How’s this for a triumphant post-race photo?
Me, on the roof of the tallest building in Ventura County, with nothing but blue sky in every direction. The truth is, though, that I wasn’t feeling triumphant at all. I had just competed in an extremely difficult race, and instead of feeling like I had conquered the stairwell, I felt like the stairs had conquered me.
Actually, it wasn’t the stairs that conquered me, it was an obstacle course. A challenging, exhausting obstacle course.
The race was Tower 2 Tower, a fun and different kind of stair race held in Oxnard, California, benefiting the Oxnard Fire Explorers, an organization for aspiring firefighters. This was the sixth year for the race, and my third time competing. My friends Alberto, Madeleine, and Leland were there too.
I’m still on my exercise break, but I had signed up for this months ago, so I approached it like I did the Lemon Climb race in Denver a few weeks ago: No pressure, no expectations. Just have fun and enjoy it.
The race involves stairs in two different buildings. I started by entering and running up the stairs in the 14-story City National Bank Building.
One racer entered every 10 seconds, and I was maybe the 20th racer or so to begin, after my friends, a big group from a high school track team, and a few others. I felt good on the stairs, didn’t push myself too hard, passed one guy along the way, and before I knew it I was on the 15th floor (there is no 13th floor).
So far so good. Once at the top I headed through the halls to the other stairwell, and started down. This is the only stair race I do in a building that involves going down stairs, and I hate it. I’m afraid of losing control, taking a spill, and hurting myself. (I do stair races in stadiums, like this one, that involve going down stairs, too, but not 14 stories at once.)
So I did the down part cautiously, single-stepping the whole way, and taking the time to recover from the ascent I had just done, because there was more hard work coming. And I had no idea how much hard work there was.
After exiting the City National Bank Building, you head through the parking lot, towards the second building. And here there are two options: do the obstacle course, or skip the obstacles, and just run to the second building.
I always do the obstacles. A lot of people don’t, because they want a fast time, and obstacles slow them down. But I figure this is the only stair race that has an obstacle course, so why not?
This year, though, the obstacle course was by far the toughest I’ve done in my three years. Leaps and bounds more challenging than last year. And when I turned the corner and headed towards the first obstacle, a guy in the crowd yelled “he’s going for it!” and a bunch of people cheered. I turned out to be the second person of the day that did the obstacles. 18 of the 19 people that started the race before me opted against them.
I had watched earlier as they had set up the first obstacle – an inflatable bounce-house-type contraption with tunnels to go through, a wall to climb, and a slide. So much fun!
After that came a station where I had to pick up and carry a bundled fire hose about 30 feet and back. This was a repeat obstacle from the prior years, and easy-peasy.
Then it got hard. So hard. In the distance in the last photo, on the left, you see some wood structures. You had to climb up and move laterally down it, using only narrow wood blocks as ledges for your hands and feet. Kinda like rock climbing, but instead of going up, you go sideways. The ledges for too narrow for my giant feet, and my grip strength was lacking. I did the best I could, but I struggled.
Then came the weightlifting. 25 military presses using some sort of heavy equipment box. 10 burpees. 10 upright rows with a 45-pound plate that was so hard to even pick up, because was no easy way to hold it. UGH.
Those were interspersed with easier obstacles, too: another tunnel to crawl through, administering 30 CPR chest compressions to a dummy, and hopping over a short wall.
The last obstacle involved using a pulley to lift a fire hose about 20 feet up, and then letting it down slowly.
I would have loved to have run the final 50 yards to the entrance of the second building, but I was toast. Between the stairs, the obstacles, the heat (it was a hot morning) and my lack of conditioning, I was ready to collapse. But I couldn’t. Because I had to climb 22 more stories, to the roof of the Morgan Stanley Building.
I don’t ever remember moving as slowly in a stairwell, during a race, as I did during those 22 stories. Every part of me ached. But I kept moving, single-stepping, and sticking, for the most part, to the outside wall, so others could pass. (I could pretty much tell who had done the obstacles and who hadn’t, and most hadn’t.)
Eventually, though, I made it to the roof, staggered across the finish line, collected my finisher’s medal and a bottle of water, and looked for a place where I could lie down. I stayed down for about five minutes, until I felt like I could breath again, and my legs had hardened back into muscle and bone, instead of a quivering bowl of jelly.
Tower 2 Tower always has an great medal, and it changes every year.
And the views are fantastic! Even though it’s only 22 stories, the Morgan Stanley Building is the tallest in Ventura County, and there’s nothing but sky, with mountains in the distance in one direction, and the ocean in the distance on the other side.
I got to catch up with my friend Amy, a runner and triathlete who was working the event with the timing company (which was founded by her husband, Paul).
After nearly 45 minutes on the roof, I headed back down, and found the results. I finished in 18 minutes, 55 seconds. That’s over six minutes slower – nearly 50% slower – than last year, when I set a PR with my 12:50 time.
Hey, I arrived knowing that a PR wasn’t going to happen. Plus, a true PR would’ve been nearly impossible, even if I was in tip-top shape, because the obstacle course was significantly more challenging and way more time consuming.
I didn’t look up how I fared compared to everyone else, because many people who signed up for obstacles didn’t end up doing them, and the results end up being an inaccurate mish-mash anyway.
But I’m proud to have shown up, when I easily could have bailed. Ultimately, I achieved my goal of having fun and doing the best I could, and that’s always something to celebrate.
Keep it up, David!
As wiped as I was, I stopped and hiked on the way home, at a fantastic spot I’ve been meaning to check out. It was awesome, and I’m going to tell you all about it in an upcoming post. STAY TUNED!
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