Saturday, June 14, 2014

Guestblog: "1576 Steps " by Jerry Augustine

Jerry Augustine wrote about his experience running up the Empire State Building competition which takes place every year during February.  Augustine began the 8 year quest in 1996.  Augustine  won the 50's division in 2001 beating out 18 world wide competitors in my division. His  previous blogs were about his dad growing up in Middletown, the famous 1939 robbery on Ridge Rd., and his body-building experience.
 The following essay also won a second place in the John W. Paton story telling contest which was recently held at the Russell Library. The theme was an "adventure." Many thanks to Jerry for sharing his fantastic slice of life stories with our readers!

1576 steps
By Jerry Augustine


I've made the trip eight times on the Metro in New Haven during February from 1996 through 2002 and again in 2007. The train took me to Grand Central Station where I 
disembarked with my little gym bag and walked 21 blocks to 34th Street and fifth Ave. where the Empire State Building stands. I was committed to run (ESBRU), or the Empire State 
Building Run-Up, and win my division.

ESBRU is a worldwide invitational race put on annually by the New York Road Runners Club. Over 2,000 athletes enter annually, submitting a resume of their athletic and running 
history. Approximately 160 competitors are chosen out of the entrance submissions on the basis of their backgrounds.  I submitted my resume during Thanksgiving week prior to the February 1996 competition. It was the first time I entered.
I  was fortunate to be chosen to compete. The race would consist of running 1,576 stairs or 86 floors of the world famous building. 

I became a competitive runner just 3 1/2 years prior at the age of 47, when giving up medications and finding an alternate method to relieve stress. I had been running in road races weekly so was in prime shape to enter the competition, or so I thought. 
February 1996 came too soon. I boarded the 7 a.m. Metro line in New Haven like a child on his first day of school. As I was riding to Grand Central, my mind was in a state of wonderment, filled with questions such as: "What did I get I get myself into," "Did I train enough?",  "Am I up to competing with these world class athletes?". 
When I arrived in the lobby of the Empire State Building, I was abruptly guided to the basement where I was greeted by a tall fellow in a George Washington costume. It was Washington's birthday. 
A King Kong likeness was also mingling in the crowd of competitors. Before we knew it, we were ushered to the starting line on the first floor. I was amazed by the media positioned nearby. Cameras, bright lights and reporters were there to capture the event. 
I found myself in the middle of the pack, as the younger runners were fighting for position to be closer to the starting line. When the air horn went off, it was mass hysteria. Through the flashing lights and roar of the crowd, I literally was carried the 30 feet down the hall to the doorway of the stairwell. As we tried to funnel through the doorway, I could hear screams of pain from runners who were bruised and elbowed. 

When I started to ascend the first staircase, I quickly learned that one step at a  time would burn me out. With leaps and bounds, two steps at a time was the way to go. I also discovered that pulling myself up  by the railings enhanced my performance.  Besides the approximate 172 landings, there were three hallways to run down, accessing new staircases. Water stations were located in these hallways.

 Runners had to be careful not to slip and fall or run into custodians who were mopping up all the spilled water. Paper cups were strewn everywhere.
Each floor that we came upon had a stenciled number on its entrance door. The rules specified that we could exit the race at any time if we felt ill or were unable to make it to the finish. As I made my way up the stairs concentrated on my form and speed, running full boar, I happened to glance at an exit door. It read Number 37. I was spent, totally exhausted and hurting. I didn't want to think that there were 50 more floors to climb. "Is this where the second wind is supposed to kick in?" I thought. From here on, it became mind over matter. My throat was raw due to the breathing in of the dust being kicked up, plus the higher we ascended, the hotter it became. Heat rises. 

 Another thing I'll never forget was when an exit door opened abruptly on one of the upper floors. Two custodians were there, leaning on their brooms looking curiously into the stairwell at the commotion.  As I was going by, our eyes met and their expressions changed from curiosity to a look of horror. It was as if they had just met the craziest person on earth running up the stairs. I don't think they were aware that there was a race going on. 
When I did make it through the finish line and collapsed against a wall, after a few minutes of gasping for air and recuperating, I began to search for the results printout. I finished the race in 14 minutes and 58 seconds, second place in the 50-year-old division, and 29th overall out of the 150 plus runners. 


That experience sparked a desire to continue to complete annually in the ESBRU. In 2001, my sixth year of competing, I traveled to Las Vegas to train in a tall building, something I never had done. A week before ESBRU, I stayed at the Hilton Hotel which had 38 floors. Each morning for a week, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. and ran three heats of the 38 floors as fast I was able. My hard work paid off.Each day my elapsed times improved. 
My sixth attempt at ESBRU had finally arrived. When I warmed up on the long staircase from the basement to the first floor,  I immediately knew that I would have not only a good race, but a great one. I was in terrific condition. Low and behold, this was my day. I finally won  the 50-year-old division at 55 years old. I was truly elated to win a world-class competition. Over the eight years that I competed in ESBRU, I was able to place second four times, third three times and winning the division once. This certainly has been quite an adventure. 
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Read previous blog posts by Jerry Augustine here:

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