Race report: 2019 Milwaukee Fight For Air Climb (my first stair climb race)

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    • #63624

      Back story: Many years ago, I heard of a stair climb race in Milwaukee and thought that sounds cool. I should try one some day. Several years later, Josh was telling me about his stair climb exploits and I told him I was intrigued by the idea of stair climb races and would like to try one some day.

      Fast forward to Wednesday the 6th. I’m relaxing in the evening when I get a message from Josh. To paraphrase the ensuing conversation, it went something like this:

      Josh: You said you might be interested in doing a stair climb race some day. My team is short one member for Saturday’s climb. Would you be interested?

      Me: Sure.

      With that, I registered with approximately 2.5 days to prepare. In other words, no time for physical preparation. Josh sent me a useful link with some videos to demonstrate good form. Due to non-running circumstances, I ended up watching these videos Saturday morning, while eating my pre-race breakfast. Then I was off to the races.

      I got to the US Bank Center a little later than intended but with plenty of time to find Andrea and get the scoop on what I got myself into before heading out for a warmup.

      I stayed mostly true to what I know for warming up. A couple miles easy running, some stretching, then with the help of Sal, a very helpful teammate, I was shuttled down some escalators to the second basement level of the building and toward the stairwell. Sal was talking about times that seem conservative in retrospect and Josh gave me a target that I thought might be a little over my head and was probably more than a little over my head in retrospect (he just doesn’t get how hard something like this is for runners 😉 ). With those times in mind, my plan was to start behind Sal and make sure I don’t pass him. With one person starting every 5 seconds, I figured I’d have him nearby and be able to pace off him. As I took off, this all seemed good.

      Then the actual climbing started. I was an absolute mess for about the first 5 floors of climbing. I felt like the most uncoordinated person in the world. I was wasting a ton of energy, unable to find a rhythm, and even felt like I was going to trip a few times. It was quickly turning into a complete disaster.

      After about 5 floors, though, I settled in. I got into a rhythm and was able to find my pace. I got passed by two people, including one teammate who clearly should have been starting ahead of me. The second person who passed me was gassed a few floors later and I quickly gained a good distance on him. From that point on, I was all alone. I didn’t see or hear anyone else in the stairwell.

      The rest of the way was just the grind of a runner doing something out of his element. Every once in a while, I saw a floor number (was warned to not check the doors so kept an eye out for “race” numbers). When I did, I got the sense I was on pace for something in the low 7 minute range.

      By about 35 floors, the grind was wearing on me. I was breathing as hard as you would expect while racing a 3K. I suppose that makes sense because this was not all that far from the amount of time a 3K takes and, while it wasn’t fast, it was an all out effort for that amount of time.

      Over the last few flights, I wanted to turn up the pace but I absolutely had nothing left. I hit the top and wanted to sprint to the timing mats but still had nothing left. I ended up jogging it in as fast as I could and then being very happy to be done.

      The final result was 41st overall in 8:01, ironically the same place and time Josh ran in his first stair climb in the same building.

      My thoughts afterward:

      1) I knew stair climbing would be tough and I had a ton of respect for stair climbers going in. Still, much like any running race distance you haven’t yet done, you don’t have a complete appreciation for it until you do it. This was brutal. I told a few people I left half a lung at about the 35th floor and at least two volunteers at the finish asked me if i was ok. That’s the kind of effort you put out in this.

      2) At the same time, before I even got back in the elevator to head down, I was already thinking about how I can improve. I guess I’m hooked. I’m still a runner first but I could definitely see myself doing one or two of these a year. It’s a fun challenge and might be a good impetus to build up some better leg strength, which is one of my running weaknesses.

      3) If you’ve never done a stair climb race but are curious, give it a shot.

      4) I was surprised by how my legs responded. I thought I was going to trash them. I seriously thought I would be sore for days and might sabotage my Tuesday workout. Instead, my legs were fatigued for a day or two but never sore. I had an outstanding Tuesday workout.

      5) Josh said this was to him what Al’s Run is to me. If that’s the case, Josh, then I’m in. Maybe, with a little heads up, I’ll be able to be a little more prepared and also be able to make it to lunch with you after.

      6) Thanks to Josh, Andrea, and all the Milwaukee Stair Club team for having me. I may have been dead weight this year but I’ll do my best, while remembering that I’m still a runner first, to do better next year.


      Team results (thankfully, they didn’t have to count me)

    • #63656

      Interesting race report. I can imagine that it would be brutal. I remember a time when I was in pretty good shape, running to and from work each day, and racing well when I raced. I was at work, late for a meeting and I hustled up 2-3 flights of stairs. I remember feeling much more winded than I might have been if I had sprinted the same amount of time. I can only imagine how it might have been pushing at race effort up many flights of stairs.

      The timing of your post is also somewhat interesting for me. My family and I will be moving to Florida this year. I’m concerned about the lack of hills. Though I haven’t always been good at running up hills, I have always felt that I needed hills in my workouts in order to be a decent runner. Perhaps stair climbing would be a good alternative. I did do a few stair workouts at work during a period when an injury bothered me while running, but not while going up and down stairs.

      Good job, Ryan.


      • #63740

        Thanks Steve. It was definitely a different challenge than running. I was told runners tend to make good stair climbers but it definitely is not a direct crossover.

        Much like you, I’m not all that great on hills but I highly value them in training. I’m fortunate to live by plenty of hills but I can imagine your concern. My best guess is that working some stairs into your workouts would be a reasonable alternative. I’ve recommended stairs for people who don’t have good hill options for many years.

    • #63746

      Actually, even if Florida lacks hills, I will likely get fitter and maintain fitness better simply because I will have fewer farm/property maintenance responsibilities and more time for other pursuits. Time is definitely the limiting factor right now and will probably remain so until after the move. If there is an open stadium near where I move that would allow me to run bleachers, I might try that.

      Interesting fact: The difference between the lowest elevation (sea level) and the highest elevation (345 feet, Britton Hill on the panhandle) in Florida is less than the difference between lowest and highest elevation in Washington D.C. In Kansas, where I live now, the difference is 1,682 feet and Kansas is considered a flat — mostly by people who’ve never been here or who have only been in southwestern Kansas. Most of Kansas is rolling hills. Also, much of Kansas has very few trees. There is an ultra race that warns that some people have a phobia that makes them uncomfortable under such a wide expanse of open sky. I actually find it beautiful when driving on I-70 and I top a rise where I can see for miles including the large shadows from clouds passing between the sun. Though I live in a hillier/more treed area near Kansas City, I rarely go downtown and I feel claustrophobic when driving between tall buildings or in the mountains where I cannot see even a sliver of sky between the car roof and the enclosing walls of buildings or mountains. If I had to drive downtown often or if I lived in the mountains, I would probably own a car with a sun roof. Outside of the car, I am fine and I actually enjoy mountains (not so much downtown).

    • #63747

      I have no doubt you’ll make the most of the area you move to.

      I’ve heard of how flat Florida is and it’s no surprise when you fly in and see the landscape from the air. It is pretty crazy to think about, though. Yesterday, on a 12 mile run, I recorded 633 feet of elevation gain and I wasn’t even searching out hills. Getting that in some places would be a monumental task.

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