Mike Beato admits he's a little obsessive about running. After all he did 135 races in 2017 making him one of the most active road racers in the Buffalo area.
But he felt there was a lull in the winter. There aren't as many race opportunities and Beato was looking for a new challenge.
That's when he went perusing the calendar on the Buffalo Runners website and found the Fight For Air Climb event.
He was immediately intrigued. And immediately ready to try it.
"I was just was looking for something in the winter, something different to do," said Beato. "I was very curious about it when I first looked at it on the Buffalo Runner's calendar and I went and did it and really loved it. The charity, the American Lung Association, is an important one for me. My dad died of lung cancer and he was an athlete when he was young. It seemed to make sense to me. I was curious how hard it would be, what it would be like climbing that many stairs, and I'm kinda hooked now."
It's a familiar story – runners looking for a challenge and finding their way to the stairs. Many stairs. Many, many stairs.
The Fight For Air Climb is in its eighth year in Buffalo. The signature fundraising event nationwide for the American Lung Association, the Buffalo event returns to Seneca One Tower this year where climbers will tackle 37 floors and 800 stairs.
The event has similarities to your typical Western New York 5K. It features participants who are in the "elite" division, those who are trying just to finish, and every fitness level in between. And regardless of your fitness level, the stair climb is humbling.
"I describe it this way: I've run all different types of races, all different distances up to marathons and this is the most difficult event that I've ever done measured by breathing and heart rate, bar none," Beato said. "Now it certainly doesn't last as long as a run. It is about as much time as I run a mile in a race. Even running a mile race, it's hard to do because you're really pushing it for a really short distance. But climbing up stairs is harder. I wore my heart rate monitor and it's like 'wow, I'm at my redline almost in the first 20 seconds.' It's really hard."
Then again, it's supposed to be really hard. That's the point.
"We encourage everyone to take a moment when they reach the top and are trying to catch their breath to imagine feeling like you can't catch your breath all the time," said Kelli Hanson, the development coordinator for the American Lung Association of the Northeast. "Imagine what someone living with lung disease feels like on a consistent basis. Take a moment to remember who we are fighting for."
Aside from the physical activity, the stairwells are dry. Veteran climbers offer tips, including using cough drops to help soothe dry throats and help with the coughing that will certainly come at the top.
It was something that Michael Moore wasn't expecting when he did the first climb back in 2011. Part of the NFTA's corporate team, he's an avid runner but had no idea how the climb would compare with running.
"I had no idea how I would do," Moore said. "It was just something new and different. I knew with my running background I'd probably do OK, but I was not prepared for the coughing and stuff afterwards. I had climbed stairs before, but never really raced them or ran up them consistently for that many floors. I definitely did not have high expectations. I did it and finished and liked it and set the bar for running it again."
Once runners do the climb once, they're hooked. It's become a fixture event for many local runners. In fact, there's a Buffalo Runners team, captained by Heather Battaglia and sponsored by WNY Diamond Cutters.
Battaglia described her team of 50 people as all ages and all abilities, from elite finishers to I-will-survive-this-climb-even-if-I'm-crawling climbers. About two-thirds of the team this year are first-time climbers.
"I first created the team in 2012 to embrace a new physical challenge," Battaglia said. "Over time, our purpose changed as our team grew and diversified our goals. We climb for fitness, remembrance of loved ones, to raise awareness for the American Lung Association and inspire runners to join us.
"I never thought when I created this team that I would have lost friends in the running community to lung cancer and lung-related diseases. And now, seven years later, I'm climbing for their memory, a memorial climb of remembrance and a heart-filled happiness that a group of runners are raising over $5,000 for the American Lung Association. It's a true testament to how our Buffalo running community is driven to help."
Participants can register as individuals or form their own team.Registration is $35 with a minimum fundraising goal of $100. The climb begins at 8:30 a.m. on March 10 with each climber receiving an individual start time.
Buffalo Runner of The Year 2018
The series returns for 2018 with the same races. Comprised of 10 events the series includes: Shamrock Run 8K, Shoes for the Shelter 5K, GBTC Half Marathon, St. Gregory the Great Race 5K, Depew-Lancaster Boys and Girls Club 5K, Subaru Buffalo 4-mile Chase, Ronald McDonald House 5K, Checkers Mueller Mile, Linda Yalem Safety Run 5K, Strider Glider 1/4 Marathon, and the YMCA Turkey Trot 8K.
Saturday, Jan. 27
- Chautauqua Striders Winter 5K Series No. 3, 10 a.m., Lakewood Rod & Gun Club, 433 E Terrace Ave, Lakewood
- Frozen Chozen 5K, 10 a.m., St. John’s S Lutheran Church, 4536 South Buffalo St., Orchard Park
Sunday, Jan. 28
- Penguin Run 5K, 11 a.m., Classics V Banquet Facility, 2425 Niagara Falls Blvd, Amherst.
Monday, Jan. 29
- Jackrabbit Snowshoe Series No. 4, 2-mile and 1-mile snowshoe race, 6:30 p.m., Kissing Bridge, 10296 State Rd, Glenwood
Sunday, Feb. 4
- Mr. Ed’s Superbowl Warm-Up, 5K, 11:30 a.m., Middleport Fire Hall, 28 Main St, Middleport