Photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio
Graduating from Beloit in 2003, John Copeland has run thousands of miles across the eastern and western parts of the country.
His former occupation as a professional trail builder provided him plenty of opportunities to explore on foot the places he visited, whether a 50,000-acre prairie along the Colorado-Wyoming border or the 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine, the northernmost section of the Appalachian Trail.
“Running was how I got to know an area; racing was how I challenged myself,” he says.
Copeland eventually gave up his trail-building job and began a writing career in New York City, but his thirst to run and explore remained.
Forgoing rural trails and parks, he ran along the city’s bridges, waterways, and urban landscapes until he discovered another tantalizing option: stairs.
He started off running the 18- and 50-story stairwells at his lower Manhattan office building and soon after completed his first stairwell race. Despite his 80th place starting position, he ran up the 55-story One Penn Plaza building in Midtown in just over seven minutes last winter, placing sixth in the competition.
Copeland’s next challenge was the Empire State Building Run-Up held in February. Hosted by the New York Road Runners, the event features a largely international, invitation-only field as well as charity runners.
Copeland joined the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation team, which is the event’s benefiting charity, an organization he says is exceptionally good at effectively extending lives. The cause became even more personal when he found out that someone he knows was diagnosed with blood cancer shortly after he joined the team.
Though he calls the race up the 1,576 steps a great experience, Copeland, who works as a copywriter at a U.S.-based manufacturer, says it didn’t go quite as expected.
The stairways of the historic Empire State Building are narrower than those in other buildings, and Copeland says either because of fatigue or by strategy many of the hundreds of runners grasped onto the railings, blocking the others behind them.
Positioned in the fifth wave of charity runners, Copeland did his best to excuse himself up to the top, and ultimately finished in 14:53 to place 66 out of 726 runners.
“I had hoped to run it under 13 minutes and to be in the top 10, but it just didn’t happen,” the Beloit philosophy major says. “Everybody there was in great spirits, trying to raise money for cancer treatments, and I didn’t want to push anyone out of the way.”
Overall, however, Copeland says he’s happy he participated in it.
“The best thing to come out of it was the fundraising,” he says.