Clif Bar Athlete of the Year Kristin Frey


For top stair climbers, many climbs are over in no more than 15 minutes: less time than it takes many of the fastest runners to complete a 5K. Despite the sport’s speed, former marathoner Kristin Frey found her athletic niche in stair climbing, where she quickly rose through the ranks to finish second in the Towerruning World Cup 2012 standings.


Braden Renshaw, another prominent Chicago area climber, put the idea of a stair climb into Frey’s head in 2009, but initially she wasn’t convinced it would be the ideal sport for her.


“He said how hard and painful it was, even worse than 5Ks,” Frey says. “I said, ‘I’m an endurance runner. I don’t really like 5Ks, I prefer marathons. You’re not really selling this sport to me.’”


That year, Frey tackled both the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and ING New York City Marathon, which ultimately led to her transition into stair climbing.


“I ran a PR at the Chicago Marathon that year and then was running New York and my legs were just trash,” Frey says. “I suffered through a lot of that marathon and mentally I was like, ‘I need something different. I’m going to try that stair race and start training for that and get focused on something else.’ A week after New York I ended up getting injured while running. I pulled a muscle and wasn’t able to run for 10 weeks. It was actually good that I was going to stop running because I was cross training, spinning, and doing stairs when I wasn’t able to run.”


Frey competed in the 2010 Hustle up the Hancock about four months after New York and took eighth place. Even though she had only competed in one race at that point, she already found herself on the list of internationally ranked climbers at With that motivation, Frey put running on the back burner for a couple of years and chose to focus on stair climbing as her main sport.


“Last year was my year to do everything stair climbing related,” Frey says. “I wanted to try to shoot for the number one spot in the World Cup and I finished second, which I was happy with. I traveled so much last year. I did a ton of race here in the U.S. and I was in South America, I did two races in Europe and I did a race in Taipei.”


Even with all of her travels, Frey also wanted to focus on performing well at home.


“One of my goals was to say that I own the Chicago skyline,” Frey says. “I wanted to win all the races in Chicago—Hancock, Sears, Aon—and I did that. … 2012 was really a banner year for me. I’ve done more than I ever thought I would.”


2013 has already started well for Frey. On Jan. 4, Frey participated in a world record climb in Jacksonville, Fla. where she and three other climbers continuously climbed the Bank of America Tower for 24 hours. A few weeks later, she easily took first place at the Aon Step Up for Kids climb at the Aon Center in downtown Chicago. Many non-elite climbers participated in the event as well, which is one of the aspects Frey most appreciates about stair climbing.


“I did the Aon Climb and there were tons of kids in there,” Frey says. “There are people of all sizes and it was just great being in there and seeing people challenge themselves, going outside their comfort zones, doing something different and achieving their goals. That’s what I really like about the sport.”