By: Ross DiFalco
To start things off, I am no runner. I have tried my hand at running in the past and it usually ends in injury. Like many of you out there, your friends include endurance athletes. These people, just like most friends, tend to try and convince you to do something stupid from time to time. Racing up buildings is not something I normally choose to do for “fun”! We started this adventure off with some good old fashioned peer pressure.
First off, let’s talk about stair racing. This is a sport (I had no idea it existed) that involves running up sky scrapers and other venues with long staircases. Like other endurance sports, most events offer different length races. The race I participated in had two distances, a single ascent and a power hour. The single time is definitely a sprint. The building is a 28 story structure in Southfield, MI so a single effort is hard, but not crazy. Things get interesting when you contemplate the power hour. The way this race works is that you try and run up the building as many times as you can in an hour. The catch is that you are only timed on your way up and you ride the elevator on the way down. I didn’t fully understand this until afterwards. This piece of information is critical if you want to be competitive. It’s a balancing act of conserving energy between climbs, and not wasting the hour.
So let’s talk about how I got in this situation in the first place. I work with a great guy named David Garcia. David runs a weight loss blog called www.keepitupdavid.com and he is super into stair racing. David had the terrible great idea to make it a work event and get the group I am on to participate. David held a few stair specific workouts to teach us the best technique and to help us prepare. The best tips were to double step (skip a stair with each step) and to use the hand rail when you are exhausted. Come race day, most people opted for the one climb, doing the power hour was completely my fault. Also, considering this was a work event, I had to wear a work t-shirt so I represented Athletic Mentors by wearing one of our hats.
When the race started I learned quickly that stairs are not forgiving to pacing flaws. My heartrate quickly went above 170bpm and I started breathing hard. For those of you that don’t know me, I am a very competitive person and will never enter a race purely to finish. To avoid congestion in the stairwells, racers start about 10 seconds after one another. This means you can hear the person ahead and it makes you chase. Chasing is not what you want to be doing in the beginning. When I reached the top for the first time I had passed numerous people but I also knew this level of exertion wasn’t sustainable. I hopped in an elevator and collapsed to the floor to get 30 seconds of rest. For the next 9 ascents I was able to keep myself more or less together. My heart rate was sky high each time and I longed for the elevator rides. The eleventh time entering the the stairwell, I see the guy in first place. In my head, I am wondering why he is just standing at the bottom chatting with the race organizer. It’s time to make my move and go! I charge as hard as I can up the stairwell and hear him follow after me. I am able to keep him from catching me about half way up the building. By the time he catches me, I am absolutely destroyed and he knows it. We make eye contact as he passes and we both know it’s over. I am not ready to give up so I dig in and go with everything I have. I figured that if I started after him, I might be able to win on time. Cresting the top step was bitter sweet, I took a deep breath and up comes my gels and water. Not the way I wanted to finish this race but I gave it my all.
After the race you realize the real mistakes that were made! Lots of stairs without training equal very painful knees. Overall, The Gift of Adoption Stair Race is a race with a great cause. It’s fun to push your boundaries and try new things. Best of all, it was with some great people. I may be done with stair racing but you should get out and give it a try! I was able to come in 2nd or 3rd place? They gave me 2nd but the timing was weird and it says 3rd online so who knows where I placed. Two of my co-workers also were able to do very well. If I were to sum up this experience, I would say this: “Stair racing hurts and it hurts real bad!”