What It Is: The Empire State Building Run-Up, the world’s first — and most famous — tower race
Who Tried It: Stephanie Emma Pfeffer, PEOPLE Health writer and editor
Level of Difficulty: 8/10 — Thigh burning, lung-bursting… but with a great payoff at the top.
When PEOPLE got an invitation to participate in the Empire State Building Run-Up sponsored by Turkish Airlines (which is headquartered there), I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do one of the most iconic races in the world, one that benefits charities like the Challenged Athletes Foundation and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
While I was pretty sure I would be able to make it to the top, I knew it was a different beast than my usual half-marathons: I needed to be quick and powerful versus slow(er) and steady. About a month out, I increased my HIIT workouts and threw in a few extra split squats and lunges. (Obviously I’m not a trainer — I just guessed what might make sense.) I also used the StairMaster at the gym several times a week, figuring the the Empire State Building setting would totally prepare me for the thigh burn.
Not quite! It was still a challenge. The first 20 floors were easy enough, but then I started feeling it in my chest and lungs. The stairs are also pretty steep. I remember reaching the halfway point and thinking, wow, my quads are already kind of tired and I have another 40 floors to go! So no, it wasn’t really like the StairMaster — but that training probably helped my endurance.
And 17 minutes after entering the stairwell, I blew through the door of the 86th floor and literally felt on top of the world! Since the runners are staggered, there are just a few finishers at a time. It was really cool to be on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building — usually teeming with tourists — with just a handful of other people. I felt special for a few seconds… before heading all the way back down in the elevator.
Here’s what else I learned climbing 86 flights, 1,576 stairs, approximately one-fifth of a vertical mile to the top:
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