On May 7, I participated in the Taipei 101 Run Up, a race up 91 floors of Taiwan’s tallest building and the fourth-tallest building in the world. This year’s first place runner was an Australian who finished in 11 minutes 24 seconds, a time that I didn’t even come close to matching. It was the 13th year for the race, which attracted 4,500 participants from 36 countries.
My goal wasn’t to finish with a great time, but to simply finish and be able to say I’ve done it.
To put this race in perspective, I paid TWD1,000 (US$33) to climb the 2,046 steps of Taipei 101 when there is an express elevator to the 89th floor observation deck for TWD600 (US$20). I wanted a t-shirt that says “I paid NT$1,000 to climb Taipei 101 when the elevator was cheaper.”
For those who don’t know, the view from the 91st floor outdoor observation deck isn’t great — you can’t see down because of the building obscuring the view, but you can get a better view from the 89th floor, which I didn’t get to stop on when going back down (via the elevator, of course).
Preparing for the race
I’m not in the best shape. Sure, I go on some long bike rides and hikes, but I’ve never been in great shape. And at 37, I’m a bit past my prime. I’ve never entered a race of any kind before this. But I wasn’t the oldest competitor, nor was I the most out-of-shape. There were plenty of people who looked like they were much worse shape.
I had one month to really prepare for the run from the time I got confirmation that I was signed up. I did not train too hard in the first couple weeks though. Unfortunately, the pay-by-the-hour gym around the corner from my apartment closed back October, so I had to find another way of training. A few months ago, Yonghe District opened a public gym that was only a short (free) YouBike ride away.
I tried out the stair climber machine, but realized that it’s nearly impossible to move quickly and it works the wrong muscles for actually climbing stairs. I focused more on the elliptical with the tension set higher, which was a little closer to climbing stairs.
I also set out to hike a little more in between the rainstorms. The easiest trail to take was Elephant Mountain (locally called Xiangshan), which is really a quick hike straight up the stairs. It’s so quick that I realized I could hike it in nine and a half minutes. I figured this hike is a little less than half of Taipei 101 without the turns in the stairwell.
In my final week of training I hiked it twice (22 minutes for both trips up, plus about 30 minutes going down). Two days before the race, I hiked from Tiger Mountain to Elephant Mountain along the trail that brought me past 9-5 Peak for a total of two hours. I remember that last hike being easier and shorter, but the last time I attempted it I was three years younger.
In between all that there were a few bike rides, including a 27-mile ride to the northwest corner of Taipei at the confluence of the Tamsui and Keelung rivers–the views out that way are beautiful and it is my favorite bike ride in the city.
Starting the Taipei 101 Run Up
I arrived early. My early sign up meant that I had an earlier start time and I had to go through a health and security check around 9 am on the day of the race. Of course, they neglected to put up any signs at the MRT exit pointing to the health check area, which was on the other side of the building. I had to ask multiple people who told me it was just around the corner (that doesn’t mean other side of a building where I’m from).
Other than that inconvenience, the rest of the time was spent waiting around a trying to stretch a little before the run. Also, I had the chance to drink some water and use the restroom before my group started. I know, it sounds exhilarating.
The actual run
I started out just fine, but the stairs were a little crowded at first — it all thinned out around the 10th floor as people either pulled ahead or began to lag behind. At that point I began wondering what the hell I was doing. “This is only the 10th floor!?” I thought, “This is not going to go well.”
I kept going despite my legs screaming at me to stop. Most of the people in my race group stopped on landings for a breath or at the water stations on every fifth floor (I stopped once for water somewhere around the 70th floor).
It was around the eighth floor that I noticed one guy who appeared to be in good shape taking two steps at a time at quick pace, and I thought this guy came to race. A few floors later, I saw him stopped in the corner catching his breath as I passed him at my more moderate pace. I never saw him again.
I’ll admit I took a few stops along the way, but I tried to not let my tired legs linger for more than 10 seconds at a time. I caught my breath and continued — I found that a brief break allowed my legs to rest enough for at least another five or so floors.
By the time I hit the 80th floor, I felt confident I could make it without any more rests. I was ready to get up to the top and finish the race.
I finally reached the top. I thought my time was better than reality (I guess some of the walk from the start to the stairs and the landings made it a little longer). I thought I had finished in under 25 minutes, but it turned out to be 27 minutes 43 seconds. Either way, it was faster than one step per second, which would’ve put me at 34 minutes.
At the 91st floor, I found a large crowd waiting around the finish line and groups taking photos. I didn’t want to get stuck in the crowd and opted for a quick elevator ride back to the lobby (actually it was three separate elevators; seriously, who designed the building to be so inefficient with elevators?).
After the race, I met up with a few friends for Korean barbecue nearby at Honey Pig. I stuffed myself stupid and had a bit of makgeolli before going home to shower and pass out.