This is such a unique event. The First National Tower is the largest building in Nebraska, standing at 41 stories. The goal here is simple: run to the top of the stairwell as fast as you can. Don't let the review title fool you - I really like this race. It's just really, really challenging. This is my 2nd year of doing this event. I normally do traditional distance races on road and trail, so this is a fun change.
The event takes place in downtown Omaha on a Saturday morning, so the parking in garages and on the street around the venue are pretty plentiful. We always pick a garage across the street for ease of getting in and out. When you arrive, they have plenty of volunteers at the check-in area. You can't bring in your own bag, but they provide clear plastic bags for your personal items, if needed. From check-in, you proceed to packet pick-up (there's no pre-race packet pick-up - only the morning of the event), which is also well-staffed and efficient.
Once you're all set, you proceed to the winding hallway to wait in line for your turn. At registration (this event always sells out), you have the choice of start times beginning at 7 am, and running every 15 minutes until 11 am. If you are an "elite" runner (based on previous years' results), you can go when you want, and can bypass the line, which is awesome. The line moves quickly. There's a monitor at the front of the line who repeats the same instructions to each participant, and lets people go every 5-7 seconds to avoid congestion. If you're a faster runner, I suggest the earliest start time possible. If you don't get one, but have an elite pass, tuck in line behind someone who looks fast - the stairwell can get congested quickly if not.
At the start line, they have a basket of cough drops. TAKE ONE! It helps the dryness in your throat as you climb.
Each participant receives a wristband with a chip. When it's your time to go, you scan the chip on the table until you hear a "beep", then you run down the hall to the stairwell.
I'm not going to lie - the air in the stairwell is dry and stale, and the climbing kicks you in the gut FAST! One second you're cruising along quickly, then the next second your legs don't work. I was able to run the first 11 flights this year, after which point it became a power hike. Periodically, there will be a floor that has their door open with volunteers who have water and access to aid, if needed. It doesn't help with the dry air, though. The best way to climb is using both handrails to help propel you up. Your legs will be dead and your lungs will be screaming. Use every aid you can!
When you hit the 40th floor, you exit the stairwell, scan your wristband on another scanner and exit into a conference room. The floor is covered in plastic and they provide water, your medal and a towel (for you to keep). You're encouraged to walk in a circle around the room to get your body back to normal. I was dying. But I wasn't puking in a trash can like another participant, so I guess I had that going for me. After you finish walking, you hit the elevator down to the main floor and are treated to refreshments from Whole Foods. This is also when you can pick up your t-shirt, which is a long-sleeved, dry-fit shirt. The shirts are fairly basic, but good quality. I really didn't love the design of this year's shirt, but it's not the reason I do the race.
Overall, it's a very unique and challenging event. The swag and shirts aren't as great as other races, and the scenery is boring, but it's a race up a stairwell - what do you expect?
Even though I coughed for 2 days straight afterwards, I fully intend on doing it again next year!