Time: 8:30 a.m.
Well, I took my talents to South Beach.
Sorry, I’ve always wanted to say that. I’m nowhere near the LeBron of stair racing, so by “talents,” I guess I simply mean “my willingness to fly down to Florida for a stair race.”
I chose this climb for a few reasons: 1. I’ve always wanted to go to Miami, 2. I was on a shameless quest to chase points to boost my place in the national stair rankings, and 3. The recent shakeups in my personal life provided me a weak moment where I decided to book this race trip as something to try to make me feel better.
As far as Miami goes, I was a bit disappointed. I unfortunately didn’t have the money to see as much stuff as I would’ve liked, but I did take a boat tour around Biscayne Bay and I also ventured on foot around the downtown area around my hotel and the climb building (The 47-story, 1,128-step Wells Fargo Center). The downtown area was a little dumpy in spots and also a bit scary at times. I was accosted by a homeless man my first night, and my last day there I was stared down by some menacing-looking random stranger as we passed each other crossing the street.
The boar tour was pretty cool, though. I saw some ridiculously fancy celebrity homes on some of the islands off the coast, and got some cool sights of the city and the beaches from the water.
The real non-race highlight of the trip, though, had to be all the regular-people celebrity lookalikes I saw, including both of my shuttle drivers. The driver of the shuttle that picked me up from the airport looked like a cross between Ernie Hudson and Big Daddy Kane, but was steady chugging Red Bull, which I’m not sure Ernie Hudson or Big Daddy Kane would do. The drive of the shuttle that took me back to the airport looked like (and spoke like) Dan LeBatard’s dad from Highly Questionable on ESPN. The standout fake celebrity of the trip, however, was the concierge at my hotel. He looked like a shorter version of Keegan Key from Key and Peele. To top it off, he acted very nearly like Key in this series of ads:
As for the race, it panned out pretty much as I’d hoped and expected it to.
It was a 250-point race for rankings purposes, which is a decent amount; however, in looking at past results for this race, it’s proven to be a not-so-competitive race. There are definitely a couple top climbers who do it from year to year, but, presumably because it takes place during June in Miami, it doesn’t tend to draw a lot of competitive climbers from out of town. And the locals who show up aren’t necessarily super-fast runners or cyclists edging out established climbers. So I figured why let a bunch of slow locals get all the good stair ranking points?
Is that a cheap way to boost my ranking? Maybe. But most of the races I do, I’m going up against a lot of tough Chicago climbers, which hurts my position. Or pushes me to work harder. Or both.
All I’m saying is it’s annoying to be outranked by a 72-year-old guy who’s LITERALLY half as fast as I am up any stairwell of any size simply because he’s retired and can afford to do every climb in the country. It’s also annoying to be outranked by people who are closer to being my peers who I’ve beaten at every in-common race we’ve done, simply because the races they’ve done that I’ve not are worth more than the ones I’ve done that they’ve not.
So, yeah, I was chasing points.
Leading into the race, I’d been checking to see who registered for it. I was expecting a top-10 finish, but hoping for a top-5 finish. I was keeping that hope alive until I saw the start time list, which included a block of competitive and elite climbers including myself, a few of the others I’d already seen were registered, but also a couple others. I researched everyone in the group, as well as a decent amount of the non-elite climbers, and put together my projected top-10.
I predicted myself to finish 6th.
As it turns out, I was dead-on. I also nailed the top finisher, which wasn’t hard, because it was a nationally-known elite climber from Florida defending his home turf. I also accurately predicted the third-place finisher. But after that, I was a little off. There was one local sleeper who snuck in the top-5, and one of the people I predicted to be in the the top 10 finished 11th.
The climb wasn’t too tough. I’d done some research about the size of the building, found a youtube video of a fireman who GoPro’d the climb last year, and then tried to make a guess based off of those things. I was hopeful I could follow my Milwaukee climb strategy for a sub-7 climb, but guessed sub-7:30 should really be my goal, as the building seemed maybe slightly taller than Milwaukee.
The morning of the race, I wrote down times I thought I should hit by each quarter of the race. When I hit the first quarter about 5 seconds behind, I knew to expect to be closer to 7:30 than 7-flat.
My pace fell off gradually as I neared the top, as it usually does in stair races, but I felt pretty good. I didn’t think I was dropping off too badly. My legs felt strong, and while I was breathing pretty heavily, I never truly suffered or felt like I pushed myself too hard, which was good because while I was trying to steal some stair points here, I was also trying to conserve some energy for a 1-mile race the upcoming Wednesday.
After I hit the finish line timing mat right at the top of the stairs (the placement of which was nice, because most timing mats are usually a few steps beyond the top of the stairs), I ambled into the elevator hallway just outside the stairwell, found a chair and plopped down while trying to catch my breath. I recovered a lot more quickly than usual and chatted with a few of the other competitive climbers from out of town before we headed down to the 34th floor for the post-race party.
It was a good time hanging out with those climbers — one of them, a 62-year-old guy from Chicago, I’d met before — while the other couple — a dude from Tampa, a woman from North Carolina, and the overall winner, a guy from Palm Beach, FL — I’d never met before.
The post-party was fun, with a DJ on site and then a big deal made when some Miami Heat dancers showed up to sign autographs. The Heat’s mascot was also on hand, walking around giving people high-fives. Unfortunately I had to leave before the awards ceremony so I could check out of my hotel, but I would’ve just been spectating anyway.
I did win my age group — by nearly 2 and a half minutes — but age group awards were getting mailed out, not presented at the ceremony.
It would’ve been cool to walk up and receive it there, but I’ll take solace in knowing it’s my first ever age-group win at a stair race, not to mention my highest overall finish at a stair race as well.
As of this writing, the stair rankings haven’t been updated yet, but I have been informed I moved up from 89th overall in the country to 51st.
I was hoping to crack top 50 thanks to this race, but I’m pretty close. Looks like I just need to work hard to finish well at the races I’ll have when fall rolls around.