Introducing Escalator Runs (or how to introduce stairs in your urban runs)

One of the big challenges this year will be the Madeira Island Ultra Trail (MIUT), an amazing race integrated in the Ultra Trail World Tour. I’ll be participating in the Ultra course, 85 km of extreme beauty and delicate nature dazzling the senses through fascinating mountains, overall accumulating 4700 m of positive elevation.

As the organisation describes it:

«Imagine an island planted in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, 900 km from mainland Portugal and about 600 km off the coast of Morocco. An island where the mountain sometimes kisses the clear blue sea, an island where there are whispering waterfalls, trails, pathways and almost 1500 km of levadas (irrigation channels), a cultural heritage built with the Herculean effort of successive generations who never resigned themselves to embrace the word insulation, an island where there is still a preserved endemic Laurissilva forest, World Natural Heritage by UNESCO, for all of us.

This island exists and has a name: Madeira.»

Expectations are high for what should be a wow event!
Want a sneak-peak? 🙂


MIUT is famous for being as gorgeous as it is challenging. The keyword which keeps popping up all the time from runners which went through it is… stairs!

Yes, stairs!
Lots of stairs!

The island attracts tourists from every corner of the world for its famous levadas, irrigation channels carrying water from accessible waterways into the most inhospitable places. Next to each aqueduct there is a small path, used by levada keepers to maintain it, which is fully accessible on foot. With thousands of them across the land, they provide astonishing pathways to get to know the island and its nature in its most pure form. As any tourist that has visited them knows, stairs are common to be found as a means to confront the steep elevation that the hills present at times. The race will contain a lot… a whole lot of stairs.

So the challenge is: how do you include stairs in your runs if you live in an urban setting?

Here’s a few tips I’ve used initially to introduce stairs in my runs:

  1. Look for typical elevated areas in your city and go explore them. Stairs can usually be found in alleyways or in situations where the elevation is steep. Remember that cities are designed for pedestrians rather than athletes like us – steep roads are not comfortable to be walked on.
  2. Should you find a good place with stairs, plan a workout mid run where you not only run them up and down, but use the steps to exercise. Lunges. Jumps. Burpees. Calf strengthening. Be innovative. If you’re looking for inspiration, take a look here.
  3. Do you like to keep running? Plan a route which allows you to do repetitions over locations with stairs. Reiterating stairs during run periods will train your body (and mind!) to get used to the surprising factor of getting stairs at unexpected times. Such as in races like the MIUT.
  4. Have an office with a big tower or a public building nearby with accessible stairs? What are you waiting for? Make sure that you have good ventilation on it and push yourself to go there and conquer all those steps.
  5. Worst case scenario, you have really no option and/or are travelling out of your home base, stairs being unavailable. Look for a public park and seek a public bench. Use it to do step training. It’s not necessarily the same but provides a good enough replacement if you’re motivated enough to keep pushing yourself.

As of lately and as you likely understood already, I’ve found a secret weapon I’ve been using… 😉

Escalator runs!

Düsseldorf being a flat land, I don’t real have a lot of options around, at least open air as I do most of (to be true all) my trainings outdoors. The city has opened recently a series of subway stations, shiny new and full of bidirectional escalators towards the street. Kirchplatz is relatively close to where I live and has the perfect conditions for my sessions: it is large enough to allow short run periods in the square around its large church and has several subway station entries where I can use the escalators to run up- and down-hill.

Kirchplatz U-Bahn © Andrea Schweinsberg (

So how do escalator runs work?

Do you recall when you were a small child and you wanted to go into escalators in the opposite direction, your mum and dad advising you not to? Well… you’re a grown-up now! 🙂

Provided you find a relatively good sized escalator, running in it in the opposite direction will give you a continuous flow of steps for you to climb on. In an ideal world, you’d like to do it in a way where you stay relatively in the same absolute position, in order to maximise the number of steps you can do in one go. In practise one quickly finds that, if you’re running, you’ll still have a minimal flow moving forward, no matter how small it is. Should you want to maximise it further, go into power hiking mode: with the slight decrease your speed, you’ll collect a few additional steps (I usually do this when getting to the top).

Needless to say that you can also descend, as long as you have an escalator going up – usually even easier to find.

In my particular case I can make series of 100 steps in a row. 100 up. 100 down. 100 up. 100 down. Repetitions, remember? Short run around the square, go back into the stairs.


There’s a few things to consider if you plan to start doing this:

  1. Be warmed-up before you hit the escalators: take a 5 to 10 min jog before you do it to ensure that you’re muscles are fully activated and ready for the training session.
  2. Make sure you have good ventilation on the escalators: use the ones giving direct access to the street instead of the ones in between subway platforms.
  3. Watch out when you get in and out of the escalators: though it may look easy, you don’t want to slip and get injured on them. Walk in and out, use the hand rail and take it from there.
  4. Enjoy when people passing by highlight how good of an idea it is to use escalators for your training. Greet them. They’ll appreciate it 🙂
  5. Getting strange looks? Just ignore it. Have the confidence that you know what you are doing and that you’re substantially improving your fitness level by doing it.
  6. Oh… finally… the obvious one… make sure your parents are not around 😉

Have fun!

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