Training Plan: Stair Challenge Urban Footrace


I’m currently training for a local race called WazUpWidis (get it? What’s up with this?), which is billed as an Urban Run and Stair Challenge.  If you are not familiar with these terms, an “Urban Run” or “Urban Race” is a footrace in which the competitors run in an urban or city setting.  You’ll likely run on paved streets or sidewalks of the city, around or possibly through buildings.  This varies from road running in that you’ll interact with obstacles in the city, as opposed to just running straight on the paved road.  A Stair Challenge is exactly what it probably sounds like: It’s a footrace where you run (or walk or crawl) up many flights of stairs in a tower or other tall building.  Apparently stair climbing has grown into something of a sport, and has a following of stair-loving runners!  Until just over a year ago I had no idea these events existed, but actually getting into the sport of running has opened my eyes to all the new, fun, and even crazy events going on all over.  In my little corner of the U.S. we don’t have a large variety of running events, so when a new one is introduced locally, I get excited.  Last year was the inaugural year for WuzUpWidis?, and they had a great turnout.   I was one of the participants and, truth be told, I didn’t do any additional training for the event. I mean, I already run and I have climbed stairs before so how hard can it be? I wasn’t too sore the next day, but I also didn’t do so well:  Overall I was 194 of 296, and 9 of 17 in my age group.


This year I’m training for the race, and I’d like to share with you the training plan that I created for myself. Then, I’ll include some links to some other training plans.  Hopefully you can use these ideas to create your own plan if you are going to participate in a similar race. Keep in mind that my training plan incorporates, as a basis,  activities that I’m already participating in, so yours will need to be slightly different based on your current fitness level.


But first, some background on this plan: to participate in a competitive stair climbing event you’ll need to training for specificity, meaning in this case that you need to run or walk up a lot of stairs at least 3 times per week.  That requirement is fulfilled on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays in my plan.  Stair climbing also requires aerobic and cardiac fitness and conditioning, which you should work on daily.  In my plan, the aerobics classes, cardio machines and, of course, running meet this need.  I take a dance aerobics class, but another type of class or even following along with a DVD at home could be substituted.  The point is to get your heart rate elevated for 1/2 hour or more.  ‘Cardio machine’ below, ideally, refers to using a StairMaster or stair stepping machine.   However, I have an elliptical machine at home and that’s what I use. My intent is that the cardio machine be used as a substitute for road or bleacher running on rainy and cold days (I’m training in January during the winter, and I have to work around the bad weather). The final component is physical strength, so I’ve included two circuit workouts that are designed to work the specific muscles you’ll be using during stair climbs, as well as achieve general strength.  The tone/condition class I reference is a 1 hour class that uses light weights to work all muscle groups of the body. When climbing the stairs you use your gluteus maximus and hamstrings to extend your hip, plus the quadriceps for your knee extension and  iliopsoas for hip flexion.  Finally, keep in mind that you’re also using your calf muscles to keep your ankle braced and extend the ankle, particularly if you climb on your toes rather than use a flat-footed approach. My plan doesn’t specify when you’re supposed to stretch because it goes without saying that you’re stretching or maybe even including some yoga at the end of each of your workouts.

Daily Plan

  • Sunday – 1 hour aerobics class, run bleachers for about 1/2 hour
  • Monday – 1 hour aerobics class, 1 hour tone/condition class
  • Tuesday – 2 hours aerobics classes (1 in AM + 1 in PM), 1/2 hour cardio machine or running (run bleachers if possible), Circuit 1
  • Wednesday – REST DAY; 1 hour aerobics class optional
  • Thursday – 2 hours aerobics classes (1 in AM + 1 in PM), 1/2 hour cardio machine or running (run bleachers if possible), Circuit 2
  • Friday – 2 hours aerobics classes (1 in AM + 1 in PM), 1/2 hour road run
  • Saturday – 2 hours aerobics classes in AM

To perform these circuits you’ll need standard dumbells, probably 8 and 10 lbs. at least, a set of stairs and a countdown timer. I use the Stopwatch app for Android and set it for 1 minute.  A mat is nice for the floor exercises but optional. Perform exercise 1 for one minute. Then, run up and down 50 stairs, which should take you 45-60 seconds. (I have a flight of 10 stairs in my house, which I run up and down 5 times as fast as I can.)  Go on to exercise 2, followed by 50 stairs.  Repeat until you have performed all 10 exercises in the circuit and run up and down the 50 stairs a total of 10 times.  Start with the heaviest dumbells you can safely sustain.  You can always go down in weight if you can no longer perform the exercise properly.  Remember to drink plenty of water before and during your workouts.  When you’re done with the circuit you’ll have run up 500 stairs and you’ll be sweaty! If you have more time to spend on your training, do the full circuit twice, which should take you about an hour.

Circuit 1 –

  1. Bulgarian lunges
  2. front plank, left and right side planks
  3. single leg dead lifts
  4. push ups
  5. hamstring curls (hold the weight in between your feet)
  6. tricep dips
  7. body weight squats make sure you are doing these right!
  8. supermans
  9. pelvic bridge
  10. Russian Twists

Circuit 2 –

  1. Thrusters
  2. chest fly
  3. step ups
  4. hammer curl
  5. sumo squats with upright row
  6. bent over row
  7. lateral lunge with front raise
  8. flutter kicks
  9. tricep kickbacks
  10. front plank, left and right side planks

You should repeat your plan for at least 5 weeks before the event.  Any shorter than that is probably not long enough to train, and you’ll end up sore or injured after the race!


Here are links to some other training plans:

All photos in this post were taken by Marm O. Set at the 2013 WazUpWidis.

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