'Enjoy the Pain'

Empire State Building runner dishes about yesterday's jam-packed race up the iconic skyscraper

Hundreds of world-class outdoor athletes gathered yesterday at New York City's tallest skyscraper and--amongst a flurry of elbows and flailing limbs--made a mad dash to the 86th floor. Former U.S. Olympic triathlon coach and professional cyclist Michelle Blessing has just enough energy left to give us the dirt on the 32nd annual Empire State Building Run-Up.

BACKPACKER.com: You have a lot of experience with outdoor sports like the Ironman and professional cycling. How does running inside the Empire State Building compare to being outside?

Michelle Blessing: (It's) more intense--because it is so short and entirely anaerobic. Also, it is very dry in the buildings, so you cough like crazy for a few days after the race. Your lungs take a beating.

BP: That sounds rough. What's your favorite part of the race, then?

(I like) the circus around it--(there's) tons of media. It is a big deal in other countries, so there are tons of foreign competitors and foreign media. Also, the start of this race is unique: You start as a group about 20 feet from the door and push like hell to get inside. This year, I had a high number--32 out of 57--so I got stuck on the third line and it probably cost me a minute getting in behind so many slower walkers.

BP: Do you have any advice for someone thinking about participating in next year's Run-Up?

You should get in the stairwell quickly for this race. You really need to get as far up as possible before the monkey jumps on your back. Running every other step is the quickest way, but once you are relegated to a walk, walking every other step or running every step are about the same speed, so I try to mix it up in order to use different muscle groups. Also, run any landings--make up time anywhere there isn't stairs. Other than that, zone out and enjoy the pain.

BP: So in the end, how did you do in the race?

Blessing: I ended up 14th with a time of 15:40. I wanted to be under 15 minutes and top ten, and I am sure that would have been very doable had I started better! So, I am actually very pleased. Running 15:00 would have placed me 8th. Next year...

We'll all be rooting for her next year—from a dirt-covered trail on an actual mountain, where we'll have plenty of time, views, and elbow room.

--Morgan Keys