Buffalo News: Running - New race presents a steep challenge

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By / By Budd Bailey

Published:February 6, 2011, 12:00 AM

Care to know where the next interesting race format is in area running?

Look to the sky.

The local chapter of the American Lung Association is staging the “Fight for Air Climb in Buffalo” on Saturday at 10 a. m. Participants will climb the 38 flights of stairs in One HSBC Center in downtown Buffalo.

Stair-climbing races aren’t overly common, although there have been a few in Buffalo over the years, including an event that used to take place in City Hall. As one participant put it, “It wasn’t that difficult a race, but my lungs burned for a week.”

If nothing else, this will be the longest such race in Buffalo’s running history. That’s because the HSBC Center is the tallest building between Cleveland and Albany.

“We’ve been doing this for the last five years,” said Chuck Sawyer, senior manager for special events of the Lung Association, about such races up stairs. “It’s been pretty much gaining momentum. We’ve had one in Albany, and there’s one in Rochester and New York.”

The move to Buffalo seemed like a natural one in terms of geography, but there were the usual obstacles. For one, how do you convince a company to let a bunch of people run up its stairs?

“We ended up talking with Seneca One Realty [owner and operator of the building],” Sawyer said. “They approached HSBC, and told them what the event was. We haven’t had much of a presence in Buffalo, and we wanted to show that the Lung Association is still here. That really helped get HSBC on board.”

The event was originally scheduled for Feb. 19. Then Sawyer was convinced that moving it up a week was a good idea.

“We talked with Drew Cerza, who runs the chicken wing festival,” Sawyer said. “He said he’d love to have us be a part of the Powder Keg Fest in downtown Buffalo. The more we talked to him, we realized that if Drew was on board, we should be a part of it.”

From there it was a matter of working out the logistics. That list starts with the race’s start, since no one wants dozens of people elbowing and clawing their way up 38 flights of stairs to win a trophy. To prevent that, the start will be staggered, and each runner will receive a chip.

As for the winning time, it probably will be quicker than you think.

“Our race is 40 flights in New York,” Sawyer said. “We had one guy who did it in 4:49.

“Some people just climb at their own pace. This is not just for elite athletes. We welcome all fitness levels. There was one woman in her late 50s/early 60s who had a grandson who has asthma. People do this race for a variety of reasons.”

By the way, the winner of a race last week up 86 flights in the Empire State Building in New York finished in 10:10.

Sawyer says about 40 firefighters have already signed up for the event, and they will be the first ones up the stairs. They will be wearing their full uniforms, except for the airtanks. They’ll be followed by other participants.

“It probably will take less than an hour,” Sawyer said. “When we’ve done this with the same number of people, everyone was done in about 45 minutes.

“As everyone gets to the top, we’ll have medals for them like at a marathon. Then we’ll have trophies for the fastest team, fastest individual male and female, and best individual fundraisers.”

The fee is $25 per runner, and all participants must collect at least $100 in pledges. That may sound a little bit, ahem, steep.

However, if you are nice to the organizers, they just might let you run back down the stairs for free.