Recently we published in our e-mail newsletter a story by club member Bruce Yang on his participation in the Empire State Building Run-Up. Last Sunday (Feb. 24) Bruce participated in the BNY Mellon stair climb in Philadelphia, a 53-flight vertical trek in which he placed 7th out of 114 among the timed climbers and second in his age group, bettering his 2012 time by 3 seconds and improving by several places. This weekend (March 2 and 3) he will be competing in stair climbs on back-to-back days: Saturday at the Fight for Air climb at Penn Plaza, 55 floors, and Sunday in the MS climb at Rockefeller Center, which is even more intense at 66 flights. Here is Bruce’s account of his stair-climbing adventures and his odyssey through the world of running, starting with humble beginnings in Taiwan and proceeding through some inspiring chapters to become a well-established figure in our wonderful sport.
By Bruce Yang
I first started running around age 7 when I went to my grandparents’ home, which was in a mountainous region in Taiwan. There was no paved road to their house from the last bus stop from the town where I lived to their place; it was a dirt/rock trail going into the mountain. I do not recall exactly how long the trail to their home was, but if people walked from the last bus stop to their home in the mountain, it would take an hour to an hour and a half. However, when I ran, it would take half of that. So I would run there within 45 minutes. I estimated, it was probably 5K. Of course, I think at that age, I would walk mostly and then ran. I did not really run a nonstop 5K until after I came to America. When I was a small kid in Taiwan, I participated in school races ranging from 50 meters to 100 meters to the 4×100-meter relay. The longest distance I raced was in middle school, 800 meters.
When I came to America, the first road race I was able to enter myself in was the 1986 Blue Hill Plaza Challenge 10K in Pearl River. I think the Blue Hill Plaza was just completed at that time and they held the first race to celebrate the completion. I remember being in the front (just like many of the kids who should not be in the front at these races), there were West Point cadets that fired the shots to start the race. I dashed out (or was pushed or kicked out by the fast runners behind me). I was dashing at my top speed with the elite runners for the first 800 meters and then my legs completely died literally. I started walking and gasping for air and then hundreds of runners passed me. I was thinking about quitting and turning back to the start but decided to continue. So I started running and walking for the next few miles. The longest training run I did was 12.5 laps at Rockland Community College twice. I joined the race purely for fun because I was volunteering with the Key Club members from the Ramapo Senior High School for various community events and when Isaw this event, instead of volunteering, I decided to sign up for the race myself. I was 17. I think that is why many young people do foolish things. Thankfully, my foolish thing was done in the sport of running instead of other teenage drug/alcohol activities. Anyway, as I continued to struggle through the race, I would be walking mostly until I saw the water stops where my school’s Key Club members were handing out water and I would start running and pretending that I was fine in front of them. From miles 3 to 6, I had no recollection of what happened due to exhaustion. Then near the finish line, I heard someone yell out at mile 6, “You are almost done.” So I started dashing and crossing the finish line in 48:50. My two best friends in high school who also were Key Club members saw me and the first thing they said to me was, “What took you so long?” And they were serious. Because they were not runners and they were expecting to see me come back in with the top runners who finished in something like 28 or 29 minutes. I think if I remember correctly, I finished in around 165th place out of 600-something finishers and 6th out of 12 for my age group. I don’t remember exactly the age group but it was probably 15 to 18.
Discovering the benefits of stair climbing
Then in college, I went into other sports but running remained the foundation for my training. However, I was running short distances to warm up or cool down for my other sports. I probably only did four road races in college and they were 2 milers and 5Ks.
While I was in Optometry school in Boston, the intense studying and working pretty much took up all the time I had. So the only workout I could do was the dash across the Harvard Bridge from Boston to MIT and did a one-lap time trial around the track and then ran back home. During the second year of Optometry school, I found this 6th floor apartment near Commonwealth and Massachusetts avenues. The rent was relatively low compared to the other buildings or even the other units in the building. The reason was that the building’s small elevator works only 2 percent of the time. It fits two slim people. So no one dared to move up to that unit. But as a poor student, I took that unit and found three other fit schoolmates to share the unit and carried everything up the stairs because the elevator was basically nonfunctioning. Then I realized as I was climbing the stairs to the apartment several times daily back from school or from doing laundry, which was in the basement, that my legs became stronger and my stamina got better without other forms of exercises. I stayed in that apartment for two years and witnessed the 1992 and 1993 Boston Marathons from the rooftop. I never thought that I would run marathons when I learned how long it took and the agonizing looks of some of the runners. That apartment was probably near mile 25.5 of the old course when they did not run under the overpass of Mass Ave. Although I never thought I would ever run a marathon, those images stayed in my mind and certainly motivated me in the future.
Also one of my part-time jobs was as a night security watchman at this apartment complex in Boston. I had to key into each clock in the station when I made my rounds so the management would know I made my required rounds per night. It was also a six-story building. Other security guards would take the elevator or walk down the stairs. But I would walk up because I utilized those stairs as a way to train during my busy school and work schedule.
Coming to Rockland
After graduating from Optometry school, I came back to Rockland to work in the New York metro area and I started running again around 1995, at Rockland Lake. In 1998, I finally decided to return to joining road races. I ran mostly short ones like 1 mile to 5K and the Taconic biathlon. Then I finally did another 10K in 2000.
In 2000-2001, Active.com just came out and I was selected as one of their 300 Active.com-sponsored athletes in the USA. So I started having to participate in more races and also longer races and triathlons (sprint distances mostly). I did my first half marathon, the now defunct Rockland Half Marathon shortly after 9/11. I really enjoyed that race but I think they concluded the race after 2002 or 2003. Then I did my first marathon, the 2001 NYC Marathon that same year. It was such an intriguing experience that words could not describe it.
The people’s choice as marathon pacer
In 2006, I was recommended as a last-minute replacement to pace the Frederick Marathon in Maryland. I guess I was lucky to do such a great job according to the runners in my group, and then the word got out and I was invited to pace for the Geico pace team, ING pace team, Asics, etc. Then Clif Bar got me on board so here I am just by pure luck and my love to try to keep myself healthy and fit by exercising. Throughout my running journey I have met many great people. I was traveling far away for many of these events. However, I did start doing more local races too and finally (wife) Di got me sign on to the RRR again, which is awesome.
No two stair climbs are alike
Stair-climbing races are unlike running races, which are more standardized especially in track races, and even road races are standardized in the certified distances, although the terrain can vary greatly. But in stair-climb races, every race/building is almost certainly different in almost every aspect: the flights, the step configuration, the landing, steps per flight, spiral turning to the right or left, the width of the stair, the high of the each step, etc. For recreational climbers who just want to make it to the top, it probably does not matter much. For those elite climbers who fight to get to the top fast, it definitely helps if they know the “course” well so they can apply their strategy. Usually for a newer building, a common configuration for the steps is about 10 steps and a landing and turn (left or right) for another 10 steps. That makes up one flight. So each flight in the stairway usually has 20 steps. But some are steeper than others depending on the height of each step and length of each step.
There are different levels of runners. Some run fast and like to compete to go fast. Some run slow and just for recreation without going too fast. I am kind of falling in between probably like the majority of the runners. So it is all good and fun and healthy.