Archive for the ‘Tower running history’ Category

1906 eiffel tower race

Tower running returned to the Eiffel Tower in 1906, as athletes from around France gathered to see if they could break the course record set the year before.

At the time, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest structure in the world, and on 26th November 1905 it had hosted what is believed to be the first recorded tower race in history. On that day, cyclist Eugene Forestier was the fastest up the 729 steps that led to the second platform of the tower. His winning time was 3:12.80.

A year on from that inaugural event and some of the best athletes from the French running and cycling scene arrived in Paris with one goal in mind; break Forestier’s record. Find out about the Eiffel Tower stair race of 1905, or read on for the story of the second edition.

Championnat de la tour Eiffel 1906

The second Eiffel Tower stair race took place on Sunday 18th November 1906. As it had been the year before, the event was organised by a publication called Les Sports.

Once again, the race involved running up 729 steps to the second platform (of three) of the tower. The reason they didn’t run to the top is the organisers felt the stairs on the upper levels were too narrow, and that it could have proved dangerous once the stairwell became crowded.

1906 crowds

Crowds of spectators gather underneath the Eiffel Tower to watch the athletes run

Far less people signed up for the second edition than had attended the debut race. In 1905, 300 people had signed up, with 283 making it to the start line. This time around, 200 people signed up but only 140 (some reports say 150) eventually lined up to race.

Although there were fewer people in attendance, the quality of athletes was stronger. Back to defend his title was Eugene Forestier, the cyclist who had won the race in 1905 in a time of 3:12.80.

Joining him were a host of ‘champions’, although newspaper reports fail to specify exactly what they had won. But, further research has revealed at least some of the accomplishments of a few of those in attendance.

Among those listed as ‘champions of France’ were Eugene Neveu (a top long-distance runner, up to marathon distance) – L. Orphée (a cyclist), L. Mosnier and E. Fantou.

According to a report in La Liberté, the ‘Belgian champion’ Verstraete was also there. We were unable to find records relating to that name, but a François Verstraeten was a top level cyclist at the time, who had won the Paris to Ostend race in 1906 and went on to become the Belgian Road Champion in 1907 and 1908. It may be him they were referring to.

Louis Bouchard, billed as ‘champion of Paris’ was there, too. A year earlier, he had been the French record holder for the 10,000m with a time of 33:14, but that record had since been eclipsed by his great rival, Gaston Ragueneau.

Bouchard has finished second behind Ragueneau at the French Cross Country Championship in 1905 and 1906.

louis bouchard

Louis Bouchard (l) and Gaston Ragueneau race for the finish line at the Challenge de La Nézière in 1905

Louis bouchard 2

Louis Bouchard (41) in the lead (ahead of Ragueneau) at the Paris Cross Country Championship, 1905

Other runners and cyclists singled out for mention in the newspapers were Louis Prévôt, L. Mephisto, E. Figniez, Tonnin and Piel. Although some of these names pop up in race records from around the time, it’s been difficult to find firm details on any of these men.

L.Orphee 1905

Champion cyclist, L. Orphée

The racers were split into different waves depending on which federation or category they belonged to. Category winners would receive a gold-plated medal, while second place would take home ‘an artistic medal’.

In the women’s wave, Mme. Baube was the only competitor to finish (or possibly even start) and won by default. She climbed the 739 steps in 7:44 (or 7:26 according to one report).

Mme Baube 1906

Mme. Baube, winner of the women’s division at the 1906 Eiffel Tower stair climb

Finishing in around the same time as Mme. Baube was a Mr. Wachoru, who climbed all the steps in 7:37. The key difference being he did it while carrying a 50kg sack on his back.

1906 50kg bag climb

Wachoru

In the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques wave, L. Frederick clocked 3:25 to win bragging rights among his fellow federation members. He was followed by Agogué in 3:43 and Ceroni in 3:50.

All eyes were on the wave of runners from the Union Vélocipédique de France, as among them was the 1905 winner, Eugene Forestier.

Unfortunately for Forestier, he was unable to repeat his triumph and had to settle for second place in his wave. Thiebaut finished in 3:18.40 and Forestier in 3:19.40. In third place was Chenot in 4:01.

1906 Thiebaut

Thiebaut on his way to winning his wave

Next up were athletes from La Fédération cycliste et athlétique de France (FCAF). Fastest among them was Peuvrel, who clocked 3:56.20.

In the Indépendants category, a strong performance from J. Bielen saw him go into the overall lead, ahead of Thiebaut, with a time of 3:18.20. G. Lepage followed in 3:36.20, just ahead of Goulet in 3:37.60.

Apparently Bielen’s father was one of the people who painted the Eiffel Tower after the completion of its construction in 1889.

1906 J Bielen

J. Bielen finished in 3:18.20

1906 eiffel tower race

J. Bielen poses for a photo

With Forestier failing to clock the fastest time, he had to stand by and see if anyone in the Professionnels category might take the title ahead of Bielen.

Three members of the Club des Sports – L. Prévôt , L. Mephisto and E. Neveu – all finished ahead of Bielen and beat the previous course record.

1906 Eiffel tower race 2

Orphée, Neveu and Mephisto (l-r) on the stairs of the Eiffel Tower

1906 climbers

Club des Sports: Orphée, Mephisto and Neveu (front to back) pose for a photo (although it seems unusual that it’s not Prévôt alongside Neveu and Mephisto, the original caption says it’s Orphée)

Louis Prévôt finished in 3:12.40, beating the existing record by less than half a second. L. Mephisto then smashed that time when he reached the top in 3:04.40.

But overall victory went to the long-distance runner, Eugene Neveu. He won by the narrowest of margins with a time of 3:04 flat.

1906 Neveu winner

Eugene Neveu, winner of the Eiffel Tower stair climb 1906

‘Neveu’s time of 3:04 is simply wonderful, as it beats Forestier’s record by 8 seconds. We saw how much effort the victor had to produce to accomplish such a feat’, wrote one reporter.

Although 140-150 competitors lined up at the start, it was reported that only 93 completed the course. ‘A magnificent average’, according to one newspaper, ‘if one thinks of the effort that must be made to climb 730 steps in one go.’

If only they knew what the future held.

Championnat de la Tour Eiffel 1906 results (top six):

  • E. Neveu – 3:04
  • L. Mephisto – 3:04.40
  • L. Prévôt – 3:12.40
  • J. Bielen – 3:18.20
  • Thiebaut – 3:18.40
  • E. Forestier – 3:19.40

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

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

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

The venue: The Monument to the Great Fire of London

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

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

London in 1730

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

The Monument close up

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

The Monument in 1753

The Monument in 1753.

The wager: the Baptist Head Tavern, Old Bailey

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

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

Old Bailey map Baptist Tavern

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

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

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

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

The Monument stairs

The narrow staircase inside The Monument.

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

The actual copy from the Weekly Journal is reproduced below:

1730 exerpt

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

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

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

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

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-1997199819992000200120022003, 200420052006 or 2007 instead.

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

Racing as the champ

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

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

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

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

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

BERP1_ParkInn-Berlin-ExteriorView

The Park Inn hotel in Berlin

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

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

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

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

Dold Stuttgart TV Tower 2007

Dold celebrates his win at the Stuttgart TV Tower

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

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

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

The man to beat Dold?

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

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

Pirelli Tower race Milan

Pirelli Tower, Milan

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

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

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

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

Marco De Gasperi 1997

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

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

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

Taipei 101 Run Up 2007

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

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

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

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

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

tAIPEI 101 2007 START

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

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

AM T101 2007

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

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

Suzy Walsham Taipei 101 Run Up

Suzy Walsham, second place at Taipei 101 Run Up 2007

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

World Mountain Running Champion vs ESBRU Champion

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

Thomas Dold Taipei 101

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

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

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

Taipe de gasperi

Marco De Gasperi reaches the top of Taipei 101

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

Taipei 101 2007 winners

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

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

Empire State Building Run-Up 2008

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

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

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

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

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

2008 walsham warmup

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

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

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

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

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

The defending champion looked fully focused.

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

YSTAIRCASE1-jumbo

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

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

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

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

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

2008 walsham wins

Suzy Walsham wins the 2007 Empire State Building Run-Up

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

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

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

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

Dold vs De Gasperi II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RICKEY GATES

Rickey Gates winning the 2007 US 10km Trail Running Championships

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

Over before it started

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then the shit show really starts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2008mensstart

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

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

2008 mens start final

Marco De Gasperi falls at the start of the race

de gasperi falls

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

2008 deGasperi on floor

Marco De Gasperi scrambles towards the stairwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2008 dold celebrates at line

DOLD WINS 2008

DOLD WINS 2

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

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

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

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

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

2008 WINNERS 2

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

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

 

2008 Empire State Building Run-Up results

1980s westin stamford

Home to some of the biggest races in tower running, Asia is fast becoming the main arena of the sport. But stair running is nothing new to the region – Singapore has been hosting races for over 30 years.

Swissotel The Stamford hotel in Raffles City, Singapore is famous in the lore of tower running, most notably as the venue for the stair racing debut of the incredible Suzy Walsham in 2006. But the Australian superstar’s first race at the Vertical Marathon was actually the 20th edition of the event.

Read on to find out how the Asian tower running scene began in Singapore in 1987.

Back in 1987, the now Swissotel The Stamford was part of the Westin chain of hotels. William McCreary was managing director of Westin Stamford and the nearby Plaza, and under his stewardship the two hotels jointly designed to organise the first stair race event in the region.

As the tallest hotel in the world at the time, the 226-metre high Stamford was selected as the venue for the event. With 1,336 steps spread over 73 floors, the building would prove quite a challenge to the first time runners in Singapore.

All the funds raised by the ‘Vertical Marathon’ would go to the Community Chest, which had been established in 1983 to raise funds for social welfare projects in Singapore.

The trial run

Practice sessions in buildings hosting tower runs aren’t unique and nowadays a number of large events, particularly in the United States, grant participants access to the stairs weeks in advance of the race.

But the Vertical Marathon in 1987 was slightly different in that it appears to have officially timed the trial run, which was held in February a full three months before the big race in May.

The fastest man and woman at the trial run even got their pictures in one of the biggest English-language newspapers in Singapore, The Straits Times.

Time trial winners 1987

David Cheah Fook Choy, a 25-year old technician with the Public Utilities Board, was fastest to the top with a time of 8:20.

Mr Cheah said he was exhausted after the first 40 floors and had to walk the remaining 33. ‘But the heavenly view you catch at the top of the building makes it all worth the while’, he added.

The fastest woman in the trial was a 31-year old British athlete, Helen Gilbey, a lecturer at the College of Physical Education. Already a well-established athlete in Singapore with a number of road races of varying distances under her belt, Gilbey finished with a trial time of 10:05.

‘After running 50 floors, oooh! I had to pull myself up using the safety banisters’, she told reporters.

The pair would head into the main race as firm favourites.

Vertical Events Sports Association

Before the main event had even taken place, an industrious group had got together and formed the Vertical Events Sports Association (VESA). The stated aims of the association were to promote and organise ‘all forms of vertical sport, including climbing steps or walking and running up high buildings’.

The Association was met with incredulity. It took six months for the Registrar of Societies to sign off on it – double the usual length of time it took to register a new association.

But Kenneth Jalleh, President of VESA, was determined to show this was no joke. ‘In no way are we going to try and push this as a fun thing. This is serious’, he told reporters. ‘Nobody realises just how good an exercise this is. It’s aerobic, it builds up a lot of strength and it’s dirt cheap’.

‘And we’ve got some of the tallest buildings in the world and most Singaporeans live in high-rise buildings’, added honorary secretary Kelvin Tan.

Jalleh also referenced the growing popularity of the sport in the USA and said that in 1986 a stair climb event at the World Trade Center had attracted 26,000 participants (Ed. note – this number seems almost impossible and we’ve been unable to find additional references to this event happening).

A public health warning

A little under a month before the race took place, The Straits Times carried an interview with two doctors, under the headline – ‘Vertical run only for very fit’.

The pair advised that those thinking of taking part in the upcoming Vertical Marathon should be very fit and train for the event.

Dr Low Lip Ping from the Singapore National Heart Association said: ‘I would not recommend anyone to take part in such an event as stairs racing, because it gives the person little chance to warm up and thus cause the blood pressure to go up too fast.’

Dr Giam Choo Kiong, Head of Sports Medicine and Research at the Singapore Sports Council added: ‘Running up stairs has been shown to be up to three times as strenuous as running on the level. Therefore, running up stairs continuously is not recommended for people who are unfit or do not train for such an activity.’

By this point, less than four weeks out from the race, 100 people had already signed up. They did so by picking up an entry form from the HR departments at either the Plaza or Stamford hotels.

The first Singapore Vertical Marathon

On Sunday 3rd May 1987 the first Singapore Vertical Marathon took place. 180 of the 250 available spaces had been filled, with 130 men and 50 women at the start line.

Participants had to be between 16 and 40 years old and each was asked to raise at least $73 – a dollar for each floor of the hotel they would be running up.

The prize for the fastest man and woman was a two-night stay at the Executive Suite of the Westin Plaza with American breakfast included, plus a year’s free membership at Raffles City Health Club.

The event got underway at 9am, with batches of four runners setting off every two minutes. Officials from the Singapore Amateur Athletic Association acted as marshals, timekeepers and recorders.

Spectators were gathered on the ground floor of the hotel to follow the action. Seven cameras had been set up at various points throughout the stairwell to relay the event live.

With her marathon-running background and strong trial run time of 10:05, Helen Gilbey was favourite to take the win in the women’s division. She told reporters she was hoping to finish in under 9:30. Gilbey did even better than anticipated, reaching the rooftop finish in 9:04.

Helen Gilbey SVM 1987

Helen Gilbey exits onto the rooftop of the Stamford hotel to win the first Singapore Vertical Marathon in 1987

Leong Siew May finished second in 10:25, and Tan Meow Liang was third in 10:41.

In the men’s race, Kenneth Keng took victory in 7:20. A successful athlete for a number of years, Keng had won the Singapore triathlon from 1983-1985.

Ken Keng 1987

He edged out the February trial run winner David Cheah who finished in 7:47. Another triathlete, Martin Hagger, finished third in 8:12.

Keng told reporters that the race was ‘grueling’, but that he’d do it again next year.

The organisers put forward Kenneth Keng’s and Helen Gilbey’s name to the Guinness Book of Records, and apparently Keng was listed in the 1987 edition.

The whole event raised $20,000 dollars for the Community Chest of Singapore.

1988 Singapore Vertical Marathon

Both 1987 winners returned on Sunday 8th May 1988 to defend their titles.

Kenneth Keng secured victory in a time of 7:35.

‘I went too fast in the beginning’, he said. ‘I should be very happy with the time as I’ve just recovered from the flu.’

Helen Gilbey said before the race she was aiming to finish in ‘anything under nine minutes’. She did just that, setting a new course record of 8:46.

‘I’m very pleased, and very relieved it’s all over as well’, said Gilbey. ‘My husband and I live in a 14-storey apartment block and we have been running nine times up the stairs three times a week. This has been going on for the last six to eight weeks.’

1988 singapore winners

Helen Gilbey and Kenneth Keng celebrate winning the 1988 Singapore Vertical Marathon

 

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20 years before La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel started in 2015, there was a one-off race up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower.

On Sunday 3rd December 1995, 75 runners lined up to race up the 1,665 steps of the iconic Paris landmark.

The start list was packed full of many of the best French athletes of the day.

In the women’s race there was marathoner Irina Kazakova, plus the newly crowned French 1500m champion Frédérique Quentin, who’d also won the national championship in 1992, and would go on to defend it from 1996-1998.

quentin

Frédérique Quentin (#16) racing with Sonia O’Sullivan

The brilliant mountain runner Isabelle Guillot was also there. Guillot had won the World Mountain Running Championships in 1989, 1991 and 1993, and had finished second in 1994 and 1995.

Isabelle Guillot

Isabelle Guillot

In the men’s division there were the triathletes, Xavier Galea and Yves Lossouarn, plus mountain runners Eric Lacroix and Jean-Paul Payet, who was second at the World Mountain Running Championships in 1991 and 1992.

Yves Lossouarn took victory in the men’s race with a time of 8:51, while Irina Kazakova was the fastest woman in 9:56.

With course record holder Andrea Mayr calling it a day at the ESBRU, a powerhouse of Australian athletics stepped forward to attempt to carry on her country’s winning tradition in New York. Meanwhile, the reigning men’s champion Thomas Dold was back to defend his title.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-1997199819992000200120022003, 20042005 or 2006 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 2007.

Genesis

At the time of the 20th edition of the Swissotel Vertical Marathon in Singapore on 19th November 2006 there seemed to be nothing particularly noteworthy about the event. As had been the case since the Westin Stamford hotel first hosted the race in 1987, a good spread of runners from Singapore and beyond turned up to compete. But future events would go on to show that the 20th edition of that race was one of the most significant moments in tower running history; the debut of Suzy Walsham.

Swissotel Stamford Singapore

Swissotel The Stamford in Singapore

Very few of the people at the Swissotel that day would have known they were lining up against one of Australia’s top athletes, and even fewer would have known that the soon-to-turn 33-year old Walsham had emerged at the top of Australian middle-distance running 15 years ago. Her athletic journey to Singapore had been remarkable.

Suzy Walsham had been competing at a high level since the mid to late 1980s, finishing well every year in a range of distances at the Australian All Schools’ Track and Field Championships. In 1988 she broke the Australian under-16 women’s record for the 1500m.

Suzy Walsham 1988

14-year old Suzy Walsham in 1988, running at the site of what would later become the Sydney Olympic Park

Her performances steadily improved until she was eventually selected to represent Australia at the inaugural World Junior Women’s Cross Country Championships in Stavanger, Norway in March 1989. Competing against some of the best young runners in the world, many of whom were significantly older than her, the 15-year old Walsham put in an excellent run to finish in ninth place.

You can watch the young Walsham at those championships in the video below. Click forward to 5:07 and you will see her come into shot in the gold top and green shorts wearing #9.

Walsham 1989 3

Suzy Walsham in 1989. She raced barefoot for a lot of her teenage years.

Walsham 1989

A year later, Walsham, now 16, was competing in the 1990 Australian National Championships in the under-18 and under-20 divisions. She had set a PB of 4:11.04 at the beginning of 1990, a time that actually ranked her #1 in the world for U/20 that year, so was in fantastic form.

A precocious talent, she won the 1500m and 3000m under-20 races, plus the under-18 800m title at the national championships. Interestingly, Suzanne Malaxos, who had just won the second of her two ESBRU titles (1989-1990), was also competing at the national championships that year, where she finished second in the senior 10km track race.

Walsham’s impressive wins earned her a spot on the Australian team that was heading to Plovdiv, Bulgaria for the 1990 World Junior Athletics Championships in August.

But disaster struck just three months months before the World Junior Championships when Walsham developed a stress fracture. The battle was now on just to get to the start line. Up until 10 days before the championships she was unable to run at all and was limited to just pool running. But the indomitable Walsham battled on and made it to Plovdiv.

In the 1500m event, she finished 4th in her heat, with a time of 4:23.66, which was good enough to earn her automatic qualification for the final the following day.

The full final is in the video below (intros start at 33:47). Despite the horrible build up to the championships, Walsham still ran a good race. Understandably she was just a little off the pace of the top runners. She finished in 4:19.23, which placed her 8th in a field of 15.

Finishing eight seconds off her PB was disappointing of course, but given the circumstances Walsham was happy enough with her performance. The winner, Qu Yunxia of China (4:13.67), went on to win Olympic 1500m bronze two years later in 1992 and World Championship gold in the 5000m in 1993.

Walsham actually finished ahead of Olga Yegorova who would go on to win World Championship gold in the 5000m in 2001.

A few months later at the 1991 Australian Track and Field Championships in Sydney in February, Walsham was competing for her first senior title aged just 17.

She was up against the likes of Jodie Hebbard, who’d finished second in the 1500m at the 1982 and 1984 national championships as a teenager, and Anne Cross, who was third in the same event the year before.

walsham barefeet

“Suzy’s blistered feet after a weekend on the track. The tape she uses as protection, however, peels back the damaged skin to expose raw flesh which constantly requires bathing in salt water. One blister was so big and painful that it halted her training for a week. Fearing it was infected, Walsham went to a doctor who was shocked by what he saw. ‘The blister had spread right up into my toes, and the doctor had never seen anything like it’, she said.” – March 1991

Walsham had spent a lot of her youth competing barefoot but had recently made the switch to using spikes on the track.

suzy

Walsham 1991

Suzy Walsham, 1991

Walsham ran an excellent race, shocking many and winning her first 1500m senior title in 4:12.40.

A month later, Walsham was back out on international duty, competing in the junior women’s race at the 1991 World Cross Country Championship in Belgium. There was a strong field of runners assembled, including future multi-Olympic and world champions, plus the current marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe.

Once more Walsham proved she could more than hold her own with the best in the world. She managed to finish 13th in the field of 124 finishers, and even crossed the line ahead of Paula Radcliffe who was 15th.

A decline in fortunes

And then things started to go wrong. Beset by injuries and illness, Walsham’s athletic career stuttered before it had the chance to pick up full steam.

In 1992, Walsham didn’t get to defend her senior 1500m title at the Australian Championships. Instead she ran in the under-20s race, where she finished 4th. It was a frustrating time for the promising young athlete as she struggled to meet the same times that had earned her her first title 12 months prior.

Just over a couple of weeks later, she was in Boston for the junior women’s race at the 1992 World Cross Country Championship. She finished 76th out of 104 racers. Paula Radcliffe won the race.

Walsham didn’t feature in the 1993 national championships, but did return to the senior ranks in 1994 where she finished 7th in the 1500m.

She finished 7th again in the 1500m in 1995, but was still struggling to get back to the form that had secured her first senior title in 1991.

Then from 1996-1998, Walsham didn’t appear at the nationals at all, and it’s hard to find any results for her during this period.

Emerging from the shadows

But toward the end of 1998, Walsham began to emerge again, picking up podium places at regional races and racing in the 800m as well as the 1500m. She took this good form into the start of 1999, picking up wins and podium places in the 1500m and 800m at races in Sydney and Canberra. The comeback was on.

She wasn’t quite there yet to race at the 1999 or 2000 national championships, but she finished 9th at the Australian Olympic Trials for the 1500m in August 2000.

Walsham 2000

Suzy Walsham on the comeback trail in January 2000

Then on Saturday 24th March 2001, a decade after winning her first national senior title, Walsham was finally back on the start line for another 1500m national championship race. She was the fastest in the heats the day before and headed into the final full of confidence.

Her incredible determination and perseverance earned her a second Australian Championship title. Her winning time of 4:14.61 was the quickest she’d run for some time.

Walsham nationals 2001

On her way to winning the 1500m at the 2001 Australian Championships

In February 2002 she won the 800m and the 1500m at the NSW Championships, but could only manage 5th in the 1500m at the Australian Championships in April. At the end of the year, Walsham began to work with a new coach, Said Aouita.

Aouita, a former world record holder for the 1500m and 5000m, had won 5000m gold at the 1984 Olympics and 1987 World Championships, and bronze in the 800m in Seoul in 1988. Walsham began to improve immediately under his guidance.

In April 2003, Walsham won her third national title, taking victory in the 1500m in 4:12.96.

Walsham wins 2003

Crossing the line to win the 2003 Australian Championships

Seven weeks later she set a new personal best in the 1500m of 4:07.08 while racing at the famous Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. The week before she had set a new 800m PB at a race in Portland.

The 2004 national championships were a bit of a disappointment as Walsham aimed for the 800m and 1500m double. She managed 4th in the 800m and 5th in the 1500m.

By the time the 2005 nationals came around, she had parted ways with Aouita and was now working full time and being coached by her younger sister Debbie.

She made it to the final of the 1500m, where she managed to finish in third place.

Walsham 2005 AC

Walsham in action in the 1500m heats at the 2005 Australian Championships

Then in 2006 everything came together.

On Friday 3rd February, Walsham ran in the final of the 1500m at the Australian Championships and placed second in 4:08.72, which was one of the fastest finishes she’d managed for a long time.

The next day she ran in the heats of the 800m and qualified easily for the final on Sunday. In the final she did what every athlete dreams of. She ran a PB of 2:01.85 to win a fourth national title, an incredible 15 years after her first one.

2006 walsham nationals1

800m final at the 2006 Australian Track and Field Championships

walsham 2006

walsham 2006 800

walsham wins 800m

Walsham was now on the Australian national team that was selected to compete at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, and she was finally going to fulfill a long held ambition to represent her country at senior level at a major championships.

‘I think I’ve finally reached a place in my life where I’ve got a bit of balance,’ Walsham told reporters after her 800m victory. ‘I’m just so excited about it. I’ve had five months of injury-free training. Debbie’s just been fantastic.’

Asked whether she could win double gold at the Commonwealth Games, Walsham said: ‘Both races are going to be tough, but I’ve just got to get my foot on the line and then anything can happen.’

2006 Commonwealth Games, Melbourne

In Melbourne, she qualified for the semi-finals of the 800m, as one of the fastest runners-up in the heats. But the pace in her semi-final was a bit too quick and her 2:04.02 finish wasn’t good enough to get her to the final.

In the 1500m she fared much better. She qualified for the final automatically by finishing fourth in her heat.

You can watch the full race from the final in the video below (spoilers under video).

Walsham finished in 6th place, and with that final high she called time on her track and field career. Her athletics journey had been incredible. Battling through multiple injuries and setbacks to take a fourth Australian Championships title 15 years after first winning as a 17 year old. Then to cap off your career with a 6th-place finish at the Commonwealth Games is so impressive and inspirational.

On the rise

Walsham relocated to Singapore later in 2006 and when there she saw an advertisement for the Swissotel Vertical Marathon. What caught her eye was that first prize was a trip to New York to race at the Empire State Building. She’d never raced in a tower before, but backed herself as having a good shot given the shape she was in.

So there she found herself lined up at the hotel in November 2006, not knowing what to expect.

The 73-floor/1,336-step tower was going to be a baptism of fire, but Walsham was more than up to the task. She won the race and set a new course record in the process. She was heading to New York.

Dold goes from strength to strength

After securing his first ESBRU title in February 2006, Thomas Dold went from strength to strength on the stairs. Throughout the rest of 2006 he secured wins in Basel, Berlin and Stuttgart. He also set more world records in backwards running, with new best times for the 1500m and 3000m.

In October he competed at the second Taipei 101 Run Up and finished second to Paul Crake, who won the race in 10:31. Dold was second in 11:16, which was 37 seconds faster than third-placed Rudi Reitberger. It was an impressive performance by the young German that would have been looked upon ominously by his ESBRU rivals.

Then on the 11th November 2006 he finally won the Donauturm Treppenlauf in Vienna at the fourth attempt. Everything was set up perfectly for Dold to try and win his second ESBRU title.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2007

On Tuesday 6th February, Suzy Walsham was lined up in the lobby alongside 55 other women.

walsham lobby

Suzy Walsham (centre) prepares for her ESBRU debut in 2007

Four-time winner Cindy Moll-Harris was back, and would probably have been backing herself to win for a record fifth time, given that the supreme Andrea Mayr wasn’t there.

Her long-time rival Fiona Bayly was also on the start line. Bayly had debuted in 1995 (coming second in a personal best 13:10) and had finished on the podium multiple times, most notably in 1998 when she finished just a second behind the winner, Moll-Harris.

Amy Fredericks, who had finished fifth in 2006 and third in 2004 and 2005, was also there. The casual observers would have been looking for the winner among those three.

That trio was lined up in the centre of the front row of racers. The unknown Walsham stood behind them.

Fredericks got a typically fast start and was through the door first, followed immediately by Moll-Harris and then Bayly.

2007 womens start 2

Amy Fredericks heads for the stairwell door at the start of the 2007 ESBRU

2007 womens start 3

Walsham managed to make it through the door in around 13th position. Not a terrible start, but she was going to have her work cut out passing a heap of women who were definitely slower than her.

But she powered through them and by the 65th floor crossover she had established a narrow lead. You can see her in the video below displaying that now familiar rhythmic and staggered stair climbing style that has served her so well since (@0:40).

Walsham managed to maintain her lead despite Moll-Harris and Bayly pushing hard just a couple of floors below. She finally exited onto the observation deck and crossed the line in 13:12 to win on her debut.

2007 Walsham wins

Suzy Walsham wins her first ESBRU title in 2007

Moll-Harris was next in 13:24, with Bayly once again a mere second behind her in 13:25.

‘The start was a nightmare’, said Walsham. Trying to get out in front wasn’t too pleasant either for the Australian. ‘I pushed my way through. There was one girl who was holding both sides and I said “I want to get past, hold one side”‘.

2007 Walsham celebrates

walsham celebrates

Dold goes for two in a row

With his dominance at several stair races throughout 2006, Thomas Dold was expected to defend his ESBRU title.

Alongside him in the lobby were plenty of experienced ESBRU athletes, including Rudi Reitberger, Jaroslaw Lazarowicz, Tomasz Klisz and Dold’s German team mate Matthias Jahn.

Among the others in the lobby that day were several men that will be familiar to many readers: Jesse Berg, Ralf Hascher, Tim Van Orden, David Tromp and a 17-year old Shaun Stephens-Whale.

Ultra-runner and adventurer Rickey Gates was also in the lobby ready to make his ESBRU debut. Well known now for his endurance feats, which include his TransAmericana project in 2017, he was one of the hottest new prospects in US mountain running back in 2007. Later in the year he would go on to be named USA Track and Field Mountain Runner of the Year, after winning both the U.S. Mountain Running Championship and U.S. Trail Championship in back-to-back weeks. Unfortunately for him, he was placed pretty far back in the pack at the Empire State Building. He certainly had the caliber to be in contention for a podium spot, but given his position in the pack it was going to take some serious work to catch up with the front runners.

Matthias Jahn got a good start and seemed to open up a gap for Dold to come through. Perhaps they had a plan for Jahn to tail the stronger Dold who would pull him onto the podium.

You can see Dold in the yellow vest in the picture below, looking like he’s about to be passed by a bunch of guys.

2007 mens start 0

2007 mens start

But the reigning champion quickly powered through and by the time they reached the door he was in first place, with Jahn right behind him.

2007 mens start 05

2007 mens start 2

2007 mens start 1

The Empire State Building Run-Up is renowned for its mass start, and in the days before it streamlined the elite race it was often derided as being ridiculous and unnecessarily dangerous. There had been stumbles before in the men’s elite race, and there had been falls at the back of the women’s elite starts before, but never had there been a significant pile up at the front of the men’s race. This time, unfortunately, was different.

Jose Mateo Martinez went down hard just before the door (you can see him falling in some of the images above) and the surrounding runners ran over him. Most managed to stay on their feet but Tomasz Klisz went down – you can see his journey to the floor in the two images below.

2007 mens start 3

2007 mens start 4

The whole sequence was recorded and later uploaded by Tim Van Orden. You can watch it in the video below (some of his annotations are incorrect, Klisz is Polish not Austrian).

Out in front, Dold and Jahn maintained their positions. The faster Dold began to pull away in the later stages of the race and as Jahn began to tire, the climbers below him started to close in.

2007 Dold solo

Thomas Dold builds his lead

At 0:24-0:30 in the men’s race video below you can see Rudi Reitberger (#2), Rickey Gates (#51) and Tommy Coleman (#27) battling for a podium spot around the 65th floor. Up ahead and out of shot is Pedro Ribeiro.

Dold crossed the line in 10:25, aggressively ripping the tape from the grasp of the two men holding it at the finish line and throwing it on the floor. In the race videos below you can hear someone saying what sounds like, ‘shit…SHIT!’ as Dold crosses the line to win for the second time. The young German was already building a fan base.

2007 Dold approaches finish

Thomas Dold turns the corner on the observation deck heading for the finish

2007 Dold wins

Dold reaches out to tear down the finish line

Matthias Jahn managed to hold on to second place, crossing the line in 10:56. Dold ran back along the observation deck to check if his countryman was coming behind him and when Jahn emerged the pair yelled and hollered across the line before embracing.

2007 Jahn and Dold

Matthias Jahn jumps for joy as Thomas Dold cheers him on

You can see it in the video below (and hear the comical ‘shit, SHIT’ a bit clearer, too). Their impassioned antics are reminiscent of the beach scene in Rocky 3 when Balboa and Creed embrace in the surf after an intense sprint session.

Rickey Gates managed to win the battle for third and crossed the line in 11:02, ahead of Pedro Ribeiro in 11:10 and Rudi Reitberger in 11:12.

‘I might have done a little better if I didn’t have to start 30 feet back,’ said Gates.

‘It’s just a mob mentality. Off the start, it goes from about 30 feet wide down to 3 feet wide in about five seconds…It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like it. It’s certainly a new experience trying to cram 50 runners into a little 3-foot-wide stairwell.’

‘My time was fast. Certainly a lot of Americans have run faster than me in previous years, but it was cool to be the top American finisher. I knew I was going to do well – I was just not sure how well’.

He even spoke of one runner intentionally reaching back and trying to slap him in the face as he attempted to pass on the stairs. But he was unperturbed and determined to return in 2008 where he would be given a better place on the start line.

2007 Dold Jahn hands

Dold and Jahn celebrate on the observation deck

2007 podium in lift

Men’s podium in the lift: Matthias Jahn, Rickey Gates and Thomas Dold (l-r)

2007 Dold winner

2007 winners

Thomas Dold and Suzy Walsham – ESBRU winners 2007

2007 Empire State Building results

Read the next installment in the series – the 2008 Empire State Building Run-Up.

The fastest woman to ever run the Empire State Building set an unbelievable record time at the 2006 edition of the race. In the men’s division, a young German returned to New York to try and fulfill a prophecy.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-1997199819992000200120022003, 2004 or 2005 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2006.

Making history

After becoming the first woman to run the Empire State Building in under 12 minutes, Andrea Mayr had a packed 2005 season.

European Mountain Running Championships 2005

Mayr had finished 2nd at the European Championships in Poland in 2004, losing out to the tough Czech Anna Pichrtová.

On 10th July 2005 she was lined up in Heiligenblut, Austria to take on Pichrtová again, this time on home soil on a 10km course with a total climb of 1,335m.

mayr euros

Andrea Mayr (front right, #111) sets off at the start of the European Mountain Running Championship 2005

Andrea Mayr EC 2005

Running in driving rain, Mayr dominated from the start, and by the 6km mark she had already built a one minute lead over Pichrtová.

MAYR ec1

By the time the Austrian crossed the finish line, second-placed Pichrtová was almost two minutes behind.

mayr ec2

MAYR EC3

World Athletic Championships 2005

When Mayr wasn’t dominating in the mountains or on the stairs, she was representing Austria in the 3,000m steeplechase (the national record of 9:47 she set in 2008 still stands, as do her half-marathon and marathon records).

She had made massive improvements to her steeplechase times from 2004 to 2005. In June 2005 she’d taken 20 seconds off her personal best to duck under the 10-minute mark for the first time and set a new Austrian record.

In August she headed to Helsinki, Finland to take part in the World Athletic Championships. It was a tough task for Mayr to compete against athletes who specialised exclusively in the steeplechase.

She trailed the front runners in a fast heat and ended up crossing the line in 11th position (out of 12) with a finishing time of 10:07 (the winning time in her heat was 9:32).

After an intensely competitive couple of months, Mayr sidestepped the World Mountain Running Championships in Wellington, New Zealand in September. Interestingly, though, Thomas Dold was at those championships, where he finished 73rd out of 105 finishers.

Donauturm Treppenlauf 2005

As always there was a stacked field of Europe’s top tower runners in Vienna on Saturday 12th November 2005, all looking to earn the coveted qualifying spot for the next edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

In the women’s division, Mayr took a straightforward win with a time of 4:13 to earn her place at the 2006 Empire State Building Run-Up. In second place was 19-year old Nada Pauer in 4:45.

Pauer was a highly competitive middle-distance track runner, who would go on to win the 3,000m indoor title at the Austrian national championships three months later. She also earned an invite to the ESBRU.

In the men’s race, Markus Zahlbruckner won again. His time of 3:32 was significantly faster than second-place Rudi Reitberger (3:44) and third-place Thomas Dold (3:47).

All three men would be heading to New York the following February.

Mayr Markus 2005 DT

Markus Zahlbruckner and Andrea Mayr, winners of the 2005 Donauturm Treppenlauf

Taipei 101 Run-Up 2005

Just over a week later, on Sunday 20th November, Mayr was in Taipei to race up the newly built Taipei 101, which at the time was the tallest building in the world.

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Around £5,000 prize money was on the line for the winners, and Mayr admitted to ‘extreme fear’ ahead of the race. To add to her nerves, the race organisers brought the scheduled start time for the race forward by 30 minutes without much warning, which left the Austrian with just 10 minutes to warm up.

Despite the disruptions, Mayr ran a brilliant race, setting a blistering time of 12:38 (a course record that still stands). Melissa Moon was second and Svetlana Bahmend from Israel, who’d finished fourth at the 2005 ESBRU, was third.

Five-time ESBRU winner Paul Crake set the current men’s record of 10:29 at the same race. Rudi Reitberger was second, Jaroslaw Lazarowicz was third and Thomas Dold was fourth. It looked like the Austrian still had the number of his German rival and would be heading to New York with confidence.

Andrea Mayr taipei 101

Andrea Mayr set the course record at Taipei 101 in 2005

‘This run is pure madness’, said Mayr, because the steps are ‘much, much higher’ than in New York. ‘It is extremely steep, just crazy’, she added.

When asked what other goals she had, Mayr answered, ‘I still dream of the Eiffel Tower’. Ten years later an annual race at the Paris landmark would begin – although Mayr is still yet to run it.

Poltegor Centre race

Mayr managed to squeeze in another stair race before the year was finished, this time at the Poltegor Centre in Wrocław, Poland on Saturday 17th December. The race was billed as the European Championships, but the absence of any of the top non-Polish runners undermined that billing somewhat.

Poltegor Centre Wroclaw

The now demolished Poltegor Centre in Wrocław

There was 2,000 zloty up for grabs for the winners, and as expected Mayr picked up the cash with very little trouble. She was the only woman on the day to run the 460 steps in under two minutes, finishing in 1:59.99.

Poltegor Mayr

Andrea Mayr running the Poltegor Centre in 2005

Now Mayr could focus her attention on the next edition of the ESBRU, which was scheduled for Tuesday 7th February 2006.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2006

Mayr was a clear-cut pre-race favourite. There was no speculation that any of the other women on the start line were going to trouble her. Much as it had been in 2005, the question was ‘how fast can she go?’. Already the only woman to ever run under 12 minutes, the expectation was that she may be able to chop even more time off her record of 11:51.

In the lobby, Mayr took up position off to the right of the line up. Her nearest rival the past two years, Cindy Moll-Harris, was just left of centre. Standing behind and to the right of Mayr was Nada Pauer.

How Pauer would perform on her ESBRU debut was a bit of an unknown, but her strong athletic background and solid time at the Donauturm Treppenlauf suggested she would be in contention for a podium spot.

Amy Fredericks, who had finished third the past two years, was back. So too was Stacy Creamer (a two-time top five finisher), but nobody else on the start line really stood out as a potential new force to challenge the established order of top five finishers. Three-time winner Nina Kuscsik ran in the preliminary wave, though. Now 67, with her competitive racing days long behind her, the original queen of the ESBRU took it slowly and finished in 26:36.

Moll-Harris (101) got a good start and reached the door first, followed by Mayr (100), Fredericks (centre, 103) and Pauer (far left, 112).

2006 womens start

At what point Mayr made her break is unknown, but she was running alone by the 65th floor. No surprise given she was on course for another sub 12-minute time.

2006 Mayr midrace

Andrea Mayr at the 65th floor

The incredible Austrian made it three wins in a row as she set an unbelievable course record of 11:23.

2006 Mayr wins

2006 Empire State Building Run-Up winner and course record holder, Andrea Mayr

Next onto the observation deck was an ecstatic Nada Pauer, finishing in 12:47. In the race video below you can hear someone – presumably Mayr – shout ‘NADA!’ as she approaches the line. Pauer, her happiness and energy radiating through the screen, roars a satisfying ‘YES’ once she finishes. Nada Pauer is still a top-level athlete, representing Austria in the 5,000m at the European Championships as recently as 2018.

News reports at the time list Cindy Moll-Harris as third, although the official results on the NYRR website have her listed in fourth, with exactly the same time as Denise Caruso (13:49). But were the splits available it would show Moll-Harris as a narrow leader. Regardless, it was a massive PB for Caruso who had finished in 17:03 in 2004 and 14:47 in 2005.

2006 Cindy tracked colour

Cindy Moll-Harris and Denise Caruso (105) battling it out at the 65th floor

‘I love this race and I love New York’, said Mayr. ‘When you finish first, it’s a feeling like you’re above the top of the world’.

‘During the race, I think you have to think of not starting too fast, because 86 floors is a long distance’, Mayr told reporters after her win. ‘Most of the people start a little too fast, and then they get slower and slower and then they break down’, she added. ‘The first 20 floors you have to say, “OK, you’re running but it’s not the end now, and you have to save some strength”‘.

Prophecy fulfilled?

‘He’s a really strong young guy. He’s the future of this race’, said Rudi Reitberger about Thomas Dold, after beating him by a split second at the 2005 Empire State Building Run-Up.

Would that ‘future’ become present at the 29th edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up?

The race for first place was expected to be between two-time winner Reitberger and Dold. Reitberger had finished ahead of the young German in Vienna and Taipei, just three months before the ESBRU, so he was a marginal pre-race favourite in New York.

But there was plenty of other serious talent on the start line to keep the pair looking over their shoulders.

Sproule Love was back after skipping the previous three editions. The tough American had finished third in 2001 and 2002 and was fancied to be back on the podium again. In the race video below you can see him standing on the start line with a small camera attached to the peak of his cap, ready to capture footage of the race for ESPN.

Poland’s Tomasz Klisz was there for the third time, while Dold’s German team mate, Matthias Jahn, was lined up for his debut.

Markus Zahlbruckner had earned his place by winning the Donauturm Treppenlauf, but he was conspicuous in his absence from the start line of the elite wave. Apparently, after falling foul of someone at NYRR, Zahlbruckner was placed in the second wave of men which set off after the main event. Alongside him in that wave was another name familiar to many readers, Syd Arak. The Indianapolis man made his debut that year and finished in 16:30.

Dold and Reitberger lined up side by side at the front of the pack. Sproule Love had positioned himself directly behind Reitberger, hoping to use the Austrian as a marker to help bring him to the top in the fastest time possible.

Dold got a great start and made it to the door first, followed by Tomasz Klisz, Matthias Jahn, Rudi Reitberger, Pedro Ribeiro and Sproule Love.

Dold maintained his lead throughout and by the 65th floor he had a bit of breathing space from his nearest rivals, Reitberger and Love.

2006 thomas dold

Thomas Dold running solo at the 65th floor

Love and Reitberger were stuck together a few floors below the German. Around the 70th floor, Reitberger pulled away from the American but he wasn’t able to claw back the lead from Dold.

Dold let out a roar as he crossed the line in 10:19, and then dropped to the ground in exhaustion. Reitberger followed in 10:36.

2006 finish

Rudi Reitberger steps over a prostrate Thomas Dold at the 2006 ESBRU

Sproule love secured his third podium finish and ESBRU PB with a 10:51 finish. Markus Zahlbruckner won his wave in 10:56, which made him the fourth fastest male, with Matthias Jahn taking fifth in 11:25. Amazingly, Mayr’s 11:23 made her fifth fastest overall.

‘The Empire State Building is famous all over the world and the Empire State Building Run-Up is one of the greatest events a tower runner can win,’ said Dold.

2006 winners

Andrea Mayr and Thomas Dold, winners of the 2006 Empire State Building Run-Up

 

2006 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series – the 2007 Empire State Building Run-Up.