Running Up Stairs for Fight for Air

stairsI wanted to do the Fight for Air for three years. A “vertical road race” that raises money for the American Lung Association, participants ran up 25 flights of stairs at the Omni Hotel in Providence. I had excuses each of the first two years. I had a weird virus that had me bedridden for a week the first year and I had to go to a family birthday party the second year. I went back and forth about taking part in this year’s event, wondering if I would be able to raise the minimum $100 needed to participate. The Tuesday before the event, I took a deep breath and registered myself with a feeling of proud anticipation. I put the word out that I was accepting donations to participate in the stair climb, beat my $100 goal by $5 and proudly made my way to the Omni Hotel for this adventure.

While I had the stair climb on my radar for years, I never put any actual thought into the task at hand. While I have the lung capacity to run and play street hockey for long periods of time, I didn’t realize that a vertical flight is much different than those two activities. I usually take the stairs instead of the elevator to my penthouse office, which isn’t as high as it sounds. Fifty-two total stairs is much different than 25 flights — something I learned pretty quickly.

To add to my lack of preparation, I left the house not quite knowing where the Omni Hotel was. I was driving on the highway trying to plug the address into my GPS. I didn’t realize that the Westin changed its name, which apparently happened over a year ago. I eventually realized where I was going, found street parking and made my way into the building a few minutes before my registration time, which was 45 minutes before my start time. I gave them my name, attached my bib and looked around. The place was full of teams of people, some talking excitedly while others stretched. I was alone, feeling a solitary sense of solidarity and wishing I dragged someone else with me so I didn’t feel so odd being there by myself.

Luckily, I didn’t have too much time to lament, as I stood around a few short minutes after I arrived, giving me enough time to hit the bathroom and eat a banana, hoping it would be enough fuel for my vertical run. I didn’t know if needed my license (I didn’t), so I had that in my pocket, along with my on-call work phone (which I did need). I was worried about my license dropping out of my pocket and the phone slowing me down, but I mostly feared the unexpected. As fortune would have it, I ended up striking up a conversation with the guy in front of me, also alone, who has done this for the past few years. He described it, prepared me for coughing at the finish line, and eased my nerves. While some people were in it to compete, I was not, and this experienced, though recreational, stair climber’s words relaxed me, at least until he started and I had to wait 20 seconds before it was my turn to run.

My heart again started to race as I watched the clock count down. I put my phone in my hand, tapped my license to make sure it was still there and made sure that my bracelet, which was given so they could track my time, was on correctly. Thoughts of self-disappointment, heart attack, throwing up and twisting an ankle all carouseled through my self-doubting brain, but these thoughts were pushed away when I was told I could start running. I took off, turning a corner and making sure I could hear the beep of my bracelet scanning before turning again toward the stairs.

The first few flights didn’t seem too bad. In between breaths and stepping, I was asking myself what I was so worried about. There were facts about lungs and breathing every few flights. I tried to read as much as I could, but I my main focus was on completing each flight of stairs. I did giggle every time I ran by (what I dubbed) “encouragers,” volunteers that would cheer loudly and tell me what a great job I was doing.

About 12 flights up, my legs started feeling as heavy as dump trucks full of dirt. Lifting each leg to go to the next step felt like I was an elephant running through quicksand. With pain increasing with each stair, the conversation I had with myself quickly turned into an argument, processing the pros and cons of going on. My body wouldn’t let the rational thought of my brain win, but I was thrown a break when I caught up to my experienced stair-climbing friend, who was now walking up the steps. Not wanting to pass him and barely being able to move, let alone run, I used this as an opportunity to keep walking pace with him for the last 10 or so flights. I would have talked to him if I could have caught my breath, but we both finished to the sounds of our gasping for air.

Once finished, there was a relaxing room. My quads burned as I looked out the window of the 25th floor, feeling proud of the height I had just climbed. I eventually caught my breath enough to congratulate everyone and sat on a couch, providing instant relief to my ailing legs. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get up, but I proved myself wrong as I made my way to the elevator to make my way down. I went back to the registration room, grabbed a goodie bag, drank some water and grabbed some snacks before walking to RiRa for the after party, which I learned was a bunch of people I didn’t know celebrating a job well done, so I walked back to my car, fearing the pain my legs would be in the next day (they somehow weren’t).

My final time was three minutes and 14.1 seconds, which was good for 228th overall (out of 489 total participants) and 37th in my age group (out of 43). I was a little disappointed that I placed so low, but the feeling passed quickly. I was more surprised at how long the 3 minutes and 14.1 second trek up the stairs felt like compared to how long it was in actual time. I made a plan for myself to practice running up steps in preparations for next year’s event.

I wasn’t as interested in the cause, raising money for the American Lung Association (a worthy organization), as I was about the personal challenge. Though I carried a picture of my girlfriend, who suffers from asthma, in my pocket while I trudged up the stairs, this was done for mostly selfish reasons. That being said, I was impressed that this event raised $191, 243, and vowed to put more effort into my fundraising next year.

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