Climbing Albany’s Corning Tower

As a kid growing up in rural Bennington, VT, my first city experience was in Albany, NY. It was only a 45 minute drive away, but to a farm kid it was a completely different planet. In the 1970’s Albany, the capital of New York State, was a booming city. The state funded an enormous development project right in the heart of downtown which is known as the Empire State Plaza. There are many buildings in the Plaza, but two have stood out to become symbols of Albany’s distinctive skyline: The Egg and the Corning Tower. The Egg is an oddly shaped building that resembles a flying saucer in mid flight, it houses a performance arts space. The Corning Tower at 42 storeys high, is the tallest building in New York State outside of New York City. I remember making the drive to Albany as a kid and staring up at the Corning Tower. It just seemed to go up and up forever.

Truth be told, the Empire State Building race really took a toll on me physically and emotionally. The minor cold that I had experienced leading up to the race had turned into a full on Nyquil commercial after the race. The smart thing, was to go back home and rest for 4 or 5 days. But for those of you who’ve been following this blog for any length of time will know, that I seldom do the smart thing. So only two days after running up the Empire State Building, I found myself coughing and sneezing on the start line of the Corning Tower race. I mean come on, how could I pass up a race on my home turf, in my adopted city, in a building that inspired me as a small child? I just had to do it.

When I arrived at the tower, I was enthusiastically greeted by a man named Eddie. Eddie had seen me filming at my first snowshoe race in Woodfood, VT in December and went to my site to find out what I might be doing. Well, he’s been following my journey ever since. The video that I posted on YouTube of the Empire State Building race start really piqued Eddie’s interest. So when he saw that there was going to be a race not far from where he lives in NY, he thought he would give it a try. We chatted for a bit and I gave him some tower racing tips – two steps at at time, always pull the railings with both hands, don’t start out too hard, and take water at the stops to soothe your throat. A moment later I was again being greeted by some Running Raw fans. Lauren and Michelle had made the 45 minute drive from near Kingston, NY to meet me and try their very first tower race. They both shared their stories of being raw and how it has affected them (watch the video) and really inspired me to grow this movement quickly.

This was not a mass start race. Racers were sent off in 5 second intervals – by number. My number was 142. There was no elite start, which meant that I was going to be the 142nd person to run through the door and there were going to be a LOT of people for me to pass. It took a while to get the race started, so I started running back and forth very quickly in the long lobby where all the racers were lined up… it was too cold to run outside. I noticed that I was the only one moving or warming up… which I thought was very odd… but apparently everyone thought that I was the odd one for using up energy before the race began. A state trooper stopped me and said, “you’d better save your energy son, this is a very tall building.”, I thanked him and smiled and continued to sprint back and forth as everyone gave me strange looks and commented on my “Powered By Raw Food” running singlet. I later found out that the man standing next to Lauren had said about me “that guys gonna get last place if he keeps that up”. It amazes me that people don’t understand the critical importance of a warmup. Especially in a race that requires a very sudden thrust into a great deal of physical stress. If your body is not warm and your heart rate elevated prior to the start, the gradient that your body’s systems must travel can have adverse effects on performance and enjoyment of the race.

At long last it was time for me to start. I jogged off the start line and took the first few floors at a comfortable pace to let the adrenalin settle. I did NOT want to repeat my Milwaukee or Empire State Building Race. After the second floor, I shifted into high gear, strong and steady. There were a lot of slow people in my path. Most of the time I could easily get around one or two, but on many occassions they would be two abreast with someone directly in front of them, so there was no where for me to get through. I’d call out that I was coming through, but several people didn’t move. So I just had to push my way through. I didn’t really notice the Empire State Building in my legs until the 25th floor, it was then that I noticed the deep ache of a previous workout or race. When I hit the 32nd floor, I had only 10 to go. I was feeling very strong, so i decided to put the hammer down and sprint the last 10 floors. I managed to get through about 4 at a half sprint as the people started to pile up on the higher floors. It seems the people get slower and slower the higher they get in a tower race, and their ability to move out of the way becomes hampered as well.They are just doing their best to stay up and keep moving. In a few spots people were sitting down on the landings. I managed to squeak out some extra speed for a few more floors, and then I hit the 39th. I was ready to explode up the final 3 floors, but there were so many people in front of me that I found myself trapped behind them just waiting and jogging in place and probably saying something like “OUT OF MY WAY!!”. The 42nd floor was the slowest of all as I was stuck behind 6 people who were on death’s door. When we reached the final landing, I pushed through them and burst down the hall to the finish. I was frustrated. I looked down at my watch, it read 4:54. The course record for this building was 5:00. I was even more frustrated, as I knew I could have put the record way out of reach and made all you raw vegans proud. But it was a great effort considering the circumstances, my intense cold and well, running up a building twice as tall two days earlier.

My new course record was not a new course record. The man who had reserved bib #1 and had been first through the door had beaten me by 10 seconds, and set a new course record of 4:44. He is a top local road racer and had run 5:00 the year before in this race. He really wanted this record, and it meant a lot to him. So I’m glad he got it. I was happy with second place, and being one of only two people in 20 years to break the 5 minute mark on this iconic tower of my youth.

As for Eddie, Lauren and Michelle, they are all hooked. I’ll be seeing them at all the tower races in the North East I’m sure, if not the rest of the country.

Here is the Corning Tower Stair Climb video:

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One Response to Climbing Albany’s Corning Tower

  1. Pingback: Tim VanOrden’s Running Raw Times – March 22nd, 2008 | Running Raw

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