Lisa Runs on Ramen

— running 26.2 and having foodie adventures too!


Empire State Building Run-Up (Part 2) and Happy Lunar New Year!

[ESBRU recap continued from Part 1]

I'm ready to run up this thing!

I’m ready to run up this thing!

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).

Me with my coworkers Daphne and Sean

Me with my coworkers Daphne and Sean

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.

My raffle prize: Nike women's running sunglasses. Thanks Evelyn!

My raffle prize: Nike women’s running sunglasses. Thanks Evelyn!

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!

Jackie's friend (left), Jackie (center) and me

Jackie’s friend (left), Jackie (center) and me

Wams and me pre-run-up

Wams and me pre-run-up


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.

You can see a glimpse of Kelly Ripa (bib 300). She was high-fiving participants.

You can see a glimpse of Kelly Ripa (bib 300). She was high-fiving participants.

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!

Lisa pre-run-up. Photo by Ben Ko.

Lisa pre-run-up. Photo by Ben Ko.

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!

40th floor…

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??”

50th floor…

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.

60th floor…

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….

70th floor…

I start to cough. My vision starts to get blurry…so close, hang in there…

80th floor…

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!”

86th floor…

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

Overall: 379/726

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.

My friend Chad, who was working the finish line

My friend Chad, who was working the finish line

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.

View from Empire State Building, 2/6/13

View from Empire State Building, 2/6/13


The finish line

The finish line

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!

ESBRU finisher medals

ESBRU finisher medals

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!

Me and Wams at Arirang

Me and Wams at Arirang

A few of the lovely people who came to celebrate at Arirang

A few of the lovely people who came to celebrate at Arirang

I ordered a delicious bowl of chicken and handmade noodles in soup. It was super delicious.

Chicken noodle soup at Arirang, Korean-style

Chicken noodle soup at Arirang, Korean-style

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.

Thanks Rockin' Refuel!

Thanks Rockin’ Refuel!

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!

Beautiful fondant cake baked by Fion!

Beautiful fondant cake baked by Fion!

My aunt got me these cute Disney Princess lucky red envelopes...

My aunt got me these cute Disney Princess lucky red envelopes…


Looking ahead and Great Cranberry Island 50K, Part 1

As I look back on an awesome year of racing, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to run in some of the most beautiful parts of the world. Some of my favorites were the Tokyo Marathon, The Miami Marathon, The Big Sur Marathon, The Toronto Goodlife Fitness Marathon, and the Great Cranberry Island 50K. I feel like each of those races deserves a proper blog post with photos, so I’ll post about some of them in the next few weeks in reverse chronological order.

My next three big races are the Sea Wheeze (aka the Lululemon Half Marathon) this weekend in Vancouver, the Beast of Burden Summer 100, and the Ragnar Relay Washington, DC. I’m pretty nervous about the 100-miler. Who goes out and runs 100 miles for fun? I feel mentally prepared but I feel like my body (namely my feet) may betray me. The longest I’ve ever run is 76.1 miles in 24 hours for the Stroehmann Back on my Feet 20in24 race, and I’ve done some other ultras since then. In the meantime, I am looking forward to spending this weekend with my west coast friend (and sorority sister) Amy, just being girly and geeking out to the plethora of Lululemon Athletica products that will surely be waiting for us at the expo. Oh, and the inevitable foodie-ing before and after the race shall be epic.

 Here goes my first race recap:

 Marathon #27 (Ultra #7): The Great Cranberry Island 50K—Cranberry Isles, Maine (Part 1)

Getting to the starting line of this race was a special journey. It all started with my friend Jackie, who ran this race last year on the same day my friends Steve, Michelle and I ran the 20in24 Lone Ranger race. She had rented a house with some other members of the Marathon Maniacs club on this remote island off the coast of Mount Desert Island and took the most spectacular jumping photos. She also mentioned that there was a whole boiled lobster and a belt buckle for every finisher. I was sold.


The 2012 edition of the race held a lottery because of its growing popularity—I entered the lottery in December and was informed in February that I was in. Hooray! I knew this was going to be unlike any other race I’ve run. The only thing nagging me was that I had monster back-to-back weekends of racing ultras. I had to do the 24-hour race in Philly again (with the goal of running 59 miles) and then bookend that with an additional 31 miles on a hilly, out-and-back course seven days later. Yes, I am young and foolish. I somehow convinced myself that was a good idea. I managed to finish 59.1 miles in 17:24 for the 20in24 race on 7/14/12, and bowed out early due to aching metatarsals that changed my running form. I had to save my feet for the 50K, and it turned out to be a good decision.


Jackie and her friend Caitlin showed up at the crack of dawn to pick up myself and Becky from Becky’s apartment. It is a 9-hour drive from NYC to Bar Harbor, ME, but we stopped for lobster rolls in Portland, ME. Eating good food was our top priority and it was definitely worth the hour we stopped. I had the biggest lobster roll of my life from Fisherman’s Grill. It looked like a typical crab shack but had nearly perfect reviews on Yelp. We were not disappointed. I got the combo, which included the roll and a delicious, creamy bowl of clam chowder. Now I know why this place is featured in Adam Richman’s book (of Man vs. Food fame)!


This is why I run.


Next, we stopped at Cranberry Island Kitchen for some yummy whoopee pies, lobster cookies, and Moxie soda. I liked the lemon flavored whoopee with lime crème filling.

Our next stop was Acadia National Park, which I was super excited about. We took many, many jumping pictures.


We also got to see a mock-up of the Great Cranberry Island 2-mile road where we’d be running back and forth 16 times.


Our group met up with Paul, Talisa, Steven and Benny, and we dipped our feet in the ice-cold Atlantic Ocean at Sand Beach (yes, original name, I know). We did the 20-mile drive, including a stop at Cadillac Mountain to watch the late afternoon sunlight fade. We had dinner at West Street Café in Bar Harbor—I had the spicy pasta puttanesca with shrimp, lobster bisque, and blueberry soda!


We rented the Red House on Great Cranberry Island. There are no hotels nor bed and breakfasts on the island, so some locals rent out their houses for the summer season. There was also rustic camping but since I am a buffet for mosquitoes, I was glad not to be camping out. The entire island is only two miles long by one mile wide, and it is a special place where all the locals know each other. There is no police department and no hospital, just a volunteer fire department, one gift shop, a general store and two cafes. Imagine that!! On the morning of the race, Benny and I got up early to walk around and picked up our race packets. We met up in the morning with some of our house mates, including Dave, Amanda, and Pascal. We saw the welcome banner hanging over the dock and grabbed breakfast sandwiches at the Great Cranberry General Store. The race packets were awesome, including a Nike gray tech shirt, our lobster dinner tickets, and personalized race bibs. We also got a glimpse of the beautiful lobster claw medal we would be running for! Stay tuned for part two…


Wow we’re really here!