Archive for the ‘Tower running history’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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800m final at the 2006 Australian Track and Field Championships

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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

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.

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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.

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

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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

 

After finishing on the podium at the 2004 World Mountain Running Championships, Andrea Mayr was back in New York to defend her ESBRU title, while the men’s race produced the closest finish ever seen at the event.

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 or 2004 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2005.

A legend begins

Five months after her record-breaking run at the ESBRU in 2004, Andrea Mayr was on the start line at the European Mountain Running Championships in Korbielow, Poland.

Mayr DNF’d her debut at the European Championships in 2002 and wasn’t at the event in 2003. But after her seventh place finish at the World Mountain Running Championships in 2003, she was expected to do well in Poland on the 7.2km course with 600m of vertical gain.

She did exceptionally well, finishing in second place behind the great Czech runner Anna Pichrtová. What’s more, she was ahead of the 1999 world champion, Rosita Rota Gelpi (ITA), as well as four-time world champion Isabelle Guillot (FRA) who took fourth place. Izabela Zatorska (POL), who had finished on the podium at four of the last five World Championships, was fifth.

Mayr had just blown in among the best of the best mountain runners in the world.

World Mountain Running Championships 2004

Two months later, Mayr was in Italy for the World Championships, a roughly 8.5km race with 862m of vertical ascent.

Defending champion Melissa Moon (NZL) wasn’t at the event, so Mayr was going head-to-head with the same set of tough Europeans she’d battled against in July.

It was a close race throughout that was only settled in the latter parts of the course. Rosita Rota Gelpi pulled away late on to take her second world crown. Anna Pichrtová was just 10 seconds behind, and Andrea Mayr finished third, a further 15 seconds after.

2005 andrea mayr wmra 2004

Andrea Mayr on her way to 3rd place at the 2004 World Mountain Running Championships in Poland

In the men’s race, Jonathan Wyatt was up to old tricks again, winning his fourth world title by an incredible margin of almost 80 seconds.

The next big race for Mayr would be the Donauturm Treppenlauf in Vienna on 13th November.

World record breaker

Records for running backwards date back as far as the 1880s. On the 18th May 1883 in Chester, PA., a Mr. E. G. Hayes ran 100 yards backwards in 15.20.

121 years later an energetic, young German named Thomas Dold was attempting to break the world record of 3:36 for the backwards 1km, which he’d set in 2003. On 21st February 2004 he set a new best time of 3:35.

That summer he dedicated his time to claiming every record from 400m through to 2,000m – 400m, 800m, 1km, 1,500m, 1 mile, 2km. They all fell. The eccentric 19-year old could run faster backwards than most people could run forwards. But what was he like going up stairs?

Dold had popped up on the tower running scene in 2003, when he finished in sixth place at the stacked Donauturm Treppenlauf (Danube Tower race). Earlier that year he had finished 11th at the World Junior Mountain Running Championships in Alaska.

On the 2nd of October 2004 he was back on the stairs, this time in Munich for the inaugural 780-step Uptown München race.

DET-2007-9-971-Uptown-München-Ingenhoven-Architekten-1

Hochhaus Uptown München

Dold recorded his first tower running victory in 3:47. He remarked to reporters that he enjoyed running a new event in a new building, because ‘anyone who already knows the stairwell has a clear advantage’. Munich offered a level playing field. But what of Vienna?

Dold had raced the Danube Tower just once. Rudi Reitberger had been racing the event since at least 1994, while Markus Zahlbruckner debuted in 1999. These powerhouses of Austrian stair climbing knew the course inside out.

On 13 November 2004, Dold went up against them for the second time.

Donauturm Treppenlauf 2004

Danube Tower

The cream of European tower running was in Vienna to try and win the coveted trip to New York for the Empire State Building Run-Up in February 2005.

Reitberger, Zahlbruckner, Lazarowicz and Klisz had all finished ahead of Dold in 2003.

But after the 2004 race only one man stood between Dold and top spot. Markus Zahlbruckner finished in 3:35.65, less than a second ahead of the German in 3:36.35.

Dold hadn’t won, but he’d made a statement. On the shorter courses, at least, he was a force. How he would fair in New York at the 1,576-step Empire State Building would have to be seen. For some reason, Zahlbruckner was unable to make it to New York. Whether the Donauturm Treppenlauf organisers gave the place to Dold instead or he received his own invite independently, we don’t know, but either way he would be going to the biggest race of all.

In the women’s division that day, Andrea Mayr produced a most stunning performance. The course record of 4:31 she’d set in 2003 had been impressive. The 4:10 she clocked in 2004 was simply breathtaking.

It looked like her rivals would be racing for second place in New York. What remained to be seen was how much faster could she go?

The opposition

In Tel Aviv, the Alterman twins were pulling strokes at the Azrieli Tower, again. The pair crossed the line hand in hand once more so they could both take the winner’s trip to New York to race the ESBRU.

They had done exceptionally well on their debuts in 2004, finishing in second and third. Racing with experience and knowledge of the course, they were well capable of finishing back on the podium and possibly even winning the thing.

In the women’s race, Svetlana Bahmend took the win to book her place at the 28th edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Svetlana Bahmend

Svetlana Bahmend, winner of the 2004 Azrieli Tower Run in Tel Aviv, Israel

There would be no Australian contingent heading to the 2005 ESBRU. Whether the organisers of the qualifying Sydney Tower Run-Up had stopped offering a travel package to the event is unknown, but the 2004 winners, Jeremy Horne and Helen Stanton, wouldn’t be carrying on the tradition of their successful compatriots.

Cindy Moll-Harris was going to be back to try and close the gap between herself and Mayr. The Austrian had broken the four-time champion at the 65th floor at the 2004 event, so Moll-Harris was eager to dictate the pace this time around and keep Mayr within her sights for a bit longer.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2005

A little under two weeks before the race, Andrea Mayr broke her right wrist after slipping on ice during training. She arrived in the lobby of the Empire State Building on Tuesday 1st February with it in plaster. The cast looked like it would prevent her from getting a decent grab on the railing, but it was unlikely to have a significant impact on her performance.

Moll-Harris false started just before the horn sounded, and was followed quickly by Mayr once the blast of the starter’s horn filled the lobby. Amy Fredericks, who was third in 2004, got a powerful start and put a little muscle on Moll-Harris to make it in first through the door to the stairwell.

2005 womens start

Cindy Moll-Harris (F2) heads for the stairwell door ahead of Andrea Mayr (F1)

Moll-Harris followed, then Mayr. Stacy Creamer (a two-time top five finisher) was next in, while the Israeli Bahmend pulled a ferret-like manoeuvre to slink in ahead of two women right before they entered the stairwell and take up fifth spot (see race video below).

Unfortunately, there’s not much in-race footage of the women’s event at the 2005 ESBRU, aside from a brief glimpse of Mayr and Moll-Harris running together through one of the corridors, so exactly what happened in the stairwell is a bit of a mystery. But the record shows that defending champion and course record holder Andrea Mayr ran the fastest time that any woman had ever managed at the Empire State Building Run-Up.

2005Mayr

What the 10-minute mark had been for the men, the 12-minute mark had been for the women. Paul Crake was the only man to have ever finished the race in under 10 minutes. Now Andrea Mayr was the only woman to have ever done it in under 12.

2005 Mayr wins1

Andrea Mayr becomes the first woman to run the Empire State Building in less than 12 minutes

Her winning time was a staggering 11:51. She shattered her own course record by 17 seconds, and finished 1:19 ahead of second-place Cindy Moll-Harris (13:10).

2005 mayr wins2

Amy Fredericks took third (13:57) and Svetlana Bahmend was just a second behind in fourth (13:58). Stacy Creamer (14:26) secured her third top-five finish from three starts.

‘I was trying to push myself the whole way’, said Mayr. ‘When you are running, you are in another world. You don’t feel pain so much. I don’t know how I did it.’

As close as it gets

As he had the year before, Rudi Reitberger got a pretty poor start, this time entering the stairwell in around ninth position. Among those ahead of him were Gabriel Lombriser (33), Christian Fuller (20), Thomas Dold (18), Dan Alterman (3) and Ran Alterman (2).

2005 mens start

The defending champion actually seemed fairly content with easing up from the back and picking off those in front of him as they slowed under the weight of their exertions.

There’s no footage of Reitberger in the race video below. The in-race clip that starts at 1:36 shows Dold in the lead early on, followed by Lombriser and then Dan Alterman.

The shouting that can be heard out of shot is coming from Ran Alterman, who seems to have taken over bully duties from his brother for that year (Dan Alterman harangued poor Paul Low out of 3rd place at the 2004 ESBRU).

Ran is trying to pass Christian Fuller, but the Coloradan is giving him nothing.

‘Are you not moving?!!’, says Alterman as he reaches across Fuller to grab the railing. The video editor cuts the shot just as Fuller begins his response with something sounding like ‘Fuck off…’

Rudi Reitberger gradually overtook them all until he was left with just the 20-year old German ahead of him. At the 75th floor he managed to pass him, too, but he couldn’t shake him off. Dold stayed with him the whole way, all the way out onto the flat course heading toward the finish line.

Rudi turned the corner for the home straight just a few metres ahead of Dold. He then made the fundamental error of slowing before the line to celebrate, while Dold kept going. The young German leapt for the line, diving to try and nick first place. But he was just too late. Reitberger had just broken the line to win his second ESBRU title, with both men credited with a 10:24 finishing time.

Dan Alterman took third (10:50) and Ran Alterman finished fourth (11:00).

2005 Rudi wins1

Rudi Reitberger crosses the line just as Thomas Dold makes his dive

2005 Rudi wins 2

2005 finish line

‘Last year I moved into first place on the 65th floor and after that I could take it a bit easy and enjoy myself. This year, I was not enjoying the race until the finish line’, said Reitberger. ‘This was absolutely the best race of my life’, he added.

‘Next year I think I’ll have a big chance to win’, said Thomas Dold.

It was a point with which Rudi Reitberger readily agreed. ‘He’s a really strong young guy. He’s the future of this race.’

Reitberger probably didn’t realise exactly how right he would turn out to be.

andrea and rudi

2005 ESBRU winners, Andrea Mayr and Rudi Reitberger

israelis 2005

Mazel tov: Ran Alterman (4th), Svetlana Bahmend (4th) and Dan Alterman (3rd).

 

2005 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series – the 2006 Empire State Building Run-Up.

Following Paul Crake’s retirement from the ESBRU, the men’s race was now completely wide open and a host of new talent arrived in New York to pick up the mantle of champion. In the women’s division, the course record that had stood for seven years finally fell.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-199719981999200020012002 or 2003 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2004.

All roads lead to Manhattan

With five-time winner Paul Crake retiring from participation at the ESBRU, the 2004 edition was wide open. Who would be in New York vying for the title?

On 31st October 2003 the first edition of the Azrieli Circular Tower Run-Up was held in Tel Aviv, with a trip to New York to compete at the 2004 Empire State Building Run-Up being offered to the winners.

The 23-year old Alterman twins, Ran and Dan, were in Tel Aviv that day to take part in the 1,144-step race.

The pair were Israel’s best triathletes and had already been competing for 10 years, representing Israel at international competitions. In 2001 Dan had won the Israeli triathlon championship. The following year Ran won it, before Dan took back his title in the summer of 2003.

The pair reached the top of the Azrieli Tower together and crossed the line holding hands – joint winners. They would both be heading for New York the following February.

altermans

The Alterman twins cross the line hand-in-hand at the Azrieli Tower Run-Up (*can’t confirm this is the 2003 finish. They made a habit of it apparently.)

The tough Israelis would certainly keep everyone on the start line at the next ESBRU honest, but those in the know had a keen eye on proceedings in Vienna, Austria on 15th November 2003, from whence the new king apparent was expected to emerge.

The Danube Tower race (Donauturm Treppenlauf) was one of the most fiercely contested stair races in Europe, due to the winners earning a three-day travel package to New York to compete at the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Winners of the event from previous years had made it onto the podium at the ESBRU – Matthias Schreiner, Rudi Reitberger and Markus Zahlbruckner.

2002 winner Zahlbruckner was the favourite, although Reitberger was expected to push him hard. But there was incredibly strong competition in Vienna to challenge them both. Czech athlete Roman Skalsky, who had finished sixth at the world championship race in Kuala Lumpur the year before was there, as was a lean German newcomer, Thomas Dold. From Poland there was the highly experienced Jaroslaw Lazarowicz, plus the youngster Tomasz Klisz.

rudi reit

Rudi Reitberger racing in Poland (c. early 2000s)

It was Rudi Reitberger who came out victorious, reaching the top of the 776-step tower in 3:37.62. Zahlbruckner was second in 3:39.49 and Skalsky third in 3:50.30.

A three-time podium finisher at the Empire State Building Run-Up (3rd in 1999, 2nd in 2000 and 2002), the path was now clear for Reitberger to complete the set and finally win the most famous race of all.

Although failing to win the travel package, Lazarowicz and Klisz would make the trip to Manhattan in February, regardless.

Down from the mountains

American mountain runner Paul Low, who had been part of the US national team since 1999 and had finished an impressive 15th at the World Mountain Running Championships in 2003, had been keen to run the ESBRU for a few years.

His wish was set to come true at the 2004 edition. Rudi Reitberger had finished a couple of minutes behind him, in 39th position, at the 2003 World Mountain Running Championships, so Low would surely be a challenger in New York. But his lack of tower running race experience was likely to have an impact on his performance.

paullow

Paul Low

Low wrote beautifully on his personal blog at the time about his motivations for wanting to compete in the event:

‘As a mountain runner, stair racing has intrigued me as a juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane. Mountain running is sacred. The races take place on courses that were, depending on your philosophical bent, created either by millions (or billions) of years of plate-tectonic-driven orogenic processes, God, or both. Race courses, as a matter of necessity, take competitors through unspeakable natural beauty and often finish in locales so perfect that one can’t help but consider amending some future will in order to ensure that your ashes are one day scattered in such a place. Running inside, no matter what the occasion, is profane – even something so viscerally enlightening as the employ of nothing but muscle, sweat, and a little bit of luck to climb over 1000′ in a matter of minutes…The stair climb as an athletic event is thus an evolution toward purity…Without the distraction of natural beauty, only pure effort and the singularity of getting to the top faster than anyone else remains. This is the intrigue – asking yourself for but a few minutes of sheer athletic aggression and expecting nothing in return.’

Having secured third place in his debut, Toby Tanser returned for another shot at the title. Likewise, Chris Solarz and Jose Fernandez Cano, both top-ten finishers from 2003, were heading back for a second go.

Spanish middle-distance track athlete Pablo Vega was also New York bound, ready to make his ESBRU debut.

All-in-all it was a good spread of strong athletes from a variety of disciplines that would guarantee a competitive men’s race after five years of singular dominance by the course record holder Paul Crake.

New and old rivals

Since her fourth ESBRU win in February 2003, Cindy Moll had married James Harris and was now running under the last name Moll-Harris.

As a four-time champion she would probably be the race favourite, but there was new and old competition heading to the ESBRU to try and stop her winning a fifth title.

Her long-time rival Fiona Bayly would be back after having missed the 2002 and 2003 editions. Bayly had debuted at the ESBRU in 1995 clocking a personal best 13:10, but her times in subsequent years had fluctuated wildly. She had finished a mere second behind Moll-Harris in 1998, but since then the gulf between the pair had grown. In 2001 Bayly had made it onto the podium in third place, but first-place Moll-Harris had finished 1:45 ahead of her. Would the two-year layoff prove beneficial and see Bayly return in her best form yet? If she could get close to her personal best, Bayly would be in with a serious chance of finally unseating the champion.

But if Moll-Harris was giving any consideration to her upcoming opposition, her thoughts were probably focused on Vienna. The Donauturm Treppenlauf had been a conveyer belt of fantastic talent from Europe in the men’s division of the ESBRU since the early 1990s, and now it was sending out fiercely strong women, too.

At the 2002 Empire State Building Run-Up, Kerstin Harbich had caught Moll-Harris by surprise and beaten her. In 2003 she pushed Moll-Harris hard up 80 floors before the American finally pulled away to win her record fourth title.

Harbich had qualified for the ESBRU both times by winning the Donauturm Treppenlauf in 2001 and 2002. In 2001 her winning time was 4:55, and in 2002 it was 4:47.

Moll-Harris would have known that her most serious competition for the 2004 ESBRU race would likely be the winner of the 2003 Donauturm Treppenlauf, but whether or not she troubled herself to find out exactly who it was, we don’t know.

If she had, it definitely would have given her something to think about, because a 24-year old medical student named Andrea Mayr won the race in a new course record of 4:31.

Mayr had been a steadily improving track runner for quite a few years, competing in a range of middle-distance events before specialising in the 3000m steeplechase. Off the track she excelled at mountain running and had finished 7th at the 2003 World Mountain Running Championship race in the snow in Alaska. In the video below (at 2:49-2:55) you can see Mayr in that race (wearing a white hat and #226).

Given the impressive performances by Kerstin Harbich at the 2002 and 2003 ESBRU, Mayr’s record time in Vienna, coupled with her impressive mountain running pedigree, certainly indicated she would be capable of running fast in New York.

Although she’d be racing for the first time on an unfamiliar course, she’d be able to tap into the extensive experience of her LCC Wien team mate Rudi Reitberger to help her get an idea of pacing and tactics.

Moll-Harris’ was probably going to have to run her best ever race if she was going to win a fifth title.

The rise of the Austrian Empire

On Tuesday 3rd February 2004, 33 women lined up in the lobby to contest the elite race at the 27th Empire State Building Run-Up.

At the start of the video below the camera pans along the gathering group of elite women, and we see Amy Fredericks (4th in 2001, wearing #F3) catching the attention of Fiona Bayly (F5). Mayr and Moll-Harris are nowhere to be seen, presumably off doing last-minute warm ups.

When the full group had gathered, Moll-Harris had settled in next to Fredericks, while Mayr was off to her right separated by two others.

Moll-Harris and Mayr both got good starts, with the reigning champion getting out in front and first through the door. Fredericks came in fast behind and from the video it looks like her and Mayr probably clashed a bit at the door, with the bigger Mayr appearing to edge just in front. Fiona Bayly slipped with her first step off the start line and ended up around seventh into the stairwell.

As ever, Moll-Harris liked to race out front, pushing the pace and forcing others to try and pass her if they could. There’s no insight into what happened over the first 64 floors of the course, but in the race video below Moll-Harris and Mayr head up the flight from floor 64 to 65 side-by-side (@1:11).

The laboured breathing of the champion can be heard before the pair emerge into shot and an observer viewing the scene in real time would have been able to call the race there and then.

Moll-Harris, using her favoured rope-pull technique on the railing, looks tired and heavy legged. Mayr on the other hand looks strong, still running as they approach the crossover point, where she takes the lead.

Mayr seems to have been happy to just track Moll-Harris all the way up until that point. Doing just enough to pressure her rival, testing her conditioning. The American obviously pushed the pace hard in an attempt to shake off the imposing Austrian and it finally caught up with her.

It was all Mayr from then on in. She steadily pulled away over the last 30 floors and crossed the finish line in a new course record of 12:08, taking 11 seconds off the time set in 1996 by Australia’s three-time champion, Belinda Soszyn.

2004 Mayr wins

2004 mayr wins2

Andrea Mayr wins the 27th Empire State Building Run-Up (2004)

Moll-Harris finished in 13:26 with Amy Fredericks coming in third in 13:48.

‘I thought I wouldn’t like it here, with all the skyscrapers,’ said Mayr. ‘Then I came and saw that some are really beautiful. Now I think the Empire State Building is the most beautiful’.

Emerging from the shadows

On the start line of the men’s elite wave, everyone appeared to be quite relaxed. Jose Fernandez Cano extended a hand to Jaroslaw Lazarowicz to wish him good luck, while Reitberger checked his watch was on the right setting. Nobody looked noticeably tense.

Reitberger seemed to get caught completely off guard by the starter’s claxon. In the race video below (@1:01) he still seems to be looking at his wrist as the others power away. The race favourite was swamped by those around him and made it into the stairwell in around 12th position. It was a terrible start.

In the photo below there’s Ran Alterman (21), Dan Alterman (20), Rudi Reitberger (just visible behind and to the right of Dan Alterman as you look at them), Toby Tanser (3), Chris Solarz (orange vest), Jaroslaw Lazarowicz (4), Pablo Vega (47) and Jose Fernandez Cano (black glasses, red sleeves).

2004 start colour

In this next photo Paul Low comes into shot (red head band, hand on Alterman’s shoulder) and Tomasz Klisz (38) can be seen next to the tall frame of Toby Tanser. The tall figure behind Low in the classic red and white striped vest will be a familiar name to many – it’s Hal Carson.

2004 Empire State Building Run Up

In his reflections on the race, Paul Low described what happened as the runners ploughed through the door to the stairs. It makes for interesting reading and so it’s worth sharing it in full:

‘After navigating my body through the doorway, I ran smack into the back of the runner in front of me. Instantly, the runner behind me ran into the back of me. It is at this point in the race, that the waiting begins. After running all out at the gun, the majority of the field than proceeds to stand still and wait for the congestion to clear sufficiently for forward motion to resume. This part of the race probably comprised less than one second; however, for those runners whose competitive nature has been sharpened by years of hard work (everyone in the race), the wait seems to take an eternity.

At this point, I was very discouraged about my chances of finishing well. Then, I looked up to see that race favorite Rudolf Reitberger was only two runners ahead of me. This convinced me that, despite what I thought was an awful start, I still had a chance to finish well since Reitberger had finished second in his previous two attempts at this race. The next few minutes of the race, I passed many competitors who had capitalized on a better-than-average lobby dash and were now victim to staggering levels of blood-borne lactic acid. Passing these runners was relatively easy despite the narrow width of the staircase as, by this time, I was moving considerably faster then they were. With every additional flight, however, passing became increasingly difficult. After six or seven minutes of running up stairs, I was not moving that much faster than the runners that I was passing. The last three or four times that I passed runners required several flights for me to completely get by. By this time, we had managed to work our way into the bulk of the women’s field who had started five minutes in front of the first men’s heat – adding significantly to the difficulty of navigating a race on stairs. With a few minutes to go, I had moved into third and was thoroughly dispirited as I could not see the leaders and time was running out.’

Up ahead of Low, Rudi Reitberger was locked in battle with Ran Alterman. Reitberger had found his way to the front and was holding onto the lead under heavy pressure from the young Israeli. You can see them in action in the video below at 1:21, as they approach the 65th floor, both still looking strong.

A few flights below, Paul Low was under serious pressure from Dan Alterman who he had passed earlier in the race. His memories of the final, frustrating minutes of his one and only ESBRU race make for unintentionally comic reading:

‘My last two passes had been extremely difficult (physically demanding and psychologically defeating) and I was completely fed up with the event and with my inability to deal with its rigors. The only runner to pass me during the race [Dan Alterman] then came up behind me and repeatedly attempted to forcefully pass on the right (inside). After being shoved and yelled at for a few flights, I pulled wide on the landing and allowed him the opportunity to pass on the inside. This was another mistake. A few minutes prior, it had taken me five flights to finally pass this guy. When I did so, it was on the left (outside) with no assistance. In return, I endured a few shoves before entering into a nadir of apathy about the event and the nature of competition in general. This was the end of my race and I ran slowly to the top thinking about how much time and money had been wasted on the trip.’

Low settled for fourth place, finishing in 11:11. Toby Tanser finished behind him in 11:37, while up ahead Dan Alterman kept the third position he’d bullied his way into.

His brother Ran didn’t quite have the legs to take the lead from Reitberger, and the Austrian held on to claim his first victory at the Empire State Building Run-Up in a time of 10:37, with Alterman finishing in 10:53.

2004 rudi wins2

Rudi Reitberger wins the 2004 Empire State Building Run-Up

2004 RUDI WINS

‘Thank you, Paul’, said a smiling Reitberger at the presentation ceremony as he lifted his trophy aloft – a nod to the absent Paul Crake whom he had finished second to in 2000 and 2002. ‘It’s the greatest victory of my life’, he added.

2004 ALTERMANS BEST

The Alterman twins rest after their podium finishes

‘We wanted to show another side of Israel, besides war and bomb blasts’, Ran told reporters when asked about competing in the race.

2004 mens podium

 

2004 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series – the 2005 Empire State Building Run-Up

 

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

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-199719981999, 20002001 or 2002 instead.

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

The final chapter

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

mt tennent

Mount Tennent, ACT, Australia

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

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

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

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

2002 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pjimage (2)

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

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

Australian Mountain Running Championships 2002

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

mt buffalo

Mount Buffalo National Park, Australia

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

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

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

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

The European Tour and World Mountain Running Championships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wyatt 2002

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

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

bergen ladz

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

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

World Championship Tower Run 2002
kltower-titiwangsa-mountains

The Kuala Lumpur Tower, Malaysia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Championship Tower Run 2002 results:

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

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

2002 KL Tower finishers

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

The end of the 2002 season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2003 Empire State Building Run-Up

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

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

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

mark sims

Mark Sims at the 2003 Empire State Building Run-Up

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

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

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

Honour and glory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2003 start

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

2003 mens start 2

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

2003 mens start

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

2003 crake wins

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

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

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

2003 crake finish

Five-time ESBRU champion Paul Crake

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

Moll v Harbich II: Revenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

2003 womens start

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

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

2003 cindy moll finish

Cindy Moll becomes a four-time ESBRU champion

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

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

2003 crake celebr2003 cindy moll trophy

 

 

Read the next part in the history of the ESBRU series – 2004.

In 2002, Paul Crake was going for his fourth win in a row. But in the months leading up to the race he had lost to his closest ESBRU rival for the first time ever at a major race. The Australian champion was beatable, but could he lose in New York?

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-199719981999, 2000, or 2001 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2002.

The phase of mastery

Mount Ainslie is a long way from Manhattan, and three ESBRU titles and a new course record don’t count for much in the mountains of Australia.

Six weeks after setting a stunning new record time at the Empire State Building Run-Up, Paul Crake was back home ready to defend his ACT Mountain Running Championship title.

The 12km race was to be run over a course that covered Mount Ainslie and the neighbouring Mount Majura.

As the reigning champion Crake had everything to lose and the new crop of mountain runners from Canberra and beyond weren’t going to make it easy on him.

Unfortunately for them, Crake was now deep in a phase of mastery that would last for a couple more years and would include some of the best performances of his mountain running career.

He took the win in a time of 50:31, ahead of Ben Rattray (52:23) and Adrian Sheppard (52:51).

2001 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge

Three weeks later, the ongoing battle between Paul Crake and Jonathan Wyatt at the Sky Tower in Auckland continued.

Crake had won the inaugural event in 1998, but for the past two years he had finished second behind Wyatt, the 1998 and 2000 world mountain running champion.

2001 sky tower race

Wyatt and Crake approach the finish of the 2001 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge

2001 played out just as the previous two years had. Wyatt took his third win in a row in a time of 5:27, with Crake settling for second once again with his finish of 5:43.

2001 auckland finishes

Melissa Moon won the women’s division in a record time of 6:57. Among those at the race was the Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, who made it to the top in 21:48.

Australian Mountain Running Championships 2001

With the ACT championship in the bag, Crake headed to the national championship race on Saturday 19th May 2001.

But his training had been seriously hampered by a stress fracture, which had stopped him from running shortly after the Auckland race.

Although Crake had maintained his fitness with a heavy cycling and swimming workload, he had only started running again a week before the Championships, after six weeks out of action.

No one really knew what sort of shape he was in or how the event might go.

The 11.5km race was held at Camp Mountain, the same venue where Crake had lost his national title in 1999. But despite the less than ideal build up to the race, this time was to be different. Just.

He managed to hold on for the win by crossing the line in 43:10, a mere four seconds ahead of Ross Hudson.

Crake followed up his second national title win with victories in June and July at the monthly run up Mount Ainslie.

Telekom Malaysia Towerthon 2001

On Sunday 5th August, it was back to the stairs as he headed to Malaysia to race up the Kuala Lumpur Tower. He was once again racing Jonathan Wyatt, who was going for his third win in a row at the 2,058-step tower.

But there were plenty of other strong runners in Kuala Lumpur that day, including elite mountain runners and an in-form Rudi Reitberger, who had finished third the year before.

As expected, Wyatt took the win, reaching the top in 10:32.

‘I was a little bit disappointed with my time’, Wyatt said. ‘But on the whole I’m happy winning it three times in a row.’

But, in a bit of a shock result, it was not Crake who came in behind the champion. Rudi Reitberger ran the Australian hard the whole way and reached the top in 11:03, four seconds ahead of Crake in third place. This was the first time Crake had finished behind any of his ESBRU rivals.

In the women’s category, Melissa Moon also successfully defended her title, winning the race in 13:14, breaking her own course record of 13:24 set the year before.

Second place went to Angela Sheean of Australia with a time of 14:07, while Russian Tatiana Cheigas, who clocked 14:25, was third.

2002 wyatt moon 2001kl tower

2001 Malaysia Telekom Towerthon winners Melissa Moon and Jonathan Wyatt

The Wyatt Conundrum

Paul Crake is well known in tower running. His long-standing records at the ESBRU and Taipei 101 mean his name pops up in articles every year. In debates about the greatest tower runner ever, Crake is always mentioned.

But far fewer are familiar with Jonathan Wyatt. Yet during the height of Paul Crake’s stair running exploits, he never managed to get a win over Wyatt. In the early 2000s Wyatt was a formidable and pretty much invincible tower runner, so why did he never compete at the most famous race of all?

‘I was never invited to the Empire State Building Run-Up, but also I never asked, either’, Wyatt told Tower Running UK.

‘The time of the year never suited me with where I was in racing, often on the track in New Zealand or in heavy build-up training ready for a Euro [mountain running] season.’

Given the race record between the two, one might assume that had Wyatt made it to New York he may well have beaten Crake’s record and gone sub 9:30. But he disagrees.

‘I don’t think i would have run faster than Paul’s Empire States time. Maybe theoretically with proper stair training, more power and anaerobic work, you could say it would be theoretically possible. But with the training I was doing at the time he did it I can say with some certainty I wouldn’t have broken it.’

‘I never trained [specifically] for the races – Kuala Lumpur I did only because it was convenient as a stopover either going to Europe or coming back to New Zealand, so it was actually a nice way to run a race and break up the trip. The mountain training I was doing would put me in say 90% shape for a tower race, but to be really good I would have needed to train more specifically.’

‘I think some of Paul’s best tower races were when he had switched over to cycling and so I think there is something in that with the type of anaerobic training that you do on the bike being a help for towers.’

According to Wyatt, the difference between the pair on the stairs was possibly not as pronounced as some of the finishing times between them may suggest.

‘Paul would train specifically for some of the tower events and when we raced together he would be very close to me, much more than in a mountain race, and if the races we did had a decent amount of running to get to the tower, such as Kuala Lumpur [starts with an 800m uphill run to the tower], I had an advantage. Auckland was a short run in [150m], but there it was so difficult to pass [on the stairs] that getting to the tower door first was almost the race in itself!’

World Mountain Running Championships 2001

With a win at the Australian Championships Crake earned a spot on the national team to compete at the World Mountain Running Championships held on 16th September in Arta Terme, Italy.

Alongside Crake in the Australian men’s team was Daniel Green, who had beaten him for the 2000 Australian Championship title. From the world of stair running there was Austria’s Rudi Reitberger and Russia’s Iourri Oussatchev.

Crake had his best run at the Worlds to date, finishing in 17th position in a field of around 150.

Italy’s Marco De Gasperi won his third title in five years (he would go on to win two more in 2003 and 2007), while fellow Italian Emanuele Manzi took second. In the following years both men would go on to successfully compete at numerous stair climbing events around the world.

wmragp podium

Paul Crake (2nd from right) finished 8th in the World Mountain Running Association Grand Prix series in 2001

The end of the 2001 season

Crake’s brilliant season continued right up until the end of 2001. He defended his Sydney Tower Run-Up (1,504 steps) title with a winning time of 7:01. In November he defended his Four Peaks title, while setting a new record at Mount Feathertop in the process.

In December he won his fifth Black Mountain Challenge and then in January 2002 he secured his third Crackenback Challenge win in a row.

An incredibly successful 12 months had Crake in confident mood heading to New York for the 25th ESBRU on Tuesday 5th February.

2002 Empire State Building Run-Up

2002 esbru poster

The horror and sadness of September 11th 2001 hung over the ESBRU in February 2002. With the collapse of the Twin Towers, the Empire State Building had once more become New York’s tallest building.

The start line was peppered with firefighters and police officers, determined to give everything in memory of their fallen comrades.

Speaking before the race, Jules Pontpovero (wearing #70 in the start line image below) from the New York Fire Department said, ‘It’s gonna be a breeze for us. They had bunker gear, they had smoke, fire. We just have shorts, t-shirts and you guys giving us support, so it’s gonna be easy’.

After the event, Captain Tim Morgan from the NYFD said, ‘I was just trying to think of the guys you knew personally, from the youngest guy to the most experienced – the chief of the department we lost [on September 11th]’.

‘I thought, ‘Don’t give up. These guys didn’t quit. They were still running in the building trying to recover civilians’. He finished in 14:30.

Firefighter Kenny Bohan said the race gave people something positive to focus on. ‘In some small way, I think we did that. People showed up. Nobody was afraid of anything, and people came from all over the world to run in this race.’ His 14:15 finishing time meant he was the fastest firefighter, or policeman, on the day.

Fantastic four?

Paul Crake was going for his fourth win in a row. Only Al Waquie (1983-87) had so far managed to win more than three titles. Given his performances over the past three years, Crake should have been a certainty for a fourth title. But this time things had changed slightly.

2003 paul crake lobby

Paul Crake in the Empire State Building lobby before the start of the race

With Rudi Reitberger having finished ahead of Crake in Kuala Lumpur a few months before, the 2002 Empire State Building Run-Up took on a different feel. A thread in Crake’s shroud of invincibility had come loose. At least one man at the race knew he was capable of beating Crake. Was this time going to be different?

The start line was packed with talent. In the colour image below there’s 1990 ESBRU champion Scott Elliott (9), Paul Crake (25), Markus Zahlbruckner (6), Rudi Reitberger (8), Sproule Love (red bandana) and Jaroslaw Lazarowicz (5, with water bottle). In the black and white photo the shot opens up and in comes Bernd Hammer (45) who was 3rd in 1997 and 2nd in 1998.

2002 mens start

2002 mens start two

Sproule Love was first through the door. Love had transitioned to stair running from elite level international winter biathlon and had finished seventh in his ESBRU debut in 1999. An injury while cycling had ruled him out of the event in 2000, but he blew back onto the scene in 2001 with a third place finish, despite entering the stairwell in 11th or 12th position.

In 2002 he was determined to get a better start.

‘In my third running of the race [2002], I hadn’t yet learned the difficult lesson about pacing on the stairs and was convinced that one had to be first to the stairwell to contend for the win (now I’m not so sure that is the case). I was a 4:22 miler in high school and had a decent kick, so I figured that with some speed work I could beat everyone to the door. Although I managed to do that, it came at a cost’, Love recalled in 2019.

‘After leading for about 25 stories, I realized I had gone too fast and throttled back. But the die was cast: Paul caught me, of course. I stayed with him for a while, but couldn’t manage to hang on. Later, near the 65th floor traverse, Rudi caught me as well and moved into second place. Fortunately, I didn’t completely blow up and held on for another spot on the podium in exactly the same time as the year before.’

As he had done in all his previous wins, Crake pulled away in the final third of the race with a show of strength that couldn’t be matched by his rivals.

He once again ran sub 10-minutes, this time finishing in 9:40. Rudi Reitberger was second, but still some way back in 10:36, with Sproule Love managing to hold on for another podium place with a finishing time of 11:09. Just behind him in 11:13 was Markus Zahlbruckner from Austria.

2002 crake wins

‘It’s really something to come back and win this race again’, said Crake. ‘I think really it couldn’t have gone better’.

The battle for fifth place was a tight one, as you can see in the video below (@ 2:05). With 20 floors to go, Filipino athlete Arland Macasieb was under serious pressure from Poland’s Jaroslaw Lazarowicz and the 1990 ESBRU champion Scott Elliott.

Macasieb managed to hold on to the fifth spot, reaching the top in 11:54. Scott Elliott followed in 12:00 and Lazarowicz in 12:13.

Moll goes for a record fourth title

In the women’s division all eyes were on Cindy Moll who was also going for a record fourth title, which would have made her the most successful female competitor at the ESBRU. Interestingly, another three-time winner was on the start line that day. Nina Kuscsik (1979-81), now 63 years old, was back at the race again after a 20-year hiatus. She would go on to finish in 28:07.

The feeling in the lobby was that Moll would saunter to a record win. The start line was devoid of her rivals of recent years. The race was practically ceremonial.

Unfortunately for Moll, nobody had told the young German mountain runner Kerstin Harbich.

Like Markus Zahlbruckner in the men’s event, Harbich had earned her spot at the ESBRU by winning the 776-step Danube Tower race in Vienna in November 2001.

Harbich came in well under the radar, but she had been training with ESBRU legend and three-time winner Kurt König (1995-97). For seven months she had trained specifically with the ESBRU in mind. First to win in Vienna and then in New York.

‘My new trainer, Kurt König, has chased me countless times over the 250 steps of the Mittenwald Calvary in addition to my regular mountain running training’, said Harbich.

The starter’s horn failed to go off, which led to confusion at the start line. The focused Moll took instant advantage of the pondering around her and was into the stairwell comfortably ahead of the others. Harbich quickly realised what was happening and she weaved past a couple of women to get in behind Moll. Now the race was on.

The German kept close behind Moll all the way through the first 64 floors and then made her move. In the race video below you can see Harbich’s decisive pass (@ 1:52-1:58).

‘I felt so good and I knew that I would be faster on the last 22 floors’, said Harbich.

She pulled away to win in 12:46, while Moll finished in 13:25.

2002 harbich wins

Kerstin Harbich crosses the line to win the 25th Empire State Building Run-Up, 2002

2002 winners photo

2002 ESBRU winners – Paul Crake and Kerstin Harbich

 

The elderly man at the start and finish of the video is Chico Scimone from Sicily, Italy, who at the age of 90 was taking part in his 12th ESBRU event.

2002 Empire State Building Run-Up results