Climbing to New Heights in San Francisco! (Runyon Up Race Recap)

When I arrived at the brand new Salesforce Tower in San Francisco yesterday, the top was still shrouded in fog. I took a breath and realized that soon I’ll be climbing to the top of a skyscraper that I can’t fully see!

I’m always excited by a stair race, but I take particular pleasure in races held in record-breaking structures. And the Salesforce Tower was the tallest building in town, by over 200 feet! It’s also the 2nd tallest building in the west and the 9th tallest in the whole country.

The race was Runyon Up, a stair race fundraiser benefiting the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. After racing up two other prominent San Francisco skyscrapers (555 California and 101 California), I was finally going to race up the newly-opened tallest building in the skyline.

They promoted the race as having 1,762 steps, as you climb 61 stories. (I suspect that step count is inaccurate, but I’ll get into that later.) As I arrived, I just focused on getting my bib and timing chip, loosening up my muscles, and doing some stretching. I got good ol’ lucky number #128 on my bib.

That’s my sister-in-law Alexis, a stair race veteran herself, who came along with me.

The event was very well organized and executed, and I had contacted the foundation ahead of time to get placed in the elite (competitive) wave, to be one of the first people to enter the building at 8:30am. I know I’m not a contender for a podium finish, but I like competitive waves because I like being around like-minded athletes who take these races seriously and are there to do their very best, and having an emptier stairwell, before it gets hot, crowded, and muggy, with dust flying everywhere, is a huge help.

There were only about nine of us in the competitive wave, and we waited in a completely white interior hallway until the race began. I positioned myself near the back, behind my friend Madeleine, and when I was given the go-ahead, I started up the stairs.

One of the most exciting things about racing in a building for the first time is that I get to experience the stairwell on the fly, as I race. There was a couple things like I liked: every single turn, from start line to finish line, was a right turn. And the stairs were narrow enough that I could use handrails on both sides. Oh, and there were handrails on both sides!

But this stairwell also had a couple tricks up its sleeve. There was no pattern or consistency in the number of flights or steps for the first five stories or so, which actually isn’t that uncommon in skyscrapers, because of vaulted lobbies and mezzanines. There were longer flights, shorter flights, and a few landings where I had to jog four or five steps before then next flight began.

After clearing the lobby levels, the stairwell became wonderfully repetitive: 26 steps per floor, split between two 13-step flights, the whole rest of the way.

But the landings majorly tripped me up. Half the landings were pretty standard, and easy to navigate. A flight ended, the handrail did a 180, and the next flight began.

But on the other half, the railing extended about a foot into the landing, requiring extra steps. It’s a very subtle difference for architects or casual users of the stairwell, but it makes a big difference if you’re racing up the stairs!

Furthermore, the two types of landings alternated. Every landing with a door to a floor had the extended railing, while every mid-floor landing had the standard railing. I couldn’t establish a rhythm or a pattern, because I never encountered the same landing twice in a row!

I figured out pretty early in the race that these landings were going to be problematic, but I wasted no energy grumbling or whining (internally or out loud). I just focused on climbing as fast as I could, double-stepping as much as I could (about 80% of the time during this race), and staying positive.

By the time I reached the top, my heart was pounding, my lungs were screaming, my legs felt like pudding, and I couldn’t stand up. I had gone as fast as I could, and left every ounce of everything I had in that stairwell, and while I looked like a mess, I felt like a champion.

I collapsed in an interior hallway just past the finish line, and two paramedics came over to see if I needed help. “No,” I stammered in between breaths, “I just need a little time. I’m fine.”

After a couple minutes, I got up and walked towards the light: the 61st floor was wrapped in floor-to-ceiling windows, and the light pouring in was sure to reveal an astounding view from over 900 feet up. And it did, even with the fog!

Here I am with my friends Madeleine (4th place female overall finisher) and Tricia (1st place female overall finisher), with the Bay Bridge behind us:

I met a firefighter named Greg Collaco, who organizes stair races and did this race dressed as a hot dog, so of course I took a picture with him!

Plus I picked up a pretty snazzy finishers medal!

It was so cool being in such a new (and tall) building that Madeleine and I climbed it a second time, untimed, just for fun! (That’s when all those stairwell pictures were taken.)

After coming down from the second climb, I went and checked my time from the first climb. I climbed 61 stories in 16:53 seconds. While I hadn’t given myself a specific time goal, this was right in the ballpark of that I thought I could do.

When climbing a new building, I compare it to other buildings I have climbed. And this building fits snugly between two Los Angeles skyscrapers that I’ve raced a combined 13 times: The Aon Center (63 stories, 1,393 steps, 850 vertical feet) and US Bank Tower (75 stories, 1,664 steps, 1,005 vertical feet.)

Salesforce Tower (61 stories, 1,762 steps, 912 vertical feet) has less stories than either, but each story is taller, with 26 steps per floor, compared to 22 steps in both LA skyscrapers. Even with those extra steps, it seems odd to me that Salesforce would have 98 steps more than a building that’s almost 100 feet taller than it. Furthermore, 26 steps x 61 stories = 1,586, and even if those first five stories had some extra steps, I don’t think I climbed nearly 200 extra steps before the sixth floor.

For these reasons, I suspect the 1,762 step count is off, but I didn’t count the steps myself to actually disprove it. Perhaps the 1,762 includes subterranean and/or roof access steps that we didn’t climb during the race?

Regardless, I’m proud of my performance and thrilled with my time. I finished 94th out of 379 finishers – roughly top 25% I was 71st among men, and 24th in the Men 30-39 division.

Best of all, I can add Salesforce Tower to my ever-growing list of climbed skyscrapers, which now numbers in the dozens!

Keep it up, David!

A huge thanks to Heather and John, my parents, Callie and Liam, and Dana, all of whom made contributions to the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation so that I could participate in this race. Thank you for the donation and support!

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One Response to Climbing to New Heights in San Francisco! (Runyon Up Race Recap)

  1. Alexis Garcia says:

    I loved seeing the smile on your face after you got off the elevator! Yet again, well done David. Plus the people you’ve meet over the years at these races are super friendly.

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