch, and ran up and down the aisles. You had the option of running either halfway around the stadium or all the way around, and I chose the full course because I’m nuts like that, and I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t.
They were advertising the full course as having 4,000 steps, and that’s double what I did last weekend at the Angel Stadium race. And since that race knocks me on my ass every year, I knew the Coliseum was going to be brutal.
That, though, didn’t stop me from doing the same thing I’ve done at far too many races: I went out too fast. I was one of a small group of runners that signed up for the Elite wave, and I ended up being the third person to enter the aisles. My friend Leland started 20 seconds before me, and my friend Madeleine started 20 seconds after me, and I mistakenly thought I could keep up with Leland and stay ahead of Madeleine.
I ended up doing neither, and, in the process, I expended way too much energy during the first quarter of the race.
The aisles at the Coliseum are long. I counted 124 steps in each one. We went up one aisle, ran over and down the next aisle, and so on. The course had a total of 14 aisles to climb, and another 14 aisles to descend. (A couple aisles were slightly shorter, but I didn’t get an accurate step count on those.)
This means their count of 4,000 steps was off. It was closer to 3,500. I bet it was an estimate, but then again, so is mine, but I think my estimate is closer.
Furthermore, each aisle got progressively steeper as you got higher. The top third was probably twice as steep, at least, than the steps that came before.
I flew up the first two aisles, trying to prevent Leland from expanding his lead, and by the third aisle my mistake was clear. My legs were wobbly, my heart and lungs pounding, and I had already begun cursing. I couldn’t keep up that pace if I wanted to.
The nice thing about a stadium climb is that there’s built-in recovery time. After each torturous ascent, there was about a minute of running down the next aisle. It provided a nice break, although running down stairs has its own challenges. In addition to very strenuous on your joints, it’s also dangerous because you’re fighting gravity. I can be a klutz, so I ran down at a good tempo, but one that wouldn’t result in me tumbling down, shattering bones and knocking out teeth, all the way to the field.
I think I audibly sighed as I crossed the halfway point, because it was agonizing, and there was still so much to go. But I pushed through – I’m good at pushing through at these stair events – largely fueled by some wonderfully positive thoughts that I refused to let go of.
A lot of the second half was a blur, but it was encouraging to look out over the stadium and see the entire course and realize that most of it was behind me.
I felt pangs of excitement, mixed in with the pangs of pain and exhaustion, when I realized I only had three more climbs to go… then two… then my final climb. By that time, I could hear Leland cheering me on from the finish line, and all that was left was to summon whatever crumbs of energy I had left and run down the final aisle and then 30 yards over to the finish line.
Crossing the line was exhilarating, and my first order of business afterward was to lie down and cool the fuck down. My heart was racing like a drum roll.
Then a photo with the congratulatory sign (with my friend Paul):
A little while after we finished, Madeleine and I realized another friend, George, was still on the course. George is incredible. He’s in his mid-70s, and was recently declared legally blind. He travels the country competing in stair climbs. This was his 202nd climb, and he signed up for the full course. We went and found him, and climbed with him as he finished. He already had groupies by the time we showed up! His head is down, but this is him in the hat:
Soon thereafter, I got my time: 30:25! Over a half hour of nonstop stairs. This was the first stair race held at the Coliseum, so I didn’t have a point of reference for what I could do, but I’m proud of my performance. I didn’t stop. Even though my pacing was pretty shitty, I gave it my all. And now I have a time to beat next year!
I’m going to wrap this up by sharing the wonderfully positive thoughts that fueled me through the second half of the race, when the going got ridiculously tough. I looked around at this enormous, historical stadium as I ran from one aisle to the next, and I thought about dreams. The dreams of athletes, from all over the world, that revolved around getting here, being here, standing here, and competing here, for Olympic gold and the right to say they’re the best in the world. I thought about how those dreams persevered through unknown hardships, setbacks, and injuries.
The Coliseum is brimming with the memories and the pride that those dreams generated. And now it was my turn. I may never be an Olympic athlete, but this was my Olympic moment. I wanted to end this day knowing I couldn’t have performed any better, and these stairs were the only thing in the way. So I buckled down, refocused on the task rising up in front of me, and worked towards claiming my own gold.
And damnit, that’s exactly what I did.
Keep it up, David!
A huge thank you to my super awesome donors. I couldn’t have done this race without the generous contributions of Tavi, Amy, Steve, Janet, and Ann, all of whom gave to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on my behalf!
Pop Quiz answer: The other cities that have hosted multiple Olympics are Athens, Paris, London, St. Moritz, Lake Placid, and Innsbruck. Beijing and Tokyo will join the list in 2022 and 2020, respectively.
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