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An average person might climb 86 flights of stairs in one week. Herndon resident David Hollingsworth is aiming to do that in 20 minutes.

Hollingsworth is training to participate in the 36th annual Empire State Building Run-Up on Feb. 5. The event started in 1978, and this year 700 participants, including Hollingsworth, will race up the 1,576 stairs of the New York City landmark.

Just six weeks ago, Hollingsworth had never imagined taking part in such an event. The 52-year-old expressed interest in an online athletic forum, calling it “a bucket list item,” but did not think anything more of it. That is, until a member of the charity team sponsoring the race approached him about participating.

“Not thinking about it at first, I said, ‘Sure, why not?’” Hollingsworth said. “And then I realized what I’d gotten myself into.”

Still, he never considered backing down. When he found out the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation was the charity sponsor for the race, he knew he had to jump at the opportunity.

An old friend of Hollingsworth had been diagnosed with the blood cancer multiple myeloma in 2010. While his friend, Jeff Goad, is doing well, the prognosis for the incurable disease remains grim. Finding out that participating in the run-up would also allow him to support his friend helped him get over any intimidation.

“It was a funny coincidence, but in the end the fact that it’s a friend of mine who is affected by this disease was the most powerful motivator,” Hollingsworth said. “It let me say that yes, I could do this.”

So on Dec. 1, two months before the event, Hollingsworth committed to running up 86 flights of stairs and raising $2,500 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

Hollingsworth is an avid runner and cycler who enjoys challenging himself to take on new experiences. But he had never participated in an event like this.

Still, Hollingsworth has (metaphorically) faced much steeper climbs.

After a motorcycle accident left him with a fractured vertebrae and paralyzed right leg in 2004, climbing even one flight of stairs seemed a near-impossible goal. He slowly regained movement in his leg and strength in his back, but it took him two years to fully recover.

“My initial thought was that I just wanted to walk again,” Hollingsworth said. “But each new thing I get to do just pushes me to do something else.”

Walking led to running led to 5Ks and 10Ks. Last year, he ran with his sister in a half-marathon. Now, he is training for a triathlon later this year.

The Empire State Building Run-Up, though, requires an entirely different method of training than running and cycling, his usual athletic endeavours.

To train, he tackles any set of stairs he sees. But his particular training ground is in his Arlington office building. He starts at the bottom parking level and pushes all the way to the top floor, 10 floors in all.

Since this is not quite the 86 flights he will face at the Empire State Building, Hollingsworth needs to improvise. He started in early December running up the 10 floors four times each day. Each week since, he has added one 10-floor set to his end-of-day run. Last week, he ended each day running 60 floors.

In three weeks, he’ll be ready for the main event. Elite athletes make the run up all 1,576 stairs in 10 minutes. Hollingsworth hopes to make it to the top in twice that time, a challenging but not unreasonable goal for a serious runner.

“As with everything in life, the hardest part is the first step,” Hollingsworth said. “Once you start, you just have to keep going.”