52 floors, 1,334 stairs, 265 metres … 0 hours training. Nonetheless, I was feeling quietly confident about the Vertical Marathon. After all, I am a reasonably fit lad with two half-marathons under my belt. I play basketball at least three times a week. What did I have to worry about?
Then I interviewed last year’s female winner, Jo Phillimore, who told me: ‘You’ll be fine. You’re in good shape and do a lot of exercise. How tall are you?” I answered 6ft 5in. Her reply, an ominous “that’s not good…”
Not a sport for the taller gent, apparently.
My worst-case scenario of getting overtaken by someone wearing an Elvis outfit was replaced by the genuine fear of keeling over on stair number 271, never to see the outside of the stairwell again. We have weak hearts in my family, you know.
Standing at the starting line, a long gaze up the massive tower suddenly increased what had been simple panic to something comparable to the fear of wing-walking on a jumbo jet. With roller-skates on. And nothing else.
Suddenly, the starter was counting down and we were setting off. As I passed the first group of volunteers before entering the tower, one of them said “only 52 more floors to go!” Helpful.
By floor five, I was breathing hard. Already, the stairs were littered with athletes taking an early break.
Onwards and upwards.
A first water break and I put my head down and ploughed through a few flights without checking how far I had got. Then I walked a few, before upping up my pace again and allowing myself a look at the signs telling runners which floor they had reached.
30? More than half-way? That couldn’t be right. I had only just started. I overtook a couple more people before settling into a brisk walking pace, heaving myself up two stairs at a time with the help of my new best friend in the world, the handrail.
My breathing remained heavy and I was pouring with sweat, but the pain I expected in my legs was not there. I alternated walking a floor, jogging a floor and found a nice pace I rode until the final few flights.
A planned sprint from floor 50 didn’t materialise, my tank empty. Nonetheless, I crossed the line feeling pretty good about my performance. Surely I had achieved my pre-race ambition – to prove I was at the very least a bang-average athlete.
Scrolling through the race results the next morning, I passed place numbers 80, 90, 100, no sign of my name. 110, 120, 130, this could be embarrassing, 140, 150, 160, surely I finished higher than that. I allowed myself to scroll again from the top, and there I was – 44th out of 207 racers.
A time of 13 minutes and 51 seconds. Result! Okay, I was a full five minutes behind winner Gustavo Netto of Brazil. But I was well ahead of the middle of the pack.
And what’s more, I didn’t get overtaken by Elvis.
Read the interview with race winner Gustavo Netto in next week’s Time Out Dubai magazine (available from May 5).