In another look back into his archives, John Levison picks out a rather unusual 'run', which involves running up, up, and up again! The Empire State Building Run Up is one of a number of 'tower' race around the world that have something of a cult status and at the very least, make a change from the usual weekend 10km road race.
The Empire State Building ‘Run Up’ Invitational
Thursday 20th February 1997
Starting in 1978, the Empire State Building ‘run-up' has reached something of cult status among runners looking for something different to try and those who are just simply strange... Of these I'm definitely the former although most people who find out that I voluntarily did this (and paid for the privilege), suggest that perhaps the latter is more appropriate.
So what does this ‘race' involve? Let's get the numbers straight:
1050 feet elevation
2 drinks stations !
OK, so it's less than a quarter of a mile and you get 2 water stops, but don't be misled into thinking that this is easy.
You may have noticed the word ‘invitational' in the title of the race. So how did John ‘good enough to be 10th scorer in the Surrey League but hardly a legend' secure an invite to such a race? It all started back in April last year. Runners World magazine published an article about ‘run-ups' around the world, including the New York event.
For some reason I found this interesting, sent off a letter and .....waited. For nine months, nothing. Suddenly, the second week of January, four weeks before the event an envelope arrives from the New York Road Runners club with an entry form and ‘biography sheet' to complete. This was to be evaluated by a race entry committee (it's always over subscribed). Yes, this race needs a running ‘CV' for entry! Had I any experience of such races? No. Was I a famous celebrity who could bring lots of publicity to the event? Bugger. Had I any major athletic achievements? At this point ‘World Airlines Road Race (age group) Champion' and ‘Hood 2 Coast Corporate Bronze (twice)' came to the rescue!
To be honest, mentioning that I worked for an airline and would provide another ‘international' entrant for their event helped too. 2 weeks later "you're in”
So how on earth do you train to ‘race' up an 86 story building at three weeks notice? No problem: just cross your fingers and hope it will be all right on the day! Actually that's not the whole truth. I did manage one ‘specific' session in a works car park. Ten reps up to the 9th floor (186 steps) with lift (elevator to American readers!) back down again as recovery. This makes your legs feel like someone has battered them with a baseball bat for half an hour. It also makes the occasional office worker walking down the stairs give you strange looks as you pass them. 86 floors, that should be interesting.....
159 entrants and one stair well only four feet wide. Combine this with a start line only 10-yards from the first step (through double doors) and you realise the start can be crucial ! Actually it wasn't (quite) like that. The women started first, followed 86 seconds later by the seeded men (approx. 60) and then two minutes later by the remainder (another 60). With no prior experience I was allocated into the remainder group. The start is in the central corridor of the marble floored Empire State Building, with all the press (TV / radio / papers etc.) behind a barrier by the door. The course is then, well, up (and up and....). You have to change stairwells at the 20th and 65th floors and surprisingly the 20 yards or so of running to do this seems even harder than the stairs themselves.
As the first men hit the door (almost literally) it became obvious that being at the back of my group was a non-starter. I may not have had any prior experience, but I didn't intend to fly to New York to get held up after 10 yards! Two minutes soon passed, the hooter sounded and we were off. I managed to be in the first 6/8 on the stairs in my group which meant no problems arose. Taking the first 5/6 flights steadily, I maintained my position and then gradually started to overtake a few people. Pretty quickly I caught a few of the backmarkers from wave one and then some of the women. My legs were feeling OK and the total agony I was expecting to feel at almost any moment was yet to arise. Wave two starters were all ‘200' numbers and as we hit the 50th floor I realised that nobody had passed me, I was going pretty well and I must be pretty close to the front of my start. I then started looking ahead to see if anyone had a ‘200' and then at floor 78 I saw one! Target was in sight and I was not going to let him beat me! At the 81st I was right behind and an overtaking manoeuvre Damon Hill would be proud of allowed me slip by on the inside (while cunningly hiding my number). With five flights to go, it was a mere ‘sprint' to go. Somehow I found some ‘spring' left and bounded to the final bend. A quick sprint out onto the observation deck and finish. 14 minutes 3 seconds, 31st overall (of 159) and I had finished first in my wave.
Initial thoughts? It wasn't as hard as I had expected (feared?). With no training I had done pretty well and I thought "I could finish in the top 15 here with training”. However, I was still over 3 1/2 minutes behind the winner, German mountain runner Kurt Konig who won for the 3rd straight year in 10.21. The first lady finished in around 12 1/2 minutes (Australian Belinda Sosyn) and the Americans were....no where! They didn't even finish in the top three of the Mens or Womens events.
If you see me running up and down a large car park in the future, don't think ‘nutter', come and join me!
During the race the observation deck is closed to the public and only open to ‘the press'. As my brother was traveling with me, a bit of a problem. Solution? "Go and say you are from BA Inflight Magazine”. Two minutes later, press pass in hand my brother has a new career. Perhaps this level of security explains the events that occurred on the very same observation deck two days later though?
So were the press interested in me? Well, yes actually! Two minutes after the finish I'm approached by a (rather attractive) young lady to do an interview for a New York radio station. "You came all the way from London!”, "How do you keep going?”, "What about this view?” etc. Then time for a few pictures with a British journalist who is doing an article for GQ Active magazine (there was one other British runner competing - I beat him!) with whom we have a few beers after the race (hope I didn't say anything I shouldn't?) Perhaps this is my 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol talked about?