[ESBRU recap continued from Part 1]
So, the funny thing about the Empire State Building Run-up was that I didn’t know what to eat beforehand for an 8pm race. I had a big lunch of sticky rice with chicken at 12pm, followed by a Potbelly Italian sandwich around 2:30pm, just to keep my salt levels up. I hydrated all day like it was my job. I drank Nuun electrolyte drink and plenty of water, to prepare for the dry air in the stairwell. I ate a KIND brand granola bar the hour before the race, just so I could have something in my stomach, but I didn’t want to eat anything that might make me hurl! (I usually never think of the worst-case-scenario, but see–told you I was nervous).
I have been asked, how could I be nervous about running a 0.2 mile race (a quarter mile straight up, fighting gravity) when I’ve run 24-hour races before? Well, it was uncharted territory for me–I had never climbed up 86 floors in one attempt before. It is quite different from running a few miles for practice and then running the full distance in a race. I don’t do well with acute pain. Indoor track had been my weakness back in high school, since I didn’t take well to the wheezing and bloody, dry feeling when I sprinted over short distances.
Ok, deep breath, Lisa. You can do this! I kept picturing my heart giving out somewhere around the 76th Floor, and me collapsing as runners stepped over me. This positive visualization thing is NOT working.
Around 6pm the same day, I head to a cool event celebrating National Women’s Day at Niketown. I ran into my friend Evelyn there. I entered the raffle for a chance to win a Nike Fuelband or a pair of Nike Running sunglasses, but unfortunately I had to leave before the winner’s name was drawn. My name was on the raffle ticket, so I told Evelyn to try and claim the prize on my behalf if they called my name, since I had to head to the Empire State Building early for packet pick-up. Around 6:50pm, Evelyn texts me and says,
“Hey. You won.”
Are you kidding?? There were at least 50 other women there! Wow!!
Luckily, I didn’t have to run back to Niketown–the nice Nike people let Evelyn choose a badass pair of sunglasses on my behalf.
I was ecstatic. The night was off to a good start!
So I get to the staging area on the second floor, and even at 7:00pm (an hour before race time), the place was throbbing with energy. A DJ was spinning music, adding to the party atmosphere. I take the requisite pre-race photos with friends, and I’m happy to bump into my friends Helen and fellow Marathon Maniac Jackie!
Earlier in the day, my friend Shannon provided me an awesome list of ESBRU tips, including:
1) Use your arms as much as possible to pull yourself up the railings
2) Running the landings/flat parts
3) Breathe in through your nose and mouth quickly to give your lungs maximum capacity
4) Note that the first 50 floors goes by very quickly, but the last 36 floors have high ceilings and it seems to go on forever.
Thanks for the tips, Shannon! I also was told by Daphne to chew gum or take cough drops, because the air is super dry. I picked up my awesome tech shirt, a drawstring bag, and my bib, and I chat with my friends a bit to calm my nerves.
At 8:00pm, the pros were off. Later, I was told that a pair of Aussies won the men and women’s races, respectively. More on their insane finish times later. Read about the pro stair-climbers in this NY Times article. They don’t mess around.
At around 8:05pm, the media heat went off. My friend Brian was coaching Kelly Ripa on her run-up. As a result, he got an awesome shout-out on Kelly’s talk show, and he also appears in the last 10 minutes of Live! with Kelly and Michael here.
At 8:15pm, my heat starts lining up. For some reason I’m placed in the first heat, which either implies I’m really fast (ha!) or they knew I just wanted to get this over with (probably). In any case, I was excited to finally get going. This will be my first time ever on the Empire State Building observation deck! My friend Ben was there to support and take photos. Thanks, Ben!
We wait about 10 minutes in the second floor corrals, then we’re led to the first floor where the start line is located. We’re waiting around for about 15 minutes. I had already eaten two of my three cough drops already. Oops! I was wondering what the delay was, and then finally I saw: they were spacing runners five seconds apart. It was a time-trial; they lined up the athletes single file, they gave you the signal to go, then you went up the staircase individually. It was a lot safer this way–the pros have to sprint for the small doorway, and usually there are elbows being thrown. Luckily I didn’t have to worry about that. The event director gave us last minute instructions: “Folks, remember that once you enter the stairwell, there’s only one way out–you must go UP the stairs. Do not go DOWN the stairs, go UP.” That made me chuckle. I guess someone had tried to go down…
Finally, around 8:50pm it was my turn. Ready, set, go!
I sprint towards the doorway into a gunmetal-gray stairwell. It’s pretty narrow, only wide enough for about two people. I climb up the stairs two at a time, and around the 10th floor I’m already breathing heavily. I pass a few people on the way up, and everyone’s really polite about it. I whisper ” ‘Scuse me,” because I have no breath left to talk! It feels like a jail (or a really old public school)–most of the doors are shut, the stairwell is drab, and all I can hear is the echoing of feet above me. I try to run the landings at first, but at the 20th floor I’m already struggling. I didn’t want to pull out my camera to take photos because I was aiming for under 20:00, and that would have wasted precious time.
I noticed that there were cheery Empire State Building employees intoning the destination every 10th floor so that you could keep track. When you’re flying up the stairs as fast as you can, it’s hard to read the numbers. I loved the employees! They looked so chipper in their maroon uniforms and were the only source of motivation in this dead zone. I reach a water station somewhere around the 30th floor (I could be wrong). My legs start feeling dead, but at least they’re not hurting. My lungs feel like they’ve aged five years by breathing in all the dust. My coworker Gordon comes up behind me and she shouts encouragingly, “This is nothing! You can do it!” as she speeds by. She’s an amazing runner–I have no clue how she had the energy to cheer. The cough drop feels like sandpaper in my dry mouth. Crazy!
I start feeling dizzy. I no longer care whom I pass or who passes me. I felt so lethargic. “This is hell on earth,” I think. “Why, why would anyone voluntarily do this??”
I remember Shannon’s words. The higher floors do feel like they take forever. I was desperate to get some fresh air–my brain felt like it was cotton. I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling so bad. Maybe it’s because stair-climbing is the most masochistic sport ever.
I slow down a lot. I feel like I was going to faint if I went any faster. Slow. And. Steady. I don’t want to die….
I start to cough. My vision starts to get blurry…so close, hang in there…
I trudge up the stairs and I can feel a slight wind. There’s fresh air! One of the stairwell doors is propped open and the breeze gives me hope. An ESBRU employee yells “you got this!”
Like a lost hiker in the desert staggering towards a mirage, I shift my tired legs into a run towards the observation deck door. The volunteers and staff are clapping and cheering as the runners emerged, dazed, and run a victory lap around the deck. The finish line is illuminated and the city is a beautiful carpet of lights beneath our feet. I made it! I have conquered the Empire State Building Run-Up!
Here were my final results:
Net time for 86 floors (1,561 steps): 20:35
Gender Place: 93/248, Age Place: 29/69
For comparison purposes, the first-place male, Mark Bourne, finished in 10:12. The women’s winner, Suzy Walsham, finished in 12:05. They are jaw-droppingly hardcore. Read about the results here.
It was cold, and the staff and volunteers were trying to usher me inside. “Wait!” I said, “I need to take more pictures!” My brain was really addled and I needed the fresh air. I breathed deeply and just enjoyed the view. Then, reality set in and I realized it was about 30F and I was in shorts and singlet. Plus, I needed to get my medal inside.
The view was definitely worth it. It’s beautiful at night.
All the volunteers and staff were fantastic. Once I went inside, I saw tons of volunteers eager to hand us our medals. The medal is gorgeous!
I got my medal and took a few more photos before heading down in the elevator. I had to take one with a fabulous ESB staff member:
I went back down in the elevator and was very happy to have post-race plans to look forward to. My friends were waiting to celebrate with me at Arirang Noodle restaurant in Korea town. Thanks so much to everyone who came out and made me feel special! Congrats also to Wams and my fellow stair runners who completed the race!
I ordered a delicious bowl of chicken and handmade noodles in soup. It was super delicious.
My head felt funny, as if it were stuffed with cotton, and unfortunately this feeling persisted for two days! I also was sneezing non-stop for two days, and I’d “almost-sneeze” and feel even worse because I couldn’t get it out. I later found out that the likely cause was the thinner air and slight air pressure change at the top of the building, which explained why I felt so bad starting around the 40th floor. There was also a lack of oxygen and poor ventilation in the stair well. This is an awesome, unique race, but just be prepared for some challenges that you can’t really train for! For me, the hardest part was the dry air and lack of oxygen. Luckily, everything returned to normal in a few days.
Thanks everyone for your support and positive energy before, during and after the race!
Last but not least, thanks to Team Refuel for providing my awesome jersey, and to Shamrock Farms and Team Refuel for the Rockin’ Refuel chocolate milk that I devoured at home post-race! The chocolate milk helped me recover, and my legs weren’t even sore the next day.
Happy Lunar New Year!
I want to wish everyone a happy Year of the Snake in 2013! I celebrated with a family dinner in a restaurant in Brooklyn. It was great seeing my mom’s side of my family, and my little cousin Fion even baked a beautiful cake for the occasion!
Lunar New Year is one of my favorite holidays, because the focus is on family and sharing a meal together. Sure, there are also lucky red envelopes, but that’s just a bonus. I wish all my friends health and happiness in the coming year!