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Last February, Germany's Thomas Dold beat out nearly 700 competitors and won the 35th annual Empire State Building Run-Up in a time of 10 minutes and 28 seconds. The race, which goes from the ground level of the famous New York City building to the observation deck on the 86th floor, spans 1,050 vertical feet and 1,576 steps. Dold's victory was his seventh-straight.
Patrick Halloran finished well behind the German. In fact, he finished well behind the vast majority of the climbers. The 60-year-old Georgia-based construction businessman spent more than an hour-and-a -quarter trekking from the bottom to the top. His time, 1:15:17, made him the slowest of the 670-plus people who started the race. Still, he finished, an impressive accomplishment for a man five years removed from a heart attack and two out from suffering a three-inch cut in his esophagus that left him in the intensive care unit for three weeks. Halloran, however, thinks he could have done better.
"I was certain I would be able to do it in 30 to 50 minutes, but it just didn't work out," he told me over the phone. "I was proud to be able to finish." The ex-military man had to stop every three or four floors to catch his breath for a minute or so. Despite the struggle, he kept going up and up and up.
"Your heart is beating out of your chest,” he said, laughing. “You talk about a stress test, that's a stress test.”
THE RACE, ORGANIZED BY the New York Road Runners and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, attracts all types of competitors. The inaugural event took place in 1978 and was won by New York firefighter Gary Muhrcke, who won the first-ever New York City Marathon eight years prior. There is the elite group of hardcore tower-running specialists, men like Dold, who is also a record-holding backward-runner, or Australian bike racing pro and Run-Up record-holder (9:33 in 2003) Paul Crake, who travel the world searching for tall buildings to ascend. "They look like they are out of Mogadishu. They could run from one side of Africa to the other," Halloran said. "They were going by me like I was a turtle."
But the majority of the participants have no designs on winning; they merely hope to complete the vertical trek. While most times are in the 20- to 40-minute range, Halloran wasn't last by too much. Two men wearing sunglasses, sporting mullets, and carrying an American flag crossed the finish line just before the one hour and 14 minute mark.
As you might imagine, being at the back of the pack has its decided disadvantages. "It's hot. They say it's only 65 to 68 degrees, but they are full of crap,” Halloran said. “The further you get up there, the hotter it gets. That may just be because your heart's beating so fast, but it gets hot and stuffy. The smell gets pretty nasty because you've got 500 people who are sweating and spitting. Being the last guy, you're eating a lot of crow."
Despite the heat, the stench, and the disappointing finish, he's returning for another year. Next week, Halloran and hundreds of other competitors will once again take to the stairs. The Georgia man is determined to show better in his second attempt and has been training even harder. Halloran spends time training in a four-story parking garage in town, going up and down in an effort to mimic the conditions. (Small southern cities are not known for their skyscrapers.) His 2012 workout totals: 1,562 miles walked; 472 miles on a spinner bike "as hard as I could"; 2,253 minutes on a Bowflex Treadclimber; 2,601 deep knee squats; alighted 2,777 flights of stairs.
"It's going to kick anybody's ass, I don't care who you are," he said. "But I hope it doesn't kick mine as much as it did last year."
His goal is to make the climb in under an hour and, hopefully, not finish last. The difficulty starts after the 40th or 50th floor, when the body is exhausted and the oxygen becomes scarce. But this ordeal is more about the path than the result. The race provides motivation to get into shape and to stay there, although, Halloran says, it's not the only reason he works out. "I'm doing these exercises because of myself. Anybody can do it. All you gotta do is start.”
Still, Halloran is looking forward to the end of the journey: "On February 7, I'll be the happiest guy in the world. I'm sick to death of training. My ankles hurt. My knees hurt."
Pain is temporary; aping King Kong is forever.
Noah Davis (@noahedavis) is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.