The Moving Crew

Metro's Escalated Challenge

(Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post)
By Korin Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Most people view Metro's escalators as a way to get from Point A to Point B. I view them as a personal challenge.

I'm a competitive person. A lifetime of playing sports, coupled with years of living in Washington, has made me that way. Sure, this is occasionally a problem (ask anyone who has ever bowled with me), but I've found our city a haven for folks with my character flaw.

I noticed I had an issue with the escalators the first time I hiked up the seemingly mile-high moving staircase in Rosslyn. I was a young and impressionable intern, and my climb left me gasping for breath. I must be sick, I remember thinking -- even though I was a college athlete who ran 60 miles a week.

Five years later, I'm no longer clocking that kind of mileage, but I still go for daily runs with my dog. And, until recently, I was still out of breath at the top of the Rosslyn station. During my tenure in Washington, I've struggled with the escalators at Dupont Circle, Bethesda and Tenleytown, to name a few, trying to refrain from panting or showing my pique at being passed on the way up by a less-earth-bound commuter. Each time I find myself at the bottom of these behemoths, I slap on a fierce look and begin to climb -- determined that this time I won't lose my dignity. More often than not, I lose the bet.

According to Gold's Gym strength training and cardio expert Grace DeSimone, whose certifications come from such places as the elite American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine, I'm not alone. " I climb up stairs and get winded," she said. "And I teach a step class!"

The body uses different types of energy for different exercises, she explained. Running is an aerobic exercise -- one that involves sustained movement of large muscle groups over an extended period of time, making the heart and lungs work harder to get oxygen to the body. Stair-climbing, by contrast, is an anaerobic exercise, like sprinting, that requires short bursts of energy in a short time. The oxygen demands of such exercise exceed the body's ability to meet them.

It takes practice to climb stairs with ease, DeSimone said: "You're only in shape for what you train for." She recommended an interval workout on a StairMaster or stairs -- 15 seconds of climbing, followed by 15 seconds of rest, repeat -- gradually building up to the minute or so it generally takes to conquer a massive escalator. A 150-pound person will burn 10 calories per minute soldiering up the stairs; daily climbers can burn 3,000 calories or more a year.

I started putting in time on the StairMaster after my daily runs but realized I needed a goal to work toward -- my very own Olympics of escalator climbing, if you will. And boy, did I get it: The Wheaton station houses the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere, according to a Metro spokeswoman, a whopping 508 feet of moving staircase.

A few weeks after I started training, I mulled over DeSimone's advice on the ride over to Wheaton. She had encouraged me to pace myself, move at my own speed. "Think of climbing like sprinting -- you don't sprint for that long," she said. She also suggested I start with the stairs, not the escalator steps, but I was determined to take on the monster.

Finally, I arrived at Wheaton. I swear I heard the theme from "Rocky" playing in the background when I took my first step. Fifteen seconds later I was still climbing. My thighs were burning by the time I reached the top, but I did it -- in roughly 30 seconds -- without panting.

I savored my victory (and caught my breath) for a few moments before heading down the steps. My competitive drive, I thought, is finally satisfied. Except . . . I wonder if I can climb faster next time. ยท

Hold those questions. The Moving Crew's biweekly Live Online discussion on fitness resumes in April. Can't wait? Write to us

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