Unbroken: the man with the most Empire State Building Run-Up appearances

Posted: August 15, 2020 in News, Tower running history
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David Allard ESBRU

Getting to race up the stairs of the Empire State Building just once is a dream for most tower runners. For many it’s a dream that continues to elude them as they fail year after year to secure a coveted place at the world’s longest-running stair race. But for one man it’s become a real-life recurring dream that’s been going for more than a quarter of a century.

When you look back through the long and eventful history of the Empire State Building Run-Up you’d be forgiven for skimming over the event in 1994.

Ran on a shortened course of 80 floors, the men’s race was won by debutant Darrin Eisman (USA), while fellow first-time runner Belinda Soszyn (AUS) took the first of her eventual three victories in New York.

With all the close battles, intense rivalries and record-setting runs that came before and after, 1994 was, in comparison, fairly unexciting.

But it was certainly far from unexciting for David Allard, the man who currently holds the record for the most ESBRU appearances. This was the year he made his debut at the famous Manhattan tower.

1994 WINNERS BEST

Darrin Eisman and Belinda Soszyn, winners of the 1994 ESBRU

From novice to veteran

David Allard had only a couple of stair races under his belt when he took part in the Empire State Building Run-Up for the first time in his mid-40s.

In fact he hadn’t run at all until a few years before.

‘I didn’t start running until my daughter had joined the high school cross country team,’ he said. ‘I had never run a step in my life until then.’

Despite his lack of experience, the tower running novice from Great Barrington, MA, clocked a respectable 14:51 on the shortened course in 1994.

A year later he was back to take on the full course of 86 floors/1,576 steps, where he set his personal best of 16:43.

EmpireStateBuildingAdmission

‘It was a simple race at first, with a mass start that begins in the lobby,’ Allard told the Berkshire Eagle back in 2013. ‘We all had to hit this tiny door and then begin our ascent. But a lot of people tried to go too hard, too fast and many ended up holding their chests, slumped to the side of the stairwell by the eighth floor. For me, I set a steady pace and held it.’

‘Years ago you could only pass on the left,’ Allard recalled to the Brattleboro Reformer last year, ‘so you have seven stairs to pass a guy before a landing. Someone hits the landing and just has to turn so it was impossible to pass.’

The elite waves still begin with a manic mass start, but runners in the general wave now set off five seconds apart. With less crowding and mania in the stairwell, it’s a bit easier for Allard to settle into his runs and focus on his technique.

With 26 ESBRU appearances to his name, David Allard perhaps knows the stairs and the race better than almost anyone. So first time tower runners could do worse than listen to some of his advice.

‘It’s a breathing race, not a leg race,’ says Allard. ‘It’s all about holding a steady breathing pattern and using the handrails to carry your momentum.’

‘You bring yourself right to the edge of a heart attack, and you just hold it. The Empire State Building [Run-Up] is not a legs race, it’s a lungs race. The trick with the race is to start at the pace you’re going to maintain.’

David Allard 2008 ESBRU

David Allard at the 2008 Empire State Building Run-Up

His top five tips?

‘(1) Don’t go out too fast; (2) Take the stairs two at a time; (3) Use the hand rails; (4) When someone wants to pass you in the stairway, get out of the way; and (5) Smile at the end.’

The payoff at the top will make all your hard work worthwhile, Allard promises.

‘It’s the most beautiful ending to a race because you have to run one last lap around the observation tower and you get to see all of New York ahead of you. It’s so exhilarating, there’s no other feeling like that.’

TV presenter Kelly Ripa took part in the race in 2013 and she got to meet David Allard before she set off on her run.

You can see their brief exchange at the Empire State Building in the video below (starts at 1:40).

Allard’s rivals for The Streak

‘The streak is a really strange thing because it has zero value,’ says Allard. ‘Yet to the person that holds the streak it has enormous value.’

Hot on his heels for the record for most appearances at the Empire State Building Run-Up is a well-known tower runner from New York, Stephen Marsalese.

Marsalese made his debut at the Empire State Building in 1996 and has competed in every race there since, bringing his current number of appearances to 24.

With 15 or so years age difference between the two men, it’s likely the younger Marsalese (if he continues to be invited to the the ESBRU) will eventually outlast Allard.

David Allard and Stephen Marsalese

David Allard and Stephen Marsalese

But the evergreen, four-time winner Cindy Harris (nee Moll), who currently has 22 appearances to her name and is still competing at the very top, could well pass both men out in the coming years.

But Allard has no plans to call time on his fantastic run at the ESBRU any time soon.

‘I hope to do this into my nineties—I’ll crawl up the stairs if I have to’, he told TimeOut.

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