Having run a half of dozen marathon and a several half marathons, I was looking for a new challenge. I decided to whim to enter the lottery to do the Empire State Building Run Up. Seeing how only a couple hundred of the thousands of lottery entrants actually get to do this crazy race, I did not think my chances were too good that I would be selected. I "lucked out" and got it. The ESBRU is a stair climb up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. 86 floors, 1576 steps. After being accepted, I really had to question my sanity for wanting to do this.
Stair climbing is definitely a different challenge then running. The first few times I tried to tackle stairs it did not go well. At first, I thought I would run up as many flights as I could then walk a few then start running again. But I quickly learned that I needed to pace myself from the start. Once you get to the point that you are gasping for breath, you are done. It takes so long to catch your breath. The first few times I tried to do the stairs in my building I maybe made up 15 flights before I was gasping for breath. I saw a youtube video by one of the pros discussing race strategies. He basically said that you have to pace yourself and not a "go anaerobic" (gasping for breath) before floor 65. So I started pacing myself on my training climbs and I was doing much better.
My building is 34 floors so I would do the building twice as a training run. I figured that was like do a 20 mile training run for a marathon. Almost there do not quite the full distance. However, I miscalculated. I thought 34 floors twice (68 floors) was equal to about 80% the total distance. But I did not consider the fact that the floor height for commercial buildings is higher than the floor height in residential buildings. So if you count the number of the steps 68 floors in a residential building is only about half the number of the steps of the Empire State Building.
The race took place on a Wednesday, February 6th. The race starts at 8:00 pm. Walking up to the building I was having second thoughts. You don't realize how tall the building is until you are in front of it and look up. Again I started questioning my sanity and tried to quickly think of an excuse to whimp out.
T-shirt/packet pickup on the 2nd floor in the area where they normal have people wait for tours to the observation deck. The t-shirt is long sleeve tech material. In typical NYRR fashion, they only had L and XL shirts left. I know runners come in all shapes and sizes but really most runners tend be more towards the smaller end of the scale. I just think it might make sense to order a few more smalls and fewer XLs, but that is just me always having to use common sense. I got there around 8 pm. My wave was not going to start until about 9:30. Rich also got into the race and I met him in the waiting area.
They start with waves for the pros and the elites. There is the MMRF charity wave, brokers challenge and a media wave. Kelly Ripa ran the race with camera crew in tow. I hope they did not make the poor camera guy climb all the stairs with her. In total, 726 people ran the event.
Once they started the time trials, they brought people down to the lobby in groups of 100 people every 15 minutes. After waiting for a while. It was our turn to head down to the lobby. Donna, Caroline and Charlotte were waiting for us in the lobby to give us a nice pre-race cheer.
They let one person start ever 5 secs. I had heard stories that the stairwell was really narrow and people elbow each other getting to the top. The 5 sec head start does not seem like a lot but it allowed for people to spread out enough. People were pretty polite when they had to pass each other. About every 10 floors, there was a building security guard cheering on the runners. Since they were our only crowd support, it was nice that they were so cheery and upbeat.
I started slow but steady. Not really running but I had some pep in my step. I decided to use the railings to help take some weight off my legs. People have different techniques: some don't hold the railings at all, some hold both sides of the railing, some hold on to one side. It worked best for me to stick to holding one side, I used a hand or fist technique to pull myself up the stairs.
There are 2 breaks in the stairs where you have a brief straightaway. You get a chance to catch your breathe when you switch from one staircase to another. The breaks are on the 22nd and 65th floors. They had a water stop on both these floors. Originally, I was hoping to skip the water stops since it is really only about a 20 min race. But the air is a bit stagnant in the stairwell and it dried out my throat. Since the air was choking me, I decided to wet my throat.
It just tried to take it in chunks. Floor 22- 1st water stop and 1/4 done, 44 floors- halfway there, floor 65-2nd water stop. It did seem to get a little easier when the number of floors left was less than the numbers I already did. Once I hit the 65th floor, I started to run a flight, walk up a flight. The last 10 floors, I ran up all of them. I was feeling exhausted but then I started to feel a nice cool breeze. Ahh, I was only 2 floors away for the top.
Finally, I ran out onto the observation deck. You are still not done when you reach the top. You still have to do a lap around the observation deck. I turned the final corner and was so happy to see the finish line. I sprinted to the finish.
I finished in 22:43 min. I got my medal and walked back out on the observation deck to get a few pictures. I was very happy to take the elevator back down to ground floor.
Rich did great and beat me with a time of 20:27.
After the race, the girls met us at Heartland brewery on the ground level of the ESB for a celebratory drink and a post-race snack. Donna texted me to let me know they had a table. I could not find them on the first level of the restaurant and was about to look downstairs for them. Donna saw me when I was at the top of the steps and yelled out to me. When I walked over to the table she looked at me and said "did you really think I would make you do more stairs tonight?"
At one point, I walked over to the bar to order a drink. The bartender looked at my medal then looked at me quizzically and said "Really you climbed up all those steps. Why?" I looked at him and said "Because I love seeing that look you have on your face right now!"
Donna and Caroline were admiring our medals. Hoping to get into the race next year, Donna decided to make herself a medal out of a coaster as inspiration.
Donna had promised to give my a piggyback ride home if I made it to the top. But after a few drinks that plan did not work out too well. On our first attempt, we crash-landed and both ended up on the floor of the bar. We settled for a celebratory photo instead.
I have to say that I did not really have this one on my bucket list. But now it is checked off nonetheless. Only a few hundred people get to run this race each year, as compare to the thousands of people who do most races. It is exciting to know that now I a member an exclusive club.