At age 63, Bill Law’s kids have declared him an official geezer. That won’t stop him from toeing the starting line Tuesday for the invitation-only 31st annual Empire State Building Run-Up, an event open only to elite vertical racers from around the world.

At age 63, Bill Law’s kids have declared him an official geezer.


That won’t stop him from toeing the starting line Tuesday for the invitation-only 31st annual Empire State Building Run-Up, an event open only to elite vertical racers from around the world.


The run up the New York landmark’s 1,576 steps will be his eighth stair-climbing race since the geezer declaration on his 60th birthday.


“I’m in it and I couldn’t be more excited,” said Law, a Federal Aviation Administration air carrier inspector. “I’ve been trying to get into it for a couple of years now.”


Acceptance to the Empire State Building race requires credentials, and Law figures his were validated in Chicago last February when he won the 60-64 age group in the 1,636-step Hustle up the Hancock in 15 minutes, 5 seconds. He was 507th overall among 1,456 finishers of the full 94-floor race.


It was a far cry from his first attempt, undertaken in 2005 when some of his fellow FAA employees invited him to join their vertical racing team.


“At the top of the building, my lungs were burning, my heart was pounding, and I felt like I wanted to throw up,” he said. “Wow, how I loved that race.”


In addition to the Hustle up the Hancock, Law also has run races up Chicago’s AON Building (1,643 steps) and the Sears Tower (2,109 steps).


“For me, nothing comes close to stair climbing as an aerobic activity,” said Law, who has been an avid bicyclist for more 30 years and ran 5- and 10-kilometer road races until knee pain forced him to give it up. “It takes about the same amount of training as a marathon.”


He said runners used to horizontal races are surprised at how much more difficult vertical racing is.


“On their first attempt,” Law said, “most start out like lightning, burn out about halfway up and end up walking to the top.”


Law said his technique is to start out slowly, back off a little before reaching his peak speed about two-thirds of the way up, and then holding a brisk, but steady, pace.


Since his job and location make finding time to get to a lot of tall buildings difficult, Law does much of his training on a stair-climb machine at the YMCA of Rock River Valley.


Law said the Empire State Building race will be different from those he is used to in Chicago, not only because the field will be about 200 runners instead of thousands, but because it begins with a mass start “which makes no sense to me, whatsoever.


“They have all these people run down a short hallway and then try to squeeze through a standard-size door to get to the stairs. Then, when you get to the observation deck, you have a sprint to the finish line. So it has an element of roller derby as well as being a stair-climbing event.”


The other difference, he said, is that each of the Chicago races raises money for a specific charities such as the American Lung Association, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Institute and the Step up for Kids sponsored by Children’s Memorial Hospital.


The altitude change from start to finish of the Empire State Building race is 303 meters, not much for a guy whose job includes an occasional ride in the FAA-mandated seat on the flight deck of airliners to evaluate the performances of the flight crew.


“Actually, most of my job involves working in flight simulators, which I like to call the world’s most expensive video games,” Law said. “Vertical racing is just a great way to have a lot of fun and get a great workout.”


Staff writer Mike DeDoncker can be reached at 815-987-1382 or mdedoncker@rrstar.com.