Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fight for Air Climb 2015

This weekend I had a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence: I placed first in my age division in a race!

Granted, that's primarily because it seems most of the better stair climbers did the longer distance, 160 floors, while I did one of the shorter options of 80 floors. Had I maintained the same pace for twice the distance, I would have been just in the middle of the pack! This was definitely of those times when placing very much depends on who shows up for your race.

The Fight for Air Climb, which benefits the American Lung Association, is a stair climbing race; the Portland event is held in the US Bancorp Tower. They hold climbs all over the US, but this particular one is a joint weekend with Seattle (the Seattle race on Saturday, and Portland on Sunday) (we only did Portland! I'm pretty impressed with those who did both.)

The event overall began at 9, but start times were assigned in 5-minute increments over two hours. Instructions were to arrive half an hour before your designated start time to check-in, get your bib, etc. 

Arriving by MAX, we allowed plenty of cushion and got there about 9:30 for our 10:15 - 10:20 start time. We found the check-in table, got our t-shirts (Side note: races who do tech shirts really need to do gendered fit shirts. This is the second race recently to do unisex tech shirts, and while I don't mind wearing a unisex t-shirt casually, somehow the drape of a unisex tech shirt is just really weird and I can't see myself wearing it in any circumstances), and put on our bibs and timing chips. 

The volunteers were nice, but they all seemed sort of uninformed, and it was rather difficult to figure out where to go for what - where the bathrooms were, heck, even where the start line was! West Side Athletic Club was kind enough to open up their bathrooms to the race participants - but the check-in volunteers apparently had no idea and didn't provide this fact when we asked about bathroom locations. Once you asked people where to go for various things, it was well-organized, there was just a distinct lack of signage and proactive communication on site.

But eventually we found the bag check, confirmed where we would need to go after completing the first set of 40 stairs to go to the second stairwell for the next 40, and figured out where the start line was. We headed over there about 10 minutes early, but there wasn't a line and apparently it's not that strict. They try to space people out, which the assigned start times obviously help facilitate, but once you're there they'll let you start.

I started out briskly running up the stairs - which lasted for about one and half flights! Especially considering how half-assed my training was, it was not possible to do more than just steadily keep walking up. After a while, you're breathing heavy - even though you're just walking up, not moving that fast! - and your legs are burning. It's a different "race" environment in that there obviously isn't room for spectators to cheer you on! There were a few water stations, and the people staffing those were nice and cheered you on while you passed, but most of the time was in a quiet stairwell. 

On the first stairwell - which everyone used for their first 20 or 40 flights - I passed a handful of people and was passed by a few as well. After the first 40 flights there, all subsequent climbs (to get to 80, 120, or 160 total flights) were done in the second stairwell. After getting to the top of the first one, I waited a couple minutes for an elevator down, and a girl who had just finished her third flight was also waiting. We chatted on the way down, and she had also signed up for 80 flights, but was going for 160, just had one set of 40 left! I had been seriously contemplating just ending there, but that kept me motivated to at least finished what I planned.

Heading over to the second stairwell, there was a line of 4 or 5 people - as before, they tried to space you out, but the timing was dictated by people's pace, not by designated start times now. There were timing mats at the bottom and top of each stairwell, so the time spend waiting in between clearly didn't count towards your total finish time.

For the second 40 flights, I didn't even try to bust out a sprint at first, just went slow and steady the whole way. I paused briefly at the water stops to take a small cup of water, but otherwise didn't stop. There were more people passed and passing (etiquette here is to pass on the inside, stay on the outside to be passed, but it was never overly crowded or difficult to pass or be passed), and a bit more camaraderie and cheering each other on with the higher level of traffic in that stairwell. 

As I said, it's obvious that the real competitors did the 160-floor option, but I'm nonetheless proud that I placed first in my age division for the 80-floor distance (last race in my 20s, too!). I think I do want to do this race at least one more time and do the full 160-floor distance. 

This is a pretty fun race for a few reasons:

1. Novelty (and automatic PR if you've never done one before!).
2. Indoors, so weather doesn't matter.
3. Short-ish, so even if you don't train well, you're not going to be miserable for too terribly long. 
4. An "individual" race in that you have the staggered starts, so if you are undertrained and being miserable, at least you're not literally at the back of a pack, seeing the faster people finished while you're still slogging along.

Though a few communication issues, it's overall a well-run event and for a good cause, and definitely a race I'd recommend doing at least once!


  1. Congrats! I've never tried one of these stair races yet, and I'd like to, despite the obvious difficulties in DC (building height restrictions). Anyway, major congrats -- a first place AG is a first place AG!


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