It’s hard to believe that Londoners have been racing up stairs for almost 290 years, but it’s true.

In 1730, a young man took on the challenge of running up and down what at the time was one of the capital’s tallest structures.

Read on to find out more about what surely must be the earliest record of competitive stair running.

The venue: The Monument to the Great Fire of London

The Monument commemorates the Great Fire of London that happened in 1666. The renowned architect Christopher Wren (of St Paul’s Cathedral fame) worked on its design along with Robert Hooke, and construction began on it in 1671. By 1677, the 202 feet (62m) column was complete. It was positioned 202 feet from the spot where the Great Fire had begun on Pudding Lane.

Inside, a narrow spiral staircase with 311 steps led up to a viewing deck at the top. You can see the Monument in the image below (highlighted by red arrow), just east of the old London Bridge.

London in 1730

An engraving of London made in 1730. The Monument can be seen to the east of London Bridge, highlighted by the red arrow.

The Monument close up

A closer look at The Monument, taken from an engraving of the city of London made in 1710.

The Monument in 1753

The Monument in 1753.

The wager: the Baptist Head Tavern, Old Bailey

On Thursday, 24 September 1730, a group of men sat in the Baptist Head Tavern, which was at the southern end of Old Bailey, the road most famously known for featuring London’s central criminal court among its buildings.

A small excerpt in the following Saturday’s (26th September) copy of J. Read’s Weekly Journal gives all the information we have about what transpired next, so some of the finer details remain unknown.

Old Bailey map Baptist Tavern

The Old Bailey (O Bayley) can be seen on this map from 1739. The arrow shows the approximate location of the Baptist Head Tavern at the southern end of the street, facing the courts.

The group made ‘a considerable wager’ among themselves, placing money on whether a barman (‘a nimble little drawer’) at the Baptist Head Tavern could run up the 311 steps of The Monument and back down again in three minutes or less.

The Monument is around a mile east of the Old Bailey, with an easy 20-minute walk getting you from one place to the other.

At The Monument, the speedy barman managed to complete the stair running challenge in just 2:32, which was deemed ‘an extraordinary performance’.

The Monument stairs

The narrow staircase inside The Monument.

Apparently on his way down the stairs he was shouting, ‘Coming, coming Sir’.

The actual copy from the Weekly Journal is reproduced below:

1730 exerpt

Although it wasn’t a ‘race’ as such (though still a race against the clock), this is now easily the earliest example of stair running for sport we’ve seen. It pre-dates the earliest proper stair race in Paris in 1903, by a massive 173 years.

Earlier this year, The Monument made good promotional use of this historic event to challenge visitors to beat the record of the ‘nimble little drawer’.

The venue tends to be fairly busy at all times of the day, so getting a clear run up and down is very unlikely. But you can enter the site every day from 9.30am for £4.50 to give it a shot. More info available on The Monument website.

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Sarah Frost smashed her own course record at the Broadgate Tower Run Up last Saturday to win the London leg of the Vertical World Circuit.

The British athlete held off competition from a loaded field of international stair climbers to reach the top of the 877-step tower in 4:40.

‘I feel amazing right now,’ Frost said at the top of the building in the City of London. ‘My plan was to forget what everyone else was doing and focus on my own goal which was breaking the five-minute barrier.’

‘My training must have paid off because I smashed it. I’m so very happy to be at Broadgate, a really special race for me because I train here and it’s so great to have the VWC here as well, bringing in lots more elite athletes. I’m already looking forward to the next race.’

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Accurate depiction of me, trying to cope with the current heatwave, work and the London Underground 🚇🌇😩 Still can’t stop smiling after #tmrunup2019 at the weekend though. In the process of planning my next set of races! Training with @tm_towerrunners is about to get even more serious! You know, once I can pick myself up off the floor. 📷 by @bensnapsstuff, who can even manage to make finish line collapse on the floor shots look good! #towerrunning #towerrunninguk #totalmotion #totalmotiontowerrunners #stairrunner #stairrunning #verticalrunning #towerrunner #lovestairs #takethestairs #run #runup #runners #runningmotivation #cardio #fitness #BroadgateTowerRunUp #TBTRU19 #london #skyscraper #londonrunners #VerticalWorldCircuit #VWC19

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Frost’s previous record of 5:04 was also bettered by four other women, with three of them dipping under five minutes.

Yuko Tateishi (JPN) was second in 4:52, while Anais Leroy (FRA) took third in 4:55.

Watanabe destroys men’s record

Japanese tower runner Ryoji Watanabe took an incredible 17 seconds off the previous men’s course record as he stormed to victory in 3:41.

Watanabe’s victory brings him up to fifth position in the current VWC rankings, and follows on from his win last month at One World Trade Center in New York.

‘As London is quite far from my country, Japan, I’m very happy to win the Broadgate Tower Run Up,’ Watanabe said at the finish. ‘I’m also very excited to have won two races of the 2019 Vertical World Circuit. Because the course was shorter than other VWC races, it was difficult for me to adjust during the race, but I was able to prepare the strategy for London after my New York win and perform well. I’ll be doing my best to win the next VWC race in Beijing in August.’

British newcomer Laurence Ball continued his incredible start to tower running by taking second place in 4:00.06.

Ball won his debut tower race at the Walkie Talkie Building back in March, and followed it up with a fourth-place finish at Vertical Rush two weeks later.

This great video captures some of the action from the day.

Full Broadgate Tower Run Up results

In 2008, Thomas Dold went head-to-head at the ESBRU with a mountain running champion who had just won his fifth world title. Could the king of the mountains derail the two-time champion’s attempt to win three in a row?

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, 200420052006 or 2007 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 2008.

Racing as the champ

After securing his second ESBRU title in February 2007, Thomas Dold focused heavily on tower running for the rest of the season. Already a well-established reverse-running world record holder at multiple distances, the German champion took a break from racing backwards and turned his full attention to the stairs.

First up was the Ramada Tower Run in Basel, Switzerland, where Dold had set a course record in 2006.

Facing him in the race up the tower’s 542 steps was the Swiss multi-sport athlete Gabriel Lombriser, whose 2005 record Dold had broken the year before.

It wasn’t the ideal day for Dold, as Lombriser reclaimed his course record with a finishing time of 2:43. Dold had to settle for second, with a finish of 2:45.

The next big race on the calendar was the SkyRun Berlin at the 770-step Hotel Park Inn at Alexanderplatz on Whit Monday, 28 May 2007. Dold had won the event in 2006 and was keen to get back to winning ways in a building he was familiar with.

BERP1_ParkInn-Berlin-ExteriorView

The Park Inn hotel in Berlin

He won his second SkyRun Berlin title in a time of 3:17, finishing a mere 0.57 seconds ahead of Matthias Jahn.

‘That was one of the tightest races I’ve ever experienced’, said Dold. ‘All the more, I am pleased that I was able to win despite the very strong competition.’

Less than two weeks later, on Thursday 7th June, Dold was in Stuttgart where he was aiming to break his course record at the 850-step TV Tower.

He managed to do just that, smashing his record by 12 seconds to finish in 4:32.

Dold Stuttgart TV Tower 2007

Dold celebrates his win at the Stuttgart TV Tower

A quiet, race-free summer followed and it wasn’t until 11th November that the German powerhouse was back in the stairwell. This time in Vienna for the Donauturm Treppenlauf, where he was aiming to win for the second year in a row.

Dold maintained his winning form, taking victory in 3:32.22, to earn a travel package to the Empire State Building Run-Up 2008.

In the women’s division that day, Andrea Mayr took victory in 4:16.78. But the three-time ESBRU champion would choose not to take up the opportunity to head back to New York to attempt to win for a record-equaling fourth time in 2008.

The man to beat Dold?

Meanwhile in Italy, a four-time world mountain running champion had crossed over to stair racing and was making waves.

At the start of 2007, Marco De Gasperi took his first major stair race win at the 710-step Pirelli Tower in Milan, with a time of 3:44.

Pirelli Tower race Milan

Pirelli Tower, Milan

De Gasperi had blown onto the international mountain running scene when he won the World Junior title in 1996, aged 19.

The following year, 1997, he made his senior debut and won his first major world title. Over the next six years he would go on to alternate world championship wins with the legendary Jonathan Wyatt. De Gasperi was champion in 1999, 2001 and 2003.

He then secured a final World Championship win in September 2007. He had also finished second at the 2007 European Championship in July, so was heading into the end of the year full of confidence and in outstanding form.

Due to his mountain running pedigree, and tower running win earlier in the year, De Gasperi was invited to take part in one of the biggest races in the tower running calendar; the Taipei 101 Run Up.

Marco De Gasperi 1997

Marco De Gasperi after winning his first mountain running world title in 1997

Paul Crake, the course-record holder and winner of the first two editions of the Taipei 101 Run Up, had been tragically paralysed from the waist down in a cycling accident shortly after winning the event for the second time in 2006.

Could De Gasperi be the man to pick up the mantle for mountain runners and dominate in tower running? Taipei 101 would be his first major test against many of the world’s best.

Taipei 101 Run Up 2007

At the time, Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world. All eyes were on the race, as in the men’s division the reigning world mountain champion was going up against arguably the best tower runner in the world, Thomas Dold.

While in the women’s division, the new ESBRU champion Suzy Walsham was challenging reigning Taipei 101 champion and course-record holder, Andrea Mayr.

Mayr had won the inaugural Taipei 101 event in 2005, climbing the 2,046 steps in a stunning time of 12:38 (a record that still stands). She defended her title in 2006. She was also a three-time ESBRU champion (2004-2006), and had finished second at the World Mountain Running Championships two months prior, so everyone was eager to see how the newcomer Walsham would fare against the more experienced Austrian mountain runner.

Melissa Moon, the former world mountain running champion (2001, 2003), and winner of the first tower running world championship in Kuala Lumpur in 2002, was there, too. The New Zealander was expected to provide a strong challenge to Walsham and Mayr.

Also in the lobby was a selection of tough local athletes looking to secure a first Taipei 101 title for a Taiwanese runner.

tAIPEI 101 2007 START

Andrea Mayr put in a brilliant run to once again go under the 13-minute mark (12:54) and take her third win in a row at Taipei 101.

‘I did well today because I put pressure on myself,’ said Mayr. ‘When I return home, I will rest up and prepare for the next season’s races.’

AM T101 2007

Andrea Mayr reaches the top of Taipei 101 to secure her third title

The impressive Walsham, still with less than a handful of stair races to her name, managed to secure second place in 13:42.

Suzy Walsham Taipei 101 Run Up

Suzy Walsham, second place at Taipei 101 Run Up 2007

Taiwanese athlete Jenny Hsiao-Yu Li was third in 14:16, and Melissa Moon took fourth place in 15:17.

World Mountain Running Champion vs ESBRU Champion

In the men’s race, Thomas Dold went off first. He finished in 11:56, well off the 11:16 he had set the year before when he finished second behind Paul Crake (10:31).

Thomas Dold Taipei 101

Thomas Dold sets off at the 2007 Taipei 101 Run-Up

Dold’s time held up through the first nine challengers. Then Marco De Gasperi set off. The Italian reached the top in 11:39, taking the title and sending a small shock through the tower running world.

‘I am excited,’ De Gasperi said. ‘I think I won the title for Paul Crake who cannot attend this year’s race because he was injured.’

Taipe de gasperi

Marco De Gasperi reaches the top of Taipei 101

Thomas Dold told reporters, ‘I thought I was prepared and was in good shape, but still came second. However, to come second in an international race is still great.’

Taipei 101 2007 winners

2007 Taipei 101 Run-Up winners – Marco De Gasperi and Andrea Mayr

Everything was now set up for a brilliant showdown in New York in three months time. Some were prematurely calling De Gasperi the best stair racer in the world. One big win does not a world beater make. But, if he could repeat the feat at the Empire State Building three months down the line, and halt the winning run of Thomas Dold, maybe then he could fairly be called the best in the world.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2008

59 women were in the lobby on Tuesday 5th February, 2008 for the 31st edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Cindy Moll-Harris and Fiona Bayly were back again. Their long-running rivalry had been ongoing for a decade and the pair had finished on the podium behind Walsham in 2007.

Moll-Harris was in form, having won the Bop to the Top in Indianapolis for the 14th time in a row just three days before the ESBRU.

At the 2007 Empire State Building Run-Up, Moll-Harris had finished just 12 seconds behind the debutant Walsham. This year she was once again expected to provide the Australian with her strongest challenge.

Unknown to Moll-Harris, Walsham’s preparation had been seriously impeded by a calf strain that had prevented her from running for the two weeks leading into the race. In fact, as the event approached Walsham wasn’t even sure she would make it to the start line. Would the injury slow the defending champion down enough to allow her rivals to put even more pressure on her?

2008 walsham warmup

Suzy Walsham limbers up before the start of the 2008 Empire State Building Run-Up

Also lined up in the lobby was 24-year old Caroline Gaynor, a former rower at Columbia University who had turned her focus to Ironman events and other triathlon distances. Evidently a strong athlete, she was an unknown factor. But it would be a major upset for her to topple Walsham or Moll-Harris.

Among the other women taking part that day was the incredible three-time winner Nina Kuscsik (1979-1981), the original queen of the ESBRU. But at 69 years old her fastest days were behind her – she would go on to finish in 25:07.

On the start line, Suzy Walsham (#101) was lined up in the centre of the front row. To her left was Moll-Harris (102) and next along, closest to the inside wall, was Fiona Bayly (103). On Walsham’s right was the debutant Gaynor (104).

At 1:01 of the first video below (skip to 1:01 and don’t watch whole video if you want to avoid SPOILERS in the men’s event), the camera pans along the start line with someone trying to elicit a reaction from the athletes. Bayly raises her eyebrows and nods her head. Next, a nervous looking Moll-Harris forces a nod at the camera. Walsham gives absolutely nothing, before the excited, smile-filled face of Caroline Gaynor rolls into shot.

The defending champion looked fully focused.

With the introductions over, the runners prepared themselves for the blast of the starter’s claxon. Walsham was crouched low, poised and ready to push hard off the line as she had done so many times before throughout her successful middle-distance track career.

YSTAIRCASE1-jumbo

She got a good start, managing to reach the doorway first, gaining a step on Moll-Harris who followed just behind her. Gaynor edged in front of Bayly and off they went.

As so often the case, specific details on exactly how the race played out once inside the stairwell are hard to come by.

We know that Walsham pulled away from Moll-Harris at the 35th floor, and then had a unchallenged run through to the finish.

In the video above at 1:45 (don’t watch whole video if you want to avoid spoilers in the men’s event) we see Walsham climbing on her own on an unspecified part of the course.

When the Australian reached the top, she had taken a massive 28 seconds off her 2007 winning time to finish in 12:44 and secure a second straight win. She was well clear of Cindy Moll-Harris, who took second in 13:33, and Fiona Bayly, who was third in 13:57. Caroline Gaynor (14:35) just held on to fourth place under serious pressure from the experienced Stacey Creamer (14:37).

2008 walsham wins

Suzy Walsham wins the 2007 Empire State Building Run-Up

‘It was fantastic to win such a famous race again this year. New York is a special place and this is a special building, so it’s a huge achievement for me’, Walsham told assembled reporters after the race.

‘Last year I was new, and I let everyone go at the start. I didn’t get a good position going through the door, and I didn’t go out very fast—I was way back in the pack. This year I got a much better position and I was the first going into the stairs. I led the whole race but the second place girl was right behind me for the first 30 floors and that probably made me go a whole lot faster. The last 20 stories were really hard.’

‘I knew I was winning, then I really wanted to get a fast time. But I really slowed down a lot in the last 10 to 15 floors. I couldn’t hear the girl behind me, but I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other. You’ve just got to get to the top.’

‘Bizarre’, commented Walsham on the lack of impact the calf strain had on her going up the stairs. ‘I nearly didn’t come, but I did a stair session on Friday and it felt okay. Today it was fine.’

Dold vs De Gasperi II

The start line for the men’s elite race was crammed full of established and emerging talent.

Joining Marco De Gasperi among the debutants that day was Tim Donahue, who would go on to be a very successful stair climber in the following years.

Fu-Cai Chen was also there. He had finished third at Taipei 101 Run-Up, where Dold had beaten him by less than half a second. He was definitely one to watch.

Jesse Berg was back for another try after his impressive seventh-place finish in his 2007 debut. Joining him for a second go were Canadian Shaun Stephens-Whale and Tim Van Orden from the USA.

Van Orden was coming into the race in what he said was ‘the best shape of my life’. In October 2007 he had won a race at the US Bank Tower in Los Angeles, beating Jesse Berg in the process, and proving himself one of the best American tower runners.

Among the well-established ESBRU runners in the lobby were Markus Zahlbruckner, Stephen Marsalese and Tomasz Klisz.

Not since Paul Crake’s final ESBRU run in 2003 had an Australian featured among the top finishers in New York – in fact only one Australian male had even raced at all in the intervening period.

Finally now a top athlete was being sent over from Australia to try and reclaim glory for the country that had secured an incredible 11 elite men’s division wins in the 30 years the competition had run.

Scott McTaggart was a highly impressive athlete with experience on the track, mountains and stairs. He had won the Sydney Tower Run-Up in 2006 and 2007, and was expected to be among those challenging for a podium place.

The bulk of the chatter in the build-up was all about the De Gasperi vs Dold showdown. Could the Italian replicate his success at Taipei 101 on a New York course that the young German was fast making his own?

But, although the focus was on those two, it would have been foolish to overlook the two men that had joined Dold on the podium in 2007.

Second in 2007 (and sixth in 2006), Matthias Jahn had once again spent the year training with Dold, pushing his training partner as close as possible at the SkyRun Berlin in May. He had made obvious improvements, but bettering his excellent sub-11 minute personal best time would be some achievement.

Rickey Gates had been stuck a few rows back from the front of the elite men at his debut in 2007. Despite the poor starting position that year he had managed to work his way up through the field to finish in third place.

Following that race, Gates had gone on to win the USA Mountain Running Championships and USA Trail Running Championships (10km) on back-to-back weekends in June 2007. In December he was crowned the USATF Mountain Runner of the Year.

RICKEY GATES

Rickey Gates winning the 2007 US 10km Trail Running Championships

In February 2008 he was in the front row in the Empire State Building lobby and was expected to provide Dold with a very serious test.

Over before it started

The lunacy and mismanagement of the start of the Empire State Building Run-Up was never so apparent as in 2008.

To be fair, the organisers did get the front row of the start line almost right, but ‘almost right’ really wasn’t good enough this time around, and it cost one man a chance of challenging for the title.

As ever, Thomas Dold was front and centre, preparing to spread his arms wide as soon as the claxon sounded to try and prevent anyone from passing him. Matthias Jahn was on his right, ready to assist his training partner in blocking people from passing.

Rickey Gates had rightly been moved to the front, and also lined up there was another American, Jesse Berg. All were rightly given prime spots.

Shaun Stephens-Whale was on Jahn’s right-hand side. He would go on to become an accomplished stair runner, but in 2008 he shouldn’t have been in the front row.

It could well be argued that the experienced Tomasz Klisz should have traded places with one of the faster runners behind him (at least ones he knew about, such as Markus Zahlbruckner). That really depends where you stand on start line etiquette. He had managed a sub 12-minute run in 2006, but only 14:10 in 2007. What form was he in this year? His position on the front row is questionable.

But then the shit show really starts.

Salvatore Ferrara (#69) had some how found himself on the front row unchecked, albeit out to one side. Sporting what seems to be a picture of the late Chico Scimone (the veteran ESBRU participant who took part into his 90s) on his t-shirt, the 54-year old Italian would go on to finish in 21:13.

On the other side, by the inside wall, was Fabio Silva (#12). Certainly deserving of being closer to the front than Ferrara, but still way out of place. A polite word from one of the officials and he should have been shuffled back.

In fact the man arranging the start line made a call for ‘numbers one through nine’, but it didn’t quite materialise. One through nine would have been a fairer front row, but still some way off the most desirable line up.

Among those in row two stood Van Orden, Zahlbruckner and De Gasperi. Shockingly, Van Orden hadn’t been seeded at all. His initial position was way back in the field, but with some last-minute negotiating and shuffling he rightly managed to get himself in among the race favourites.

Criminally, Fu-Cai Chen was way down the order as well. He was a definite contender for a podium spot, but wasn’t even in the second row of runners.

Accidents happen, even with the best planning. What’s to say that even if all the fastest men had been out in front, one wouldn’t have tripped anyway. We’ll never know. But the set up for the start of the ESBRU certainly did nobody any favours, that’s for sure.

When the starter’s horn went off, Dold, Jahn and Gates got a jump on everyone else, with the reigning champion reaching the door first. Behind them disaster was striking.

2008mensstart

Rickey Gates (#3), Matthias Jahn (2) and Thomas Dold (l-r) race out in front

Dold was already at least two metres ahead of De Gasperi when the Italian was tripped and fell.

2008 mens start final

Marco De Gasperi falls at the start of the race

de gasperi falls

Tim Van Orden (centre blue vest) skips around the fallen De Gasperi. On the other side by the wall is Markus Zahlbruckner, with Tim Donahue behind him with a hand on his back. The man with the blue vest heading out of shot on the right is Shaun Stephens-Whale. On the far left, in the yellow vest and wearing glasses is Stephen Marsalese. Fu-Cai Chen can be seen just to the right of the man in red (Kurt Hess, #78, another man woefully out of place). The diminutive Chen is wearing glasses, and a flash of his yellow vest is visible among the melee.

2008 deGasperi on floor

Marco De Gasperi scrambles towards the stairwell

A loud gasp ran through the lobby as the assembled reporters, photographers and spectators saw the Italian go down and winced as the mass of runners bundled over him. De Gasperi, to his credit, did a fantastic job of scrambling to get his feet back under him, all while moving towards the doorway on all fours. He managed to save himself from the bulk of the crowd following in behind and get on to the stairs in one piece, although now well out of the running.

The much anticipated New York showdown between the reigning ESBRU champion and the reigning world mountain running champion was over before it barely got going.

Apparently, by the time De Gasperi had reached the 10th floor, he was in around 50th place.

But up above, a serious battle was still going on.

Thomas Dold had hit the stairs in first position, followed by Jahn, Gates, Klisz and Berg.

The group settled in at a fast pace, the fastest that Dold had ever raced at the ESBRU.

As they climbed floor after floor, much of the chasing pack began to fade away. Tomasz Klisz slowed along with Shaun Stephens-Whale.

Australian Scott McTaggart pushed up into the chasing pack, where a tough battle for a top five finish ensued between him, Jesse Berg, Markus Zahlbruckner and Fu-Cai Chen.

Incredibly, Marco De Gasperi was going flat out floors below, powering his way through dozens of runners, hoping to close in on the top 10. Would he be able to do it?

Up ahead, Dold, Gates and Jahn climbed alone. They were tracking 10 seconds faster than the previous fastest time Dold had run in 2006. Eventually the pace became too much for Jahn and he began to fade.

But Rickey Gates was sticking with Dold and making him work harder than he’d ever had to before.

As he reached the 80th floor, Dold looked down over the railing and could see the American less than two flights behind him. He wasn’t slowing down.

The champion soaked up the pressure, though, and reached the observation deck eight seconds ahead of Gates.

A quick glance behind as he turned the corner for the finishing straight and Dold knew he had it. The hands went up and a cry rang out as he crossed the line in 10:08. A third straight ESBRU win, and with it a share of the record (with fellow German Kurt Konig) as the most successful European stair climber at the Empire State Building Run-Up.

2008 dold celebrates at line

DOLD WINS 2008

DOLD WINS 2

‘At this moment, I’m feeling so tired, but I’ll feel good soon,’ said Dold after his win. ‘It’s always a really hard fight, especially at the start. Then you leave the other runners behind and you hope you don’t see them again, and you just focus and don’t think about anything except the victory’

‘It was really hard to pass the women in the race ahead of ours. Starting at the 30th floor I had to pass three and four and five of them at a time. Normally this is not so much of a problem. I am a little bit disappointed in the time, but I will feel good about it tonight.’

Rickey Gates was second in 10:16, followed by Matthias Jahn in 10:56. Scott McTaggart (11:30), Fu-Cai Chen (11:32) and Jesse Berg (11:41) followed.

Then, almost miraculously, came Marco De Gasperi in 11:46. What might the Italian have achieved if he had been allowed a clear run?

‘Maybe I was a little naive, but I didn’t expect such a difficult and tight initial fight’, commented De Gasperi. ‘Certainly the best athletes had more experience and cunning than me. This is a particular and fascinating event that I have the chance to win. I will certainly try again next year.’

2008 WINNERS 2

2008 Empire State Building Run-Up winners, Thomas Dold and Suzy Walsham

Below is Tim Van Orden’s race video, including a post-race interview with Marco De Gasperi.

 

2008 Empire State Building Run-Up results

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

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.

quentin

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.