A little over five years ago I was at a friend’s Christmas party and heard about a guy there who had just completed a race at the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower), climbing up the stairwell all the way to the top. It was one of the most intriguing things ever. I had to talk to him. I had to learn more.
The reason it was so intriguing may require a bit of an explanation. I had just gotten into running and getting fitter in general. I was entering races seemingly left and right just for the fun of it all. Newness. But, a few weeks prior I ran the YMCA Turkey Trot in Dallas where I ran too many miles too soon for my newfound running body. I developed a really bad case of tendonitis that took a few months to recover from because I simply didn’t know how much was too much.
I eventually made my way over to the guy and started talking with him. Very interesting. Triathlete that has been doing stair races in the off-season. He told me a little bit about the race, also mentioning that there was one coming up in the next month. Luckily climbing stairs didn’t bother the tendonitis injury and I was up for a challenge. I knew I had to sign up the moment I got home.
I spent the next few weeks alternating between dangling my legs in an ice-cold pool, working out with P90X DVDs and attending intense workout classes at my residence. The lofts my wife and I were living at the time provided a great place to train with the workout classes and its six-floor parking garage. I made use of both the stairwells and the garage itsef for the next month.
The month passed by quickly and I was as ready as I was going to be for my first stair climb. The day came; my first Big D Climb. 52 stories of a thorough ass-kicking. I finished in 11 minutes, 43 seconds and felt like I was going to throw up while being treated with a beautiful view of Dallas for my effort. (I was able to enjoy the view - a few minutes after finishing I was fine.)
Stair climbing is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not that I’m super experienced in doing a lot of physically demanding activities, but completing a stair climb as fast as possible is terribly grueling. And to the right type of person, it’s also incredibly fun.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past 5-6 years of athletic endeavors. A good physical challenge is something I now live for. Since the day I discovered my love of running clad in a pair of hideous Vibram Five-Fingers, I’ve completed quite a few events. Stair climbs, 5ks, 10ks, road races, trail races, mud races, a few trail ultra-marathons up to 50 miles and one road marathon. And this isn’t a brag - at least that’s not how I intend it.
I grew up with seasonal allergies that always brought on an asthma attack. At least once, usually twice a year I was down, incapable of doing much of anything for one to two weeks. I never got into sports because my asthma always seemed to get in the way - or at least that’s what I thought would happen according to my regular visits with various doctors. But, it was bullshit. The best thing I could have done was to get regular exercise - to push limits safely. It took me 20 or so years to figure that out.
My point is that if you haven’t experienced the awesomeness that is being physically active in something you love to do or haven’t yet discovered, get out there. Try things. The Earth is a playground. Treat it with respect. Go slow. Have fun. If I can do it, you probably can too.
While at the Big D Climb, I learned about another race coming up in Dallas in a month. Again, I was signed up for the race right the moment I got home. The ALA Climb - American Lung Association; oh, that’s something personal (remember: asthma).
With the first race under my belt, I knew a bit more about what to expect. I ramped up my training specific to stairclimbing. I hit the spin bike more often, did parking garage workouts and hit any stairwell I could find. The next race came and I finished in under 10 minutes. 9 minutes, 44 seconds to be exact. What an improvement a little experience and a month of specific training makes. That placed me 39th in a field of over 500. Not bad!
A year went by. Many more 5ks, 10ks, an ultra-marathon, another 8 mile Turkey Trot and a marathon, and I was ready for round two of the Big D Climb. This time, I had done some race-specific training and was ready for a killer time.
While I thought I might have a chance at finishing around 7:30, it was hopeful at best. The race kicked my ass again. I finished in just over 8 minutes, placing #10 in a field of over 800 participants. What an improvement.
A week later I went on to finish a 50 mile race. Note that I said finish - not compete, or really even “race” - just finish. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I hope to get back to long trail runs within the next couple of years.
Wait, get back to it? Yes, because about two months later my wife gave birth to our daughter and as everybody says, kids change things.
In 2013, my time slowed at the Big D Climb. It was never officially recorded because the timing company screwed my timing up (amongst others), but it was a little over 10 minutes.
My time slowed again to 10:46 in 2014. I kept on saying that I was going to get back to training to be competitive again. But after having a kid and buying a house, I was focused on the minimal amount of training possible. But the main problem is that I’ve never had any sort of method to my training. I’ve always just done whatever I’ve felt like because it’s all about having fun anyway. Well, this doesn’t work so well when you’re focusing on a minimal training method because you absolutely MUST be consistent. I wasn’t. It showed.
Things are still the same this year as well. I finished in 11:12 last Saturday on my fifth Big D Climb event. This time at a new building, but still close to the same height. I’m getting slower and slower, close to my first climb results while I should be getting faster and faster. Oops. Normally it wouldn’t matter, but I’m not having fun being slow in stair climbing. I wanna be fast!
I’m finally ready to change things up. I’m in a good routine of going to the gym. I have a good place to accomplish effective workouts. I’ve made a real effort over the last week to develop a stair-climbing specific training program for myself. One that is sustainable and will bring results.
The last week went extremely well. I did a mixture of strength training with the barbell (upper and lower body), two sessions of 400m repeats on the erg, hill repeats on the treadmill, a little bit of work on the stepmill, a long slow run at a trail at the lake, and even some kettlebell work at home.
Now for this week. More strength training. More erg. More spin bike. More stepmill and more trail running. I’ve developed my programming using energy system training methods recommended by Joel Jamieson in his book entitled Ultimate MMA Conditioning. I’m interested to see what happens when following a structured program instead of just going out to the trail a few times a week and doing whatever I feel like for that day.
Next week there is another race, the ALA Climb. I’m not sure if I’m doing it or not due to the price. There is another a week later that is more intriguing, simply because I haven’t done it before, it requires some travel and the race is shorter and plays more to my strengths.
I’ll make a decision soon. I’m just happy to be back to harder aerobic training. Makes me feel goooood.
Now there’s a cat climbing on top of me and I must get back to work anyway. Have fun out there!