Last night, Wednesday February 8th, I was lucky enough to participate in the 35th annual "Empire State Building Run-Up," an event supporting the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. I guess the word "lucky" is subjective in this situation- I entered the lottery with the hopes of being one of the 650 people selected to climb 86 flights of stairs...for $100. I'm a little masochistic.
It is hard to train for a one of a kind event like this. To train for a marathon, you run. To train for stairs...you have to climb stairs! My aunt and uncle live in a 30 story building on the upper west side, and on days I don't get a workout in, or I need some time to myself, I have been known to climb up the 26 flights to their apartment for "fun." When I found out I had the opportunity to run the 86 flights of New York City's tallest building, I began my own training schedule. Climb the 30 stories of Aunt Mary's apartment; take the elevator down. Repeat four times.
I guess crazy people like to surround themselves with crazy people. My roommate and friend, Evan (who would have kicked butt in this race himself) was so excited that he took part in my training with me at Mary's apartment. We would do a warm-up run together, climb the 30 stories four times, and cool down with a run again. We each had our own tactics when tackling the stairs- I began very conservatively, and didn't really push it until the 2nd halves of my 3rd and 4th repeats. I tried to stay within my state of moving meditaion and enjoy (as much as I could) the feeling of each step. My goal in any race is to "negative split:" to make the second half take less time than the first half. To do this, I need to start slow and really pay attention to how my body feels in any given pace. Then, at the end, go all out!
Evan is much more into vomit inducing workouts. He likes to see how much his body can handle at any given time; which could mean sprinting up the 30 flights in the first round. Or experimenting with every other step vs one step at a time (for my short legs, every other step is very hard for me). Needless to say, Evan beat me up the stairs every time, but it was so nice to have encouragement inspiring me each time I huffed and puffed up to the 30th floor! We so enjoyed these workouts together, that we are planning on continuing them as a Saturday routine! (weird!)
Anyway- the night of the climb seemed to appear out of nowhere. Since I had never undertaken such a task, I really didn't know if I was ready. But I guess that's the fun part- blindly taking on the unknown. This was the first year the race was non-invitational (so regular people like me could enter the lottery, instead of just elite athletes). There were A LOT of people taking over the Empire State Building. I arrived at 730 to pick up my bib, shoe tag (to time the race) and shirt (the time trials were scheduled to begin at 8:30). It was so packed, I had to get out of there. SO...I met my friends at the bar downstairs, and seriously contemplated starting an east coast "exercising while intoxicated" blog (see www.exercisingwhileintoxicated.com). I am so blessed to have such wonderful friends who will wait around for me to run up the stairs...and in the meantime spend $11 on vodka cranberries while they wait. ouch.
While I waited for my turn to run the stairs (we were released in 10 second intervals - and I was the last group of 100 to begin) I picked the brains of all the competitors around me- getting advice from veterens of the race(MAKE SURE YOU DRINK THE WATER FROM THE WATER STATIONS), and empathizing with those who had no idea what was about to happen. One common trend I did notice- most people didn't really train. I began to feel a little better, and also a bit fearful for everyone around me.
By the time my "heat" finally got lined up, it was 9:15. We were released every 10 seconds, as to not have too much clogging in the stairwell. I felt like a deer in the headlights when it came to be my turn. (this picture was taken by my wonderful, dedicated running/spectating friend Bethany right before I began). The guys next to me laughed when I said my goal was to "negative split." Why was that so hard to believe? I made sure to remember to check my watch at the 43rd floor.
Thanks to my intense stair training in Mary's building, the beginning of the climb was a breeze. I didn't even look up until I saw the 18th floor. At this point, I didn't "run" unless I was passing people. And no, I didn't get elbowed. But I did accidently elbow some guy in the face when turning a corner (it was that guy on the right in the picture. I apologized. It's the nature of the game!). There were water stations on floors 25 and 65- much needed due to the dryness of the air. There were empire state building security guards every 10 floors or so- and they provided smiling faces of encouragement for all of us crazy runners.
Yes, this race was hard. It was a new experience that my body wasn't used to, and I didn't know quite what to expect physically or emotionally. Since I have enough experience completing endurance events, I knew that I could do it. There was no point in the climb where I felt I wouldn't finish. And I knew reaching the top would be an incredibly satisfying experience. People may think I'm crazy for doing this kind of stuff- but it feels so good! I guess that makes me an endorphin junkie. I felt so high chasing the one girl who tried to pass me to the finish line (I passed her back. I shouldn't be too pleased with myself; she did mistake the finish line for being closer than it was. She stopped and I stampeded right past her).
It feels SO good to feel strong. I feel confident running up stairs. I feel confident running races. Seeing the finish line gives me a goal! This is my own, messed up form of therapy. I think I'm addicted.
I finished in 18:32. Looking forward to improving next year!
Next: Coogan's 5K, March 4th. This is one of my favorites because 1) It's only a 5K, 2) it takes place right outside my apartment in Washington Heights and 3) so many of my friends run it!