Lee Flinn describes Boise’s small but ardent group of stair climbers as “kind of a ragtag group of people who want to get together and work out.”
“At any given gathering we’ll have people who go fast, and those who go slow, and people who walk,” she said.
Flinn has a day job as policy director at the Idaho Primary Care Association and is also a group fitness instructor at the YMCA. She started running stairs a year and a half ago after Boisean James Rosenberg got people together to train for the American Lung Association’s annual Fight for Air Climb fundraiser. The event challenges runners and walkers to tackle the heights of Boise’s U.S. Bank building — which, at 21 floors (including two below-ground parking levels), held the title of tallest building in Idaho until the Gardner Company built its tower at 8th and Main streets in 2013.
But even when they’re not training for the fundraiser, Flinn and others run stairs in Downtown Boise regularly, with the Tuesday night get-together being open to anyone.
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Between five and 12 runners typically show up, said Flinn, and they represent a range of fitness levels. Some participants walk the whole time and take long rests. At the same time, conditioned athletes such as Flinn, who won her division in this year’s Fight for Air Climb, find that stairs help them push themselves.
“I like running on trails, but I feel like I can take it easy on the trails. I can’t take it easy on the stairs. It’s a high-intensity workout,” she said.
Flinn likes the challenging simplicity of stair climbing. The Tuesday night runs last just 30 minutes.
“We’re in. We’re out. There’s always a lot of laughter,” said Flinn.
Dan Krejci, owner of 10th Street Station in Downtown Boise, likes to mix the stairs in with his other fitness routines, including walks up to Table Rock. He keeps a modest pace on the stairs and takes breaks when he needs them. When he first started running, it took him nine minutes to climb the U.S. Bank’s stairs. Now he can do it in just over four minutes.
“Running the stairs, you don’t feel like you’re all alone,” he said. Whenever he misses a Tuesday night, he feels guilty. “Like I’m letting the rest of the gang down, there’s such good camaraderie.”
Finding simple, indoor workout spaces is nothing new. American shopping malls were discovered decades ago by “mall walkers” who used the long halls and controlled climate for year-round social and fitness outings. But stair climbers take the idea to a whole new level.
Glenn Newkirk, who works in the admissions department at Boise State, is a regular stairway climber. Like Flinn, he won his division in the Fight for Air event this year. The event is personal for him. His father died of lung cancer and he wanted to find a way to raise money for the American Lung Association.
Newkirk is also an avid mountain biker and liked the idea of a workout that would build his endurance. He tried different workouts at the gym, but when he started stair climbing, he noticed big improvements in his lung capacity in less than a month.
At the Tuesday night runs, Newkirk is often the one who comes up with patterns to make the challenge more interesting — sprinting, then taking a 10-second rest, or running three floors up, two floors down, until you reach the top. Some hardcore runners add push-ups, burpees and jump-rope to the mix, or run with weight belts.
Like Flinn, Newkirk likes the back-to-basics character of stairs. It “cuts through the excuses people have for not working out,” he said.
It’s free and doesn’t require a gym membership; it doesn’t require equipment; and you don’t have to worry about running in the rain, snow, cold or heat.
“It’s really simple. I used to skateboard. Running stairs reminds me of when I started street skating,” he said. “You didn’t need ramps and all of that. You just used the urban landscape.”