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We Tried It: NYRR’s Empire State Building Run-Up

Written on February 13, 2014 at 6:29 pm , by

It’s mid-February, and I don’t know about you, but this girl is ready for a new challenge. The New Year’s resolution hype has all but died, winter is burying us East Coasters under piles of snow, and stir-crazy frenzies are settling in. So what’s a girl to do?

Enter New York Road Runners Empire State Building Run-Up. What’s that, you ask? Simple: run into the narrow stairwells of New York’s most iconic building, and get your butt up those 86 floors as fast as humanly possible. Easy enough, right? Heh.

After running 10 half-marathons, I decided to take on the challenge because there’s nothing like climbing stairs to get out of my distance-running comfort zone. After all, I live in New York City and, even though I can run 13.1 miles with relative ease (relative being the key word here), just getting to the top of the subway stairs can rob me of breath from time to time.

While I was fortunate enough to have words of advice from those who have run before me (our fitness editor, Jenna, climbed that stairwell in 2013!), I did my research. If this girl – you know, the one who avoids the stairmaster, lives on the first floor of a building and takes the elevator to the 25th floor of her office – was going to survive, I had to at least have my head in the game. And I’m proud to say that I made it to the top of New York’s most iconic building in just over 23 minutes. While I certainly wasn’t the fastest out there (seriously, some were finishing sub-10 – crazy!), I put my whole effort into it. Here’s what I learned along the way – hopefully it’ll inspire you to step (see what I did there?) outside your comfort zone. Maybe not 1,576 steps worth of discomfort, but if you skip the elevator just once, then I’ll consider my job done.

Chew gum and suck on cough drops. This tip from associate beauty editor, Molly, saved me. Chewing gum prevents your ears from popping as you quickly ascend to the top, thus increasing your elevation. The cough drops keep your mouth moist in an otherwise-dry environment. Remember, you’re in a small, dusty stairwell that doesn’t get a lot of use on the reg, so there isn’t a ton of air flow. Both helped me keep up a fast (for me) pace.

Mix up your movement. When sprinting so many stairs, your body quickly switches from an aerobic state over to an anaerobic state, and lactic acid starts to build in your muscles when you pass your anaerobic threshold. To keep pain at bay (and your legs moving), alternate how you get up those stairs. In the beginning, everyone’s in a mad dash, so a moderate sprint will keep you in the group without tuckering you out too quickly. After about eight flights of that, I switched between running up every single step and every other to ensure I was using different muscles.

Use the handrails. When I first began training, I thought this would be considered “wimping out.” Boy, was I wrong. It’s just smart strategy! The name of the game is to get to the top as quickly as possible; nobody cares how you do it. If you’re alone, use both handrails to hoist yourself up (and keep those abs tight!). Otherwise, just use your preferred side – I liked the right – and pull one hand up over the other.

Keep moving. If you find yourself wiped, your first urge will be to take a little break at a landing. Don’t! The lactic acid will rush in, your legs will want to buckle and it’ll be that much harder to get going again. Because this was so new to me, I didn’t set a time goal for myself, but rather promised myself I wouldn’t stop on my way up. Even if you have to walk, it’s easier than stopping and starting again.

Bring music – or some type of distraction. This was obvious to me since I never go to a race without my tunes, but it could be key to keeping your head in the game. With so much repetitive motion and oxygen thinning out quickly, not psyching yourself out is going to push you to success. Build a strong, powerful playlist that keeps you amped from start to finish. The race isn’t very long, so easy-breezy tunes don’t belong here.

If you forgot music but still have your phone, bring it and have friends send encouraging messages. One friend knew I was running and provided comic relief with random jokes as I climbed. His best one? “Fun fact: there are 77 elevators in the Empire State Building.” I may have uttered a curse word when I saw that, but it also got a good laugh out of me.

And there you have it, friends! If you want to look into your own stair-climbing adventure, see what’s in your area at towerrunning.com. 

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