Lawrence man to compete in urban stair climbing competition called the ‘Vertical Mile’

Stair climber Keith Dowell, Lawrence, and his dog Spank race up a set of stairs west of Memorial Stadium on the campus of Kansas University in this Jan. 30, 2009 file photo. Dowell is set to compete in the Vertical

They call it the “Vertical Mile.”

Forty-five floors. Eighteen steps per floor. Run up, run down. Repeat the circuit 10 times.

The urban stair race at Carew Tower in Cincinnati has an upward climb of one mile — and racers are given just three hours to finish. Lawrence resident Keith Dowell plans to use only two of them to complete the task.

“It’s the most miserable thing you’ll ever do,” he said. “And while you’re doing it, you hate it. But when you finish, it feels so good.”

Dowell, who at 56 is the oldest person competing in the race, frequently participates in competitive stair-climbing events. He trains at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Kansas City, Mo., by running up and down the stairs for an hour.

You’d think his favorite machine at the gym would be the StairMaster, but he prefers the treadmill in the corner with the broken motor. He grabs the handle bars and pushes the belt along using only the muscles in his legs. Then he turns around and does it backward.

“They all think I’m mad at the gym,” he said. “I go to a spin class and they all think I’m mad. They all sit down on the bike seat and I stand up to try to replicate running up stairs.”

Dowell got into competitive stair climbing one winter when he couldn’t find a road race to run. Since then, he’s been unstoppable. He’s one of only 18 participants in the Feb. 20 Vertical Mile race, sponsored by the American Lung Association.

Liza Aromas-Janosik, development manager and event coordinator, said most people climb a much abbreviated version of the Vertical Mile in which they run up 45 flights of stairs and then take the elevator down.

“It’s a marathon version, so it’s really kind of an extreme version of stair climbing,” Aromas-Janosik said. “It’s for elite athletes or for people who really want to push themselves.”

Dowell plans to push himself.

“I’m the oldest one doing it, and I expect to get in the top three,” he said. “I’m going to get in the top three.”