With the streets covered in ice and snow today, where do city runners go? How about up?
Wednesday marks the 37th year of the Empire State Building Run-Up and 500 people will compete to see who can scale the iconic midtown building's 86 floors and 1,576 stairs in the fastest time.
The New York Road Runners organization, which has organized the race since its inception, said the event has grown tremendously over the decades while boosting the Big Apple's status as a runner's paradise.
"One of the most fun things about the Empire State Run-Up is how unique it is, and taking on this endurance challenge in the most iconic building in the world," said Mary Wittenberg, president of NYRR. "People see Mount Everest and they want to climb it, but no one sees the Empire State Building as a way to climb."
More than 1,800 runners from around the globe signed up for tonight's race, according to Wittenberg.
Last year, Suzy Walsham, 40, of Singapore, won the women's division with a time of 12:05. She will defend her title Wednesday. Mark Bourne won the men's division with a time of 10:12.
Many of the runners have gone through a lot of challenges and see finishing the race as another accomplishment.
First-time Empire Run-Up participant Bill McHugh, 49, of Gramercy last year battled multiple myeloma. He underwent a stem cell transplant and the cancer went into remission.
McHugh, a father of two, volunteers for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. When the group said it was going to raise funds for the disease by sponsoring runners, he jumped at the chance to help out.
"I have so much motivation to run up the stairs for the people who can't," he said.
The road to the top for McHugh, however, wasn't easy. He said he wasn't a regular runner and his body was still recovering from the cancer, but with the support of his family and friends he pushed himself to new limits.
Night after night he scaled the steps of his 16-floor building multiple times and now he said he is ready to emulate King Kong.
"I know I will finish and I know I won't be breaking any records," he said. "It's funny because two years ago I would have said I'm crazy for doing a race."
Wittenberg said she is proud of the Empire State Run's legacy and hopes it can inspire other would-be runners to hit their own stairs.
"The race is shorter and the pain is more intense, but the gratification comes from the effort and fun comes from the craziness about it," she said.