It’s a huge concrete mountain. There’s no view all the way up, the air is drier than in the desert and I will be deep in the pain zone. Why would I want to race up the Empire State Building? Good question
I guess the answer is, simply, because it is there and because I can’t resist a challenge, no matter how much it is guaranteed to hurt. Towering high above Midtown, Manhattan, New York, the Empire State Building is one of the most iconic buildings in the world and to race its 1,576 steps to the 86th floor will take me way outside of my comfort zone. But, I guess, that’s the attraction. Over 120 million people have visited the observatories near the top of the 381m (443m to tip) building since its completion in 1931 but how many can say they have run up the stairs to get there? Not many. It is a test, a brutal one at that, but at the same time I thrive off using my running skills in different arenas. It just so happens that this is one of the most famous arenas on the planet.
This year’s Empire State Building Run-Up, to be held on Wednesday, will see me take my third crack at what is the world’s oldest and most renowned tower race. Starting from the ground floor lobby, I will line up against the best stair racers in the world to see who can be the fastest to the top. Two years ago I came fifth in a time of 11 minutes and 3 seconds. I would love to go faster than that this year and hopefully break 11 minutes. The record is an unbelievable 9 minutes and 33 seconds, set by Australian Paul Clarke in 2003. Only when you have done the race do you truly appreciate just how phenomenal that record is.
Now in its 38th year, the race is steeped in history. At first it was open only to the New York business elite, who would take a break from their stresses on Wall Street to race each other up the staircase. Nowadays the event is like an unofficial stair race world championship, hosting a very different kind of elite. To get onto the elite start line you need an invitation but many others -around 700 -are selected through an application process to take part.
For me, the biggest challenge is that the tallest building in my hometown in northern Norway is only five floors high!
What I therefore do is repetitions up and down, up and down, up and down. What I’ve found is it creates a fantastic workout for both the body and the mind. With my focus once again this year on high-profile mountain running races across Europe, I have spent much of the winter running and skiing on the high slopes. In between, I have hit the stairs! Going off past experience I have found that training on the stairs helps build my leg strength ahead of the mountain running season.
As for the race up the Empire State Building itself, yes, it is going to hurt, a lot. My plan, once again, is to take it two steps at a time and run up them as fast as I can for as long as I can. I will also make good use the handrails on the side of staircase, utilizing my arms to help propel my whole body forwards and upwards.
I can guarantee that within a minute of starting the race my legs will be hurting and my lungs burning
The pain, however, is only temporary (hopefully less than 11 minutes) so I will not give in and instead push my body until it is absolutely screaming at me! Maybe then, and only then, will I be forced to slow the pace a little bit. The race is so short it is not worth setting off steady and saving energy for higher up the staircase. I would hate to get to the top and think ‘I could have given a little bit more today’. Not a chance. I know I will push myself so hard that I will reach the finish totally exhausted with nothing more to give.
For many the achievement in reaching the finish will be rewarded with the views across New York. I must admit, as beautiful as the view is, I do find it a little bit scary been up that high! For me it is less about the view and more about the experience. To race up the stairs of a huge, iconic building is so far removed from my daily life and the type of running I usually do that it gives me a real buzz. However, what it also does is make me appreciate the outdoors and make me desperate to get back home into the mountains on my doorstep!
To race up the Empire State Building I want to feel as light as possible. I will wear my inov-8 F-lite 195 shoes, which weigh just 195g and have a nice, low drop so my feet feel close to the surface. The sticky rubber outsole will help with grip, especially when I’m turning fast around the staircase corners. I will also wear the inov-8 Race Elite 125 Racer Short and my race singlet.