By Danielle McNally
February 10, 2012

I've run a marathon, so when I was invited to participant in New York Road Runners' Empire State Building Run-Up (a race to the top of the country's second-tallest building), I figured what the heck? That was until my fellow competitor and SHAPE Executive Editor, A.J. Hanley, told me that past participants have said that you suffer more on those stairs than in a 26.2-miler. (For real! Click here to read about it.) Definitely intimidating, but after a few weeks with some extra sessions on the stepmill, I felt ready.

When the starting gun went off Wednesday night I took off up the 86 flights. The first few stories are chaotic as racers try to push past you on the narrow stairwell (no more than two people across), but soon enough people fall into a rhythm, the crowd thins out, and it's just you and the stairs-all 1,576 of them. Let me just say, for a "Run-Up" there was very little running; my legs started burning around the 10th floor. To save my muscles, I developed a strategy of alternating between one- and two-steps at a time. Single steps put the pressure on my quads for several flights, then when I doubled-up, my glutes took over.

My gams weren't the issue though-the tightness in my chest was. A.J. and I are blaming the altitude for the fact that our breath was shallow and thorax on fire. But both of us made it, crossing the finish line on the observatory deck at 19:28 (me) and 21:19 (A.J.).

Was it harder than a marathon? No, but there weren't the throngs of cheering crowds to motivate you either. It's an individual struggle of physical and mental strength. And I came out on top.


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