1980s westin stamford

Home to some of the biggest races in tower running, Asia is fast becoming the main arena of the sport. But stair running is nothing new to the region – Singapore has been hosting races for over 30 years.

Swissotel The Stamford hotel in Raffles City, Singapore is famous in the lore of tower running, most notably as the venue for the stair racing debut of the incredible Suzy Walsham in 2006. But the Australian superstar’s first race at the Vertical Marathon was actually the 20th edition of the event.

Read on to find out how the Asian tower running scene began in Singapore in 1987.

Back in 1987, the now Swissotel The Stamford was part of the Westin chain of hotels. William McCreary was managing director of Westin Stamford and the nearby Plaza, and under his stewardship the two hotels jointly designed to organise the first stair race event in the region.

As the tallest hotel in the world at the time, the 226-metre high Stamford was selected as the venue for the event. With 1,336 steps spread over 73 floors, the building would prove quite a challenge to the first time runners in Singapore.

All the funds raised by the ‘Vertical Marathon’ would go to the Community Chest, which had been established in 1983 to raise funds for social welfare projects in Singapore.

The trial run

Practice sessions in buildings hosting tower runs aren’t unique and nowadays a number of large events, particularly in the United States, grant participants access to the stairs weeks in advance of the race.

But the Vertical Marathon in 1987 was slightly different in that it appears to have officially timed the trial run, which was held in February a full three months before the big race in May.

The fastest man and woman at the trial run even got their pictures in one of the biggest English-language newspapers in Singapore, The Straits Times.

Time trial winners 1987

David Cheah Fook Choy, a 25-year old technician with the Public Utilities Board, was fastest to the top with a time of 8:20.

Mr Cheah said he was exhausted after the first 40 floors and had to walk the remaining 33. ‘But the heavenly view you catch at the top of the building makes it all worth the while’, he added.

The fastest woman in the trial was a 31-year old British athlete, Helen Gilbey, a lecturer at the College of Physical Education. Already a well-established athlete in Singapore with a number of road races of varying distances under her belt, Gilbey finished with a trial time of 10:05.

‘After running 50 floors, oooh! I had to pull myself up using the safety banisters’, she told reporters.

The pair would head into the main race as firm favourites.

Vertical Events Sports Association

Before the main event had even taken place, an industrious group had got together and formed the Vertical Events Sports Association (VESA). The stated aims of the association were to promote and organise ‘all forms of vertical sport, including climbing steps or walking and running up high buildings’.

The Association was met with incredulity. It took six months for the Registrar of Societies to sign off on it – double the usual length of time it took to register a new association.

But Kenneth Jalleh, President of VESA, was determined to show this was no joke. ‘In no way are we going to try and push this as a fun thing. This is serious’, he told reporters. ‘Nobody realises just how good an exercise this is. It’s aerobic, it builds up a lot of strength and it’s dirt cheap’.

‘And we’ve got some of the tallest buildings in the world and most Singaporeans live in high-rise buildings’, added honorary secretary Kelvin Tan.

Jalleh also referenced the growing popularity of the sport in the USA and said that in 1986 a stair climb event at the World Trade Center had attracted 26,000 participants (Ed. note – this number seems almost impossible and we’ve been unable to find additional references to this event happening).

A public health warning

A little under a month before the race took place, The Straits Times carried an interview with two doctors, under the headline – ‘Vertical run only for very fit’.

The pair advised that those thinking of taking part in the upcoming Vertical Marathon should be very fit and train for the event.

Dr Low Lip Ping from the Singapore National Heart Association said: ‘I would not recommend anyone to take part in such an event as stairs racing, because it gives the person little chance to warm up and thus cause the blood pressure to go up too fast.’

Dr Giam Choo Kiong, Head of Sports Medicine and Research at the Singapore Sports Council added: ‘Running up stairs has been shown to be up to three times as strenuous as running on the level. Therefore, running up stairs continuously is not recommended for people who are unfit or do not train for such an activity.’

By this point, less than four weeks out from the race, 100 people had already signed up. They did so by picking up an entry form from the HR departments at either the Plaza or Stamford hotels.

The first Singapore Vertical Marathon

On Sunday 3rd May 1987 the first Singapore Vertical Marathon took place. 180 of the 250 available spaces had been filled, with 130 men and 50 women at the start line.

Participants had to be between 16 and 40 years old and each was asked to raise at least $73 – a dollar for each floor of the hotel they would be running up.

The prize for the fastest man and woman was a two-night stay at the Executive Suite of the Westin Plaza with American breakfast included, plus a year’s free membership at Raffles City Health Club.

The event got underway at 9am, with batches of four runners setting off every two minutes. Officials from the Singapore Amateur Athletic Association acted as marshals, timekeepers and recorders.

Spectators were gathered on the ground floor of the hotel to follow the action. Seven cameras had been set up at various points throughout the stairwell to relay the event live.

With her marathon-running background and strong trial run time of 10:05, Helen Gilbey was favourite to take the win in the women’s division. She told reporters she was hoping to finish in under 9:30. Gilbey did even better than anticipated, reaching the rooftop finish in 9:04.

Helen Gilbey SVM 1987

Helen Gilbey exits onto the rooftop of the Stamford hotel to win the first Singapore Vertical Marathon in 1987

Leong Siew May finished second in 10:25, and Tan Meow Liang was third in 10:41.

In the men’s race, Kenneth Keng took victory in 7:20. A successful athlete for a number of years, Keng had won the Singapore triathlon from 1983-1985.

Ken Keng 1987

He edged out the February trial run winner David Cheah who finished in 7:47. Another triathlete, Martin Hagger, finished third in 8:12.

Keng told reporters that the race was ‘grueling’, but that he’d do it again next year.

The organisers put forward Kenneth Keng’s and Helen Gilbey’s name to the Guinness Book of Records, and apparently Keng was listed in the 1987 edition.

The whole event raised $20,000 dollars for the Community Chest of Singapore.

1988 Singapore Vertical Marathon

Both 1987 winners returned on Sunday 8th May 1988 to defend their titles.

Kenneth Keng secured victory in a time of 7:35.

‘I went too fast in the beginning’, he said. ‘I should be very happy with the time as I’ve just recovered from the flu.’

Helen Gilbey said before the race she was aiming to finish in ‘anything under nine minutes’. She did just that, setting a new course record of 8:46.

‘I’m very pleased, and very relieved it’s all over as well’, said Gilbey. ‘My husband and I live in a 14-storey apartment block and we have been running nine times up the stairs three times a week. This has been going on for the last six to eight weeks.’

1988 singapore winners

Helen Gilbey and Kenneth Keng celebrate winning the 1988 Singapore Vertical Marathon

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Soh Wai-Ching Vertical Rush 2019

Soh Wai Ching took an impressive win on his Vertical Rush debut in London last Thursday.

The Malaysian athlete was first up the 932 steps of Tower 42 in a time of 4:17.

His impressive finish makes him the fourth fastest person to ever race the tower, with only Thomas Dold (3:58), Piotr Lobodzinski (3:59) and Fabio Ruga (4:11) having run faster in the 11 editions of the UK’s biggest stair race for the charity Shelter.

Tower 42 London

London’s Tower 42, home to Shelter’s Vertical Rush since 2009

Wai Ching was an unexpected entry, having journeyed in from Paris, where he had finished fourth the night before at La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel.

The UK’s Mark Howard, also making his Vertical Rush debut, laid down the early marker in the 10am wave, where he finished in 4:48.

He was followed at 11am by fellow Briton, Mark Sims, who was coming into the race off the back of recent wins at the Christie Tower Run in Manchester and the LOROS Tower Run in Leicester.

Sims managed to beat the 5:00 that earned him second place at last year’s event, but his 4:58 finish was a little way off the faster Howard.

At 3pm, Wai Ching and Slovakian athlete Michal Kovac turned up. Kovac had also been in Paris the evening before, where he had finished in an impressive seventh position.

Wai Ching held off the challenge of his rival, crossing the line in 4:17, with Kovac just nine seconds behind him in 4:28.

At 6pm, Laurence Ball-King, who won the GOSH Walkie Talkie Tower Climb on his tower running debut at the start of the month, put in another impressive performance to finish in 4:49 and earn fourth overall.

Drinkwater defends her title

Susie Drinkwater

In the women’s division, the 2018 champion Susie Drinkwater returned to defend her title.

Drinkwater had been a surprise winner last year on her stair racing debut, but had picked up a decent amount of race experience in the intervening 12 months and was expected to do well.

She exceeded expectations, taking a massive 30 seconds off her time from last year to take first place in 5:41. That time makes her the fourth fastest woman to have run the tower since it opened up for racing in 2009. Only Suzy Walsham (5:01), Anna Frost (5:30) and Lenka Svabikova (5:36) have finished faster.

Sophie Gladwell was second in 6:20 and Krissy Hartigan was third in 6:27.

Full Vertical Rush 2019 results

2019 vert winners

Piotr Lobodzinski and Suzy Walsham won La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel for the fifth time in a row last Wednesday (13th March).

Lobodzinski took victory in 7:53.97, the only sub 8-minute time on the night. In the women’s division, Australian Suzy Walsham was a clear winner in 10:16.57.

Harsh conditions in the French capital had an impact all around and finishing times were generally slower than in previous editions of the event, which was in its fifth year.

The expected close competition for Lobdodzinski from Christian Riedl didn’t materialise, as the German finished third in 8:46.98.

Riedl finish

Christian Riedl takes 3rd place at La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel 2019

His time was just bettered by Austrian Jakob Mayer, who finished in 8:44.31.

Jakob Mayer finish

Second-placed finisher Jakob Mayer

Lobodzinski was the last to run. With the heavy winds in Paris affecting most runners adversely throughout the night, the Polish world champion’s time was not expected to be particularly fast, even though, as the only man to have won La Verticale since it began in 2015, he had never finished slower than 7:56. But despite his rivals nearly all running slower than usual, he maintained his perfect record of sub 8-minute finishes by reaching the top of the 1,665 steps of the Eiffel Tower in 7:53.97.

2019 Verticale mens podium

Christian Riedl, Piotr Lobodzinski, Jakob Mayer (l-r)

Unstoppable Walsham wins again

Suzy Walsham proved once again she is a practically invincible force on the stairs with an incredible fifth straight win at the Eiffel Tower.

With China’s Muhua Jian unable to make it to the start line, Walsham’s expected strongest competition was missing, but with the harsh weather and the Australian star’s preparation seriously hampered by injury, there was still the chance that Dominika Wisniewska-Ulfik might push Walsham hard.

As it happened it was Walsham’s fellow Australian, Alice McNamara, who came closest. She finished second in 11:26.36.

McNamara finish

Alice McNamara reaches the top in the second fastest time

Dominika Wisniewska-Ulfik took third for the second year in a row, with a finishing time of 11:28.74.

wisniewska-ulfik finish

Poland’s Wisniewska-Ulfik finished third for the second year in a row

 

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20 years before La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel started in 2015, there was a one-off race up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower.

On Sunday 3rd December 1995, 75 runners lined up to race up the 1,665 steps of the iconic Paris landmark.

The start list was packed full of many of the best French athletes of the day.

In the women’s race there was marathoner Irina Kazakova, plus the newly crowned French 1500m champion Frédérique Quentin, who’d also won the national championship in 1992, and would go on to defend it from 1996-1998.

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Frédérique Quentin (#16) racing with Sonia O’Sullivan

The brilliant mountain runner Isabelle Guillot was also there. Guillot had won the World Mountain Running Championships in 1989, 1991 and 1993, and had finished second in 1994 and 1995.

Isabelle Guillot

Isabelle Guillot

In the men’s division there were the triathletes, Xavier Galea and Yves Lossouarn, plus mountain runners Eric Lacroix and Jean-Paul Payet, who was second at the World Mountain Running Championships in 1991 and 1992.

Yves Lossouarn took victory in the men’s race with a time of 8:51, while Irina Kazakova was the fastest woman in 9:56.

The fifth edition of La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel takes place tomorrow evening and all eyes will be on Paris for the biggest race in the European tower running calendar.

Piotr Lobodzinski and Suzy Walsham will each be going for a fifth straight win at the tallest building in France.

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Unfortunately footage of this year’s event won’t come close to what’s been available at previous editions, but you’ll still be able to catch some of the action.

Previous editions have been televised on Eurosport or shown on a full live stream online, but this year live footage will only be available from the departure area at the base of the tower. Viewers will get to see runners warming up and heading off into the tower, plus some pre-race interviews, too.

The rest of the action up the tower and at the finish, which will presumably be quite limited, will filter through via videos and images after a delay.

The live stream of the event will begin at 7pm UK time (8pm local time) and you can access it through the Facebook page below:

www.facebook.com/Verticaledelatoureiffel/

If you’re unable to watch the stream, but want to try and catch updates on other social media, it seems the official hashtag for the event is #Eiffeltowervertical and #VerticaleTourEiffel.

Sarah Frost set a new course record as she took the win at the LOROS Tower Run on Saturday.

The in-form runner clocked a new best time of 1:43.82 for the 351-step St George’s Tower in Leicester, taking just under six seconds off the record she set in 2018.

Sarah Frost Loros Tower Run 2019

Sarah Frost sets off on her winning run at the LOROS Tower Run 2019

The victory made it two wins from two UK races in 2019 for Frost. Last weekend she clocked an impressive sub 5-minute finish of 4:47 at the Walkie Talkie Tower Run in London to take a clear win ahead of Sonja Shakespeare who was second in 5:28.

Newcomer Susie Drinkwater managed to finish second in an impressive 1:56.97, on her debut at the Leicester tower.

Drinkwater will return to Vertical Rush at Tower 42 in London this coming Thursday 14th March to defend the title she won there on her tower running debut in 2018.

Sarah Frost will make her debut at La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel on Wednesday 13th March. You can find out who she’s up against by reading our guide to the Elite women’s division at the race in Paris.

Sims takes overall victory

Mark Sims was back to winning ways in Leicester on Saturday, but it took him two runs to pull off the victory.

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St George’s Tower in Leicester

Winner of the event in 2016 and 2017, Sims was narrowly beaten last year by Elliot Slaughter. With Slaughter absent from the line up, the race was expected to be a two-man battle between Sims and the in-form David Harris.

In the pair’s first runs, it was Harris who came out on top with an excellent time of 1:33.26, a mere half-second faster than Sims’ 1:34.98.

The LOROS Tower Run routinely gives athletes an opportunity at a second run on the day, and Sims has become the master of it.

His second-run times in 2017 and 2018 were both faster than his first runs those years.

On Saturday, Sims once again managed to make the absolute most of his second shot. He clocked a new PB of 1:31.96, to take the win with the overall fastest time on the day.

Harris and Sims will battle again on Thursday at Vertical Rush in Tower 42. The evening before, Harris will have the small task of scaling the 1,665-step Eiffel Tower for the fifth edition of La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel.

Photos from the event are available here.

With course record holder Andrea Mayr calling it a day at the ESBRU, a powerhouse of Australian athletics stepped forward to attempt to carry on her country’s winning tradition in New York. Meanwhile, the reigning men’s champion Thomas Dold was back to defend his title.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-1997199819992000200120022003, 20042005 or 2006 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 2007.

Genesis

At the time of the 20th edition of the Swissotel Vertical Marathon in Singapore on 19th November 2006 there seemed to be nothing particularly noteworthy about the event. As had been the case since the Westin Stamford hotel first hosted the race in 1987, a good spread of runners from Singapore and beyond turned up to compete. But future events would go on to show that the 20th edition of that race was one of the most significant moments in tower running history; the debut of Suzy Walsham.

Swissotel Stamford Singapore

Swissotel The Stamford in Singapore

Very few of the people at the Swissotel that day would have known they were lining up against one of Australia’s top athletes, and even fewer would have known that the soon-to-turn 33-year old Walsham had emerged at the top of Australian middle-distance running 15 years ago. Her athletic journey to Singapore had been remarkable.

Suzy Walsham had been competing at a high level since the mid to late 1980s, finishing well every year in a range of distances at the Australian All Schools’ Track and Field Championships. In 1988 she broke the Australian under-16 women’s record for the 1500m.

Suzy Walsham 1988

14-year old Suzy Walsham in 1988, running at the site of what would later become the Sydney Olympic Park

Her performances steadily improved until she was eventually selected to represent Australia at the inaugural World Junior Women’s Cross Country Championships in Stavanger, Norway in March 1989. Competing against some of the best young runners in the world, many of whom were significantly older than her, the 15-year old Walsham put in an excellent run to finish in ninth place.

You can watch the young Walsham at those championships in the video below. Click forward to 5:07 and you will see her come into shot in the gold top and green shorts wearing #9.

Walsham 1989 3

Suzy Walsham in 1989. She raced barefoot for a lot of her teenage years.

Walsham 1989

A year later, Walsham, now 16, was competing in the 1990 Australian National Championships in the under-18 and under-20 divisions. She had set a PB of 4:11.04 at the beginning of 1990, a time that actually ranked her #1 in the world for U/20 that year, so was in fantastic form.

A precocious talent, she won the 1500m and 3000m under-20 races, plus the under-18 800m title at the national championships. Interestingly, Suzanne Malaxos, who had just won the second of her two ESBRU titles (1989-1990), was also competing at the national championships that year, where she finished second in the senior 10km track race.

Walsham’s impressive wins earned her a spot on the Australian team that was heading to Plovdiv, Bulgaria for the 1990 World Junior Athletics Championships in August.

But disaster struck just three months months before the World Junior Championships when Walsham developed a stress fracture. The battle was now on just to get to the start line. Up until 10 days before the championships she was unable to run at all and was limited to just pool running. But the indomitable Walsham battled on and made it to Plovdiv.

In the 1500m event, she finished 4th in her heat, with a time of 4:23.66, which was good enough to earn her automatic qualification for the final the following day.

The full final is in the video below (intros start at 33:47). Despite the horrible build up to the championships, Walsham still ran a good race. Understandably she was just a little off the pace of the top runners. She finished in 4:19.23, which placed her 8th in a field of 15.

Finishing eight seconds off her PB was disappointing of course, but given the circumstances Walsham was happy enough with her performance. The winner, Qu Yunxia of China (4:13.67), went on to win Olympic 1500m bronze two years later in 1992 and World Championship gold in the 5000m in 1993.

Walsham actually finished ahead of Olga Yegorova who would go on to win World Championship gold in the 5000m in 2001.

A few months later at the 1991 Australian Track and Field Championships in Sydney in February, Walsham was competing for her first senior title aged just 17.

She was up against the likes of Jodie Hebbard, who’d finished second in the 1500m at the 1982 and 1984 national championships as a teenager, and Anne Cross, who was third in the same event the year before.

walsham barefeet

“Suzy’s blistered feet after a weekend on the track. The tape she uses as protection, however, peels back the damaged skin to expose raw flesh which constantly requires bathing in salt water. One blister was so big and painful that it halted her training for a week. Fearing it was infected, Walsham went to a doctor who was shocked by what he saw. ‘The blister had spread right up into my toes, and the doctor had never seen anything like it’, she said.” – March 1991

Walsham had spent a lot of her youth competing barefoot but had recently made the switch to using spikes on the track.

suzy

Walsham 1991

Suzy Walsham, 1991

Walsham ran an excellent race, shocking many and winning her first 1500m senior title in 4:12.40.

A month later, Walsham was back out on international duty, competing in the junior women’s race at the 1991 World Cross Country Championship in Belgium. There was a strong field of runners assembled, including future multi-Olympic and world champions, plus the current marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe.

Once more Walsham proved she could more than hold her own with the best in the world. She managed to finish 13th in the field of 124 finishers, and even crossed the line ahead of Paula Radcliffe who was 15th.

A decline in fortunes

And then things started to go wrong. Beset by injuries and illness, Walsham’s athletic career stuttered before it had the chance to pick up full steam.

In 1992, Walsham didn’t get to defend her senior 1500m title at the Australian Championships. Instead she ran in the under-20s race, where she finished 4th. It was a frustrating time for the promising young athlete as she struggled to meet the same times that had earned her her first title 12 months prior.

Just over a couple of weeks later, she was in Boston for the junior women’s race at the 1992 World Cross Country Championship. She finished 76th out of 104 racers. Paula Radcliffe won the race.

Walsham didn’t feature in the 1993 national championships, but did return to the senior ranks in 1994 where she finished 7th in the 1500m.

She finished 7th again in the 1500m in 1995, but was still struggling to get back to the form that had secured her first senior title in 1991.

Then from 1996-1998, Walsham didn’t appear at the nationals at all, and it’s hard to find any results for her during this period.

Emerging from the shadows

But toward the end of 1998, Walsham began to emerge again, picking up podium places at regional races and racing in the 800m as well as the 1500m. She took this good form into the start of 1999, picking up wins and podium places in the 1500m and 800m at races in Sydney and Canberra. The comeback was on.

She wasn’t quite there yet to race at the 1999 or 2000 national championships, but she finished 9th at the Australian Olympic Trials for the 1500m in August 2000.

Walsham 2000

Suzy Walsham on the comeback trail in January 2000

Then on Saturday 24th March 2001, a decade after winning her first national senior title, Walsham was finally back on the start line for another 1500m national championship race. She was the fastest in the heats the day before and headed into the final full of confidence.

Her incredible determination and perseverance earned her a second Australian Championship title. Her winning time of 4:14.61 was the quickest she’d run for some time.

Walsham nationals 2001

On her way to winning the 1500m at the 2001 Australian Championships

In February 2002 she won the 800m and the 1500m at the NSW Championships, but could only manage 5th in the 1500m at the Australian Championships in April. At the end of the year, Walsham began to work with a new coach, Said Aouita.

Aouita, a former world record holder for the 1500m and 5000m, had won 5000m gold at the 1984 Olympics and 1987 World Championships, and bronze in the 800m in Seoul in 1988. Walsham began to improve immediately under his guidance.

In April 2003, Walsham won her third national title, taking victory in the 1500m in 4:12.96.

Walsham wins 2003

Crossing the line to win the 2003 Australian Championships

Seven weeks later she set a new personal best in the 1500m of 4:07.08 while racing at the famous Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. The week before she had set a new 800m PB at a race in Portland.

The 2004 national championships were a bit of a disappointment as Walsham aimed for the 800m and 1500m double. She managed 4th in the 800m and 5th in the 1500m.

By the time the 2005 nationals came around, she had parted ways with Aouita and was now working full time and being coached by her younger sister Debbie.

She made it to the final of the 1500m, where she managed to finish in third place.

Walsham 2005 AC

Walsham in action in the 1500m heats at the 2005 Australian Championships

Then in 2006 everything came together.

On Friday 3rd February, Walsham ran in the final of the 1500m at the Australian Championships and placed second in 4:08.72, which was one of the fastest finishes she’d managed for a long time.

The next day she ran in the heats of the 800m and qualified easily for the final on Sunday. In the final she did what every athlete dreams of. She ran a PB of 2:01.85 to win a fourth national title, an incredible 15 years after her first one.

2006 walsham nationals1

800m final at the 2006 Australian Track and Field Championships

walsham 2006

walsham 2006 800

walsham wins 800m

Walsham was now on the Australian national team that was selected to compete at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, and she was finally going to fulfill a long held ambition to represent her country at senior level at a major championships.

‘I think I’ve finally reached a place in my life where I’ve got a bit of balance,’ Walsham told reporters after her 800m victory. ‘I’m just so excited about it. I’ve had five months of injury-free training. Debbie’s just been fantastic.’

Asked whether she could win double gold at the Commonwealth Games, Walsham said: ‘Both races are going to be tough, but I’ve just got to get my foot on the line and then anything can happen.’

2006 Commonwealth Games, Melbourne

In Melbourne, she qualified for the semi-finals of the 800m, as one of the fastest runners-up in the heats. But the pace in her semi-final was a bit too quick and her 2:04.02 finish wasn’t good enough to get her to the final.

In the 1500m she fared much better. She qualified for the final automatically by finishing fourth in her heat.

You can watch the full race from the final in the video below (spoilers under video).

Walsham finished in 6th place, and with that final high she called time on her track and field career. Her athletics journey had been incredible. Battling through multiple injuries and setbacks to take a fourth Australian Championships title 15 years after first winning as a 17 year old. Then to cap off your career with a 6th-place finish at the Commonwealth Games is so impressive and inspirational.

On the rise

Walsham relocated to Singapore later in 2006 and when there she saw an advertisement for the Swissotel Vertical Marathon. What caught her eye was that first prize was a trip to New York to race at the Empire State Building. She’d never raced in a tower before, but backed herself as having a good shot given the shape she was in.

So there she found herself lined up at the hotel in November 2006, not knowing what to expect.

The 73-floor/1,336-step tower was going to be a baptism of fire, but Walsham was more than up to the task. She won the race and set a new course record in the process. She was heading to New York.

Dold goes from strength to strength

After securing his first ESBRU title in February 2006, Thomas Dold went from strength to strength on the stairs. Throughout the rest of 2006 he secured wins in Basel, Berlin and Stuttgart. He also set more world records in backwards running, with new best times for the 1500m and 3000m.

In October he competed at the second Taipei 101 Run Up and finished second to Paul Crake, who won the race in 10:31. Dold was second in 11:16, which was 37 seconds faster than third-placed Rudi Reitberger. It was an impressive performance by the young German that would have been looked upon ominously by his ESBRU rivals.

Then on the 11th November 2006 he finally won the Donauturm Treppenlauf in Vienna at the fourth attempt. Everything was set up perfectly for Dold to try and win his second ESBRU title.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2007

On Tuesday 6th February, Suzy Walsham was lined up in the lobby alongside 55 other women.

walsham lobby

Suzy Walsham (centre) prepares for her ESBRU debut in 2007

Four-time winner Cindy Moll-Harris was back, and would probably have been backing herself to win for a record fifth time, given that the supreme Andrea Mayr wasn’t there.

Her long-time rival Fiona Bayly was also on the start line. Bayly had debuted in 1995 (coming second in a personal best 13:10) and had finished on the podium multiple times, most notably in 1998 when she finished just a second behind the winner, Moll-Harris.

Amy Fredericks, who had finished fifth in 2006 and third in 2004 and 2005, was also there. The casual observers would have been looking for the winner among those three.

That trio was lined up in the centre of the front row of racers. The unknown Walsham stood behind them.

Fredericks got a typically fast start and was through the door first, followed immediately by Moll-Harris and then Bayly.

2007 womens start 2

Amy Fredericks heads for the stairwell door at the start of the 2007 ESBRU

2007 womens start 3

Walsham managed to make it through the door in around 13th position. Not a terrible start, but she was going to have her work cut out passing a heap of women who were definitely slower than her.

But she powered through them and by the 65th floor crossover she had established a narrow lead. You can see her in the video below displaying that now familiar rhythmic and staggered stair climbing style that has served her so well since (@0:40).

Walsham managed to maintain her lead despite Moll-Harris and Bayly pushing hard just a couple of floors below. She finally exited onto the observation deck and crossed the line in 13:12 to win on her debut.

2007 Walsham wins

Suzy Walsham wins her first ESBRU title in 2007

Moll-Harris was next in 13:24, with Bayly once again a mere second behind her in 13:25.

‘The start was a nightmare’, said Walsham. Trying to get out in front wasn’t too pleasant either for the Australian. ‘I pushed my way through. There was one girl who was holding both sides and I said “I want to get past, hold one side”‘.

2007 Walsham celebrates

walsham celebrates

 

Dold goes for two in a row

With his dominance at several stair races throughout 2006, Thomas Dold was expected to defend his ESBRU title.

Alongside him in the lobby were plenty of experienced ESBRU athletes, including Rudi Reitberger, Jaroslaw Lazarowicz, Tomasz Klisz and Dold’s German team mate Matthias Jahn.

Among the others in the lobby that day were several men that will be familiar to many readers: Jesse Berg, Ralf Hascher, Tim Van Orden, David Tromp and a 17-year old Shaun Stephens-Whale.

Ultra-runner and adventurer Rickey Gates was also in the lobby ready to make his ESBRU debut. Well known now for his endurance feats, which include his TransAmericana project in 2017, he was one of the hottest new prospects in US mountain running back in 2007. Later in the year he would go on to be named USA Track and Field Mountain Runner of the Year, after winning both the U.S. Mountain Running Championship and U.S. Trail Championship in back-to-back weeks. Unfortunately for him, he was placed pretty far back in the pack at the Empire State Building. He certainly had the caliber to be in contention for a podium spot, but given his position in the pack it was going to take some serious work to catch up with the front runners.

Matthias Jahn got a good start and seemed to open up a gap for Dold to come through. Perhaps they had a plan for Jahn to tail the stronger Dold who would pull him onto the podium.

You can see Dold in the yellow vest in the picture below, looking like he’s about to be passed by a bunch of guys.

2007 mens start 0

2007 mens start

But the reigning champion quickly powered through and by the time they reached the door he was in first place, with Jahn right behind him.

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2007 mens start 2

2007 mens start 1

The Empire State Building Run-Up is renowned for its mass start, and in the days before it streamlined the elite race it was often derided as being ridiculous and unnecessarily dangerous. There had been stumbles before in the men’s elite race, and there had been falls at the back of the women’s elite starts before, but never had there been a significant pile up at the front of the men’s race. This time, unfortunately, was different.

Jose Mateo Martinez went down hard just before the door (you can see him falling in some of the images above) and the surrounding runners ran over him. Most managed to stay on their feet but Tomasz Klisz went down – you can see his journey to the floor in the two images below.

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2007 mens start 4

The whole sequence was recorded and later uploaded by Tim Van Orden. You can watch it in the video below (some of his annotations are incorrect, Klisz is Polish not Austrian).

Out in front, Dold and Jahn maintained their positions. The faster Dold began to pull away in the later stages of the race and as Jahn began to tire, the climbers below him started to close in.

2007 Dold solo

Thomas Dold builds his lead

At 0:24-0:30 in the men’s race video below you can see Rudi Reitberger (#2), Rickey Gates (#51) and Tommy Coleman (#27) battling for a podium spot around the 65th floor. Up ahead and out of shot is Pedro Ribeiro.

Dold crossed the line in 10:25, aggressively ripping the tape from the grasp of the two men holding it at the finish line and throwing it on the floor. In the race videos below you can hear someone saying what sounds like, ‘shit…SHIT!’ as Dold crosses the line to win for the second time. The young German was already building a fan base.

2007 Dold approaches finish

Thomas Dold turns the corner on the observation deck heading for the finish

2007 Dold wins

Dold reaches out to tear down the finish line

Matthias Jahn managed to hold on to second place, crossing the line in 10:56. Dold ran back along the observation deck to check if his countryman was coming behind him and when Jahn emerged the pair yelled and hollered across the line before embracing.

2007 Jahn and Dold

Matthias Jahn jumps for joy as Thomas Dold cheers him on

You can see it in the video below (and hear the comical ‘shit, SHIT’ a bit clearer, too). Their impassioned antics are reminiscent of the beach scene in Rocky 3 when Balboa and Creed embrace in the surf after an intense sprint session.

Rickey Gates managed to win the battle for third and crossed the line in 11:02, ahead of Pedro Ribeiro in 11:10 and Rudi Reitberger in 11:12.

‘I might have done a little better if I didn’t have to start 30 feet back,’ said Gates.

‘It’s just a mob mentality. Off the start, it goes from about 30 feet wide down to 3 feet wide in about five seconds…It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like it. It’s certainly a new experience trying to cram 50 runners into a little 3-foot-wide stairwell.’

‘My time was fast. Certainly a lot of Americans have run faster than me in previous years, but it was cool to be the top American finisher. I knew I was going to do well – I was just not sure how well’.

He even spoke of one runner intentionally reaching back and trying to slap him in the face as he attempted to pass on the stairs. But he was unperturbed and determined to return in 2008 where he would be given a better place on the start line.

2007 Dold Jahn hands

Dold and Jahn celebrate on the observation deck

2007 podium in lift

Men’s podium in the lift: Matthias Jahn, Rickey Gates and Thomas Dold (l-r)

2007 Dold winner

2007 winners

Thomas Dold and Suzy Walsham – ESBRU winners 2007

 

2007 Empire State Building results