The Ultimate Stairmaster

World's top outdoor athletes to sprint up Empire State Building
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World's top outdoor athletes to sprint up Empire State Building

At BACKPACKER, most of our steep ascents involve pounding dirt on the side of a mountain. But on February 3, about 350 athletes will go vertical inside: Instead of climbing one of the nation's tallest peaks, they'll be sprinting the stairs of New York City's tallest building.

The 32nd annual Empire State Building Run-Up draws some of the best outdoor athletes, from triathletes to professional cyclists. They all strap on their running shoes and line up to race (and elbow) their way up to the 86th-floor observation deck.

The 1,050 feet vertical gained by Empire racers may not sound impressive, especially considering it's only about 1/5 the ascent of most Colorado fourteeners. But former US Olympic triathlon coach, professional cyclist, and Empire competitor Michelle Blessing told The Gazette it's harder than it seems:

"I've done Ironmans, I've done the Pikes Peak Marathon, but this is the most painful thing I've ever done," she said. "You go completely anaerobic and still have 60 floors to go. Your lungs just hurt."

If you're still convinced that the 1,576 stairs to the top seems like gravy compared to traversing high-altitude peaks, consider that the record finisher, Australian professional cyclist Paul Crake, crossed the finish line in 9 minutes, 33 seconds in 2003. Most winners, in fact, sprint it in just over 10 minutes.

In a recent BACKPACKER poll, you told us how you feel about indoor hiking (a firm "no way"), but what about indoor racing? In the comments section below, tell us whether you think it's an impressive incline or a waste of energy on bad scenery.

--Morgan Keys

Image Credit: alistairmcmillan



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