Searching for a step up

Jeff and his stair-running weights.

I’m always on the lookout for a quick, effective workout. To share with you, my faithful readers, of course. But mainly for me. This morning, I may have struck gold.

Once or twice a week for the last decade, I’ve done an early morning mountain bike ride at Umstead State Park with my buddy Alan Nechemias. We ride the bridal trail network, sometimes throwing in some adjacent singletrack. We ride for an hour and a half to two hours, usually put in 20 to 25 miles. It’s a great workout.

On this morning’s ride we were joined by Jeff Monsein. Jeff and Alan are longtime road riding buddies. For years, they trained together, did a lot of the same mountain centuries. A few years ago Jeff rode the famed Haleakala volcano on Maui — only instead of going the popular route and taking a shuttle up the 23-mile road, which climbs 6,500 vertical feet, and coasting down, he earned his spirited descent by pedaling up first. Two years ago, Jeff was hit by a car on a training ride in northern Durham County. His passion for cycling didn’t fade, it simply shifted off-road. For the past year, Jeff has been a welcome, occasional addition to our Umstead ride.

An hour into this morning’s ride I noticed Jeff was riding strong.

“Been riding a lot?” I asked.

“Not as much as I’d like,” came the familiar refrain. Not even once a week, it turned out.

Dang, I thought. I’m riding three times a week training for the Off Road Assault on Mount Mitchell in less than a month, and Jeff is hanging right in there. Youth, I concluded: Jeff, at 54, is two years my junior.

At the end of the ride, though, I discovered his secret. He pulled a pair of 12-pound weights from the back of his SUV. “A couple times a week I go to Wallace Wade and do the stairs,” he said. “I take these and get an arm workout as well.”


Years ago, back in college, I would prepare for the upcoming ski season by running the stairs of a 12-story dorm on campus. It was miserable: the stairwell was stuffy, my sweaty, long-haired, heavy-breathing presence scared the life out of more than one surprised coed, and the most “laps” I ever managed was three. But it was the most physically effective use of a half hour imaginable. I’d been fretting of late about my lack of mountain training for ORAMM, which climbs 11,000 vertical feet over 63 miles; adding a set or two of stairs to the mix certainly couldn’t hurt.

Unfortunately, I do not live in Durham, and Wallace Wade’s accessibility is rare among its collegiate colleagues. (Kudos to Duke for recognizing the stadium’s recreational potential and allowing access to the masses.) Heck, you can’t even get inside a high school stadium in the Triangle — that I know of — without scaling 10 feet of chain link topped by razor wire. Which leads to my dilemma — and plea.

Certainly there must be a venue or two in the region suitable for running steps. (Office buildings are an option, though in my limited experience management frowns on sweaty runners funkifying their stairwells.) So I ask: Where can you run steps in the Triangle? I live in Cary, but don’t let that limit your suggestions; certainly there are others out there in search of steps who could benefit from your thoughts.

Leave your suggestions in the comment box. My quads thank you.

4 thoughts on “Searching for a step up”

  1. As a Tar Heel alumni, I offer the Fetzer Track and Field Stadium on main UNC campus as an option. The stairs have concrete aisles, a decent height and very wide, and makes for down and backs from one end of the stadium to the other enjoyable. Anyone can enter the stadium from my experience, as long as no official meets or games are being played. Quite lively and the only caveat is it is finding parking on campus, so usually weekends or after 7pm are your best bet. I also live in Cary and can’t think of any where that there are stairs conducive to enjoyment.

    1. I didn’t realize you could get into Fetzer; sounds like a good option. I have a meeting at UNC Press Thursday morning and will bring my running gear. Thanks, Kevin!

  2. Let’s see – you could do laps at NCSU – as long as you get in by 6:00pm or so, you could go up Dabney, down the other stairwell, across into adjoining Cox and go up and down, then sprint across the brickyard for a nice, somewhat-level recovery, then up and down D.H. Hill Library a couple times. That gets you four ascents without having to repeat a stairwell.

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