Stairclimbing (CN Tower) – Toronto, ON

This one slipped by my initial survey of every sport in the world. But it is a real sport, – check it out: Stairclimb Canada. See?

A month and a bit ago, my friend Alyson mentioned the CN Tower climb to me. I believe she was mostly into it with the goal of fundraising for the World Wildlife Fund (she really likes saving frogs). It sounded good to me, so I got excited and signed up. A week later, my friend Natalie (of rockwall climbing fame) also invited me and a few other people to join her for the CN Tower climb.

“Sweet” I thought, “a big group of good friends.”

I went out and found sponsors and was locked in. Then I really started thinking about it; about how many flights of stairs it was (144), how tight little stairwells can be, the consequences of keeling over on the 80th floor – the typical paranoia that can strike before taking on any daunting adventure. At least I’d have my friends with me.

A week before the event I got in touch with Alyson to see what her plans were.

“Hmm, yeah I think I am going to have to still be in Ottawa for some work stuff” she shamefully uttered over the phone.

So I called up Natalie – “Yeah sorry Jame, looks like I am going to have to be in New York that weekend.”

And so, that’s the story of how I entered into an event to support friends and then ended up taking the GO Train into Toronto and running 144 flights of stairs by myself. Whatever, no one to hold me back… right?

I opted out of the 5am arrival I had originally planned on and in doing so forfeited the free return coupon to the CN Tower. With that $23 value gone to waste, I had a bone to pick with this southern Ontario landmark.

So I got in line – one to register, one to check my bag, one long one to leave the skywalk, one to get into the tower’s main entrance, and one to get through tower security. Then I cautiously began the climb. I had visualized it numerous times, and was very concerned that, like so many cross-country races in my past, I would go out too fast and end up with the proverbial “bear on my back” as I battle through each stride.

As I began the march up the stairs I had a sudden mental lift. I had only done three stair specific work outs in the months before this climb, and I had done them at a downtown hotel which had a fairly typical staircase: 7 steps + a turn + 7 steps = 1 flight. That’s what I was banking on in the CN Tower. Instead, what I realized at flight number 3, was that here, on this journey: 12 steps = 1 flight, then you turn and do the next flight. In my mind this cut the work in half. Sure, I still had to climb about 85% of my anticipated steps, but I only had half the turns, which was huge! So I started running.

I hit floor 18, the 1/8th mark, in a minute and 30 seconds, well ahead of the pace I had envisioned. Soon after that I was at the 60th floor and my confidence was matching my elevation.

As floor 70 approached I took a break for a few seconds to stretch out my calves, where the reality of sprinting up so many stairs was catching up with the resolute swagger in my head. I carried on; at the time I was rather upset at anyone who was in my way, as I was sure I was headed for some sort of record. In reality, having to think of ways to pass people probably took my mind off of the repetitive cycle of the climb.

Around floor 90 I passed a girl who was comforting her boyfriend while he held a small ziplock bag full of light brown fluid. He seemed to be in good spirits though, and the paramedics, located on every tenth floor, had everything under control. As I stepped up to floor 91, I heard her ask the paramedic “what do we do with it now?” As I climbed I heard a response indicating that the climbers had a new, pocket-sized companion for the rest of their journey.

I took another brief rest around floor 105, and then entered the final stretch. I ended up reaching the top of the tower in 14:43, a time much quicker than I was anticipating. Looking back, there was a big difference between the perceived difficulty of this activity – climbing the friggin’ CN Tower – and the actual difficulty in getting up. It is by no means easy, but there are young people and old people, very fit people and not-so-fit people – all doing it at their own pace mind you, but all doing it.  I had originally envisioned this as a one time “check it off the list” activity, but now I am feeling some motivation to head back in October and make a run at a good time. I am also trying to convince some of the old track crew, and one mountain running steeple chaser in particular, that the CN Tower world record of 7:52 is within their reach.

As I handed in my time card at the top of the CN tower, I stepped out onto the main deck tower and – got in line. The whole deck was filled wall-to-wall with two lines of concentric circles running in opposite directions. It was all very well organized, which is never easy with 10,000 some odd people, but they managed. But I needed some fresh air, so I grabbed a bottle of water and headed out onto the open deck – Not a bad post-race view.