A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 2003

Posted: January 26, 2019 in Tower running history
Tags: , , , , , ,

2003 would be the last year that four-time champion Paul Crake would compete at the Empire State Building Run-Up. His legacy was already secure, but he was determined to finish on a spectacular high.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-199719981999, 20002001 or 2002 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2003.

The final chapter

A month after running his third sub 10-minute time at the Empire State Building, Paul Crake was at Mount Tennent to defend his ACT Mountain Running Championship title over a 12km course.

mt tennent

Mount Tennent, ACT, Australia

His key rivals on the day were 1996 national champion David Osmond, who had finished second when Crake won his first national title in 1998, and Ross Hudson who was runner up to Crake at the 2001 national championships by just four seconds.

Osmond pulled away late in the race to win in 1:01:21. Crake was second in 1:03:01 and Hudson was third.

A week later on Sunday 10th March, Crake took part in the hilly Weston Creek Half Marathon, finishing third in 1:10:04.

Not the perfect start to the season Crake wanted, but a solid showing nonetheless. He could now turn his attention to two big races in April.

2002 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge

On Sunday 7th April, Crake went head-to-head with Jonathan Wyatt at the Sky Tower in Auckland in what would be their final battle at the tallest structure in New Zealand.

Wyatt had won the previous three races the pair had contested, beating Crake by between 15-25 seconds each time.

In each of his winning years, Wyatt had taken the lead and maintained it without ever really dropping Crake completely. Wyatt had said himself that getting to the stairs first following the 150m run in meant the race was practically won, as passing in the narrow stairwell was so difficult.

This race played out largely as it had in years before. Wyatt took the lead and held it. But in the latter stages the New Zealander’s pace began to drop, while Crake surged. With just a few floors remaining Crake caught him, so close he could reach out and touch him. Wyatt wasn’t giving an inch, though, and the Australian found it impossible to pass.

The finish line for the event had been shifted around to the other side of the viewing floor. In previous years runners would exit the stairs, turn right and run around the floor to finish on the opposite side of the tower. Had they stuck with that format, Crake may very well have recorded his first win over Wyatt.

Unfortunately for him, it seems the finish at the 2002 edition was moved closer to the stairwell exit. Upon exiting the stairwell, Wyatt had to cover less ground to record his fourth victory in Auckland.

Wyatt crossed the finishing line in 5:07 and Crake in 5:08.

pjimage (2)

The close finish at the 2002 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge in Auckland, NZ

Melissa Moon retained her title in the women’s division with a finishing time of 6:39.

Australian Mountain Running Championships 2002

Three weeks later, on Sunday 21st April, Crake was at Mount Buffalo to defend his Australian Mountain Running Championships title.

mt buffalo

Mount Buffalo National Park, Australia

He was the course record holder for the peak, but a pre-race report said he had ‘experienced some recent injuries and is under a minor cloud.’ Regardless, he was still expected to be in among the top contenders over the 11.2km course.

As ever, many of Australia’s best mountain runners were on the start line, including David Osmond and Ross Hudson.

None, however, were a match that day for the magisterial Crake. He won the race, and his third national championship title, in 55:53. Second-place Russell Chin was a long way back in 59:52, while David Osmond trailed even further in third in 1:01:05.

Crake built on this victory by securing back-to-back wins at the monthly Mount Ainslie Run Up in May and June. Then he packed up and headed to Europe for the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) Grand Prix series and World Championship race.

The European Tour and World Mountain Running Championships

At the time, the WMRA GP series (now World Cup) included six races at courses around the world, with the vast majority each year in Europe. Runners needed to compete in at least three events to be considered for ranking, and their best three scores were recorded to give them a final total. The runner with the most points won the series. The World Championship race was always included in the series to give more top athletes the chance to meet the three race minimum.

Crake had competed in the 2001 GP series and finished eighth overall.

In 2002 he headed to Europe in June and competed at races every weekend, including the Grand Prix events in Italy, Austria and Slovenia.

Speaking about his routine during the European season, Crake said:

‘I usually come at the beginning of June, when the Alpine racing season begins. I run almost every weekend, some times twice (Saturday and Sunday), and I try to get overnight accommodation where possible. When I fail, I meet up with my friend Martin Cox [English mountain runner who would finish 4th at the World Championship race that year and 2nd in the GP series] at 2,500 meters and we camp there in tents until the next race. At this height the training has a greater benefit, the blood is additionally enriched by haemoglobin and your conditioning steadily improves. Often, instead of running, we do all-day treks around the surrounding peaks. These help us recover faster after the races. Plus, I always have the bike with me so I ride whenever I can, too. I’m roasting on it, though, because I’m carrying all the mountain gear with me.’

Just like in 2001, Crake had another solid Grand Prix series. He kicked off with a fifth place finish at the Challenge Stellina on 25th August.

The video below was made for the 25th anniversary of the event. Paul Crake isn’t in it, but you will get to see what the course was like and see what an absolute machine Jonathan Wyatt was in the mountains. He won the Stellina race that year.

 

The next event in the series was also the World Championship race – an 11.7km race in Innsbruck, Austria with 1,331m of vertical gain.

Conditions were terrible, with rains falling and a thick mist enveloping sections of the course. Still, Crake managed to record his best ever finish at the World Mountain Running Championships, crossing the finish line in 16th place. Jonathan Wyatt won his third world championship title [he would win three more in later years – 2004-05, 2008], finishing an unbelievable 3:34 ahead of second place.

wyatt 2002

Jonathan Wyatt approaches the finish line at the 2002 World Mountain Running Championships in Innsbruck, Austria

Next up for Crake was the 8.9km Hochfellnberglauf race in Bergen, Germany on 29th September. He finished 13th in a really solid group of competitors. He’s pictured in the image below after the event (crouched, front right, next to Wyatt in the centre).

bergen ladz

The final race in the GP series was held on Saturday 5th October at the Smarna Gora event in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Crake managed to finish in 5th position, which left him in 8th overall for the Grand Prix series.

Crake hung around in Europe for a short while longer, before heading to Malaysia for the biggest stair race of the year.

World Championship Tower Run 2002
kltower-titiwangsa-mountains

The Kuala Lumpur Tower, Malaysia

On Sunday 27th October, the ‘World Championship Tower Run’ was held at the Kuala Lumpur Tower in Malaysia.

As a result of its World Championship status, the event attracted an even stronger set of competitors than had been seen in some previous editions.

The newly-crowned world mountain running champion Jonathan Wyatt was back to try and win the race for a fourth time. Marco De Gasperi, another three-time world mountain running champion, was also there, as was his Italian teammate Emanuele Manzi, who’d finished fourth at the inaugural European Mountain Running Championships in July and had finished one place ahead of Crake at the World Mountain Running Championships.

Crake’s Alpine tent buddy Martin Cox was there, too, along with Russian mountain runner Iourri Oussatchev, who had been in contention for a podium place in Kuala Lumpur the past two years.

There was also strong representation from the tower running community. Markus Zahlbruckner, Jaroslaw Lazarowicz and Rudolf Reitberger, were all in attendance.

The masterful Wyatt, who had just had a flawless European mountain running season winning every race he took part in, was a clear favourite. The 800m uphill run into the tower favoured him and he was expected to reach the stairs first.

The New Zealander did get out in front and he maintained his lead to win in a time of 10:49. Crake followed not long after in 11:06, with Rudi Reitberger completing the top three in 11:27.

World Championship Tower Run 2002 results:

1. Jonathan Wyatt (NZL) – 10:49
2. Paul Crake (AUS) – 11:06
3. Rudolf Reitberger (AUT) – 11:27
4. Iourri Oussatchev (RUS) – 11:32
5. Marco De Gasperi (ITA) – 11:40
6. Roman Skalsky (CZE) – 11:56
7. Emanuele Manzi (ITA) – 12:07
8. Marcus Zahlbruckner (AUT) – 12:29
9. Jaroslaw Lazarowicz (POL) – 12:40
10. Martin Cox (ENG) – 12:41

In the women’s category, Melissa Moon also successfully defended her KL Tower title with ease, winning the race in 13:13 and breaking the course record of 13:14 she set the year before. Second place went to Russian Tatiana Cheigas (14:04), while Australian Alison O’Toole was third (15:11).

2002 KL Tower finishers

Finishers at the 2002 KL Tower race. Melissa Moon and Johnathan Wyatt hold their trophies. Paul Crake is standing behind Moon wearing the hat.

The end of the 2002 season

The end of the 2002 season was full of more successes for Crake. He won the Sydney Tower Run-Up (1,504 steps) for the fourth time, finishing in 6:53, just a second off the course record he set in 2000.

In December he won his sixth Black Mountain Challenge and then in January 2003 he secured his third Crackenback Challenge win in a row.

With that final win, Crake called time on his mountain running career, feeling that he had pretty much exhausted his potential and there was little room for improvement. He was already taking his cycling more seriously and was set to join an amateur road cycling team in Belgium in April 2003, with the hope of going professional shortly after.

He had been out on rides with professional cyclists back home in Australia, some who had competed at the Tour de France, and they had said that he could ‘pass’ in the world of professional cycling, so he wanted to give it a shot.

But before that he would head back to New York to attempt to seal his mythic status as the king of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

In an interview with a Croatian sports journalist, Crake spoke briefly about his training in the run up to the Empire State Building.

‘During the winter, I run 20 hours a week, and spend the same amount of time on the bike. My coach Cory Middleton and I work together to prepare the programme. I think a good runner must design new things to be different and better than others who train using existing and outdated methods.’

‘Several weeks before a stair race I work on specific training, including in high-rise buildings. I don’t want to go into details, though, because I want to keep my secrets’.

2003 Empire State Building Run-Up

The 26th Empire State Building Run-Up was held on Tuesday 4th February 2003.

A young Mark Sims was in New York that day. He had managed to get a place through the lottery, even though in different circumstances his stair running exploits in the UK would have been enough to get him a trip out there to race in the elite wave.

Sims had won the stair race at the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool from 1999-2002, and was able to more than hold his own with many of those racing in the elite wave (20 years on from his first victory in Liverpool, Sims is still one of the best tower runners in the UK).

mark sims

Mark Sims at the 2003 Empire State Building Run-Up

Sims joined others in the open category, which set off five minutes after the elite men.

Poor positioning in the lobby meant he was back behind several others and spent the first 20 floors battling past people before finding a clear stairwell and working on establishing a rhythm in the unorthodox Empire State Building – heading into the race he was unaware there was a landing to run on each floor.

Despite all this, Sims was still able to pull off a fantastic eighth fastest time overall (12:34), making him one of the few Brits to have ever finished inside the top 10 at the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Honour and glory

The start line for the elite race was full of new faces. No one in the lineup other than Crake and the veteran Joe Kenny had finished on the podium before, although there were some established tower runners ready to battle it out for second and third.

Markus Zahlbruckner had beaten Rudi Reitberger at the 776-step Danube Tower race in Vienna in November 2002 to earn his place at the race. He’d followed that up with a win at another Austrian stair race two weeks later, so was coming into the event strong and confident.

Jaroslaw Lazarowicz, who had hung with Crake for 50 floors at the 2001 edition, was also back again. He had finished third behind Reitberger at the Danube Tower.

Whether any of the new starters could possibly challenge Crake was a bit of an unknown. It was unlikely, but there was solid talent in among them that could at least be expected to push for a podium place.

Benoit Laval, a French ultra runner, was certainly worthy of consideration. He already had multiple podium finishes at trail marathons, and had participated in several multi-stage races around the world.

Toby Tanser, author of ‘Train Hard, Win Easy: The Kenyan Way’ (and in later years other titles) was also worthy of an each way bet for anyone putting money on the race.

A solid runner, clocking around sub 16-minutes for the 5km and sub 33-minutes for the 10km, he had a bit of speed on him. He also had a sub 70-minute half-marathon to his name, so evidently had the legs for longer distances, too.

Chris Solarz is now an established ultra runner with a bunch of Guinness World Record to his name, including fastest half marathon pushing a double buggy. In 2003 he was less well known but had obviously done enough to get his spot at the ESBRU.

To the honest observer it didn’t look very likely that anyone was going to challenge Paul Crake. Would the four-time champion be able to push himself throughout the course to run sub 10-minutes for a fourth time, and possibly even break his own course record of 9:37?

2003 start

As ever, Crake got a great start and made it into the stairwell first. In the colour image below there’s Stephen Gantz (4), Markus Zahlbruckner (2), Paul Crake (1) and Benoit Laval (22).

2003 mens start 2

In this black and white photo, Toby Tanser (48, left) can be seen. On the other side of Zahlbruckner is Jaroslaw Lazarowicz, while the figure heading out of shot on the right, wearing number 6, is Chris Solarz.

2003 mens start

Crake finished his ESBRU journey on a magnificent high, making his final run the most perfect of all. In the video below (1:12-1:17) you can see how strong and composed he looks approaching the 65th floor. He was untouchable that day and set a new course record of 9:33.

2003 crake wins

Paul Crake sets a new Empire State Building Run-Up course record of 9:33

‘To win five years in a row has been fantastic. It’s been a dream run,’ said Crake, who joined Al Waquie as a five-time champion.

When asked why he kept returning year after year even though the race has no prize money, he responded: ‘It’s for the trophy, the honour and the glory.’

2003 crake finish

Five-time ESBRU champion Paul Crake

Markus Zahlbruckner (AUT) finally made it onto the podium, finishing second in 10:58. Toby Tanser (USA) took third in 11:38. The rest of the top ten was made up of: Jaroslaw Lazarowicz (POL, 11:57), Chris Solarz (USA, 12:04), Aguilar Olalde (MEX, 12:18), Benoit Laval (FRA, 12:28), Mark Sims (GBR, 12:34), Ireneusz Korfini (POL, 12:40) and Jose Fernandez Cano (ESP, 12:45).

Moll v Harbich II: Revenge

In 2002, an unknown German had turned up at the Empire State Building and stopped Cindy Moll becoming the first four-time women’s champion.

A gutted Moll had retreated back to Indianapolis to ruminate on the race, using her disappointment to fuel her training.

Harbich was back for the 2003 edition. She had once again won the qualifying race at the Danube Tower in Vienna. It would be a straightforward battle between the two once more; Harbich looking to defend her title and Moll attempting to achieve something that had never been done.

In an interview with the Indianapolis Star just days before the race, they included just one quote from Moll regarding the race: ‘I’m in better shape than last year’.

It read ominously, as if to say, there will be no mistakes this time, no surprises. She will not be beaten.

In the video below (0:18-0:25) the camera shows Harbich and Moll next to each other on the start line, zooming in on the two towards the end. The young German is bouncing around, full of nervous energy, shaking out her arms. Moll stands a picture of focus, one arm across her body holding the other arm. One might say she even looks angry as she casts a sideways glance at her rival hopping around next to her.

2003 womens start

Both women got a good start, although it looks like neither was first into the stairwell.

As anticipated, it soon came down to just the pair and they ran neck and neck the whole way. Eventually, around the 75th floor Moll managed to create a bit of space and pull away to become the first four-time winner of the women’s division at the Empire State Building Run-Up. She crossed the line in 13:06, with Harbich close behind in 13:17.

2003 cindy moll finish

Cindy Moll becomes a four-time ESBRU champion

‘It was so disappointing last year,’ Moll told reporters. ‘I was so surprised by the German. I was better prepared this year. This was a tight race’.

‘It was really hard because I kept on trying to push the pace, but she was just right behind me the whole way until about 75 and then 80 I really started to pull away.’

2003 crake celebr2003 cindy moll trophy

 

 

 

 

Read the next installment in the series – the 2004 Empire State Building Run-Up.

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