Archive for the ‘News’ Category

April’s a relatively quiet month for UK tower running, with just the rescheduled Teesside Vertical Rush event at Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge and the Care International event at the Leadenhall Building in London taking place on Saturday 14th.

But globally there have been lots of races so far this month, with events in Estonia, Italy and the USA among others, showcasing the truly international face of competitive stair running.

Read on for our pick of the stair climbing results from around the world this April, and find out the latest nicknames on the circuit.

April 1st – Estonian Towerrunning Championships 2018, TV Tower, Tallinn

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Rauno ‘Ebajalg’ Tiits secured victory at the inaugural Estonian Tower Running Championship with a blistering run to the top of the 870-step TV Tower in the Estonian capital.

His winning time of 4.35 was also a new course record. Fans of UK tower running will be familiar with the name Tiits, as the Estonian took the win at last November’s double-run event at London’s Broadgate Tower ahead of some of the top UK stair climbers.

In second place was Poland’s Arkadiusz ‘Street Fighter’ Karbowy, another familiar name to those who follow UK stair climbing. His lightning quick time of 4.46 (the only other sub-five minute finish on the day) will come as no surprise to those who’ve seen him flying up the Tower Wing of Guy’s Hospital during training.

Rimo ‘Special Sauce’ Tiim finished third in 5.04.

In the women’s division it was a more one-sided affair with Estonian sporting star Kaisa ‘The Gift’ Kukk winning in an unrivalled 5.46.

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The newly crowned Estonian tower running champions, Rauno Tiits and Kaisa Kukk.

Kukk is no stranger to sporting success. A sub-three hour marathoner, she has multiple wins in a wide range of race distances under her belt and so her transition to tower running success was no doubt expected among the Estonian athletic community.

It’s her second win of the season already, and we expect big things from Kukk if she makes stair climbing her focus. On a separate note, she’s also our tower running WCW this week. Fire!

Her nearest challenge came from Poland’s Ilona ‘Leg Breaker’ Gradus, winner of the Marriott Everest Run in Warsaw back in February, and a top ten finisher at other Polish events already this year. She hit the top step in 6.39, some way back from Kukk.

Liina ‘The DJ’ Volmerson, winner of the Saucony Trekking Championship stair race series in 2017 (alongside Rauno Tiits), finished third in 7.03.

The experience and pedigree of Kukk’s rivals makes her overwhelming winning margin all the more impressive.

Full results here.

 

April 7th – Fight for Air Climb Newark 2018, One Gateway Center, New Jersey

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“The Beast from the East” Stephen Marsalese made light work of it at the ALA Fight for Air Climb in Newark.

The stair climbing veteran, and perennial podium finisher around the East Coast events, was the only person to go under the coveted three-minute mark as he scaled the 504 steps of One Gateway Center in 2.48.

His Tower Masters team mate, 63-year old Mark ‘The Immortal Whisper’ Greenlee, was behind him in 3.18, improving on his fifth place finish from last year. Last year’s fourth placed finisher, Ted ‘Uber Jock’ Enoch, took third this time around in a time of 3.32.56

Special mention to the speedy 13 year old who finished in fourth place in 3.32.81 – missing out on a podium spot by the very narrowest of margins. He’s so exquisitely named he needs no adornments from us. Fly Talon Falcone, fly!!

‘Champagne’ Sally Kalksma made it a double win for the Tower Masters team as she returned to winning ways following her international adventures last month at La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel in Paris.

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Sally Kalksma at the start line of La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel 2018

Kalksma clocked 4.39 to secure the win from Mary ‘Warlord’ Cataudella (5:02) and Nina ‘The Mason’ Mikkilineni (5.06). Full results available here.

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Kalksma and Marsalese celebrate their wins (bottom) and pose with fellow Tower Master runners.

April 7th – Ginormous Climb 2018 – 200 Clarendon (John Hancock Tower), Boston

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Ginormous is an underrated and underused word, but we’re glad to see the organisers of this event, at Boston’s John Hancock Tower, have kept it front and centre for five years now.

Historically this race has attracted some big tower running names, such as Tim Donahue, but they were absent this time around.

Still, close to 400 racers turned up to climb the 1,220 stairs (61 floors) and they produced solid battles for top spot in the men’s and women’s divisions.

When the dust had settled it was Kai ‘The All Seeing Eye’ Van Horn who stood victorious with a winning time of 8.18.

11 seconds back was Samuel ‘All that glitters is not’ Goldman, while Brendan ‘The Allston Accelerator’ Harrison took third in 8.37.

The women’s division was far closer, with just ten seconds separating the top three. Elizabeth ‘Easy Work’ Burke won in a time of 10.58, with Jennifer ‘Little Bitty’ Previti right behind in 10.59. Maegan ‘Smooth Mover’ Hoover completed the trio with her 11.08 finish.

Full results here.

April 7th – Valtellina Vertical Tube Race 2018, Italy

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We love this event. It’s the one event we make sure to scour the results of every year, and we have since it began back in 2015. The reason is because it gives a perfect opportunity to see how top tower runners match up against some of the world’s best mountain runners and vertical km specialists, in what is a bit of a hybrid event.

The course is a kilometer long outdoor staircase (2,700 steps) that runs straight up a mountain, alongside a hydroelectric tube that lends the event its name. So it’s technically a stair race, but so different from what tower runners are used to – no turns or railings, and outdoors – that whatever technical/strategic advantages they might have had are removed and it comes down to a straight battle of strength and endurance.

It’s one of the only races – bar arguably La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel, which also includes high-level mountain runners – that you can get an idea of how the world’s elite stair climbers match up with elites from other disciplines when pitted head-to-head. For context, reigning world tower running champion Piotr Lobodzinski finished in fifth place in 2016 with a time of 14.55.

It also has a place in our heart as it’s the one international event where a British athlete has the course record. Emmie Collinge set the staggering women’s course record of 16.10 in 2016. She is the only woman to have ever run the course in under 17 minutes, managing it at the event’s first edition in 2015, too, when she finished in 16.25.

We caught up with Collinge after that debut win in 2015, and commented then that she could be the new force on the global tower running scene if she wanted to be. But alas her participation in stair races has been limited to those two stunning runs at Valtellina.

Anyway, on to the action from this year’s edition.

In the men’s event the field was understandably made up of mainly Italian competitors. But there was a decent spread of well-known tower runners and elite mountain runners from other countries in attendance, too, which included ‘Fearless’ Frank Carreno, Tomas ‘The Zilina Avalanche’ Celko and Jacob Mayer. Unfortunately there wasn’t a single British male representative at the event.

Last year’s winner, Italian Hannes Perkmann, secured victory once more with a time of 14.10, a five second improvement on his winning time in 2017. It was also the second-fastest time ever, just eight seconds off the course record of 14.02 set by Bernard Dematteis.

Perkmann is part of the Italian mountain running team and specialises in longer distance events.

Fellow Italian Alberto Vender made a massive leap from his ninth-place last year to take second place in a time of 14.44. He chopped a whopping 38 seconds off his PB in the process.

Emanuele ‘Il Guerriero’ Manzi – one of the event organisers, mountain runner and top-level tower runner – made it an all-Italian podium. He made it his third podium finish at the event (he finished sixth in 2017), finishing in his fastest ever time of 14.46.

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Hannes Perkmann on his way to victory in Valtellina

The women’s race was the closest in the event’s short history. In the end it was Catalan youngster Gisela Carrion Bertran who took the spoils in 17.25, the fourth fastest time ever by a woman at the event. A well-established mountain runner and vertical km racer, Carrion Bertran possibly came in under the radar of some in attendance, but her athletic pedigree is well established.

Just behind her was 2017 winner Katarzyna Kuzminska from Italy. She managed to take 20 seconds off her winning time from last year, reaching the top of the stairs in 17.28.

Italian sporting legend and Olympic cross-country skiing relay bronze medallist Antonella Confortola took third place in 17.43. Her multi-discipline medal record of world championship and European championship podium finishes in cross-country skiing, mountain running and vertical km is highly impressive. Check it out on Wikipedia.

British interest at the event was limited to Sarah Frost who finished in 26th position in 22.25.

Full results here.

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Gisela Carrion Bertran: winner of Valtellina Vertical Tube Race 2018

 

There were additional races in Bahrain, Canada, China, Estonia and USA this month, but full results are currently unavailable for all of them. We’ll be updating this article shortly.

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If you’ve signed up for a stair race, you may have started thinking about what you’re going to wear on the day.

For the most part, what you wear for a stair climb won’t differ too much from what you would wear for any other running race. Ideally you want to dress as light as possible in some form of technical gear that is breathable. Follow the link to read our brief guide on what to wear for a stair race.

But what about on your feet? The most common question we get about gear is related to the type of shoes best suited to a tower run.

Read on as we take a closer look at this popular question.

What shoes should you wear for a stair climb?

If you’re just starting out with tower running you will be fine wearing any general purpose trainers you have to hand. And until you start making significant improvements in your times because of the training you’re doing, you’ll continue to be fine in any type of running/gym shoes.

But once you reach the point where you’re looking to make small, but potentially significant, gains through gear choice, technique adjustments, strict diet etc, you might consider changing the shoes you stair race in.

There aren’t any shoes designed specifically for tower running. Why would there be, you might be thinking. It’s just running, but up stairs, right?

Well, yes and no. The various factors that influence the design of road running shoes are somewhat insignificant when it comes to stair climbing. This is mostly because of the different biomechanics involved in stair running vs regular running, and partly because of the duration of stair climbing events.

Stair climbing doesn’t generate anywhere near the forces and impacts involved in road running. It’s a very low impact activity and so decisions about the amount of cushioning you need are far less important.

For the same reason, most people can throw out their worries about over pronation when they enter the stairwell (we would suggest most people could throw it out anyway regardless of where they’re running, but that’s for another time and place).

So, while you may not feel comfortable picking out a pair of very lightweight racing flats for your upcoming 5k, 10k, half- or full marathon, you could easily get away with wearing them in the stairwell and probably take a bit of time off your finish as a result, too.

Even if stair running did generate similar forces as road running, the events (at least in the UK) are relatively short enough in duration (think 4-6mins and 5-7 mins for the faster men and women, respectively) that you could get away with a really stripped back shoe anyway. The race would likely be over before the negatives of wearing a very light shoe outweighed the positives.

So what shoes should you go for?

A famous study conducted by Nike in the 1980s showed that adding 100g to a running shoe increased the aerobic demand of running by 1%. It makes sense of course. Less weight equals less energy expended moving those shoes and faster times.

But there’s a drop off point, especially when the weight of a shoe is reduced by having less cushioning in the midsole. At a certain point the muscles will begin absorbing the landing shock the cushioning is designed to and that will lead to faster fatigue and greater energy costs.

Interestingly, the Hoka One One range bucks the trend of cutting weight by reducing the amount of midsole cushioning. Some of their thickly cushioned shoes, such as the Cavu and Mach, are only 231g, which is as light as some ‘minimalist’ shoes.

Running shoe manufacturers work tirelessly to find that cushioning sweet spot, particularly with the shoes pitched at the very fastest band of runners.

Because of the reasons given above, we think you can afford to go as light as possible with a shoe for stair climbing, without having to weigh up the same factors you would when picking a pair for road running. We feel there’s not too much need to consider aspects such as traction, responsiveness or the durability of the outsole if you’re only using them for stair running.

If you want to buy a pair exclusively for stair climbing, we’d recommend getting a pair as lightweight as possible. The less weight you have to carry up the stairs, the more energy you’ll save and the faster you’ll be.

Many people have embraced the minimalist shoe trend that’s popped up over the last decade, and we certainly have made use of zero drop shoes with little or no cushioning on both road and stairs, and that type of shoe would be a good choice. But they’re often actually not even the lightest shoes on the market. Plus, they’re not for everyone and lots of people will want at least some sort of cushioning.

New Balance have previously sold shoes that weighed less than 100g, and you can find options from multiple brands weighing less than 180g.

What are the best shoes for running and stair climbing?

But what if you’re not so into tower running that you want to buy a pair of shoes exclusively for it, and you’re looking for a dual-purpose shoe that will serve you well on the stairs and in road races?

Well, you can buy very lightweight shoes with 6mm-10mm drop and decent midfoot cushioning that will be excellent for stair climbing and will also serve you well in road races – provided you have decent running form and economy.

Some examples of this type of shoe include:

But pretty much any racing flat will do the job of a good dual-purpose option.

With all that in mind, we take a closer look at some of the shoes we’ve used for tower running events to give you a flavour of what we prefer to have on our feet when racing/training in the stairwells and why.

Merrell Trail Glove

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This was the first shoe we wore when we began stair racing.

As a trail shoe, which we primarily used it for at the time, we had mixed feelings about it. But on the stairs it was ideal.

Even though it’s a trail shoe, it lacks the deep, chunky tread usually found on trail shoes (making it a bit rubbish for wet/muddy trail conditions). This means you won’t get that sometimes lumpy underfoot feeling you can get when you wear trail shoes on hard flat ground.

It’s a flexible, minimalist ‘zero drop’ shoe that, as the name suggest, has a snug ‘glove’-like fit. This is something we personally look for when picking a running shoe to stair climb in, especially when a tower has lots of landing turns. But it’s not restrictive. We have a wide forefoot and this shoe fits it well, so if you have narrow feet you may well find the toe box a bit roomy.

While we prefer a spacious toe box for flat level running, we find the snugger fit works well for stair climbs. Especially in shorter runs where you’re running at pace and pushing off hard at each landing turn. Too much lateral foot movement inside the shoe can be annoying.

The Merrell Trail Glove has a reassuring Vibram outsole, which grips really well in dry conditions (such as in a stairwell). Even though the outsole grips really well, we never found any issues with the shoe sticking as we pivoted on landing turns, which is another plus point for this shoe.

At 230g per shoe it’s pretty lightweight, and if you race in them without socks, you’ll feel really light and free in the stairwell.

The latest version of this excellent minimalist running shoe is the Merrell Trail Glove 4, which has some design differences to the original version pictured.

Adidas Adizero Adios Boost 3

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We’re a big fan of many of the shoes in Adidas’ Adizero range. Lightweight, well-designed and with Boost cushioning they make for nice, pacey racing shoes. Although the notoriously narrow fitting brand can be a bit of a squeeze for the wide footers out there, we’ve favoured them for 5k and 10k road races and fast training runs for a while. And we’re in good company.

Dennis Kimetto broke the marathon world record in 2016 in a pair of the Adizero Adios Boost, while world tower running champion and perennial podium-topper Piotr Lobodzinski wears a variety of Adidas shoes in the various events he takes part in.

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At the recent La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel in Paris, Lobodzinski (above) appeared to be sporting the Adizero Takumi Sen 3. Weighing just 170g per shoe, these are the second-lightest model you can get in the Adidas Adizero range. The newly launched Sub 2 shoe, designed solely with the two-hour marathon barrier in mind, weighs just 160g.

These super-lightweight running shoes are a great choice for stair climbing. If we were advising on a specific shoe for stair climbing it would be something like one of those two.

For most people, they’re probably only suitable for shorter, flat road races, and even then only if you’re fairly lightweight and have good running form. So they probably aren’t the ideal dual-purpose shoe for most.

We’ve recently ran on road and stairs in the Adizero Adios Boost 3 (pictured above in blue). At 230g they’re still a light shoe, making them a good choice for stair climbing, but they also have enough cushioning to make them comfortable, and more forgiving, for longer runs/races on the road. It’s probably our preferred dual-purpose trainer.

Barefoot

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If you can get away with it, you don’t need to wear shoes at all.

Most event organisers/building managers we’ve encountered have prohibited bare feet in the stairwell on account of health and safety concerns. But we have managed it a couple of times at different events and it’s obviously as lightweight as you can get.

We’d recommend giving it a go, even if just in training. It gives you a greater connection with your surroundings, and the completely stripped-back feeling is a wonderful one. Plus any barefoot training will help strengthen your feet and lower legs, giving you a firm base for your running/stair climbing.

That said, regardless of whether the organisers would allow you to or not, barefoot stair running is not suitable for all races. Outdoor stair climb events, where the steps are sometimes grated, could prove unnecessarily uncomfortable and being barefoot could impair your performance.

We’ve also made use of a couple of Vibram Fivefingers – particularly favouring the KSO Classic, which weighs just 167g. Slipping on a pair of these is a decent alternative to going completely barefoot.

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Susie Drinkwater took the win at Shelter’s Vertical Rush in London, in her debut tower race.

The all-round endurance athlete transitioned seamlessly into stair running, taking victory in a time of 6.11.

She saw off fellow Briton, and tower running rising star, Sarah Frost (6.12), with Italy’s Cristina Bonacina third (6.35).

‘I had absolutely no idea I would win. I was really chuffed with my time, but I hoped for maybe top 10 female in my dreams’, Drinkwater told Tower Running UK.

‘I found the race incredibly hard from the outset. The only thing I can compare it to is a VO2 max test…I felt ill for a good hour afterwards.’

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Warrior’s war paint: victorious Susie Drinkwater at the top of Tower 42, the seventh tallest building in the UK.

Her background in cycling, triathlon and ultra-running obviously gave her a strong base to launch an attack on the leaderboard when she set off in the 10am wave, but she told Tower Running UK she had no idea about pacing or technique.

‘I genuinely had no idea of time or pacing, but had an idea from training I could go near 6.30. I’ve never run up a skyscraper before. I had no idea of technique, I just went for it.’

‘I only trained on a stairclimber – the stair-mill kind – about once a week. I always use it completely hands free and do intervals on it. I started using it at the gym to practice for a hilly ultra last year, and with no real big hills nearby I thought it was a good substitute. But training on it was so much harder than anything I’d done so I kept it up, and when I saw this race it looked like a real challenge, which I love. I will definitely do more.’

She combined this weekly session of stair-mill intervals with yoga, running, cycling and additional strength training, as she prepares for other events this year.

It’s interesting to see what can be achieved without training on actual stairs. We know that the top-level men and women have high-volume training schedules away from the stairs. Piotr Lobodzinski, for example, puts in a massive weekly running mileage alongside his stairwell sessions. But they almost all still work in sessions on the stairs, if only to work on technique.

But Drinkwater’s winning performance suggests you don’t need access to stairs at all to do well in the sport.

Her time and win were all the more impressive given she was caught up in a congested stairwell during her run.

‘I thought I was at the front of my wave when we went out to start for the warm up, but then we turned round and I ended up in the middle, which I took as a lesson for next time because I went out hard but found it really congested for a few floors at about level 15 where I had to walk.’

With plans to race again at some point, Drinkwater is undoubtedly one to keep an eye on for the future. Given this debut showing, she clearly has the potential to challenge some of the top ladies in the world.

Manzi takes overall win at Shelter’s Vertical Rush 2018
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In the men’s division it was Italian mountain-runner and elite stair climber Emanuele Manzi who raced to victory in a blistering time of 4.38.

With the bulk of Europe’s top racers in Paris for La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel, and Vertical Rush no longer on the Vertical World Circuit tour, there was a dearth of elite level competition in attendance. The race was Manzi’s to lose.

His closest competition was expected to come from the British pair of Mark Sims and Elliot Slaughter, who had gone head-to-head in Leicester the weekend before.

Setting off in the 8am wave, in what was only his third stair race, Slaughter set an impressive benchmark of 5.01. This was a huge 10 second improvement on the time he clocked in his debut race at Vertical Rush 2017.

Manzi and Sims both set off in the 11am wave, and it was the Italian who pushed the pace. He reached the top of the 932 steps in 4.38, slightly slower than the time he ran last year.

Sims, who had actually finished ahead of Manzi at Vertical Rush in 2016, failed to dip under the five-minute mark for the first time since 2012. However, his finishing time of 5.00 was enough to push Slaughter back into third place.

Vertical Rush 2018 results

The full results are available here.

A selection of photos from the day can be viewed on the Shelter Facebook page.

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Elliot Slaughter and Sarah Frost took the overall victories at the LOROS Tower Run at St George’s Tower on Saturday, and smashed the men’s and women’s course records in the process.

It was the third edition of the LOROS Tower Run, and fast times were expected at the 351-step sprint event in Leicester city centre, which welcomed close to 400 runners.

LOROS Tower Run 2018

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In only his second stair race, Kent athlete Slaughter held off a strong challenge from last year’s event winner, and previous record holder, Mark Sims to take the win in a new record time of 1.27.9.

Sims, who was previously undefeated at the venue, finished just behind in a time of 1.32.3. David Harris, coming off the back of two wins last weekend, ran Sims close and finished third in 1:35.6.

In the ladies division it was race favourite Sarah Frost who took victory ahead of strong competition from Sonja Shakespeare and Chiara Cristoni.

Having set a course record last year at the 530-step Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, speedster Frost was hotly fancied to chase down the St George’s Tower record. She succeeded in destroying the previous record of 2.06.93 as she finished in 1.49.

Following her was the in-form Shakespeare in 1.51, who also went well under the previous record, while Chiara Cristoni made it three under the previous record as she finished in 2.06.7.

Full results here.

Attention now turns to Thursday’s Vertical Rush event at London’s Tower 42 where Slaughter and Sims will clash again. They’ll be joined by Italy’s Emanuele Manzi, who will be among those pushing for top spot in the absence of other elite European stair climbers who will be racing at the Eiffel Tower that same evening.

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The UK tower running season so far

Posted: March 6, 2018 in News

With four races already run, and another to come this Saturday in Leicester, the 2018 UK tower running season is off to a flying start. We round up all the results so far.

Conquer the Tower 2018 – Action on Hearing Loss,  Broadgate Tower, London

The season kicked off on February 17th at London’s Broadgate Tower. In the absence of top European competition, it was reigning UK tower running champion Mark Sims who was the favourite heading into the event.

But having recently returned following a knee injury, there was anticipation that Sims, who has routinely been the fastest Briton at the venue in recent years, may be ripe for the taking. David Harris was tipped to push him all the way.

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Indeed, the pair were the only ones to dip under the coveted sub-five minute mark. Sims took overall victory in 4.36, with Harris second in 4.59. Cameron Collier completed the podium in 5.28.

In the women’s division, the rising star of Sonja Shakespeare showed no sign of fading as she took victory in 5.41. Chiara Cristoni took second in 5.49, with Elaine Battson taking third in 6.17.

The Christie Tower Run 2018 – Beetham Tower, Manchester

The following weekend the action headed north to Manchester. Again Sims was expected to be up among the top finishers, but with the sport growing in popularity the chance of new talent being unearthed increases with every event.

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As it happened it was a complete newcomer who took the win. Local-man John Tullo stormed to victory in 4.27, pipping Sims by just five seconds. Jamie Ellis Marsland took third in 4.45. Hopefully Tullo will be seen at other events this year, as he’s an obvious talent that could do well in the sport.

Sonja Shakespeare made it two wins from two 2018 UK races as she reached the top in 5.39, taking an impressive 1.17 off her time last year in the process. The win was all the more impressive considering she has raced a heat and final at the highly competitive Rondo 1 race in Warsaw, Poland the day before.

Last year’s winner Elaine Battson secured second place in 5.59, a 34-second improvement on her PB. Marta Cosp was just behind in 6.04.

GOSH Walkie Talkie Tower Climb (20 Fenchurch Street), London

The action returned to London this past weekend (3rd March), where we saw two races on the same day. The Walkie Talkie Building played host to the first event.

David Harris set himself apart from the competition as he was the only racer to dip under the five minute mark. His speedy finish of 4.53 was more than enough to take victory in the men’s division from James Montgomery in 5.12 and Nishad Manerikar in 5.26.

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Sarah Frost, a relative newcomer to the sport but already an established force, raced to victory, and third place overall, in 5.17. The ever-present Sonja Shakespeare had to settle for second place this time around as she finished just slightly behind in 5.22. Chiara Cristoni was third in 5.48.

Step Up: Ellenor’s Tower Run Challenge, Broadgate Tower, London

Just a short time later the action began again up the road at Broadgate Tower, with many stair climbers heading straight from the Walkie Talkie Building to race the double.

Once again it was the impressive Harris who took victory in a PB of 4.55. He held off a strong challenge from Slovakia’s Patrik Schneidgen (5.05) who was returning to action after some time away from the sport. Will Obeney took the final podium spot in 5.25.

Sonja Shakespeare and Sarah Frost went head-to-head once more for honours in the ladies division, and it was Shakespeare who managed to reverse fortunes and take victory in a time of 5.35.

Sarah Frost took second in 5.44, ahead of Elaine Battson who finished in 6.08.

Check out our results page to find links to all the results so far in 2018.

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It’s 50 years since the first fully-recorded stair race in the UK took place in April 1968 at the GPO Tower (now BT Tower).

Although an undocumented event involving London students took place the year before, 1968 serves as a key point in the sport’s history in this country. We take a look back through the archives, and chat to some of the participants, to find out more about that historic and trailblazing race.

Read on to find out more about the sport’s history in the UK, including who took part in that race in 1968 and what the winning time was.

The GPO Tower

The tower had been commissioned by the General Post Office to support microwave aerials carrying telecommunications transmissions from London to the rest of the country. Work began in June 1961 and was finished in July 1964, at a cost of £2.5 million.

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The tower under construction in 1963.

Upon completion the tower became the tallest building in the UK – a title it would hold until the completion of the Natwest Tower (Tower 42) in 1980.

It wasn’t until October 1965 that it would officially open, in a ceremony with then Prime Minister Harold Wilson in attendance.

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Prime Minister Harold Wilson officially opening the tower, with former Prime Minister Clement Atlee (seated) and a young Tony Benn watching on.

The first documented tower race in the UK

The race took place on Thursday 18th April 1968. It was organised by students from nearby University College, London as part of the RAG Committees activities that year. RAG is a longstanding, and still popular, tradition at UK universities, where students engage in a variety of activities, including sports events and sponsored challenges, to raise money for charitable causes.

The small piece pictured below featured in the Aberdeen Evening Express on Wednesday 10 April 1968, just over a week before the event.

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The next one is taken from the Coventry Evening Telegraph on Friday 12th April 1968.

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Details about who was involved at the University of London, and how they managed to organise the event, have proved hard to come by. But we do know an invite/challenge was extended to students at the University of Edinburgh, who tied it in with their own Charities Week initiative up there.

By the time the event finished, the Londoners may well have regretted their choice of competition. Edinburgh sent down a team made up of members of the athletics and cross-country teams. They were among the best athletes in the country at the time.

Earlier in 1968, the University of Edinburgh Hare and Hounds cross-country team had won the British Universities Cross Country title. They had also won the team title at the Scottish National Cross Country Championship, becoming the first and only university team to have done so.

The Edinburgh team that attended the event was made up of: Hugh Stevenson (high hurdles), Jack MacFie (800m and cross-country), Iain Hathorn (400/800m and cross country), Andy McKean, John Exley and Ken Fyfe (all cross country). Also in attendance was Sheila Duncan, the only woman racing on the day.

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The Edinburgh University team celebrating their success

The seven-person Edinburgh team completely dominated the event. The men filled the top six places on the leaderboard, with cross-country athlete and 800m track specialist Jack MacFie taking the overall win, and establishing the course record, in a time of 4.46.

The previous record, set in 1967 by an unknown University of London student, stood at 6.02.

Behind him were Andy McKean (4.59), Ken Fyfe and Iain Hathorn (5.10), John Exley (5.32) and Hugh Stevenson (5.35).

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The six men of the University of Edinburgh team (note – our name spellings are correct)

Sheila Duncan finished in a time of 7.06. She was a multi-eventer on the university’s athletics team, but was better known as a hockey player who went on to represent the Scottish national team.

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Sheila Duncan

Memories of the race

We got in touch with Andy McKean, a first year architecture student at the time, and team mates John Exley and Hugh Stevenson, to find out what memories remained of that race 50 years ago. Following the event, Andy went on to win four Scottish Cross Country titles, represented Scotland at international races, and competed in the inaugural World Cross Country Championship in 1973.

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Andy McKean in action (image courtesy of www.scottishdistancerunninghistory.scot).

“I think our participation may have been in some way associated with the Edinburgh Charities Week – i.e as a kind of charity stunt. I recall receiving a t-shirt emblazoned with the GPO Tower and a charity name, although I cannot remember which one. It must have been organised rather at the last minute and on a shoe string: we all traveled down by car the night before (fortunately with other friends driving), and back to Edinburgh again overnight the night after; so I was absolutely knackered when we got home!”

Remarkably, Hugh Stevenson still had his 50-year old t-shirt when we heard from him. He told us the team had been sponsored by the Scottish Milk Marketing Board in aid of Edinburgh Student Charities, and the t-shirts had ‘Edinburgh Charities Strong Pintamen up GPO Tower’ written on them.

For those of you who have raced the BT Tower in recent years, you will recall how narrow the stairwell is. A problem that hindered McKean on the day:

“In truth I was a bit too tall for it, as the space was fairly confined and actually felt quite claustrophobic at times.”

But he recalls the victorious Jack MacFie was well suited to it:

“Yes, Jack was indeed the fastest on the day, and I remember us all reflecting afterwards that he had exactly the right build for the event, slightly stocky (by distance running standards) but sufficiently strong and agile for managing the steps and turns at the stair landings.”

Yes, those pioneers immediately recognised the importance of quick landing turns to success in stair running.

There was lots of media coverage on the day from newspapers and national TV, including the video below.

Hugh Stevenson recalled well-known TV presenter Alex Mackintosh interviewing race winner Jack MacFie.

“‘Well Jack, now that you’ve got your breath back, how does it feel to be World All Comers Record Holder for the Post Office Tower?’. To which the reply was, ‘All right I suppose.’ The nightmare continued with, ‘How are the team going to celebrate your victory tonight?’ Jack replied, ‘Have a few drinks I suppose, then drive back up to Edinburgh’ Cue panic cries from producer, ‘Cut! Cut! Can’t have that!’.”

Despite the large amount of media coverage on the day and the morning after, we found it hard to get hold of, with practically all of it kept behind the pay walls of multiple archive search engines. But thankfully, Hugh shared with us several newspaper clippings from the event he had in his scrapbook.

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Thigh and mighty: the imposing Edinburgh team

Funnily, one journalist commented:

In years to come the Tower Race could take the place of the old-styled boat race between Oxford and Cambridge.

50 years on and disappointingly nothing close to that has materialised, and the sport in the UK is still very much in its infancy in terms of numbers of participants, media coverage, recognition and respect.

GPO Tower race 1969 and 1970

The organisers managed to run the event again in 1969, expanding it to include students from eight universities, but without the participation of the University of Edinburgh.

John Pearson of Manchester University was fastest in 1969, reaching the top in 5.07.

1970 would be the last year this University of London-organised event took place. Scottish athlete Norman Morrison, at the time a mathematics student at Imperial College, won the event and set a new course record of 4.21.

The only woman at the event that year was Hilary Tanner, representing Hull University. Like the fastest man at the race, she also set a new course record, with her time of 7.00.

An IRA bomb at the BT Tower in 1971 led to its closure to the public, and the event never returned.

Unfortunately, it would be decades before tower running returned to anywhere in the UK. In the intervening years the sport took off in North America, with the 1978 Empire State Building Run-Up being the first event, and now the longest continuously running stair climb event.

Suzy Walsham returned to New York City on Wednesday night to secure a record ninth victory in the women’s race at the Empire State Building. In the men’s division, it was Colombia’s Frank Nicolas Carreno, the current world number two, who took the overall win.

Having won the event every year since 2013, Australia’s Walsham was widely tipped to take victory again. However, last year’s runner-up, American Cindy Harris, who has competed at the event over 20 times was expected to push her hard the whole way.

Former top-three finishers Shari Klarfeld and Stephanie Hucko were also expected to be in the mix at the close of play.

With the impressive Harris coming off  back-to-back victories last month at the Dallas Vertical Mile and the Bop to the Top event in Indianapolis, there was anticipation that she could get a lot closer to Walsham than she had in previous attempts.

In 2016 she finished almost three minutes back from the reigning world champion, as she took third place.

Last year she closed the gap significantly, cutting the time between her and Walsham to just over a minute, securing second place in the process.

The veteran Harris, who is a four-time winner at the ESBRU, did not disappoint. Only a mere 20 seconds stood between her and world number one Walsham when the race was finished.

In what was the third slowest finishing time of all her victories, the almost invincible Walsham made it nine in a row, in a winning time of 12.56.

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‘This year was a bit tough for me’ said Walsham. ‘It felt a little bit harder than previous years. I’ve had a bit of an interrupted build-up, so I think it might have been a smile of relief when I crossed the finish line today’.

When asked if she planned to return in 2019 to attempt to claim a record 10th victory, Walsham replied, ‘I’d love to get 10, so yes!’.

Shari Klarfeld took third place in 13.43, cutting an impressive 18 seconds off her 2017 finishing time, and setting a personal record in the process.

ESBRU debutant Carreno secures a straightforward win
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In the absence of any of his fellow top-10 world-ranked stair climbers, Frank Nicolas Carreno was a clear favourite going into the men’s elite event, despite it being his first time racing at the 86-floor building in Midtown Manhattan.

In what turned out to be one of the slowest races in recent history,  he took a comfortable victory in an official time of 10.50. Although it was the slowest winning time since 1989, it was more than enough to secure the win for the young Colombian.

Belgium’s Omar Bekkali took second in 11.53, the only other sub-12 minute finishing time on the night. American veteran Sproule Love secured his fifth ESBRU podium finish in a time of 12.10.

The full race results are available here.