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Stair Climbing: Running on the (High) Rise

Make movement a component central to life.

By Kellee Katagi

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The world’s longest-living people don’t make exercise an addendum to each day; they make movement a component as central to their life as work or prayer or leisure time. They walk or bike when they can, rather than drive; they garden daily; they shovel their front walk and their neighbors’; they clean their homes regularly; they walk the dog. I’m encouraged to know the trend back toward natural movement is gaining momentum.

–James Rouse, ND

Chalk up even more vertical with one of endurance running’s fastest-growing trends: stair climbs. Also called vertical running, tower running or skyrunning, stair climbing has spawned its own international federation and running circuit in which athletes scale the world’s tallest buildings, from the 91 floors and 2,046 steps of Taiwan’s Taipei 101 to the Empire State Building (86 floors, 1,576 steps).

The sport’s elite athletes charge the stairs hard, taking them two at a time and using the handrails at strategic times to battle gravity and pull themselves upward. They finish the races in a matter of minutes—11:26 minutes to be exact for the 2012 winner of the Taipei 101 race (Thomas Dold, 27, of Germany, who also won the 2012 Empire State Building climb in 10:28 minutes). Other athletes set a slower pace, considering making it to the top a sufficiently impressive accomplishment (their reward: taking the elevator down).

Denver’s highest profile stair climb—the American Lung Association’s (ALA) Fight for Air Climb at the 56-story Republic Plaza—draws both types of participants. Pikes Peak Ascent record holder Kim Dobson topped the women’s field in the 2012 event, while participants like 46-year-old Sef Williams of Lakewood see stair climbing as a challenging way to get fit while raising funds for the ALA. “I have asthma, so the value of a breath is near and dear to me,” Williams says. When Williams signed up for his first ALA stair climb in 2008, he’d never considered himself athletic. Since then, he’s finished four more Denver climbs, as well as the 2012 SkyRise Chicago Tower Up at the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). “I lost 38 pounds while training for the Chicago climb,” Williams says. He primarily preps on his gym’s StairMaster, but he also visits Red Rocks Amphitheater when his schedule allows. Other stair-climb athletes train by running stairs in apartment or office buildings.

Stair climbs tax your hamstrings and glutes, so avoid muscle imbalances by either running both up and down the stairs during workouts or weaving squats and other quad exercises into your training regimen.

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