Eighty-six flights, 1,576 steps.
Almost a quarter-mile straight up. Some call it the “vertical marathon,” the annual event known as the Empire State Building Run-Up (ESBRU). This was the 37 ESBRU and my third time taking part. It is an extremely difficult event to get into, with roughly 400 people taking the challenge. You gain entry either by lottery or by special invitation, with many coming to race from all over the world. The charity that I coach, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, is allocated a number of bibs each year, and people also join our PowerTeam and fundraise in exchange for entry into this iconic event.
The race is pretty straightforward: you start in the lobby, sprint into the stairwell, and run all the way up until you exit at the top and finish outside on the observatory deck. It’s not a particularly long event as far as most races go, with the winners finishing in right around 10 minutes and most people crossing the finish line in 15 to 20 minutes. Make no mistake, however: the finishing times are inversely proportional to the lung-searing, quad-burning, lactic-acid overload effects of this short, yet intense event.
There is definitely technique involved. Most of the fastest runners skip steps. And what is surprising to many is that there is a big upper-body component, with athletes using the hand rails to pull their bodies up the stairs, adding speed while helping to delay the inevitable wear-and-tear on the quadriceps muscles. Chewing gum while running is also a strange, yet common practice. The air inside the stairwell is so dusty and dry that your throat can start burning shortly after you start, often leading to an uncontrolled hacking cough by the time you finish. Chewing gum while running helps prevent this uncomfortable side effect.
I have raced literally hundreds of races, including numerous marathons and Ironman triathlons all over the world. I have also finished several ultra-marathons as well, including taking part in the “Run-to-the-Sun” ultra, running 36 miles from sea-level to the 10,000 foot summit of Mt. Haleakala on Maui. How do all these events compare to running to the top of the Empire State Building?
The ESBRU hurts the most. I am an endurance athlete inside and out, trained to go long distances at sub-maximal intensities. A 50-mile run? No problem. A 50-second all-out effort? Those make me cry. You really learn the difference between the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems and fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers when you do an event like the ESBRU. In full disclosure, I don’t really train for this event, which would obviously help. I have also paced TV personalities to the top each of the three years I’ve participated, which keeps me from competing for myself.
So if you are in need of a new fitness challenge for next year, I highly recommend trying to secure a spot in the 2015 ESBRU. It’s a bucket-list race for sure, an event that few people will ever do, and it is a unique workout that you will surely never forget.