86 flights. 1,576 stairs. Please help me not die.
December 19, 2012 5:40 PM   Subscribe

I got into the Empire State Building Run Up! Um...now what?

I just got an email saying I was selected in the random lottery for the Empire State Building Run Up in February! Yay! I entered on a bit of a whim a few weeks ago, thinking that my chances of getting in were pretty small but it would make for a fun story if I did it. Well, I'm in, and the race is 7 weeks from tonight. I've found some YouTube videos of the race and well, now I'm terrified (but still excited!).

How do I train for this? Elite runners say it's difficult and exhausting, and I'm not even a runner. I've been doing Crossfit for about a year, and just retired from 6 years of roller derby, so I'm in pretty good shape, if I say so myself. Ideally, I'd live in a building where I can run stairs on a regular basis, but I live in a converted brownstone in Brooklyn and don't have access to a huge set of stairs. From what I've read, Stairmasters and ellipticals are a waste of time in training for this sort of thing. I run sometimes as part of Crossfit training, and I plan to go to more of the running-focused classes at Crossfit. What else can I do? Got any ideas for buildings in NYC where I can run the stairs and not get thrown out? Also, what are the best shoes for this?
posted by Fuego to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I did the CN Tower climb in Toronto one year which is roughly the same number of steps. I did some stairmaster work. I did some running. yes, it's tough, but it's not so much tougher than any big physical activity. It's Ok to slow down and you're certainly not going to sprint the whole way. I would say the main thing is just straight up cardio endurance. Heck, do some spin classes - standing up while cycling works the quads and is really tiring. That's probably the closest you'll get to the same sort of exertion. But really, just do any high-intensity cardio exercise.
posted by GuyZero at 5:45 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow, sounds awesome! I found a few guides around the net

US Bank Tower Stair Climb Race: Training/Tactical Advice? - question from a more elite runner than you, but a fair bit of info in the comments. Suggestion here is that the stairmaster is not a waste of time, but it's lower difficulty than real stairs.

Tips for the American Lung Assocation climb - says that regular running shoes are best, has mostly race-day tips.

LiveStrong - how to train for a stair climbing event - mostly says 'take the stairs!' but gives some other exercises as well.

This page suggests that you have just enough time to train :) and suggests some lower body focused quad work for strength.
posted by jacalata at 5:54 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I did the CN Tower climb with no training, and it really wasn't bad. My only suggestion is to not stop. Slow down if you need to, but starting again after stopping would be rough.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:59 PM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

From my experience, the running component to most box's Crossfit programming is pretty slim, so I would definitely supplement your training with some running. If you can't find stairs, can you find hills to run? Whether or not you are doing the ESB run, hill running is a good addition to almost any training program.

You should be able to find stairs or steps somewhere. Stadium steps are the best, and would be a good equivalent to the type of running you are going to be doing. I'm trying to think of decent options in Brooklyn. Fort Greene Park has a lot of steps, but they are pretty shallow and spaced out. There has to be a school or college somewhere near you with steps you could run.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 6:00 PM on December 19, 2012

I did a tower run/walk though it was a miniature version of your run with a mere 53 flights of stairs. Cardio is the best training for something like this, especially given that it sounds as though you are already strong and fit. When I did it, it fell near the end of a half-marathon training program and while I didn't run, I did walk up the full set of stairs 10 times at a steady pace with no problem. The people who had the most trouble were the weekend warriors who tried to race it.

Have fun!
posted by lulu68 at 6:01 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't stress enough interval and more importantly Fartlek training (There's a Farlek hill at Quantico).

You train for speed going upstairs and train for endurance going uphill. And vary your speed. This way your knees get a break and you don't overtrain pushing yourself at a constant speed going upstairs (and it breaks the monotony of running up landing after landing of the same vista).

So you put the muscle and cardio stress on the hill climbs which are smooth. Then train for the action going up stairs. And varying the pace on both helps you not push your joints past what your muscles and lungs can deliver.

I'm more used to sprinting upstairs, but the principle is the same in training for it. Speed + stairs can really mess up your joints in training.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:09 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've done the CN Tower a few times too and from my experience you really do need to train on stairs/hills as well as running, it helps; on race day remember slow and steady will beat the people who sprint, then stop, then sprint, then stop; being one of the people who really overdo the first few flights and throw up is worst of all, I expect - you'll feel like crap and will waste time cleaning yourself up. But there were lots of my colleagues who didn't train especially for the event and are "just" generally quite fit who got really fast times. I think at my slowest I finished in just under half an hour and I was really out of shape that year - you can do anything for half an hour! Good luck, these type of events are a lot of fun!
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:21 PM on December 19, 2012

My business partner's husband, a weekend triathlete, did the Columbia Center race in Seattle-- 69 flights and 1311 steps-- when he was in his 40s in a time of just over 12 minutes, which was something like 4th in his age group and 16th overall, and said he would never do it again because the air in the stairwell seemed bad to him and contaminated with auto exhaust, but he also said he was very surprised how much help he got using his arms on the handrails almost like he was cross-country skiing.
posted by jamjam at 7:15 PM on December 19, 2012

Find some public stairs to run up.
posted by dersins at 9:18 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I was and still am a middling runner and the CN Tower climb was still only about 27 minutes for me. So it's not like a marathon or anything.
posted by GuyZero at 9:26 AM on December 20, 2012

My coworkers did the ESB run last year. They practiced by taking the elevator to the basement of our building and climbing the fire stairs to the top, then repeating, a few times a week (~15 flights). I think they felt well prepared. Do not walk back down the stairs in between if you can avoid it. It feels easier cardiovascularly-speaking but wrecks your muscles and joints.
posted by telegraph at 12:20 PM on December 20, 2012

Thanks, everyone! I'm feeling a little less nervous about this now (although ask me again when February hits...). I think I'll supplement my regular training with some stairs at least a couple times a week (that Prospect Park staircase looks like a prime candidate--although some sources say it's a mite sketchy by yourself, so I'll try to find a buddy). I do feel pretty good about my cardio and endurance as I can regularly go up several flights of stairs without being out of breath, and my endurance has skyrocketed since starting Crossfit. My goal for this is to do it in under half an hour--I will report back and let you know how I did!
posted by Fuego at 1:51 PM on December 21, 2012

I know you said the elliptical and Stairmaster are useless, but would a Stepmill be helpful? It's basically like an escalator going down forever while you walk (or run) up.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 12:19 PM on December 22, 2012

I would absolutely love to use a Stepmill, but most gyms don't have one. And I don't know if I want to join a gym JUST to use that when I'm already paying for Crossfit each month. But if there were one nearby (in Park Slope) I'd totally look into doing a month-to-month or drop-in type of membership just to use it for the next few weeks.
posted by Fuego at 3:44 PM on December 22, 2012

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