Besides running marathons and half marathons, I like to look for different kinds of workouts and races to do from time to time to mix things up a little bit and challenge myself in different ways. So when a friend told me about Storm the Stadium, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give it a shot.
Storm the Stadium is a stair climb… but it’s a little different from the stair climbs that are held inside of skyscrapers in big cities (like Hustle up the Hancock, etc…). Instead of going up to the top of a building, climbers go up and down all of the stairs in the stands of a sports stadium. This year it was 6000 steps inside of US Cellular Field in Chicago and in previous years it was held at Soldier Field.
Here’s roughly how everything works:
Everyone who signs up for the climb gets an exact start time that goes all the way down to the second (mine was 8:26:45am). Climbers get to the stadium a little bit before their designated start time and line up in a single file line and start the climb 15 seconds apart (this is for safety reasons since you can’t have too many people on the stairs at the same time).
I’m not sure if it was the same at Soldier Field, but for this particular one, the climb started at one end of the upper deck… climbers went up a set of stairs then down the same set (there’s a railing that runs down the middle to separate the climbers who are going up from the ones who are going down), and then out into the concourse, back in through the doors to the next section and then up and down the next set of stairs, etc…. all the way around the entire stadium. Then when a climber finishes the last staircase in the upper deck, they run down the ramp to the lower deck and do the same thing in reverse and the finish line is right below the start line.
I really love the concept of this and once everyone actually got going, it was an awesome race. The weather was perfect and even though my thighs and calf muscles were burning from all the stairs, looking out onto the stadium and watching all of the other climbers was an awesome sight. Plus because of the way everything was laid out with climbers covering the upper deck first, followed by the lower deck, things worked out pretty nicely because the staircases in the lower deck aren’t as steep, which means that the toughest part of the race was all covered in the first half and everyone’s legs got a little bit of a rest in the second half. It took me a little over 45 minutes to finish.
All in all it was a great time. There are a few things I would like to see changed with this race as far as the overall organization goes though:
- First, the start times were emailed out the day before the race. The problem with this is that a lot of people have other plans for the day besides just doing the stair climb so while my start time was early enough that it didn’t really make any difference, I felt sorry for the people who thought they were going to be starting at 8am, only to find out that they weren’t actually starting until 10. Other stair climbs stagger their start times like this (they have to for safety reasons) but in most cases, the start times are sent out weeks in advance so that people who are doing the race have plenty of time to plan their day around it.
- When I got there and checked in, they mentioned that things were running a few minutes behind…. but there was no other explanation of what the actual issue was. It turned out to be a problem with the timing equipment, which is fine – sometimes things happen that nobody has any control over… the problem was the lack of communication. People were standing around wondering when the race was going to start, and as time went on, more and more people started to show up for their scheduled start times and there was no word from anyone about when they would get to start climbing. Once the race organizers finally did start letting people up into the upper deck to line up, it was hard to hear the instructions about who was supposed to go where because there was a speaker blaring classic rock music that never got turned down and the people making the announcements didn’t have microphones. A group of about 100 or so people was taken up to the upper deck and then everyone else was left to still wonder what was going on.
- Spacing out the start times by 15 seconds is a great idea and makes a lot of sense in a race like this…. but the problem is that climbers were put in the order they were in based on when they showed up to pick up their race packets as opposed to being grouped based on their pace…. so within the first several flights of stairs, there was a lot of passing going on and people having to stop climbing and move off to the side so other climbers could get by them. This all worked itself out eventually like it does in any other race, but it could have been a lot more efficient if the climbers had been grouped according to skill level. (And as a side note, I know that this is not really easy to do in a race like this since it’s fairly unique and most people don’t have finishing times in equivalent races to use to determine their estimated finishing times, etc…. but at least asking someone for their pace per mile as a runner or some other similar metric would be a start).
- Lastly, the course itself wasn’t clearly marked. The way that I described it above (up a staircase and then back down the same staircase and then through the concourse to the next one) was generally how things worked, but there were some sections where climbers were supposed to cut across the bottom row of seats to get to the next section instead of going out into the concourse and there wasn’t really a clear indication of when to do what. There were some climbers who accidentally skipped sections altogether and others who zig-zagged through the different sections, going up one set of stairs and down the next…. so not everyone who did the race actually covered all 6000 steps, and in most cases, it wasn’t their own fault as much as that they simply didn’t know where they were supposed to be going. This could have been fixed very easily – print out some pictures of arrows, laminate them, and tape them to the railings at the end of each aisle (or every other aisle, etc….). There was yellow caution tape that was put up in some places that gave climbers a pretty good indication of where they were not supposed to go but this really wasn’t enough. It wouldn’t have taken much longer to provide some additional direction for everyone.
- There was no finisher’s medal. I’m not going to say too much about this because I do a lot of races that don’t have finisher’s medals and it’s fine. The only reason I’m mentioning it here is because Storm the Stadium claims to be one of the largest consecutive stair challenges in the United States…. and there are plenty of smaller ones who DO offer finishers medals. So if the race organizers really want to make a claim like that and use it to get people to register for their race, they should also provide the participants with something that shows they completed it besides just a t-shirt.
All that being said though, like I mentioned earlier, I really liked this race and I like the concept behind it too. It could definitely stand to be organized a bit better, but once it is, I really don’t see any reason why it can’t be expanded into a whole series that includes other stadiums as well. I’m not sure why it was moved from Soldier Field to US. Cellular Field but if things can be worked out with the stadium owners themselves, it could really be held at both places at some point… and even at other stadiums too (i.e. Wrigley and the Cell in the spring to kick off baseball season, Soldier Field in the fall to kick off football season, and a winter one that’s indoors at the United Center)…. and if things go well, it can eventually be expanded to other cities – the nice thing about a climb like this is that you don’t need a major skyscraper to do it. Any stadium for any sport could work – it can be professional, college, high school, etc… So while I think there were some problems with this race organizationally, it’s still pretty early on in its existence so I definitely would not give up on it completely and I’d recommend that other people give it a shot too. I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves over the next few years.