Running up a Skyscraper: a Good Cardio High?

Exploring Intensity

Running up a Skyscraper: a Good Cardio High?

Team C High MS Climb

Mark, Nancy, Ruth and Adam standing with Scott Zolak of 98.5 The Sports Hub

Cardio High formed a small team to run up all 61 flights of the John Hancock Tower in Boston for the Climb to the Top benefit for the National MS Society. The Climb was well organized with teams hitting the stairs in waves every five minutes. Team Cardio High warmed up for our 10:25am race by doing some of our favorite dynamic warm-up moves like speed skaters, butt kicks and slow motion high knees. None of us had ever run up more than a few flights of stairs, so we were unsure what to expect.

Mark's Polar HR sum of the 61 stair flight climb. 7+ straight minutes in zone 5

Mark’s Polar HR sum of the 61 stair flight climb. 7+ straight minutes in zone 5


Our team started at 10:25 with one runner leaving every 15 seconds. We didn’t realize that stair running is a solo (and somewhat lonely) sport. Armed with an iPhone for time and heart rate, your faithful corresp. (Mark) took off, bounding two steps at a time with a plan to alternate between single steps and doubles as a way of using different muscles. At the 10th floor I was breathing very heavily and saw my heart rate at 153 bpm (zone 5 for me). I switched to single steps for a few flights and soon realized this is how I was going to stay. Running straight up is very difficult. I usually like a good race, but when I hit the 40th floor I began to worry about passing out and couldn’t wait for the run to be over. The stairwell of a beautiful glass building is an ugly concrete passage. My finish time was 9:24  with the following Polar results:

7:40 of the total were zone 5 (90+% of heart rate max) while 1:26 were zone 4, leaving just a few seconds in the lower hr zones.

Team Cardio High felt a nice buzz after the climb/race, however we all started coughing and hacking a few minutes after finishing. As we headed back down to the lobby for refreshments we all sounded more like Team Bong Hit. Our first guess was that the air quality in the stairway was dusty and not healthy. But it turns out that running stairs requires such a massive intake of air by the lungs that the airway erodes during the run. The erosion leads to an irritation that causes a cough or Track Hack. The Track Hack does cut into the over-all high from the event, so Team Cardio High concluded that, and the solo nature of the sport, will keep us from aiming for the pro stair running circuit.