I’ve done eight stadium races in the past five years, at three different southern California stadiums (Angel Stadium, the LA Memorial Coliseum, and the Rose Bowl). My ninth stadium race was this past weekend at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, and it was longer and harder than any of the others.
The race is called Storm the Stadium, and it was put on by Notre Dame’s Office of Military & Veterans Affairs as a fundraiser for veterans and their families, and active-duty and ROTC students. It’s an honor supporting those who serve.
This event’s a pretty big deal, with around 2,000 people registered, and herds of volunteers, most of which were in military uniforms, although I never did find out if they were ROTC students, soldiers, or what.
The staging area for the race was on the football field itself, and even though I’m not really a football fan, it was pretty cool being on the turf. I could imagine how exciting (and probably nerve-wracking) it would be to compete with tens of thousands of eyeballs focused on you.
The start and finish lines were in one end zone, with stairs that led up into the stands.
Why yes, observant readers, that IS a University of Michigan bandanna and t-shirt I’m wearing, deep in Fighting Irish country. The schools are noted rivals, playing each other 43 times, starting in 1887 (!), and I couldn’t resist representing my alma mater in enemy territory. (By the way, Michigan has won more of those games than they lost.) (By the way, I had to look up these statistics, because, as I mentioned, not a football fan.)
I tended to get two types of reactions with my Wolverine gear:
- Variations on “That’s awesome! GO BLUE!” (and one guy even took a selfie with me)
- Variations on “What do you think you’re doing wearing that shirt here?” (to which I basically shrugged and said “GO BLUE!”)
Notre Dame Stadium is a pretty darn big, with a seating capacity of just under 78,000. I’ve raced in bigger stadiums – both the Rose Bowl and the LA Memorial Coliseum hold more people – but this race had a much longer course, because racers circumnavigated the stadium not once, but TWICE. (More on this in a bit.)
I competed in the very first wave of the day. Stadium aisles tend to be narrow, and I didn’t want to bogged down in the middle of a big crowd, so earlier the better, for a clearer course. Because there was so many people competing, they started athletes 3 seconds apart and everyone waited in a big queue on the field, like we were in line for a roller coaster. Here’s that queue empty…
…and filling up with people minutes before the race began:
I finagled my way to being the fifth person to begin the race. I had a hunch I’d be passed a lot, but I was eager to get going!
The race began by running up about 15 steps, to a ramp that led out to the concourse, where the bathrooms and concession stands are. We immediately began running uphill on a series of ramps, to the top of the stadium. And there, cheering us on as we headed up the ramps, were members of the Notre Dame marching band. They sounded great and it was a really energizing, thoughtful touch.
Once we got to the top, we re-emerged in the stadium and began tackling the stairs.
See how there’s a separation about 2/3rds of the way up the stadium? That’s a lateral aisle that separates the original stadium seats from a huge addition that was added on decades later to increase capacity. The first part of the race was just in that upper section. We ran up an aisle, then across to the next aisle, then down, the across, then up, then across, then down… all the way around the stadium. Once we did one full loop, we crossed down into the lower section, and did a second complete loop up and down those aisles, before finishing in the end zone.
(That description is for the long course. You can also sign up for the short course, which is only the upper loop. There’s also a walk, around the lateral aisle, that doesn’t involve any stairs at all.)
I like competing in stadiums, and it’s rather different from the skyscraper stair races I do. I enjoy that it’s open air, so it’s easy to see other athletes around you, and that air is fresh, not stale stairwell air and dust that has nowhere to go. Stadium races also involve some running (from aisle to aisle), as well as racing down stairs, which I don’t like at all.
The upper section of the stadium had aisles that ranged from around 30 – 36 steps, based on the random few aisles that I counted. Doing that first loop was challenging enough, and I was tired and achy by the time I finished it. And then it dawned on me… I wasn’t even half done yet – because I still had the second loop, and those aisles were LONGER!
The lower aisles had around 50-56 steps, and they were steep. I don’t think they were steeper than the upper part, but with the exhaustion, it sure seemed steeper.
It was during the beginning part of the lower loop that I really started bracing myself during the down parts. The reason I don’t like racing down stairs is that it seems like the tiniest false move will send me tumbling to my death, and with 50 or so steps in each aisle, I’d probably break every bone along the way.
So instead I use the descents to catch my breath for a few seconds, so I can really hit the next ascent with full force. During this race, I trailed a lady with really colorful leggings for a lot of the lower loop, and she would increase her lead ahead of my on every descent, and I would catch up on the ascents.
The race was publicized as having a little under 3,500 steps (that figure includes ups and downs), and by the end, I was feeling each and every one of them. But I soldiered on, crossed that finish line, and collapsed in the end zone. Eyes closed, thumbs up!
A closer look at the finishers medal:
And a picture with the finish line!
This race was impeccably organized and executed. The course was extremely well marked, with volunteers everywhere and multiple water stations. It was one of the smoothest races I’ve attended. Plus I got to see a whole bunch of friends there – midwest friends that I’ll hopefully be seeing more frequently at races, now that I’m a midwesterner again!
Now on to the good stuff! I raced 3,418 steps in 36 minutes, 41 seconds. I gave it my all and did my best, and I’m proud of that time.
- I finished in 105th place, out of 342 timed athletes that did the long course – top third! (There were hundreds more that did it untimed, but you had to sign up for one of the first two waves to get a timing chip.)
- I was 18th out of 40 in my age group (men 31-40).
- South Bend, Indiana is the 23rd city where I’ve competed in a stair race.
- This was my 71st stair race – and 9th stadium race.
- This was race #16 on my quest to complete 40 races in 2019.
My Garmin watch pegged the distance of this race at about 1.8 miles, and I love the map that it generated.
Plus I got to say hi to my old buddy Moose. (He’s holding a cigar, out of frame, and he wouldn’t even share it.)
Keep it up, David!
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