Local towers above countrymen in NYC race | AspenTimes.com

Local towers above countrymen in NYC race

Men competing in the 30th Annual Empire State Building Run-up, rush into the stairwell in the lobby of the Empire State Building in New York on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007. Approximately 216 runners from around the world ran up the 1576 steps from the lobby to the observatory deck of the Empire State Building. (AP Photo/Adam Rountree)

NEW YORK CITY Somewhere between the first stair and the 1,576th, Rickey Gates nearly got slapped in the face.This wasn’t unintentional. Not like the elbows and hip checks he had already withstood during a hectic dash to the top of the Empire State Building.On Tuesday, in the middle of a cramped stairwell full of swinging arms and driving legs, a racer Gates was trying to pass deliberately turned around and took a swing at him.As Gates quickly learned, accepted on-course etiquette doesn’t apply to the Empire State Building Run-Up – more of a human stampede than an actual organized race.Gates – a former Aspen High School cross-country standout – literally took the tiny squabble in stride. He shoved past the incensed runner a few steps later, then kept grinding up some 86 flights of stairs to the observation deck.

He ended up third among the 216 racers, and New York reporters notified him shortly thereafter that he was the top American in the field.Not a bad showing for a guy who entered the race on a whim – because the Boulder restaurant he works for said it would pay for his plane ticket – and, as a first-time entrant, had to start way back in the pack.”I might have done a little better if I didn’t have to start 30 feet back,” said Gates, who finished behind repeat champion Thomas Dold of Germany and another German runner. “It’s just a mob mentality. Off the start, it goes from about 30 wide down to 3 feet wide in about five seconds. … It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like it. It’s certainly a new experience trying to cram 50 runners into a little 3-foot-wide stairwell.”Gates, 25, graduated from CU in December 2005 and still lives in Boulder, but continues to run in a number of local races in the Roaring Fork Valley, including the Golden Leaf Half Marathon, the Buddy 5 Mile Race and America’s Uphill.After graduating from Aspen High in 1999, he ran at Division III Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., for a year. He then transferred to Boulder, and attempted to walk on to CU’s nationally renowned cross-country team. He hoped to run alongside former Skiers teammate Jon Severy – an All-American at CU – but didn’t make the cut.

Admittedly, Gates said part of the reason he didn’t earn a spot with the Buffs is because he “didn’t really start training smart” until about two years ago.In June, he finished third at the 46th annual Mount Washington Hill Climb in Gorham, N.H., which earned him a sponsored spot on the U.S. Mountain Running Team. He heard about the annual February Run-Up from some of his teammates, he said.Predictably, the chance to run up New York’s tallest building with more than 200 other dedicated runners piqued the interest of someone who just a little more than two years ago completed a 15,000-mile solo journey from Aspen to South America on a 1979 Honda CX500 motorcycle he bought for $500.”There’s certain races that kind of pop up as great races to run,” he said, laughing. “This was one of them.”When Frasca Food and Wine on the Pearl Street Mall, where he works as a waiter, offered to pony up the money for his plane ticket, that was all the incentive he needed.

Gates didn’t win any money for his podium finish.”Just a silver trophy that I’ll probably eat cereal out of when I get back home,” he said.Quite possibly the most important thing he gained from his showing was a better starting spot next for next year’s race.”I’d certainly do it again,” he said. “My time was fast. Certainly a lot of Americans have run faster than me in previous years, but it was cool to be the top American finisher. I knew I was going to do well – I was just not sure how well.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com

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