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When I tell people that I occasionally drive to Hamilton to do a stair workout, I am usually asked: Are you nuts? Why not just do the Casa Loma or Sunnybrook Stairs? Don’t you have better things to do with time?

 I understand their perplexity; Hamilton is at least an hour drive, usually longer on the way home because of traffic. So why go all that way? Because these are not just any stairs. Locals know them as Kenilworth Stairs. I know them as “the crazy place with 387 stairs”. Three hundred and eighty seven stairs!!!

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I first came across these stairs last year while training for a trail race in the French Alpes. I was looking for an alternative hill training workouts while I was nursing a chronic injury. After my first attempt at the stairs, I was hooked. Before explaining the reasons for my obsession, let me describe the workout:

My Stair Workout*

  1. Climb 228 stairs nonstop at a steady pace
  2. Run at a steady pace approximately 600m along the Bruce Trail, while jumping over rocks, roots and a sprinkling of ups and downs
  3. Climb another 159 stairs nonstop at a steady pace (don’t let this lower number excite you; these steps are much steeper!) IMG_4682
  4. At the top, run 50m on the bike path before turning around (in other words, fight every urge to collapse and just keep the legs moving!)
  5. Run down the 159 stairs as fast as possible (without tripping)
  6. Run at a steady pace once again for 600m along Bruce Trail
  7. Run down the remaining 228 stairs as fast as possible (without tripping)
  8. Stop for few seconds, take water, Gulp!
  9. Repeat the cycle as many times as possible in the hour!

*ideally, each step should be done one after the other without any pauses

It goes without saying that this workout is tough! My quads are screaming, my butt is begging for mercy and I’m tired!! So why do I love this workout so much? What makes it so addictive?

First off, I love the training benefits that I reap from this workout, while minimizing the amount of stress to my body. I’m developing wicked strength, power and endurance to my lower body. I’m increasing the threshold at which my body can perform. I’m teaching my body to adapt to multiple demands in a workout. However, the impact to my body is slightly different (compared to hill repeats) and my injury-prone body responds well.

Second, I love that this workout makes me more tough, more resilient. I’m an accomplished athlete and I can run fast, but I’m the first to admit that I like to operate in my comfort zone. This workout is getting me out of my comfort zone. When my legs are screaming for me to stop, I tell my legs to shut up and I keep going. When I run the section along the trail that’s a bit tricky, I try to run a bit faster each time. When I’m quickly running down the stairs and praying that I don’t fall, I try to hold onto the railing with less of a grip.

Despite the above, there is something relaxing about this workout. The repetitive nature of this workout allows me to go into this auto-pilot mode and I just go-go-go. Although I’m not completely “checked-out” as I might otherwise be during an easy trail run, there is part of my brain that shuts off.

And it is for these 3 reasons why I love doing this workout periodically throughout the season. The long commute to get to/from the stairs is worth it for me. How far will you go for a kick-ass workout?

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