2010 AON Climb Results

AONX Gym Win Streak Continues!
On April 24th 2010, the 63 floor race up the AON building in Los Angeles put another bunch of individual ‘Wins’ in the X Gym column and a couple new course records to boot!

  • Javier Santiago ended up winning the race with a new course record!
  • Tim Van Orden placed 2nd overall and 1st in his division
  • Kevin Crossman took 3rd overall and 1st in his division
  • Mark Trahanovsky grabbed  4th overall and 1st in his division
  • PJ came in 7th overall and 2nd in his division
  • Veronica Stocker won 3rd overall for women overall and 1st in her division
  • Mike Cartmell annihilated the competition in the 60-70 age group, and now owns that new course record as well!
  • 5 of the top 10 overall finishers sported the X Gym logo
  • 6 of the 8 age groups winners were also flying the X Gym colors, wearing brand new jerseys crafted by Mark Trahanovsky from West Coast Labels. If we had entered racers in the remaining two age groups, I’m sure we would have owned those as well.

Is this world domination getting old? Probably to others. But for us, that’s a resounding “No way!”

About the race

This climb is the 2nd tallest stair race west of the Mississippi, behind the US Bank tower (also in LA) and ahead of Seattle’s Columbia Tower by a healthy margin. Although the AON climb is only 63 floors, the vertical feet gain is more (due to its longer-than-standard floors), than the 69 story Columbia Tower (due to its shorter-than-standard floors). Elite climbers are typically about 1 minute slower in the AON than the Columbia Tower because of the marked difference in climb height.

The AON staircase is also extremely irregular with switchbacks, hallways, additional stairs on many of the landings, and plenty of other surprises. Because of its inconsistent design, it is impossible to get a rhythm going and it keeps you guessing the whole way up. That makes for nice variety however, and helps keep your mind off the excruciating pain which starts at about halfway into the climb.

The finish line is the coolest thing ever. Up around floor 60, you start to see sunlight. At floor 62, you can see that the finish line is outside on the roof! Once you burst out the top door at floor 63 and (after a few minutes of rest) can breathe again and see straight, you realize that you are standing on the helicopter pad at the 2nd highest point in LA. This realization took me (PJ) a few minutes to register, because I really pushed it at this race. I needed that recovery time in a big way!

Inside my race

I felt the pain early in this race. The tall floors really took their toll. I was already tired at floor 20 and in pain by floor 30. When I got to floor 45, it was all I could do to muster enough mental strength to keep some semblance of pace, because my speed had dropped off notably. Every cell in my legs were begging me to stop for a quick rest. Your mind plays tricks on you at that point and tries to talk you into wimping out in a big way. Your muscles are screaming for you to take a break and your brain is hearing the warning alarms from all the various body parts that are reporting in that eminent danger is only steps away.

Prayer proved to be a helpful tool, and faith was the driving force that got me to the top. At floor 50 my hearing started to wane. At floor 55 I lost color vision and by floor 58, my peripheral vision started to fade. By floor 60, tunnel vision began to close in, and as I crossed the finish line at floor 63, my field of vision was about the size of a softball.

I am familiar with all these stages, and I have learned that I’m OK as long as my field of vision about the size of a baseball. At that point I have to back off, because that means I only have about 10 seconds left before I black out. The tunnel vision progresses pretty fast once it starts, so by my estimate, I only had about 2 floors left in me before losing consciousness, so I timed it about as good as I could have, for my first climb up this particular building.

I remained standing after crossing the finish line, which is another good sign, but I did have to lean over onto a nearby table to make sure I didn’t fall over. Within about 2 minutes, the oxygen debt headache started, so I had to lie down. The paramedics were great and asked me at least 3 times if I was OK. They supply oxygen for those who need it, but I felt fine as far as my lungs were concerned, so I declined. The research suggests that supplemental oxygen doesn’t help much anyway other than for the placebo effect, so since I know that, there isn’t much sense in it for me.

In case you are wondering – uh, why?

Why do I do this crazy sport you ask? Is it a sick masochistic thing that drives stair racers to put ourselves through this time after time? No, but lots of people ask us that. It’s the love for the sport, the chance to push our absolute physical limits, the discipline in pain management and the challenge of conquering a building that most people wouldn’t even dream of running. That’s what elevators are for, right? The thing that appeals to me the most however, and the reason it keeps getting more fun with each race, is the people. Stair racers are a very unique breed, and some of the nicest folks you could ever meet. They all have at least one screw loose, so that makes for some really fun and interesting characters as well.

The friends I have made in this sport and the bonds created are truly remarkable. I feel like they are more like brothers and sisters than friends, and I am so grateful to all of them for accepting me into their fold. Mark Trahanovsky calls us his “step”brothers and “step”sisters because we all feel this way about each other and share this extraordinary bond. New friends are made every race too, so the family keeps growing.

I had the privilege of “coaching” a new stairclimber via email for this race, which was also a new and fun experience for me. Don found me in the crowd before the race, and it already felt like we were brothers despite the fact that we hadn’t talked at all, other than through email. He ended up winning 9th place overall, so we were both ecstatic with his results. Don met Mark and many of the other climbers as well, so he is now part of the family and will sport the WCL/X Gym jersey from now on.

Next up

The next race I will attend is a short sprint run up the Bennington monument in Vermont on June 5th, 2010. This race is more of a social event than anything else. It doesn’t count for world rank points, but it is a great event to get to know other stair racers better. Since the race is only a few hundred feet up and takes only about a minute, nutrition, rest, hydration and other factors really don’t matter. Racers camp out in tents the night before in the park around the monument and exchange stories and memories about this crazy and obscure sport. 2009 was the first year for this race, so this year should bring an even stronger turnout.

Stair racing is certainly not for everyone, but the only way to find out is to give it a try. If you are local to the Seattle area, I can hook you up with some great practice runs. If not, and you want more information on stairclimbs in your area and around the world, as well as current rankings of the top 70 elite stairclimbers in the world, go to www.towerunning.com. For training information and tips, visit the X Gym’s stair page at www.xgym.com/stair