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Training for the Empire State Building Run

Our own MF staffer prepares for a 1,576-stair race up the Empire State Building.

As a writer with Men’s Fitness, I was looking for an angle on the fabled Empire State Run-Up; a grueling race staged annually from the ground floor of New York's Empire State Building to the observation deck,to pitch as a story. I'd stroll over on February 8 after work, grab a slice of pizza and talk to a few of its crazy competitors, find out what would posses them to do something so insane, then catch the next train home. So I emailed the race's PR department which, as I expected, assured me I would receive access to the competitors. What I didn’t expect was that I would be asked to be one of those competitors. Their email read, “We are having a media heat where members of the media can compete. Are you interested?" To me, it read, “Want to find out what this race is about? Come run it. Unless of course you’re a chicken; bawk, bawk, begawwwk.” Now it is not that I’ve never done an endurance race before. I ran my first marathon back in October... and have since slipped quietly into retired life. To be honest, I don’t even think I’ve seen my sneakers since the marathon. But I summoned the courage and replied that I would compete in the 1,576-stair sprint to the top of the tallest building on the East Coast. Just typing the words, “I’m in,” took every ounce of my energy. With only two weeks to train for a race that most train months to run, I needed to get to work. I told a personal trainer friend of mine my predicament. He recommended, as all good friends do, that I find an elevator and portable oxygen tank. When he finished laughing and realized I was serious, he recommended exercises to strengthen hip flexors and glutes that would coincide with my stair running. Living in a single-floor ranch house, I knew the eight stairs leading to my basement were not going to prepare me for much. The next best set of stairs I could find were the 40 stairs to the platform of my local train station... the ones adjacent to the escalator that I take every day. My first day of training I managed to run up and down those steps 20 times before my legs gave up on me. It was not quite the Rocky scene I had envisioned. I devised a schedule whereby I would run five more sets of stairs each workout until I could run 60 sets of those stairs. I also knew I needed advice from someone who had done something like this before, so I turned to a trusted source—YouTube. Luckily, I was able to find technique videos from competitive stair racer P.J. Glassey. The videos taught me techniques for using the railing to help me survive the ascent. I’ve since been duking it out with the train station steps every other night, and batting off gawking railroad riders along the way. With only two days to go before the race, I feel that mix of nervousness and excitement that is only felt before competition. I only hope these butterflies will help me float to the top.

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