Stairway to Heavin'

Bisbee prepares to host its famous annual stair-climbing walk/run/party

How to make the most of the 19th Annual Bisbee 1000, aka the Great Stair Climb, in 12 easy, well, steps:

Step 1: Get thee to a runnery. Or, if you already have some athletic shoes, dig them out of the closet. Walk around the neighborhood a couple of times, and maybe climb a few steps. You'll be set. After all, this thing only involves climbing 1,034 steps interspersed along a 5-kilometer course ... at altitude! Pedazo de quequi, que no?

Step 2: Understand the motivation. Longtime Bisbee resident Cynthia Conroy came up with the idea about 20 years ago when she read an article in The New York Times about a new-fangled piece of exercise equipment known as a StairMaster. She thought to herself, "Why bother with that? We've got plenty of stairs right here." And thus the Bisbee 1000 was born.

In the first couple of years, there were only several hundred brave souls making the run/climb. But it has grown steadily. Last year, there were more than 1,500 participants, nearly half of whom came from the Tucson area.

Step 3: Get used to being hip. Runner's World magazine recently named the Bisbee 1000 as its October 2009 featured event in the United States. Just a note: The magazine is called Runner's World because the name Masochist's Monthly was already taken.

Step 4: Satisfy that aching need to do something good for somebody else. From race founder Conroy on down, the event planning and execution (probably not the best word) are done on a strictly volunteer basis.

"This takes a lot of work," says Conroy, "but it's a labor of love."

All of the proceeds go to fitness-related activities and charities in the Cochise County area. Over the past few years, they've helped everything from the Bisbee High School track team to a homeless shelter for women.

Step 5: Let your freak flag fly. Yes, this is a race, and yes, there will be some competitive souls checking their heart rates and wearing watches that keep time in the milliseconds. But for most people, this is an event.

Tucsonan Ben Yates, an ultra-marathoner who does triathlons just to warm up for the really hard stuff, loves the Bisbee 1000. "A bunch of my friends and I go there every year and have a ball. It's one of my favorite events of the year."

Last year, Yates, his girlfriend, Pamela Dimas, and a group of 10 or 12 others all donned luchero (Mexican wrestling) masks and ran the race as a team. "It's kind of rough, because not all runners are good at climbing stairs, and not all stair-climbers are good at running," Yates explained. "You have to find a reasonable pace between flights of stairs."

When asked what his favorite part was, he blurted, "Oh, the party afterward. They're pretty good at that stuff down there."

Step 6: Embrace the weather. This is Southern Arizona in mid-October. It should be beautiful; it might be dreadful. The race goes on, rain or shine.

"I hate to admit that it rained one year, and we postponed it for a week," says Conroy. "I don't know what we were thinking. Some people had come from out of town, and the vast majority thought it was ridiculous to let the weather be a factor. The race involves only going up stairs, not down them. After all, our slogan is, 'Up the Stairs and Down the Roadway.'"

(The course meanders through town in such a way that participants are taken to the base of nine different stairways in town. That's nine of 351 stairways in Bisbee. A map of the course can be seen at

"We've had great weather the past few years, but it doesn't matter," says Conroy. "From now on, the race goes on, no matter the weather."

Step 7: Get there early. Conroy swears that there is enough parking for everyone, but we're not so sure about that one. During the big Fourth of July festival Bisbee puts on, they have people parking out on U.S. 80, which just thrills the Highway Patrol.

What you don't want to do is get there late, have to park down by the Bisbee Breakfast Club, go in for a quick bite, then forget why you're there. Finally, by the time you hike up to Brewery Gulch, you'll be so late that the old fat guys are already finishing the race.

Step 8: Stay focused. There's plenty to do along the route, perhaps too much. If race organizers really wanted you to push yourself to the limit, then why do they have strolling musicians along the route, and places to stop and grab a soda or have a cup of coffee? Pretty insidious.

Step 9: Bring some money. Besides the normal killer shops along Main Street, they also have the Made in Bisbee Marketplace, with one-of-a-kind items for sale just a couple of months before Christmas. (As I write this, the voice in my head sounds like Tim Gunn.)

Step 10: Get your T-shirt. A shirt that says that you ran/walked/crawled/ finished/attempted the Bisbee 1000 is gold. It's like Woody Allen in Play It Again, Sam, where he's impressing his blind date by twirling a military medal that he bought at a swap meet. OK, maybe it's not exactly like that, but it's money!

Step 11: You can head back to Tucson by going out the back way, catching Route 191 and going into Willcox, where they have a Popeye's Chicken at a truck stop. It's a bit out of the way, but it's Popeye's Chicken, and you deserve it. And as long as you don't take six hours to "run" the race, you can still catch the UA-Stanford football game.

Step 12: Or, you can stay in Bisbee, dance to blues band Train Wreck and party like it's 1899. And if you don't think those people didn't know how to party back then, go look up why Cochise County had to bring in Texas John Slaughter.