Awaiting the start of the Empire State Building Run-Up Powered by the MMRF, runners have 1,576 ominous steps in front of them. Even if they’re experienced at tower racing, as it’s known, they have to be ready for anything. This is a race for the adventurous, whether they’ve been practicing for stair-climbs around the world or they’re trying this quirky event for the first time.
Take Conrad Clevlen. Warming up for his third ESBRU, the 24-year-old former track sprinter theorized that his speedy background might help him on the stairs. “I think this race bridges the gap between anaerobic and endurance performance,” he mused. “I’m counting on my upper body strength and my quads to get me through.” His training partner Mark Heller—a veteran of five 86-floor climbs—cautioned, “Don’t sprint through the early floors—you’ll pay later if you do.”
When the race got underway, participants tested their various strategies: Many chewed gum or sucked cough drops to combat the dry, dusty air in the stairwell; some turned up their iPods to drown out the sound of their own breathing.
At the top, first-timers David Knight, 56, and Matt Cooney, 41— native New Yorkers who now live in Boston—were high on their achievement. “I’d absolutely do it again,” said Knight, who ran with NYRR’s Team for Kids. Cooney had run one other stair race, in Beantown—“but it wasn’t nearly as tall or as tough as this,” he said. Of course it wasn’t! A race up New York’s most iconic skyscraper has to be bigger and brasher than any race in Boston.
Among the finishers were several dozen runners who raised funds for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), a leading cancer research foundation that has helped to double survival for multiple myeloma patients since its inception. Finisher Sally Kalksma, 50, a mother of three who lives in Pine Branch, NJ, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2008; her husband was diagnosed six months later and passed away eight months after that. Kalksma, whose motto is “Cancer may take years from my life, but I won’t let it take life from my years,” finished her second Run-Up in 19:04.
All of the record 724 finishers battled the world’s toughest competitor: gravity. The best battlers were two Australians, invitational-race champions Suzy Walsham and Mark Bourne.
As they looked down from the pinnacle after their ascent of Manhattan’s tallest building, all of the finishers were rewarded with a dazzling view of the city by night. They might have called it breathtaking—if they had any breath to spare.