Running the ESB: A Step By Step Review

Before we begin, here’s the bottom line: it’s possible.

The Empire State Building Run-Up is often a bucketlist-type feat…I mean, what is cooler than running to the top of a New York City landmark, or any skyscraper for that matter. With only a few hundreds spots available, it’s one of the harder races to get into, unless you’re with one of the wonderful charities involved. I was one of the lucky ones, thanks to the great folks at the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), which operates as a blood cancer-fighting machine, but is also powered by a super athletic body of people known as the Team for Cures.

This was the 38th annual Empire State Building Run-Up and was the 1st year it was hosted by NYCRUNS, as the New York Road Runners headed it up for many years prior.

Are you curious about the stats? Here’s my personal breakdown:

Landmark: Empire State Building

Location: New York City (34thSt./5th ave.)

Steps to climb: 1,576

Floors to climb: 86

Course: narrow stairwell

Landings: heaven

Guards: cheer you on

Railing: can be held

Passing: on the left

Water stations: 2

Runners: mostly elite

Walkers: mostly everyone

Ventilation: barely

Air quality: poor

Breathing: deep

Lungs: on fire

Quads: tired

Cramps: the worst

Exits: nowhere in sight

Inner thoughts: “why did I sign up!?”

Outer thoughts: “go on without me”

Finish line: WHERE ARE YOU!?


Cheering voices: nearing closer



Flashing cameras: SMILE EVEN IF IT HURTS!!


Ten minutes later: OMG LET’S DO THAT AGAIN!!!

That’s a pretty accurate account on my part. That love hate relationship between victory and pain, when you know you’re doing something stellar but it hurts like hell. My experience with this race was like clockwork from last year. It is very, very strange that I tried to avoid certain elements that struck in last year’s race and THEY ALL CAME BACK.

Let me back up. I got to the building at 7pm to meet up with the MMRF team. I knew we wouldn’t start until 8:30 so I tried to have a healthy “dinner” of a turkey sandwich, with a side of what seemed like a gallon of water. My nerves were getting the best of me so I couldn’t really eat. Sure enough, by the time we got in line in the ESB lobby, I was hungry and had to pee pretty bad (TMI? It’s a racer’s reality). But I didn’t have time to run back, so I dealt with it. UGH.

The team walked to the starting line and we were told that we’d be going as a group instead of one by one, which they’ve done in years past. It was a little bit of a cluster, and I felt stuck for a few floors there, but eventually we spread out and everyone got into their pace. The first 10-15 floors I didn’t even pay attention to the floor numbers on the doors. I figured this was my time to get my muscles warm and my heart rate in a steady place. In the 20s I was feeling fine but around floor 30 I felt a cramp coming on in my lower right ribcage (the same place I get a cramp IN EVERY RACE!). I remember thinking “Oh, please no, please go away. Breathe through it Britt.” I tried, I really did, but it got progressively worse and by floor 40 the pain was so bad that my breathing was getting deeper, louder and I was starting to get down on myself.

I decided to lessen my energy output by skipping steps (as opposed to my twinkle toes hitting every one). It helped a bit but didn’t make me any faster; it most likely slowed me down. At the halfway point, I was at a time of 8:30 so I thought I might be able to get this race done in 18 minutes, and kill last year’s time of 19:28. So I gave it my all, by ultimately the cramp led to quite a few stops where I slouched over and tried to catch my breath. Meanwhile, a few floors down, I heard a man throw up (poor guy) and any other sound I heard was extreme huffing and puffing, as if we all just climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I gained confidence in the 60s and by the 70s I knew I was so close. At floor 82, I remember thinking I only have a few floors, but for some reason those were my slowest. I couldn’t sprint to the finish like I had hoped.

Then I hit that final floor and felt the rush of the cold winter air hit my body. At that moment, stairs were over but I had to run 15 seconds or so to the finish line. My jello legs weren’t as mad at me as my throbbing lungs, and it took every ounce of my being to smile through that awful cramp so that I could have a great finish photo. "C’mon, you know that finisher pic is everything!)  So I raised my hands up and I think I may have yelled hallelujah! Haha.

We got our medals, took some victorious pics, my cramp suddenly disappeared and five minutes later I was completely me again, with any race evidence wiped from my body. So weird how that happens.

End result? Same time as last year, essentially. My Timex clocked 19:33, but official was 19:45, which seems way off. It was 15 seconds longer of a race than last year because in 2014 there was so much snow and ice that they wouldn’t let us finish on the deck. But time isn’t important here. And I didn’t even train for this, so I’m thrilled, regardless.


Like I (and The Bachelor) always say, it’s about the JOURNEY! And this particular journey took me UP!

And within 12 hours I was back in the pool, knocking out my 3500m swim with the Terrier Tri team. Climbing was fun, but the swim, bike, run life is back on!

If you're searching for a race just like this, look into charities like The American Lung Association who has a "Fight For Air Climb" series that focuses on skyscraper races across the country.

Keep climbing,