A race to the top: Fredericks finishes third in ESBRU
Every day, thousands of people from all over the world take an elevator up 86 floors to enjoy the breathtaking, birds-eye view of the Big Apple's skyline from the Empire State Building.
But one day each year since 1978, a select group of men and women forego the elevator and take the stairs up the 1,050 feet to the top of the city's tallest building. These folks who converge on the skyscraper aren't crazy, per se. They are participants in the Empire State Building Run-up, an annual race up the 1,576 stairs of one of the world's most iconic structures.
This year, Amy Fredericks, a personal trainer at the Saugatuck Rowing Club in Westport, placed third in the ESBRU. Fredericks, 43, finished the race in 14 minutes and 15 seconds, just a few steps behind second place. This is fourth time the Norwalk resident has placed third since her first ESBRU race in 1999.
Fredericks, who completed a comprehensive, one-year sports physiology program at The National Personal Training Institute in Norwalk in September of 2009 and is the coach of the New Canaan High School girls' cross-country, indoor and outdoor distance track teams, said her goal in life is to motivate and inspire others to be fit and healthy and to get in shape safely and effectively. While she spends her days working toward this goal, running up 1,576 stairs is her time to shine.
Exactly what kind of preparation is necessary for such a race and why one would want to participate are questions only Fredericks can answer, so the Westport News caught up with her to get some answers.
1. What kind of training is required to prepare for this type of race?
I've done a lot of different training over the years for this event. It is only in the last year that I have become smarter in my training. For over 30 years I have been a competitive runner in New York and Connecticut, and I've always been fit. Preparing for this event, I start three months before running up real stairs. I also use the stair mill machine, putting it at a high intensity level. For this year's race I added some additional training, which has made a big difference. The past winners of this race have always either been elite mountain racers or stair climber specialists. The difference between first and third place is strength, power, speed and mental and physical toughness. I do have all of the above, but if you want to win this race you need more!
2. Do all racers, 100 women and 200 men, take off at the same time? If so, this seems like it could get quite hectic. To avoid chaos and to minimize the potential for injuries, are there rules for passing, etc.?
First there is an invitational race, featuring different heats of seeded runners for men and women. They also have a Brokers' Challenge Run-up where the teams compete against each other. The big race starts at 10:30 a.m., when the top seeded women race and the top seeded men follow five minutes behind the women. Another heat of the men starts five minutes later.
What happens is the gun fires, and the runners sprint for position across the Empire State Building Lobby to enter a narrow doorway (four-feet wide) into the stairwell. The start of the race is very nerve racking for me. It seems like 10 minutes until the actual gun goes off, because of numerous speeches and so many thoughts go through my mind. I try to stay relaxed to preserve my energy, and I visualize myself having a great performance.
Positioning in this event is extremely important, because the person who gets to the door first has a huge advantage, because they don't have to waste any energy passing people. Basically to pass a person you go round them on their left side. I have gotten to the entrance door first many times, but this year, because I was seeded in the second row of the starting line, I was around 10th place getting through the door.
It's impossible to avoid the chaos after the gun goes off in the race, so it's very important to be fit and mentally tough to fight your way through the first two flights of stairs. This year's race someone scratched me with her fingernails on my right lower back, while fighting for a position in the stairwell after the gun went off. This wasn't deliberate, but it does happen and people have fallen down in the past, so it can be an aggressive race in the beginning.
3. You have participated in this race for the last 10 years, with the exception of a few due to injuries/illness. Does it get easier each year?
Whether you believe you can, or believe you can't ... confidence is the belief that you can, and it's a powerful athletic weapon! This race gets easier for me each year because I have confidence that I can do it better and faster regardless of my age!
I love training for ESBRU, because it gives me a break from running outside. It allows me to focus more on strength training inside (where it's warm), and prepares me for the spring and summer road racing, which I love to be a part of. The ESBRU is always the first week of February and the months leading up to the race are cold, so it's definitely nice to do my training inside.
My goal is always to make it on the award podium. Over the years, this race gets easier for me, because I get stronger. I've run this event 10 times; 1999 was my first year, and I finished 10th place overall. I thought I was going to have a heart attack after reaching 40 flights and I swore I would never run this event again. I woke up the very next day and said I wanted to run it again!
This really defines a competitive athlete. I have always been a fighter and have worked hard at everything I've ever done, so it's not surprising to me that I've run this race 10 times now. For me, the desire to run this race keeps getting stronger. I am excited to test my limits and to try to go for a higher finish in 2011, so I will definitely be back to prove myself right.
4. Is there a point when you are climbing the stairs that exhaustion sets in and you question your ability to continue? What motivated you to keep climbing?
There comes a time when everyone hits the wall in this race. This is the point in time when you don't know if you can take one more step, but you still can't give up and this is when you must start to dig deeper!
For me the wall and exhaustion always comes at 20 flights of stairs. This is when the mental game comes into play for me and I ask myself if I'm going to be competitive today. The real question is how gutsy am I feeling today and how badly do I want to win.
7. You must be pretty wiped out when you get to the top of the Empire State Building. Do you take the elevator down?
LOL [Lots of laughs]!
Yes, we get to take the elevator down to the 61st floor for refreshments, social gathering and the awards ceremony. This is the part I love the most, because I get to socialize with people from all over the world and also catch up with my New York running friends who I don't get to see that often.
Honestly, my legs are never tired until a few days after the race. I think they call this the DOMS Effect -- known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness -- sometimes called muscle fever. It's often felt 24-72 hours after a high intensity race.
My biggest battle is my chest being congested for over a week and having a constant cough, as a result of breathing in the dust from the stairwells.