While Bernard Lagat, Nick Willis and Kara Goucher ready themselves to run around the 145.5m track in Madison Square Garden at Friday's 102nd Millrose Games, a different group of athletes is preparing to run in a completely different direction next week: straight up.
At next Tuesday's 32nd annual New York Road Runners Empire State Building Run-Up, 350 athletes will race up 86 floors in a narrow stairwell to the freezing air of the outdoor observatory of New York City's tallest building, climbing 1576 steps and gaining 1050 feet (320m) in elevation. It will take the fastest man about ten minutes and the fastest woman about 12 minutes to reach the finish line.
"This race tests the stamina and pain thresholds of all who attempt it," commented the NYRR CEO and president Mary Wittenberg.
Likely to be first to the finish are three-time defending men's champion, Thomas Dold, a German who lives in Stuttgart. Dold, 24, is a student and professional tower climber who commutes to Frankfurt a few times a week to practice stair climbing in the Main Tower, a 200m skyscraper with nearly 1000 steps.
"I don't think about a fourth consecutive title," said Dold through a news release last week. "I will do it like the last year: prepare well and show all what I have trained for. That's what I can do."
Suzy Walsham, Australia's 2006 800m champion who has run 2:01.85 for that distance and 4:07.78 for 1500m, has won the last two Run-Ups in a row. The 35 year-old athlete now lives in Singapore where she works as an accountant for a global internet security company. She won last year's race on almost no training because of a nagging calf injury.
The event records are stiff, especially the men's. In 2003 Australian Paul Crake, who would become a five-time champion, ran 9 minutes and 33 seconds. (Tragically, Crake is now paralyzed from the waist down after a horrific bicycle racing accident in New Zealand in November, 2006.) Dold's best time is 10:08.
"Maybe there is a chance, if I have a really, really good day and am healthy that I will be the first European to break the 10-minute mark," said Dold. "That would be an unbelievable honor for me to join the club of the sub-10s."
The women's event record is 11:23 by Austrian steeplechaser and mountain runner Andrea Mayr. Walsham's best time is 12:44.
There will also be spirited age-group competition all the way up the most senior athletes. Ginette Bedard, 75, of Howard Beach, N.Y., already the holder of the USA W7074 marathon record of 3:46:03, is the oldest woman entered. Piero Dettin, 71, of Italy, is the oldest man entered.
The race is scheduled for 10:30, Tuesday, Feb. 3, at the Empire State Building at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. Entries for the event have already closed.