A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 2010

Posted: April 27, 2020 in Tower running history
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ESBRU 2010

In 2010, defending champion Thomas Dold was going for a record-equaling fifth win. New and familiar faces were lined up in the lobby aiming to put a stop to the German juggernaut. In the women’s division, three-time champ Suzy Walsham was sitting out the race while pregnant. Could Cindy Harris now finally claim a fifth title? Or would a new champion emerge?

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-19971998199920002001200220032004200520062007, 2008 or 2009 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2010.

The first Vertical World Circuit

With his fourth ESBRU title in the bag, Thomas Dold set about the rest of the 2009 season eager to secure more accolades.

His win in New York in February had been the first race in the newly launched Vertical World Circuit (VWC), a stair climbing series consisting of eight events across four continents: Empire State Building Run-Up (New York), Ramada Tower Run (Basel), Pirelli Tower Vertical Sprint (Milan), Taipei 101 Run-Up, SkyRun Berlin, Sydney Tower Run Up, Torre de Collserola Vertical (Barcelona) and the ​​Singapore Vertical Marathon. A proposed ninth race at the Donauturm in Vienna was cancelled due to building works at the tower.

Dold would dedicate the rest of the year to winning the inaugural Vertical World Circuit.

Ramada Tower Run (Basel) 2009

Less than three weeks after his ESBRU victory, 24-year old Dold was in Switzerland, ready to renew his rivalry with European tower running sprint specialist Gabriel Lombriser.

The pair had been swapping course records at the 542-step Ramada hotel in Basel since Lombriser set a new record at the second edition in 2005. Dold broke it in 2006 and Lombriser claimed it back in 2007.

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The Ramada hotel in Basel, Switzerland

Dold hadn’t attended the 2008 edition of the race, but he was back on Saturday 21 February 2009 to face off once more with his Swiss rival.

Victory eluded the German, who had to settle for second behind the record setting Lombriser, who clocked a best time of 2:41.

Dold’s finishing time was just 0.9 seconds slower.

Pirelli Tower Vertical Sprint 2009

Dold skipped the Vertical Sprint at the Pirelli Tower in Milan 10 days later.

In Dold’s absence, Italians Marco De Gasperi and Fabio Ruga battled it out for top spot.

De Gasperi already had points on the board for the VWC, having finished second to Dold at the ESBRU in February, and was looking to pick up the maximum points available in this race.

He managed it by securing the narrowest of victories, with mere centimetres separating him from Ruga at the finish line.

Fabio Ruga

Marco De Gasperi (r) wins the 2009 Pirelli Tower Vertical Sprint ahead of Fabio Ruga

Record setting run in Stuttgart

Dold was back in action on Sunday 10 May at the 850-step Fernsehturm Stuttgart (TV Tower). He had won every edition of the race since it began in 2006.

Christian Riedl, Tomas Celko and Marcus Zahlbruckner were among the men looking to stop Dold’s winning run.

But the three-time champ was unstoppable as he set a new course record of 4:05.

Taipei 101 Run-Up 2009

The following weekend, Thomas Dold waited in the lobby of Taipei 101 alongside De Gasperi and Ruga. The experienced Fu-Cai Chen, third at the 2007 and 2008 Taipei 101 Run-Ups and fifth at the 2008 ESBRU, was with them, as was Pedro Ribeiro.

With a first and a second-place finish apiece leaving them level so far in the Vertical World Circuit standings, the pressure was on Dold and De Gasperi to win and create a bit of distance from the other.

The climate in Taipei that May was oppressively humid and created tough conditions inside the stairwell that put additional strain on the athletes.

Dold set off first at 8am and was followed 20 seconds later by De Gasperi.

The German maintained the distance from his Italian rival for around 40 floors, before De Gasperi began to close the gap.

‘Towards the 60th floor, I had gotten very close to Dold’, recalled De Gasperi shortly after the race, ‘so much so that I could hear his breathless breathing a few stairs above me. At that point, however, the effort began to take over.’

By the time they reached the top De Gasperi had managed to cut the gap again slightly but it wasn’t enough to take victory.

Dold clocked 11:05 to take the win, while De Gasperi had to settle for second with his 11:15 finish.

Thomas Dold Taipei 2009 finish

Thomas Dold 2009 Taipei 101 Run Up

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An exhausted Thomas Dold is helped from the finish line at the 2009 Taipei 101 Run-Up

The dominance continues

A week later, Dold was back racing in Germany. It was his third top-level race in 14 days. This time the venue was the Messeturm in Frankfurt.

It was the third edition of the race at the tower, which saw runners race up 1,344 steps to the 61st floor. Dold’s long-time rival, 26-year old Matthias Jahn, had won the first two editions of the race and was back in Frankfurt looking for a third straight win.

Dold 2009

Dold waiting to run in Frankfurt

But Dold was in dominant form. He set a new course record of 6:36 to take the honours ahead of Jahn, who reached the top in 6:54.

Thomas Dold Messeturm Frankfurt 2009

Thomas Dold nears the finish on his way to victory at the Messeturm Frankfurt in 2009

Dold messeturm 2009 winner

Thomas Dold celebrates his win at the Messeturm in Frankfurt

Eight days later, on Whit Monday 1 June, Dold raced for the fourth time in a little over three weeks. Once more he was squaring off against emerging European tower running stars Tomas Celko and Christian Riedl.

The 770 steps of the Park Inn Berlin-Alexanderplatz were the proving ground this time.

Dold had won the three previous editions of the race and was a favourite to make it four in a row.

He did just that, taking almost five seconds off his previous best time to set a new course record of 3:09.

In a little over 21 days, Thomas Dold had fully established himself as a practically invincible force in the world of tower running. In four races, he had set three course records and beaten many of the top competitors in the world in the process.

Dold took a break from racing in June and July and prepared for more Vertical World Circuit races in the back end of the year.

Sydney Tower Run-Up 2009

Sydney Tower Run-up winners

The next race in the series was the Sydney Tower Run-Up on Friday 21 August.

This event had been churning out Empire State Building Run-Up champions since the late 1980s. The offer of a trip to New York with race entry to the ESBRU had proven a lucrative draw for top Australian athletes.

Multi-time ESBRU winners, Geoff Case, Belinda Soszyn and Paul Crake were just some of the brilliant tower runners to emerge victorious in Sydney over the years.

Dold was making his debut at the 1,504-step tower, where A$7,500 were up for grabs for the winner. He would be going up against a familiar challenger in the form of Scott McTaggart.

McTaggart had won the Sydney Tower Run-Up for the past three years. He’d also finished fourth at the ESBRU in 2008 and 2009, so Dold knew who he was.

Also in attendance were former Australian mountain running champion Daniel Green, an old rival of Paul Crake, and 2004 Sydney Tower Run-Up winner Jeremey Horne.

Even with such a strong field of experienced competitors, Dold was tipped to win. But there was a dark horse in the line up who, although he was making his stair running debut, was anticipated to mount the most serious challenge to the German star.

It was the newly crowned Australian mountain running champion, Mark Bourne.

Dold and Bourne 2009 Sydney

Mark Bourne, Jim White, Thomas Dold and Scott McTaggart at the 2009 Sydney Tower Run-Up

But Dold secured the win with a time of 7:04. Newcomer Mark Bourne followed in 7:26 and Scott McTaggart took third spot in 7:35.

Dold had only arrived in Sydney on Tuesday, three days before the race, and just three hours after winning he was on a plane heading back to Germany.

Thomas Dold Sydney Tower Run Up winner 2009

Four weeks later, Dold set a new backwards running world record. Already a multi-world record holder in the discipline, he cut 23 seconds off his own 1,500m record to set a new best time of 5:01.

Two race-free months followed before Dold headed to Singapore for the finale of the Vertical World Circuit at the Swissotel Vertical Marathon on Sunday 22 November.

Singapore Vertical Marathon – the Vertical World Circuit finale

With an unassailable lead in the VWC, Dold wasn’t joined in Singapore by any of his big rivals.

Three-time winner Pedro Ribeiro and Poland’s Tomasz Klisz were well-established stair runners, but none were in the league of Dold.

Dold had broken the course record that had stood for nearly two decades when he won the event in 2008 in a time of 6:52. He was almost certain to win again. All eyes were on the clock to see if the German could beat his own time.

DSCN7656

Thomas Dold (r) alongside Pedro Ribeiro (12) at the start of the 2009 Swissotel Vertical Marathon

He ran clear from all his rivals, finishing almost a minute ahead of Klisz as he set a new record of 6:46.

Dold Swissotel Vertical Marathon 2009 winner

Thomas Dold on the roof of the Swissotel The Stamford, Singapore after setting a new course record

Dold Singapore 2009 winner

DSCN7664

Thomas Dold toasts his win alongside women’s winner Suzy Walsham

Dold left immediately for New Zealand to race at the Sky Tower Vertical Challenge in Auckland three days later. Predictably he won, setting what was widely reported as a new record time of 4:53.

Thomas Dold Sky Tower Auckland 2009

Thomas Dold nears the finish at the Sky Tower, Auckland in 2009

[Ed. note – The previous best time of 5:17 was set by Jonathan Wyatt in 1999. Paul Crake’s best time at the tower was 5:38. Wyatt and Crake had run 5:07 and 5:08 respectively in a brilliant race in 2002, but that was on a slightly shorter, altered course. Back in the early 2000s the race started with an approximately 150m pre-run into the tower. We were unable to determine if the 2009 edition started with a pre-run. But it’s hard to believe, although not inconceivable, that Dold undercut the time of two of the best tower runners of all time by 24+ seconds if he started from the same spot.]

With the first Vertical World Circuit title and a bunch of new course records in the bag, Dold headed into 2010 confident of securing a fifth Empire State Building Run-Up title.

2010 Empire State Building Run-Up

There was a notable absentee among the women lined up in the lobby of the Empire State Building on Tuesday 2 February 2010 for the 33rd edition of the Run-Up. The three-time winner from Australia Suzy Walsham, who had also won the Taipei 101 Run-Up and Singapore Vertical Marathon in 2009, was pregnant and sitting out the race.

Not since 2003 had anyone but Andrea Mayr or Suzy Walsham won the ESBRU. Finally there would be a different name in the record books.

Cindy Harris had bagged her fourth title in 2003, and since then she had finished in second place four times, as well as third and fourth in other years.

She’d retained her Bop to the Top title in Indianapolis nine days prior to the ESBRU, so was obviously in good shape. As a result, the Indianapolis veteran who had won her first ESBRU title in 1998 was on the shortlist of expected winners.

There were plenty of experienced ESBRU runners alongside Harris. One had even won it before while others had been on the podium and in the top five. But their personal records weren’t quite as good as Harris’ sub-13 minute best.

Michelle Blessing had won the ESBRU in 1995 and finished second in 1994 and third in 1996. She returned out of the blue in 2009 to finish 14th. Could she bounce back with a much better time in 2010? Blessing had also been coaching first time tower runner, but regular marathoner, Gretchen Hurlbutt. Could Blessing’s protege throw in a surprise performance of her own?

Amy Fredericks, who had finished third in 2004 and 2005 and fourth on a few other occasions, had a decent chance of getting back on the podium this year.

Stacey Creamer had finished in the top five on three previous occasions. Could she finally step onto the podium?

Caroline Gaynor was back for another shot too. A former rower at Columbia University who had turned her focus to Ironman events and other triathlon distances, Gaynor had finished fourth in 2008.

But there were some exciting debutants on the start line too.

New York-based Australian Rondi Davies was a sub-three hour marathoner and long distance open water swimmer. In 2008 she’d taken third at the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and in summer 2009 she’d won the inaugural 10-mile Kingdom Swim at Lake Memphremagog up in Vermont. A complete unknown on the stairs, but a serious athlete and one to watch.

A far more familiar and formidable name was also on the start list, Melissa Moon from New Zealand.

The 2001 and 2003 world mountain running champion (also third in 1997 and 1998) was no stranger to tower running. She’d been racing on the stairs on and off for a decade, but had never taken part in the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Among her stair running successes were wins in very competitive races at the Telekom Malaysia Towerthon at Kuala Lumpur Tower in 2000-2002. She also won the Sky Tower race in Auckland in 2001 and 2002.

2002 wyatt moon 2001kl tower

Melissa Moon and Jonathan Wyatt – winners of the KL Tower Run 2001

In 2005 she had finished second behind Andrea Mayr at the inaugural Taipei 101 Run-Up, running a solid 13:34. She took third in 2006 and fourth in 2007.

Melissa Moon Taipei 2005

Melissa Moon took second at the 2005 Taipei 101 Run-Up

Moon had been in Sydney at the same race as Thomas Dold back in August. She’d finished fourth behind winner Vanessa Haverd, former ESBRU winner Angela Leadbeatter (1999) and reigning ESBRU champion Suzy Walsham. A little over 20 seconds separated Moon and Walsham, so the Kiwi runner was evidently in good stair climbing shape coming into 2010.

She’d been training regularly on the stairs of the 28-floor Majestic Centre in Wellington, where she had told security guards that she was trying to become the first New Zealander to win the Empire State Building race.

“They bent over backward,” said Moon, ‘What do you need? We’ll give you a swipe card.’ They put supportive signs in the stairwell.”

Well prepared and well experienced, all the signs pointed toward Melissa Moon launching the most serious challenge to Cindy Harris and the other experienced ESBRU runners.

ESBRU STRETCH 2010

Caroline Gaynor (orange vest) and Melissa Moon stretch next to Cindy Harris (103) on the front row of the start line at the 2010 Empire State Building Run-Up

At the sound of the starter’s horn, ambitious debutant Kacie Fisher (#105) got out in front of everyone. A former collegiate heptathlete at Cal Poly, Fisher had found out about the race three weeks before the start and said, ‘there was no way I was gonna miss this’.

ESBRU 2010

Cindy Harris followed closest, with Melissa Moon (#102) and Gretchen Hurlbutt (far right, red vest) running together a step behind.

ESBRU WOMENS22

Kacie Fisher gets out in front, followed by Cindy Harris, Melissa Moon and Gretchen Hurlbutt (by the wall in the red vest)

2010 esbru womens

ESBRU 2010 WOMENS DOOR

Caroline Gaynor (104, high white socks), Meghan Newcomer (white visor) and Amy Fredericks (blue vest) follow in behind the leading group

The start was fairly orderly and there were no serious shoves or falls, such as had marred the start of the 2009 ESBRU when Suzy Walsham was pushed into the wall as she headed for the door.

You can see in the image below that padding had been fixed to the walls on either side of the door to the stairwell, to prevent a repeat of the smashed lip and knee Walsham received the year before.

2010 womens door

Kacie Fisher enters the doorway, followed by Harris, Moon, Hurlbutt and Fredericks

Details on what played out in the stairwell have been difficult to find. The available in-race footage (scroll to the bottom for race videos) offers little insight. Likewise, post-race interviews in newspapers are devoid of details about how the race played out.

But given the information available, it’s been possible to piece together a story that seems to make sense.

It seems that the inexperienced Fisher went out way too fast and was tracked by Harris, who was probably wary of giving an unknown runner too much of a lead early on.

At the 50th floor, Fisher later claimed she ‘tore the lining of her lung from over expansion’ and her legs gave out. The pace must have taken a massive toll on her and Harris, because the pair were passed by a number of runners in the latter stages of the race.

Before the race Gretchen Hurlbutt had said her plan was to pace herself for the first half and then see what she had left for the rest of the race. She seems to have done just that, sticking behind Melissa Moon for much of the race before being dropped in the second half.

In the second video below Moon can be seen running on her own at what seems to be somewhere between the 68th and 72nd floors. She remained completely unchallenged as she surged to the top.

Down below Gretchen Hurlbutt passed Harris and Fisher and pushed into second place. She was tracked closely by Amy Fredericks, Rondi Davies and Stacey Creamer, all battling for the podium.

Amy Fredericks remarked after the race: “Two women that I passed, they were starting to keel over and they were doing single steps.” It’s likely she is referring to Fisher and Harris.

Harris and Fisher continued to be passed by multiple runners. Cindy Harris eventually finished in 13th place in 15:13 while Fisher ended up in 20th position, crossing the line in 15:54. Bear in mind, Harris had taken third the year before in a time of 13:49. In no uncertain terms, the race was a disaster.

Kacie Fisher 2010

Kacie Fisher drops to the floor after crossing the finish line

Harris and Gaynor 2010

Cindy Harris (middle) and Caroline Gaynor (right, 14:42 – seventh place) recovering after the race

For Melissa Moon, however, it was a triumph. She ran untested in the latter stages and crossed the finish line in 13:13.

Melissa Moon 2010 finish line ESBRU

Melissa Moon ESBRU 2010

Gretchen Hurlbutt followed 40 seconds later in 13:53, while Amy Fredericks won the battle for the final podium spot with her 14:15 finish.

Rondi Davies was fourth in 14:23 and Stacey Creamer took fifth in 14:25.

Gretchen Hurlbutt ESBRU 2010

Gretchen Hurlbutt takes second place at the 2010 Empire State Building Run-Up

Overall it was one of the slowest women’s races in years. Not since 2003 had anyone run slower than 14:00 and made it onto the podium.

But Melissa Moon had run an excellent and well-paced debut race and was delighted with her win.

‘When you know the history of this building, built in 1931, years ahead of its time, it is a privilege to run here. I’ve climbed taller buildings, but here, this race has a completely different meaning. I am very proud of this victory that I will be able to write on my CV.’

The drive for five

In the 32 previous editions of the Empire State Building Run-Up, two men had managed to win five titles: Al Waquie (1983-87) and Paul Crake (1999-2003).

Thomas Dold would join that unique group if he could hold off the challenge of his competitors one more time. His closest rivals in recent years, Rickey Gates (eight seconds behind in 2008) and Marco De Gasperi (22 seconds slower in 2009), weren’t in attendance, so the race really was Dold’s to lose.

Although there was a lot of established and fast emerging talent in the field, none of them were quite at the level of Dold.

Matthias Jahn was the most likely to launch a significant challenge on his compatriot. Jahn had been on the ESBRU podium in 2007 and 2008, and had beaten Dold before in shorter races at European venues.

But Dold had seen him off by an 18-second margin at the 1,344 step Messeturm in Frankfurt a few months earlier. He typically had Jahn’s number over the longer courses.

Similarly, Dold had beaten emerging European stars Christian Riedl and Tomas Celko at races back in 2009. Riedl was making his second apperance in Manhattan, while Celko was racing for the first time. The pair were decent shouts for a top 10 or possibly top five finish, but it was unlikely they would really challenge the reigning champion.

Another strong debutant and seasoned tower runner, Omar Bekkali, would possibly be in the mix for the top five, but it was hard to see him launching a serious challenge to Dold. Likewise, excellent athletes such as Javier Santiago, Jesse Berg and Pedro Ribeiro would be expected to be among the top finishers, but they’d never posed a threat to Dold at the ESBRU or various other races around the world.

The one unknown was the impressive Matthew Byrne from Scranton, PA. A successful collegiate runner for St Joseph’s University, Byrne had won three individual Atlantic 10 Conference championships while at the college in Philadelphia.

After college, he had qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon in 2004 and 2008. He’d also represented the United States in the World Mountain Running Championships in 2008 and 2009. He’d finished ahead of fellow USA team member Rickey Gates at the 2009 Championships, so was evidently a serious prospect.

Byrne would surely have reached out to Gates for tips on the race and the course as he prepared to make his ESBRU debut. Could he shock everyone and do what Rickey Gates had come so close to doing in 2008?

Gates had been stuck a few rows back from the start on his debut in 2007. Matthew Byrne made sure he was in prime position on the front row for his first race.

You can seen him in the picture below off to the left wearing #5. Left of him in the blue vest is Christian Riedl, then heading right across the lobby there’s Trevor Folgering (#10, well out of place and should be a couple of rows back), Jesse Berg (orange vest, #8), Tomas Celko (blue shorts, #44), Matthias Jahn (#3), Thomas Dold (#1) and Javier Santiago (blue longsleeves, #7).

The first image below, and the video at the bottom, shows that Byrne actually got the best start, gaining a step on Dold who was the next quickest to react to the horn. But the American had more ground to cover to the door and by the time the runners reached it Dold, as always, was in first place. Javier Santiago was next, followed by Jahn, Byrne and Jesse Berg.

2010 ESBRU MENS

2010 MENS START ESBRU

2010 ESBRU MEN RUSH

2010 Dold in front

2010 ESBRU NEAR DOOR

With Thomas Dold at the helm, the ESBRU was becoming increasingly formulaic. Some of his winning races had been a lot closer than others, but 2010 wasn’t one of them.

Details were scant in the post-race newspaper reports, but Dold was first in the door and didn’t relinquish the lead. The rest of the pack stuck with the powerful young German for as long as they could, but his strength saw him pull away in the second half of the race.

In the first video below (@0:38) you can see Dold running alone at the 65th floor crossover as he catches up with a group of runners from the women’s race. In the second video (@1:44) he is free from the crowds and running on a clear stairwell, likely somewhere between the 68th and 72nd floors.

He reached the top in 10:16, taking a record equaling fifth ESBRU title. He collapsed somewhat theatrically to the ground just after crossing the line and stayed on his knees for a while right in front of the finish, forcing tired runners to go around him as they too crossed the finish line.

Thomas Dold 2010 ESBRU finish line

Dold exhausted

Thomas Dold falls to his knees at the finish line of the 2010 ESBRU

He was followed by fellow German Matthias Jahn who crossed the finish in 10:56 (see him in the second video below @1:53 passing debutant Shari Klarfeld late in the race). Funnily, the margin between first and second in the men’s race was exactly the same as in the women’s, 40 seconds.

Matthias Jahn ESBRU 2010

Matthias Jahn celebrates taking second place as Thomas Dold and a race steward look on

Matthew Byrne took third in 11:29, while Omar Bekkali (11:51) and Javier Santiago (11:55) completed the top five.

Byrne said he’d like to come back next year and challenge Dold again, but noted he’d have to find a different strategy.

“He was off like a dart right from the beginning,” Byrne said of the start. “He really takes his stance early. I’d have to change something.”

Matthew Byrne ESBRU 2010

Matthew Byrne recovers after taking third at the 2010 Empire State Building Run-Up

CELKO Holec RIEDL 2010

Tomas Celko, Pavel Holec, Pedro Ribeiro and Christian Riedl recovering after the race

Dold 2010 winner

Thomas Dold celebrates his fifth straight ESBRU victory

“It took me six years to get to this point, and to be here as the winner this day is quite amazing,” Dold said. “To do this race six times and get five victories – it’s unbelievable right now. And to be named along with Paul Crake as a five-time winner is a big honour.”

2010 ESBRU WINNERS

Melissa Moon and Thomas Dold – 2010 Empire State Building Run-Up winners

2010 esbru podiums

2010 ESBRU: The women’s and men’s top 3


2010 Empire State Building Run-Up results

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