Durham firefighter shatters his record in Empire State Building race

Feb. 07, 2013 @ 08:55 PM

Touché Howard was enjoying a victory breakfast Thursday in New York City after reaching new heights in his race up the Empire State Building.

The Durham firefighter beat his record by more than six minutes. He made it from the ground level to the 86th floor in 28 minutes, 32 seconds – an astonishing improvement over last year’s 34 minutes and 45 seconds.

Howard was loaded with 55 pounds of fire equipment, but he brought something else, too – moral support from fellow firefighters, two who raced with him the entire way, although without gear.

“No one was more surprised than me,” Howard, 51, said of his finishing time. “It was a good time compared to last year. I felt like we accomplished a lot.”

Howard was racing for charity, raising $30,000 this year and in 2012 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

Five other Durham firefighters went to New York to support Howard in the race, sponsored by the New York Roadrunners Association. The annual event draws elite runners from around the world.

Howard was the last to run, starting about 9:45 p.m. Wednesday.

“The best part this year was that I didn’t have to take any breaks,” Howard said. “Last year at the 60th floor, I started really running out of endurance, but this year – because these guys kept my pace just right – I was able to keep going.”

Keeping pace with him up all 86 floors were Durham Battalion Chief Scott Roberts and Capt. Stephen Whitt.

“Heck yes, I’m impressed,” Roberts said of Howard’s performance.

Roberts said Howard tries to “displace the credit” from himself to others, but that the achievement is due entirely to Howard’s hard training and dedication.

“He’s 51 years old, and probably trains harder than anyone in the Fire Department,” Roberts said. “And then he puts it to good use. It’s one thing to aimlessly climb stairs, but he raised money [for charity].”

“All we wanted to do was to make sure he did better than last year,” Roberts said. “And I was actually surprised that he did so much better.”

But Howard, who flies back to Durham today, likes to look to the future, and already has his sights set on the New York skyscraper next year.

“I’ll try to break my record,” he said. “And I’m sure these guys won’t let me do the race without me trying to.”