More like Empire State Building Pull-Up!

This morning I pulled my way to a finish of under 19 minutes (18:47) in the Empire State Building Run-Up Preliminary Race. A fun experience!

For video of the event, click here!

Here are my unofficial results, followed by a detailed account:

It looked as if there were about 3 different races held this morning. First was for MMRF associates it seemed, and it went off at 8am. Then was the preliminary race, which I was in, leaving at 9am. Finally, there was the invitational race at 10am. I initially did not get into the invitational race, but I then got an email inviting me to join the preliminary race.

Holding for the race was on the 2nd floor of the Empire State Building. It was nothing fancy, but it was a friendly environment. At 8:45am we started to line up, and I was near the front. I wasn’t going to press to be first, though, because I’m hardly in shape at the moment and the race wasn’t competitive for me. In a line, we walked down and around until we got to the starting line. I was maybe in the third row of people. In front of us was press, and to our left was the entrance to the stairwell. It was maybe 30 feet away from the start line, but I’m not that great at estimating distances. It did look closer than in the YouTube videos I’d watched from prior years.

When the horn sounded, we were off. Nobody looked all that competitive in this group of maybe 100 people (several people noted how small the preliminary group seemed), and when I got to the doorway into the stairwell, there wasn’t that nightmarish-looking package of contorted runners trying to jam into the entrance. Instead, it was rather orderly and peaceful.

From the beginning, there was no use but to walk up the stairs given the number of people and the narrow staircase. (The staircase was 2 people wide.) The first 20 flights were in what you might call a “spiral” staircase–not truly spiral, of course, but small climbs and small landings equalling to 2 flights per floor. For the first several flights you were basically at the mercy of the speed of the people ahead of you. I don’t remember when the crowds started to separate, but I do remember that around the 12th floor, breathing issues started to affect people. You could hear a very dry wheeze coming from the people as this time, which was also coming from me. As for the sensation, my throat felt very dry. I can’t say I’ve had the feeling before today. If you want a sense of the feeling, maybe try breathing with the accentuation on the exhale at a pace of one exhale per second.

At the 20th floor, you leave the “spiral” staircase and head down a small corridor where there is water and photographers, as well as medical personnel. It was a nice break in the action, and I had to mute my habit of discarding my cup of water on the ground because, well, this was a concrete walkway with other runners coming through and a lot of potential for slipping. I can’t recall really needing the water, but I got some just in case. I can’t say after the fact whether I really needed it.

I’m 6’0″, and much of my race was spent taking 2 steps at a time. However, don’t think that this was much of a “run-up.” Most people I saw were in some state of walking. You might think that is something to shame. Well, no. It’s a damn tough challenge even if you’re walking. And it’s not as if you’re strolling along. You’re climbing at as fast a pace you can handle. You basically want to finish the damn thing. And part of the mystery in doing this your first time, like myself, is your finish time: “What will it be?” I think initially I thought I’d finish 14:30. I figured that after studying some results of people finishing around my age, and also not my age. Today, I thought, Maybe I can finish before 20 minutes. I did that. But time wasn’t so much the interest. It was just doing this cool, hard-to-get-into thing.

After the 20th floor, the course changes a bit if I remember correctly. The route shifts into long staircases coupled with long landings. Some of these staircases had about 2-step landings as you turn onto the longer staircase. They weren’t that bad to mount, actually. While most of these I walked up, occasionally I powered up 2 steps at a time. I passed a few people and a few people passed me. I think, though, I walked every landing. I remember what was going through my brain: Something to the effect of You’re not a wimp if you walk. Don’t let anyone make you think you are. It’s tough climbing these steps. Your heart is still pounding even if you’re walking these landings.

At the 65th floor is another corridor to another stairwell. You pass by water and photogs. This last stairwell, if I remember correctly, is like the average of the two prior stairwells–I seem to remember the landings as shorter than the prior stairwell but not as short as the “spiral” staircase. It’s remarkable how quickly you’ve come to these floors above 65. In fact, it’s remarkable how quickly you knock off every floor. 10 floors is not that bad to tackle, even when I was within range of the last 10 floors. Granted, I wasn’t moving at a cheetah’s pace!

Along the way there were employees of the Empire State Building watching the event and providing encouragement. There were also a few employees of the floors providing a little cheer. However, it’s mostly just you and any fellow runners around you. Within you, it’s you and your breathing, you and your heart, you and your desire to finish.

I pulled myself up for much of the race. Unless you are some kind of elite, I’m guessing you’re going to use the rails. I wondered if gloves might be helpful for handling them, but barehanded was fine. I’m sure there might be some potential for breaking a finger in the process, but such an accident I imagine would be “freak.” I was using both of my arms to climb the stairs, and my arms pretty much endured the race even without having a lot of upper-body strength right now. When I chose to run up a flight, though, I didn’t use the rails. (If you decide to wear gloves, make sure they can grip. Fleece gloves I imagine wouldn’t help you because they would potentially slide on the cylindrical rails.)

I’d never been to the top of the Empire State Building. When I hit the 86th floor, I think I did a diagonal to the left, then hit the outside and took a right. This is where you get the spectacular view. However, this year, it was super cloudy so you couldn’t really see anything! That was only a slight disappointment. You continue about 90 feet maybe, take another right, and there you are: FINISHED. My old co-worker Jono was there at the finish, and he gave a color commentary about my life after I crossed the finish line. Sadly, the cameraperson seemed to be fiddling around with his camera when I finished, so I think my finish may have gone unphoto’d. Oh well. In such a delirium, I think I forgot to say anything to Jono! I then took another right, walked inside a corridor, got water, got medalled, and went down to the 80th floor in order to descend to the 61st floor where baggage claim was.

As I changed on the 61st floor, several of the men in the room were prostrate, several others were coughing. The coughing was a little disburbing. I wasn’t sure why this was. I figured it must have been the 61st floor, which was unfinished with I think exposed concrete on the floor. Maybe not, though: Maybe it was from the dryness of the stairwell, the unconditioned air, dust from the stairwell, or something else. I didn’t start coughing myself until about 5 minutes after finishing. That is, it took a while, but eventually I started to cough, too.

The post-race treats were delicious (um, cheesecake muffins??). After eating a cheesecake muffin and an oat-bran muffin, and apple and orange juices, I left, heading straight down to the 1st floor. Several people took photos. I didn’t really want to.

How were my legs? Not bad. I could descend steps quite fine, actually. I felt pretty good. My body definitely did not feel like a wreck. I’m writing this about 2 hours after I finished, and other than a little sting in my throat, I don’t have a cough and my legs just feel a little tired from being worked. 24 hours after the race may tell a different tale, which is usually when I feel soreness.

Also, I wrote this post without many typos, so I’m wondering if the breathing brought a kind of lucidity to my thinking. Something to think about!

All in all, the Empire State Building Run-Up Preliminary Race was a great time. The atmosphere was cheerful and non-competitive, and the fitness experience was definitely exceptional.

If you ran in the 2011 race, feel free to say hello by posting a comment below.

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