44,444 Feet in 18 Hours
On the morning of February 10, 2007, I set out to break my step climbing record of 86 times up the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning building. Before my Race Across AMerica (RAAM) career began, I set that record 14 years ago at age 30 in 12 hours, 2 minutes. Ironman triathlete Matt Meehan and I set a fast pace (7-8 times up per hour) for the first 7 hours until Meehan had enough after 52 climbs. Continuing on alone, I averaged just over 7 times up per hour for the full 12 hours, and 10 days later set the still standing one time up building record of 3 minutes, 38 seconds. Alternating sides, I climbed from the Ground to 36th floor, taking the elevator(s) down each time. One climb up consists of 764 steps and 440 feet vertical elevation gain. 12 times up is the coveted vertical mile. For a complete list of Cathedral of Learning building records, please go to my website at:
Back to 2007: I started at 8 am with 53 year old Billy Kanarek (he went up 40 times back in 1993 – starting with Meehan and I) who did the first 15 climbs with me. On our 3rd time up, Trizilla rider Doug Riegner showed up and set the new rookie record of 12 times up. Doug’s record would only stand a few hours as marathon runner (has finished 15 marathons in under 3 hours with a PR of 2:44) Eric Hodos showed up in the afternoon setting a very impressive new rookie record of 21 times up in just under 3.5 hours taking in very little water and no food.
Just before Eric finished, 53 year old Don Erdeljac started climbing, and set his new PR of 30 times up in just over 6 hours despite stopping to mix up two gallon jugs of Gatorade for me. I also drank a gallon of apple juice and a gallon of Hammer Nutrition’s Sustained Energy, and ate two bananas. My 56 year old mailman Mark Miller (40 years ago he climbed up with his high school track team) went up once with me along with 2004 Dirty Dozen 2nd place finisher Peter Culley who climbed up 7 times with me in the early evening. Scott Dismukes climbed up 8 times with a 30 pound backpack on.
I am no longer the athlete I once was 14 years ago. Although I had two 7 times up per hour hours my first 3 hours, I settled into a rate of 6 times up per hour, and still held onto that average for my first 12 hours with 72 climbs. After that (mainly doing every other step), I became so beat that I switched over to every step for the remaining 6 hours, and dropped off to a pace of 5 times up per hour. I was wiped out, but help showed up just when I needed it the most. Xavier Szigethy showed up at 8:14 pm, and climbed up 13 consecutive times with me – holding the elevator door as I drank and ate on the 36th floor. Strangely enough, my record setting 87th time up at around 11 pm, coincided with his record setting (PR) 13th time up.
My final support crew was Yale Cohen, John Knable, and Maxine Plotkin. Yale brought a Subway hoagie which Don Erdeljac and I split. I ate it over about 7 climbs on the 36th floor. John set his new PR of 12 times up, and Yale went up 9 times. Sitting out alternate climbs so that I would have the most possible company, Yale and John stayed till the very end (1:48 am Sunday morning) – climbing up my 100th and 101st times with me. Thanks to Xavier and Yale for taking photos of me.
Towards the end, my knees began to hurt – especially on the climb up to the first floor – a transition between my 2-3 minutes rest (waiting for the elevator and my trip down) and actual climbing time.
My new record is 101 times up in 17 hours, 48 minutes. I climbed 44,444 vertical feet or more than 8 miles straight up: The equivalent of going from sea level to the top of Mt. Everest 1.5 times. This year it took me 2 hours, 45 minutes longer to get to 86 times up (tie my record) than it did back in 1993. Luckily, I didn’t have many long periods where I had to climb alone. Of the 30 people who climbed and signed my Guestbook, congratulations to half of them who set multiple climbing records (PRs).
I want to dedicate my record to my father Hal Chew who was my support person when I set my old 86 times up record. He just turned 86 years old, and is continuously fighting to get extra days of life at Shadyside Hospital. My main sponsor and biggest fan, he went to most of my bicycle races. In today’s world where sponsorship $ are hard to come by, strong parental support can be crucial to a young, struggling bicycle racer.
A brief article and photo appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper at:
The American Lung Association of Pennsylvania is sponsoring Climb Pittsburgh II on Saturday, March 29, 2008 at the Gulf Tower (38 floors/760 steps), Downtown. For information about this event, go to: