Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Stairway to Heaven" or "Step By Step"

About two years ago my cousin, inspired by fellow volunteer firefighters, decided to participate in a stair climb event and asked me to help him train for it.  At the time I was getting a bit burned out with my own training and was probably over trained.  So, I decided to shake up my regimen and planned to participate as well.  The event was held at the Hilton hotel in Springfield, Illinois.  Most participants climbed the 33 floors one time.  We did the Ultimate Climb however--as many trips as possible in 60 minutes, descending on the elevator.  My cousin climbed in full firefighter gear.

As it was a fund raiser for the American Lung Association, it was appropriately the most lung-searing workout I had ever done.  But, it was great!  I had no idea what to expect before the event.  I hoped to make at least six trips, completing one under four minutes.  I achieved both goals and was the sixth fastest climber of the day--I made nine trips, five others did ten or more.  Later last year I participated in another stair climb event a bit closer to home.  It was a two-hour event in which we climbed to the Hannibal lighthouse as many times as possible, descending the hill via the street which was about a half-mile jog.  I earned second overall in that event (it wasn't a very big turnout.)  I am now training for the Hilton climb this year.  I suppose now, in addition to being a runner and a cyclist, I should call myself a stair climber.

I am sharing this story to portray stair climbing, either training or racing, as an alternate mode of cross training.  For me, it helped me out of a rut by changing my focus from increasing my running and cycling speed to a different type of training. To be fair, it was just one part of that much needed change in focus.  Think of the potential benefits.  First, it will certainly improve hill running ability.  Second, it is very similar to hill climbing on a bike out of the saddle.  Third, considering the generally short duration and high intensity of stair repeats, VO2max will have to improve.  Of course, leg strength, power, and muscular endurance should improve as well.  For me, it also breaks up the monotony of running 5k and 10k races.

I have experimented with a few different methods of climbing.  Initially, I timed myself with different methods to determine which was the fastest at my usual stair climb training grounds, the Hannibal lighthouse steps.  I tried taking one, two, or three steps which all resulted in similar times.  I then saw an interview with Terry Purcell, one of the top stair climbers in the US, and took some of his advice.  I also incorporated what I had seen some good hill runners do in a hill race in which I had participated in Scotland.

So, here's what I do:

1.  Always take two steps at a time (unless I am very tired and absolutely have to go one at a time.)
2.  Alternate between three different styles, depending on how I feel:
     a. Run up, leaning forward, pumping the arms.
     b. Run up, pulling the hand rail hand-over-hand like a rope.
     c. Walk up, pushing down on my thigh with my hand with each stride  (like fell runners).

Intrigued?  Join me in Springfield next month!

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