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Enduring the 2016 Tower Run at Du Bois Library

Jong Man Kim/Collegian

Jong Man Kim/Collegian

On Nov. 17, the University of Massachusetts hosted its second annual Tower Run, a student-organized challenge to run up the 440 steps of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. Drawing a small crowd of fitness junkies and ex-cross country runners, the event quickly turned competitive when a timer was thrown into the mix. Participants were mostly underclassmen, but the event also attracted a few intrepid staff members. The Tower Run became a tower race.

My experience began with a running start as I hauled over from an exam in Machmer Hall in hopes of making it in time to claim the bragging rights my $10 entry fee ticket had earned me. While I had envisioned students going off in waves, the event was actually run one at a time, relieving me from the idea that I would be joining a small stampede, leaving casualties strung along the isolated stairwells.

The Tower Run started on the lower level and participants had to run to floor 26. I began my ascent, my lungs still hampered by the remnants of the most recent campus cold epidemic. The wall art decorating each flight quickly blurred into a spiral of color as I rounded each bend, giving the impression of what I can only describe as a desperate escape from a vertical 26-story kaleidoscope.

Somewhere around flight 10, I encountered what many marathoners would describe as hitting the wall. At this point, one is no longer human, but rather a basin of lactic acid. Every step is a tug of war between muscle fibers as they pull each other to pieces, an even greater test of human endurance than trying to get to a 9 a.m. across-campus class after sleeping through an alarm.

At flight 16 I hear the echoes of my high school cross country coach yelling, “Go to the arms!” because at this point the legs are dead. But the arms also feel dead, and you feel dead, and you can’t remember if the challenge is simply to go up the stairs, or up and then down.

At long last, I emerge onto the 26th floor, and I am not met by another spiraling, sadistic stairwell, but rather a small room of panting Tower Run survivors guzzling water like pet-store hamsters and comparing times. My performance fell short of earning a UMass travel mug reserved for the top five performers, but I did receive the priceless tell-all T-shirt along with a small fortune of Odwalla bars.

Why would a group of UMass students gather on a cold Thursday night to scale 440 steps at the fastest possible rate their bodies can endure? The reasons are not well understood. Because it’s a great pre-Thanksgiving workout. Because it gives you a greater appreciation for the invention of elevators. Because one day, when you drive your kids up to UMass for move-in day you can point to the iconic building looming over campus and tell them you ran all the way up that.

Proceeds from the event go to the UMass Amherst Libraries’ Facilities Fund. So if the thrill of putting your body under extreme physical duress isn’t enough of an incentive to shell out 10 bucks, at least sign up to benefit upgrades in the library, which will hopefully include some more of those red swivel ball chairs in the basement.

Lucy Matzilevich can be reached at lmatzilevich@umass.edu.

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