If you don’t want to run hills outside in Calgary’s freezing cold, slippery winter weather, there is an alternative: running the bleacher stairs inside at the Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary. Stairs are not the equal of hills, but they do offer a way to run vertically. You can increase strength and range of motion, and it’s a great cardio workout.
One entire set of bleacher stairs at the Oval is 248 stairs, 124 per side, if you include all four fire exits. I’m not counting the stairs one has to climb to get back up to the exit floor – those are a cool-down bonus. The shortest sets are 4 steps and the highest sets are 24 steps high. These are made of concrete and many of them are slightly higher than your average household steps.
I know these numbers because I counted them all twice on Thursday. I had to count them twice, because I lost count the first time and had to verify it the next set. The official Oval web site doesn’t mention the stairs, but every evening I’m there training, there’s some group or another using them. There is also a ramp that goes behind the bleachers, which can be used as a short hill, in case you are allergic to too many stairs.
I did three sets of stairs, which has been a standard for my Thursday night workouts this winter. The assignment was four sets, but I have a hilly trail race this weekend out on Nose Hill Park and I wanted to be nicely recovered for that. Before hitting the stairs I warmed up for four laps. In the third and fourth laps my legs reminded me that indeed, Tuesday’s 600m repeats had been a challenge.
I think I spend a little more time in the air when running stairs than I do when running hills. No shuffling – I don’t want to trip. Since the stair wells are “only” up to 24 high, I leap up them all with my spine straight and my arms swinging for momentum and lung expansion. I stop to suck air at the top, and recover on the way back down. Sometimes I recover a little more at the bottom before going back up again.
Occasionally there are surreal moments between stairs when I feel like a cartoon character, as time skips a beat and I hang over a step before feeling it. One wouldn’t think that altitude changes only 24 steps high would make one that delirious, but then those who know me well know that going crazy is a short trip.