Empire State Stair Race Draws Pros, Amateurs, and Seniors Up 86 Flights


Melissa Moon finishes first among women in today’s Empire State run.

More than 300 athletes climbed 86 floors today in the New York Road Runners’ annual Empire State Building Run-Up. The race, which covered 1,576 stairs and included runners from 19 states and 17 countries, began in the building’s lobby and ended on the 86th floor Observation Deck.

The women’s race was pretty unusual, in that neither of the top two women had ever climbed the Empire State Building before. The winner, Australia New Zealand’s Melissa Moon, 40, is a mountain runner who has done stair races before. (She won with the auspicious finishing time of 13:13.) New York’s own Gretchen Grindle Hurlbutt, 31, however, had never done any kind of stair race before coming in second today, less than a minute after Moon.

Hurlbutt (pictured above) is a competitive marathon runner who participated in the Olympic trials in 2008 and plans to try again for the team in 2012. She told the Voice before the race that she’s moving to Idaho in May and just thought running up the Empire State Building “was something I felt like I should do before we moved away.” She had been warned by her coach Michelle Blessing (who won the women’s 40-49 category) to “stay away from stair machines,” so she instead trained for this race by running up and down a 20-story building.

When Hurlbutt emerged on the 86th floor, she looked neither breathless nor especially spent. Holding her five-month-old baby, she described the experience as “pretty relaxing… I’d thought of taking the stairs two at a time to save energy, but I ended up taking them one at a time, to maximize my workout.”

Thomas Dold (above) won the overall race with a time of 10:16. Dold is a professional stair runner. Yes, there is such a thing — and there’s a whole circuit of stair-runs up famous tall buildings around the world. Though the Empire State is not the tallest, its race is considered the crown jewel of the circuit.

Dold trains for the Empire State run all year long. Although he did not beat the record of 9:23 set by Paul Crake, he did become the first person to have won the race five times. Dold dramatically collapsed as soon as he crossed the finish line — creating a bit of a panic for the organizers as runners on the tiny Observation Deck backed up in apparent alarm. But once he was back on his feet, he began reminding people of his accomplishment.

Asked how he felt, Dold replied, “I have won five times. So, how do I feel? You’ll have to come back and ask me in a few months, after it has settled in.”

There was no shortage of New Yorkers who completed this unusual race under intriguing circumstances. Ginette Bedard (above), 76, handily won her age group with a time of 22:35. The French-born Howard Beach resident eschews stair climbers or even actual stairs, preferring to run three hours a day on the beach instead. “Oh, la la!” She exclaimed at the thought of training specially for this race. “You don’t need any of that! You just need good legs, a healthy heart, and a healthy mind!” (When Bedard ran the New York City Marathon last year, she set a gender-age world record for her time of 4:09; if you adjusted that time using an age-grade standard, it would be 2:12, making her the fastest woman in the world.)

Roy Lamendola, 72, finished the race on his 47th wedding anniversary. Lamendola has completed marathons and triathlons, but he says this race is “completely different” and “far more painful” than anything else he does. “The worst is when you get to the halfway point. You have so many more floors to go!” But the septuagenarian averaged four floors per minute.

At least one married couple completed the race and placed in their respective categories: Stacy Creamer of New York, 50, came in first in her division, and her husband Stuart Calderwood (who works for New York Road Runners) came in third in his. Calderwood has run every day for 27 years, 10 days without interruption. The two first met at a race, and have one seven-year old-son who is already competing in races of up to five miles.

David Allard, 62, record holder for consecutive Empire State runs, completed his 17th straight today.

Barring emergencies, the Empire State Building’s staircase is only opened once a year — for this race. Consequently, the runners always race through stale air, with a cloud of dust at every step. It’s so humid that, as freezing as the February air is at 86 stories, more than one runner, clad in nothing more than running shorts and a tank top, remarked how wonderful it felt to escape into it.


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