Stair Climbing for the Win! / by Jonas Caruana

On the weekend, I participated in the WWF CN Tower Climb: a timed race up the stairs of the CN Tower in Toronto, the tallest freestanding structure in North America at 553.33m.  The event is a fundraiser for the World Wildlife Fund, whom Training Mobs partnered with to help promote and to prepare participants in advance with stair-climbing specific mobs.

The race itself involves climbing 1,776 stairs; 144 flights. You get sent up in small groups about every minute so as not to clog the stairwell. According to the official results released yesterday morning, there were 4,343 individual times recorded and at 13m 06s, I was 33rd fastest. 

Going into the race, I’d had limited training, considered myself “out of shape” compared to my personal fitness benchmarks and had no idea how to tackle that many stairs – so this one fell into the “have a crack at it and let’s see how we go” bucket. All I knew was that I seem to cross my anaerobic threshold somewhere around a heart rate of 175 bpm - and that if I blew past that too early, I’d be toast.

So the first 40 flights I’m thinking “This is a race, I’m gonna run these!” and at a steady but not crazy cadence, am hopping up stairs two at a time, taking a one at a time break every several flights for mini-recovery.

But when I got to that 40th flight, I was already starting to feel the burn and knew I had to change strategy. So I settled back into a steady stepping between stairs, taking two at a time, and grabbing the rails to help pull myself up. Another guy passed me and I paced up to stay with him, and we went the next 40 flights or so together.

Having passed the halfway mark and seeing how quickly the flights were going by, I overtook my pacer, urged him to come with me and started to amp things up. Before I knew it I had 20 flights to go and I could hear people shouting at me from above telling me I was almost there, and next thing I knew I was handing my timing card (yep, physical timing card!) off to a volunteer and taking the last few steps to the finish.

I didn’t go all out at the end because I had to be on my feet and bursting with energy for the next 5 hours of promoting at the Training Mobs stand, so it felt great to finish strong and still have plenty left in the tank; I was nowhere near the puke zone.

How would I play it differently next time? I’d be steadily stepping - not hopping - between stairs from the beginning. I’d use the rails, and go early to make sure I got a clear stairwell like I did this time. And I’d leave it all on the stairwell and push to the puke zone by the top (I barely spent any time in my anaerobic zone). Next time, my goal is a sub-11 minute time.

The fastest guy I saw did it in 10:06, and he looked like the kind of guy that would just float up the stairs. He was completely nonchalant about his 10 minute time and calmly mentioned that – given a clear stairwell – he’d easily knock another minute or two off that time. Looking at this guy, I believed him!

Overall, the event was great. The volunteers were many and all super helpful and nice: I lost count of how many times I was told “great job!” and “thanks for your support”. Small gestures; but they made a huge different to the guest experience. The card-based timing system’s a bit old school but I was told that this year they were testing electronic timing and hopefully next year that’s how they’ll roll for everyone.

Would I recommend the event? Absolutely. It’s got high novelty factor and I get a total kick out of walking down the streets of Toronto, looking up at the CN Tower and thinking “f*** yeah, I raced up that thing!”. It was also a really cool way to make my very first trip up the Tower – and the view from the top is incredible.

Worth it. Totally worth it!