A stair crazy weekend!

Two days, five buildings, 227 stories, 3,380 steps, and 29 minutes of climbing.

Well, actually, 28 minutes and 59 seconds. But who’s counting?

This past weekend was a pretty intense weekend of tower racing, as Stephanie and I climbed in back-to-back days at back-to-back American Lung Association Fight For Air Climbs: the first on Saturday in Indianapolis and the second on Sunday in Chicago.

It was the first time I’ve ever competed in races of any kind in consecutive days, so I wasn’t sure how well I’d do, or if my enthusiasm would uphold. After all, I did feel pretty burned out last fall after a packed couple week stretch of races. As it turned out, my enthusiasm was/is fine, and I did pretty well!

Not only that, but I’ve jumped up to 160th in the male US Stair Climbing Rankings! And that’s out of 14,359 men!

Pretty exciting for me, but I must admit I’m even more excited and proud about Stephanie, who beasted it out both days and jumped all the way up to 23rd out of 16,286 women in the female rankings! TOP 25 WHAT WHAT! My fiancee’s awesome.

As for the races, allow me to break them down individually…

ALA Fight For Air Indianapolis
Chase Tower – 47 stories, 1,040 steps
Time: 7:23
9th place out of 945

Coming into this race, I knew the building was almost the exact same size as Milwaukee’s US Bank Center. (Indy’s Chase Tower is actually a whopping six steps longer of a race than Milwaukee, but whatever.) With that in mind, I knew my previous Milwaukee times of 8:01 and 7:39 — set in March and November 2013, respectively — would be the standard for how fast I should finish.

The one factor I was concerned about was the start time. Stephanie and I registered as “very competitive,” which I thought would land us an early start time, allowing us not to have to contend with crowds in the stairwell. Well, apparently the competition level we registered under didn’t impact that at all, as we were assigned a 10:45 start time, which was approximately five waves prior the the final wave’s start time. Once this was announced, I contacted the race director to see if we could jump in earlier. They were very gracious and allowed us to jump in as early as we wanted. So we joined in the first wave.

Starting at the front of a stair race is even more crucial than starting near the start of a road race. It takes way more energy and it’s a lot harder to shift your body around people in a stair race than simply running past people in a road race. That said, I researched the first wave of people — a couple of them I already knew were elite stair climbers, well-known within the stair world (Eric Leninger and Cindy Harris) — and discovered there were also a couple of other more-than-decent/borderline elite notable Indianapolis climbers included in the first wave (Joseph Kenny and Syd Arak). As for everyone else in that wave, none of them seemed to have stair or road race results that I could find that made me think they would be faster than us.

Based on that, I figured there should really only be four, possibly five people in the first wave we should start behind. It ended up working out pretty much as I’d hoped — I ended up lining up sixth and Stephanie lined up seventh. And it ended up being a huge benefit. They released each of the initial climbers about seven seconds apart, so with only five people ahead of us, there were really no crowds to contend with.

I caught up fairly quickly to the fifth place starter, who awarely and graciously moved over to let me pass, and when I caught up to Syd Arak, he moved over as well. Being that he’d started 14 seconds ahead of me, and being that I was aware he was a known quantity in stair climbing, I did not try to pass. I let him move back to the center of the stairs and then just stuck with him pretty much the rest of the entire way up, essentially using him as a pacer. I followed him closely for probably 25 to 30 stories, until the 43rd-ish story, when he began to pull away from me. In those last few stories I was starting to burn out, but I was able to exert the last little bit of energy I had to try to catch back up. I couldn’t catch all the way back up, but I did close the gap a little before we each hit the finish line.

Stephanie reached the top pretty soon after I did. She was gunning for a sub-8 time, so her 8:09 was a bit frustrating to her. I was still excited for her, though, because she cut 17 seconds off her most recent and fastest Milwaukee time! And while her 8:09 placed her 24th overall, it stood up as the fourth best time among all women climbers at the race!

I was breathing pretty heavily after the race, but I didn’t notice too much of an impact on my legs. They felt a little tired over the course of the rest of the day, but not so much that I thought it would affect my performance too much during the next race. Which leads me to…

ALA Fight For Air Chicago
Presidential Towers – four towers, 45 stories, 585 steps EACH
Time: 21:36 (5:09, 5:22, 5:42, 5:23)
31st place out of 1,044

Like I said, the Indy race didn’t tax my legs too much, but becuase they were just a little bit tired, I couldn’t be confident it wouldn’t have some impact on my performance in a 2,340-step race. They definitely weren’t their freshest for the Sunday race.

Because of that, plus the fact I’ve never done a multi-tower race, and only one other 2,000+ step race before, I tried not to have too many expectations of how well or poorly I’d finish. One hope I had, based on looking at the results from previous years, was that I might finish my first tower in less than 5 minutes.

I threw that out the window once the race started, though. I had previously watched a youtube video of the 2012 Presidential Towers race and a couple posts from Justin Stewart’s blog about the race (here and here), so I had an idea of how the race worked. (He didn’t race it this year, though.) I knew that the race basically worked like this: your time starts when you start climbing the first building, it stops when you get to the top, you take an elevator back down to the main floor, and then your time begins on the skywalk to the next floor, meaning you have to run a short distance to the next tower and into the stairwell. Your time stops again at the top, and then you repeat until you’re done.

However, when I got there, it was a little trickier than I expected. Not the part that would seem to be tricky, though: I was mostly worried I wouldn’t know where to go on my way from building to building, but that was well-marked and volunteers were great helping people out. The part that was tricky to me was the actual stair climbing. Each floor was 13 steps, which is not only pretty short for a floor, but it was broken up into two flights of six and then seven steps. And THAT is really short. There was not a lot of room to get some momentum going. It was just a bunch of constant turning at each landing. I felt like that was the main factor in me not going as fast as I might be able to in a more ideal stairwell.

Another factor that was mostly a non-factor was how narrow the stairwells were. In the rare circumstances I needed to pass people, there was almost no room to do so. Most people simply stepped aside on one of the landings for a second to allow me to pass. Only one person passed me, and I did the same thing to get out of his way.

For the most part, passing people was non-issue, though, because Stephanie and I started in the second of the two elite waves. So, again: not a lot of people ahead of us. And then, within each wave it seemed like climbing the second, third, and fourth buildings was broken down into sort of sub-waves of whoever you rode the elevator down with. So, as long as I was among the first to get out of the elevator (which I was for the second and third buildings), I could be the first to head into the next building, which generally meant no one was in the stairwell ahead of me.

At the top of each building, you could take as much time as you wanted to recover and drink some water, which they had plenty of at each top floor. We didn’t take too much time, though — usually no more than one or two elevator arrivals at the top. The water was a big help for me because of how dry my throat gets during stair races. The recovery time wasn’t as much an issue; my heart rate recovers fairly quickly. My issue was my legs — taking an extra couple minutes here or there to rest at the top wasn’t going to recover my legs to the point of freshness. And they were most certainly fatigued by the end of the final tower and throughout the rest of the day.

As with all stair climbs, the opposite was true for Stephanie: her legs were fine the whole time; her cardio was more her issue. Hers isn’t bad, but it’s definitely her weakness, whereas mine is my legs. We’ve decided that if either of us had her leg strength/muscular endurance AND my cardio, we would be a contender to win pretty much any stair climb we entered. But knowing what each of our weaknesses are allows us to target what areas we need to improve.

Stephanie did pretty well, though. She finished in 22:33, and her first tower was only one second slower than mine, which is the closest we’ve finished to each other in any sort of climb. Her time was good enough for 43rd overall, and 5th among all women. She seriously is such a beast at stair climbing.

Now that I’ve done this race, I know what to expect for next year when I do it. As for now, with only Milwaukee left later this month and Chicago’s Hancock Building in April, there’s nothing left to do but try to finish stair season strong.



  1. screphanie · · Reply

    you’re the second beast. ❤

  2. seconds count so don’t short yourself! as for the fact that you were out of breath more than your legs were feeling the climb… that’s what the long runs are for. endurance is more than just for your limbs. you have to condition your organs too. great job!

    1. No, my legs were more worn out than anything. As for being out of breath after getting to the top: it’s common in stair racing. If you watch videos of the elite climbers, a lot of them are way more spent than I was… most of them can barely breathe to the point of nearly passing out after races. Stair racing uses way more oxygen than running. Having good VO2 from running is a major benefit, but unless you’re not pushing in a stair race, you’re gonna be huffin’ & puffin’ when you finish.

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