Payne has been logging his miles two or three steps at a time

Mike Payne isn't a runner.

Especially since back in 1986 he had surgery to affix his left lung to his chest wall after it collapsed four times.

But that hasn't stopped the 46-year-old Mystic resident from taking on one of the sport's increasingly popular challenges: running up the stairwells of some of New England's tallest buildings.

Payne, who works as a marine surveyor and a field rep for a fire restoration company, ran 3:50 and finished 13th out of 479 runners last month at the American Lung Association's Fight for Air Climb up 1 Financial Plaza in Providence. A few weeks before that he joined almost 1,500 competitors, including a large group of firefighters in full gear, who ran up the 41 floors of 1 Boston Place. There, he finished 112th in 7:31.

That's by a guy who doesn't run because the impact of running is very uncomfortable for him and causes a feeling of pressure in his chest.

Instead, the long time, self-proclaimed gym rat said he rides his bike, does spinning workouts and, of course, uses a stair climber.

Payne said he was encouraged to try the races by Heather Bessette of I Can Fitness in Stonington who was putting together a team of runners to go to the events in Boston and Providence.

To train for the race, Payne said he would run up and down two to three flights of stairs for 30 minutes straight. Sometimes the group trained in the stairwells at the Mystic Marriott. He also does a lot of squats.

While short in time, the climbs are grueling.

"You get yourself ready, you put our head down and go," Payne said.

After his first race in Boston, Payne fine tuned his technique by deciding to take two or three stairs with each stride and saw a big improvement in Providence.

While the races are fundraisers for the lung association, Payne downplays any personal connection he has with the race because of his lung problems.

He said he does not see himself, as a victim as many other people have far worse lung problems than him.

Instead, he said he sees the races as a way to have fun, enjoy the day with friends and raise some money for the organization at the same time.

He said he particularly enjoys the camaraderie of the events, as many of the runners form teams and encourage each other.

It's not just the stairs that make these races tough, it's the air.

"People come out coughing and hacking because it's so dry. It's brutal," he said. "But I definitely enjoyed doing it."

Payne said he plans one more race in Hartford next month and then to compete in more climbs next winter.

For Payne, the question of whether he will eventually tackle the granddaddy of all climbs, the Empire State Building Run-up, is natural one.

"I think about it a lot," he said.

Congratulations to ...

... Way Hedding, the race director of the John and Jessie Kelley Ocean Beach Park road race, which has been named the Race of the Year by New England Runner magazine.

There's nothing like a long running event in a great location, in which runners come back year after year to honor two of the finest people you could have ever met. And it's still free.

On the schedule

Nick Checker's new movie, "Wisp!", which has a running theme, will be shown at the Niantic Cinemas at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., on Sunday with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the John Kelley Memorial Fund, which is raising money to erect a statue in his honor in downtown Mystic.

The 7:30 showing will include the 23-minute film along with another short film and animations. The 9 p.m. showing will just be of "Wisp" and was added because of the expected large crowd.

Checker said the main character in his film, a female runner, runs in the woods for sheer enjoyment, something he said the late Kelley would have identified with.

"This is something Johnny would have enjoyed," he said.

Joe Wojtas is The Day's running columnist

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