Conquering skyscrapers to keep fit

NEW YORK Mon Mar 21, 2011 6:05am EDT

The sun sets on the skyline of Manhattan in New York, March 19, 2011. The Empire State Building is seen in the center. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

The sun sets on the skyline of Manhattan in New York, March 19, 2011. The Empire State Building is seen in the center.

Credit: Reuters/Gary Hershorn

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Although they may be unable to leap tall buildings in a single bound, enthusiasts of tower climbing insist they can conquer skyscrapers, and stay fit, just by taking the stairs.

When it comes to multi-story run-ups, the higher the rise, they say, the richer the challenge.

"They call it the vertical marathon," New York-based securities analyst Brian Kuritzky said of his maiden climb up the 1,576 steps of the Empire State Building. "I have a lot of pride for the city, so to do a race up its most iconic item was special for me."

Kuritzky, who on a spur-of-the-moment bet tackled the Iron Man triathlon competition last year, is no stranger to a workout challenge.

But he described last month's Empire State Building Run up, in which 440 finishers triumphed, as "very intense, very tough."

It was also very compact.

"The Iron Man took almost 16 hours, so to be done in 13.37 minutes is very appealing," he said of his time, "and to have the challenge as well is very cool."

To prepare for his run, Kuritzsky thrice scaled the stairs of his 30-storey apartment building in downtown Manhattan just so he could get a sense of the distance and how his legs would feel. Then he did it again.

"At a certain point you have to have mental fortitude," Kuritzsky said. "My legs shut down at the 60th floor (of the Empire State Building). At that point you can either stop or push through. A skyscraper run is an enticing thing to see how far you can push yourself."

Fabio Comana of the American Council on Exercise said stair climbing can be a great conditional workout for the lower extremity and the cardio-respiratory system.

"The impact on joints is minimal, although there's stress on the knees," the exercise physiologist said. "It's a great workout for the glutes," he said, referring to the muscles in the buttocks.

Comana, who did some stair climbing while training for rugby, said stair climbing works both energy systems -- the aerobic, which uses a lot of oxygen in activities like running or swimming, and the anaerobic, which kicks in during short bursts of high-intensity exercise, such as weight lifting or muscle-building.

"It's a very effective form of training for both systems," he explained. "It fits well into the training regimens of sports like soccer and rugby, where you need both."

Comana added that while stair climbing is not a full body workout because there is not much for the upper body, it's great training for the lower half.

"I think it's a great exercise for everyone," he said. "As we age we tend to lose strength in lower extremities before we do in upper extremities."

Comana called stair-climbing a time-efficient workout that brings out the competitive fervor in a person.

"You get to the top of the stairs, you are gassed," he said.

Kuritsky is already eyeing the next steel mountain to conquer.

"I read there's a race in Dubai," he said of a run up the 163-story Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest skyscraper. "In Chicago, there's a stair run up the John Hancock Building. And at the CN tower in Toronto I hear they let you go up as many times as you want."

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