Stairway to Heaven

“Please forgive me if I act a little strange, for I know not what I do. ” – David Gray


The other day I stood in the lobby of a downtown Philadelphia skyscraper with a guy who coordinates weekly training sessions in preparation for the Fight for Air Climb. This fellow who I met only minutes earlier explained that we (there were four others) were about to run up 56 flights of stairs. How do I get myself into these things, I wondered.

This was be my first encounter with stair climbing, or what some people call a vertical marathon, so I had no idea what to expect. Within the past few months I had completed a marathon and ultra-marathon, but I’d never climbed 800+ vertical feet. I was in for a humbling experience.

I started strong figuring I’d show the other guys what I was made of, but when I saw a sign that read 10th Floor my thinking immediately shifted to the 46 remaining floors I had to climb. By the 15th floor I was sucking wind and when I hit the 20th I thought it would be a good idea to stop looking at the floor signs. That didn’t work, and at floor 25 I realized I had 31 to go. When got past the 30th floor I noticed drops of perspiration on the stairs, and the higher I climbed the bigger the puddles became and the more sweat I treaded through. My thighs felt as if they would burst at the 40th, and each floor thereafter they screamed for relief. When I got to the roof I was ecstatic, until I realized I had to descend the same distance I had just climbed. Back down in the basement I turned and climbed the final four floors for the purpose to exceed the number of floors we would climb on March 21st in the Fight for Air Climb.

So what did I learn my first stair climb? That regardless how good your condition, fifty-plus floors is going to kick your butt. Stair climbing is a different kind of workout, and one that taxes your cardiopulmonary system like none I’d ever encountered. It’s no wonder the Fight for Air Climb is sponsored by the American Lung Association.

Stair climbing has many other benefits as well. It is excellent for strengthening leg muscles, and like cycling, strengthening leg muscles reduces the stress on leg and knee joints. It also burns roughly twice as many calories as most other workouts.

Holubec's Hunnies at the starting line of the 2014 Fight for Air Climb

Holubec’s Hunnies at the starting line of the 2014 Fight for Air Climb

My buddy Billy is responsible for getting me involved with the Fight for Air Climb. Billy lost his battle with lung cancer last spring and his daughter Kristin organized a team Holubec’s Hunnies that climbs in her Dad’s memory. On March 21st I’ll be a Hunnie.

For more about the sport of Stair Climbing click here.


About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
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16 Responses to Stairway to Heaven

  1. What a great way to join with Billy’s family in honoring your friend. While doing the stair climbing, do you concentrate on using the glutes or the quads? I ask because I have been in a process of learning to use my glutes rather than overworking the quads (something I wasn’t aware of until it was pointed out).


    • Jim Brennan says:

      To be truthful, Marylou, I concentrate on getting to the top any way I can. But if I think about it I’d say it’s a pretty even combination of the two. I can tell you that my quads are screaming by the 25th floor. Can’t imagine what they will feel like at the 100th.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. LB says:

    Jim, you have such a great writing style. Your description of that stair climb was so vivid!
    I’m quite sure I’d have been crawling after just a few flights!


    • Jim Brennan says:

      Thanks LB. The second training climb was yesterday. I started out a little slower and was still sucking wind by the tenth floor. The trick is, for me anyway, to push through the pain and find a rhythm. Not as easy as it sounds, but it becomes a tad more tolerable. Afterward I had a conversation with the guy who coordinates the training climbs and we looked at one another and said, “Man, that was fun!” Are we mad?
      Good luck with your campaign. I can’t wait to read about it.


  3. Mark Mangan says:

    Ooh, it makes me wonder. When I get there I’ll know….


  4. Joey says:

    I did one of those and it was the closest I have come to throwing up during and after. By the 9th floor I was worn out!


  5. OmniRunner says:

    A few weeks ago at my running club one of our better runners was coming up from the basement. She was out of breath! I was shocked. She told me stairs always kill her but she can go on a 10-15 mile run any day.
    We have this type of run in Boston also. I know me thighs would explode if I tried it. Stairs are like burpees: everyone hates them but they are so good for you.


    • Jim Brennan says:

      Good analogy. I used to play in an unlimited basketball league and friends who knew I was a distance runner could never understand why I’d be so sore after the first couple games of the season. It’s using different muscles in a different way, simple as that. Running shape doesn’t equate to basketball or other sports’ conditioning.


  6. Tony says:

    HI, Jim. Enjoyed your post on stair climbing. I am a senior and no longer run up stairs, but any time I am unable to ride my bike, I take to the stairs. Everything you say is true. It is a wonderful humbling experience. BTW, I never look at the numbers, I just wait for that top flight where there are no more stairs leading up. Keep up the good work!


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