On a cold, rainy, Saturday morning that I would’ve rather spent in the comfort of my own bed, I drove two hours to Bisbee to compete in the only competitive stair climb in the United States.
When I first agreed to participate in the 25th annual Bisbee 1000 Great Stair Climb to write this story, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The 4.5 mile course that winds through the quaint town isn’t for the faint of heart. It features a 1,175 foot elevation change throughout the race as well as nine staircases that feature a total of 1,004 steps.
Full disclosure: I had never run 1,000 steps in my life, and certainly not the uneven, cracked concrete variety that I’d come across in Bisbee.
With my mouth dry, legs burning, and lungs gasping for air, I just had one question repeating in my head – “Who the hell builds a town with this many stairs?”
When I was training for the race, I set high goals for myself. Run three miles a day for two weeks leading up to the race, cut down on beer and snacks, and get plenty of sleep.
I successfully failed at accomplishing all of these in grand fashion. While I did get out and run just enough to feel prepared, my love of porters and stouts turned out to be my downfall.
By the time I had finished the third staircase, I was ready to get on the phone with my professor to share a few choice words for putting me up to this task. The farther I ran, however, the more enjoyable the experience became.
Throughout the town, locals lined the course, shouting out words of encouragement, handing out water, and in some cases provide music for the runners.
Narrow streets and staircases give Bisbee a charm that is more comparable to that of a European town in the countryside rather than one 10 miles north of the Mexican border. Cobblestone paths, scenic overlooks and an abundance of quirky characters make Bisbee one of the most unique towns in Arizona and a most fitting host.
Race founder Cynthia Conroy created the race in 1990 after reading an article about how stairclimbing machines were helping people rehabilitate knee injuries, and thought that a race with real stairs would draw a large crowd.
“People always complain about ‘Oh I can’t do it because my knees hurt.’ Well, newsflash people, the only way you’ll feel any better is if you get out and do something about it,” Conroy said.
The race attracts people from all over the world, with some participants traveling from as far away as Australia to scale the famous steps. Susan Ippolito of Virginia Beach flew out to run with her son Rob, who is stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
“The town has such a unique feel to it,” Ippolito said. “A lot of people get scared away from races like this because of the difficulty of the course, but I’d encourage folks to still walk it because some of the views are just awesome.”
Once I had crossed the finish line with a time of an hour and five minutes and had a few moments to reflect on what I had just done, I was filled with a sense of joy and accomplishment that I can’t quite put into words.
On paper, this is a race about overcoming distances and elevation changes. In reality, it’s about a unique community pulling together and growing by about 1,500 residents for a day.
Tim Towle is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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