Archive for the ‘Tower running history’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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
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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).

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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.

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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

In 2001, everyone wanted to know just how much faster course record holder Paul Crake could run the Empire State Building. As it turned out, a lot faster.

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 or 2000 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out how the ESBRU record fell again in 2001.

Back to the mountains

With the first ever sub 10-minute finish at the Empire State Building Run-Up in the bag, a jubilant Crake headed to Mt Coree on Saturday 18th March 2000 to attempt to win a second national mountain running title.

The Australian Mountain Running Championship featured the best of the best from around the country, so winning this was going to be a serious challenge.

The race involved a 7km uphill run to the summit of Mt Coree, followed by a 2.5km descent before turning around and running 2.5km back to the summit.

1999 champion Bruce Hogg didn’t return, but there was new, and old, competition standing between Crake and a second national title, including 1996 champion David Osmond.

In particular, former national junior cross country champion Daniel Green was coming into the race in fantastic form. He had clocked a half-marathon PB of 65 minutes in Tokyo back in January, and just 11 days before the national championship race he had broken the course record at the Mt Ainslie run-up by six seconds.

Crake and Green pulled away from the pack during the race and it came down to a straight battle between the two of them.

2000 aus champs david osmond 101

David Osmond (101) during the 2000 Championship race at Mt Coree.

Green pulled away towards the end to win the championship in 54:55, with Crake a couple of minutes back in 56:54.

2000 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge, Auckland

Two weeks later, on Saturday 1st April, Crake was in New Zealand to face off against Jonathan Wyatt who had beaten him at the Sky Tower Vertical Challenge in 1999.

As in the year before, the race for victory to the top of the 1,051 stairs was between these two giants.

pjimage

Wyatt and Crake head toward the finish at the 2000 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge

The times were slightly slower than the year before but the result was the same, with Wyatt winning in 5:20 and Crake second in 5:42.

pjimage (1)

Mt Ainslie Run Up

Just three days after the Auckland race, Crake was back to winning ways at the Mt Ainslie Run Up in Canberra, finishing in a personal best of 10:39.

Held on the first Tuesday of every month, the race attracted top runners from all around ACT and NSW. The course was 2.2km long with a 230 metre elevation gain.

He would go on to win the run-up five more times in the year 2000, and set a new course record of 10:11 on the 14th November.

Telekom Malaysia Towerthon 2000

On May 14th, Crake was in Malaysia to race up the Kuala Lumpur Tower. He was facing off against a highly accomplished group of international athletes from various disciplines, including Jonathan Wyatt, Rudi Reitberger and Russian mountain runner Iourri Oussatchev (who would finish 13th at the World Mountain Running Championships a few months later).

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Kuala Lumpur Tower, Malaysia

Wyatt was the defending champion of the grueling event, which began with an 800m uphill run into a climb of 2,058 steps.

Wyatt once more dominated on the stairs, breaking his own course record and winning in 10:24. Crake was second and Reitberger was third.

In the women’s division, Angela Sheean (1999 ESBRU champion and newly crowned two-time Australian Mountain Running Champion) was back to defend her KL Tower title. She was facing off against New Zealanders Melissa Moon, who had placed third at the World Mountain Running Championship in 1997 and 1998, and Maree Bunce who had won the Sky Tower race in Auckland in April and had finished third at the World Championships in 1999.

It was Moon who took the win in 13:24.

World Mountain Running Championships 2000

In September Crake took part in his third World Mountain Running Championship, which was held in Bergen, Germany. The 12km race was a hard one and Crake finished 54th in a field of 131 men, his poorest finish in the event.

The incredible Jonathan Wyatt won the race to secure his second world mountain running title.

Closing out the year on top

Despite some disappointments in the first two thirds of the year, the back end of 2000 was packed full of fantastic performances by Paul Crake.

In August he won the Mt Tennent Challenge and in November he won the Four Peaks event.

This four-day event involves a race each day up one of the peaks in the mountainous region north-west of Melbourne.

Crake set new course records at each of the mountains he ran: Porepunkah, Feathertop, Hotham and Buffalo.

He was also back to winning ways on the stairs, taking his second title at the Sydney Tower Run-Up with a record-breaking time of 6:52.

He finished the year with his fourth straight victory at the 5km Black Mountain Challenge, taking the win in a personal best 17:11.

The new year began with a win and new course record at the Crackenback Challenge in Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains of NSW. In supreme form, he headed to New York for the ESBRU on Wednesday 7th February 2001.

2001 Empire State Building Run-Up

Given his sub 10-minute performance the year before, and how far he’d finished ahead of experienced ESBRU athletes Terry Purcell and Rudi Reitberger, the question at the 2001 Empire State Building Run-Up wasn’t, ‘Can anyone catch Crake?’, it was, ‘How fast can he go?’.

Although the fast finishers from the previous few years were missing, there were a few familiar names at the start line who’d be aiming for a top-ten or top-15 spot, including Stephen Marsalese who had first raced ESBRU in 1996, and Rolf Majcen who had debuted in 2000.

Holger Munkelt from Germany was also back for another go at the course.

holger munkelt

Holger Munkelt

Coming from a middle and long-distance road running background – with a 2.25 marathon among his many accomplishments – Munkelt had taken part in his first stair race in 1997 at the City-Hochhaus, which at the time was part of the University of Leipzig campus. He had won that 691-step race with ease. The top prize for the winner was a trip to New York to race the ESBRU the following year.

b-lpzg-turm

City-Hochhaus, Leipzig

Following his debut at the 1998 ESBRU, where he finished fifth, he went on to win races at the Berlin TV Tower and the Monument of the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig.

Munkelt was certainly one to watch, although he would probably have to do a fair bit better than his 11:47 from 1998 to be in contention for a podium place.

There were more incredibly strong racers among the 113 other men competing.

Thailand’s 5000m and 10,000m record holder, Boonchu Jandacha, had been invited over to take part.

Markus Zahlbruckner was maintaining the strong tradition of excellent Austrian athletes to compete at the ESBRU. His compatriots Bernd Hammer, Rudi Reitberger and Matthias Schreiner had all managed to make it on to the podium at least once, and Zahlbruckner was eager to join their ranks.

For Zahlbruckner, success in stair running began in 1999, when he finished second at the 776-step Danube Tower race in Vienna. In November 2000, he won the Danube Tower event, which earned him an invitation to the 2001 Empire State Building Run-Up.

Strong Brazilian Sandro Goncalves was sure to be in the mix for a top five finish. He would later go on to represent his country at international level duathlons. A strong Pole called Jaroslaw Lazarowicz also had a good shot at a top-five finish.

Sproule Love, a crossover athlete who had finished in the top-10 at the US Olympic Trials for winter biathlon in 1998, was flying the flag for the home nation and was favoured to be the top-finishing American male. He had finished 7th in his ESBRU debut in 1999 without any specific preparation, but was now back having done some more specific work to be ready for the demands of tower running.

2001 start line

(L-R) Paul Crake (1), Sproule Love (blue hat, head down behind Crake) Rolf Majcen (flowery leggings checking watch), Markus Zahlbruckner (15), Carlos Parra (11), Sandro Goncalves (10), Boonchu Jandacha (7) and Jaroslaw Lazarowicz (red and white)

All-in-all it was a strong field of athletes, but whether any of them could hang with Crake for the full duration of the course was to be seen.

As usual Crake got an excellent start and made it first through the door into the stairwell. He then ran a brilliant race, dropping his rivals in the final third of the course. Lazarowicz ran with him over the first 50 floors but was unable to maintain the pace and Crake dropped him. In the race video below (@ 1:16) you can see how strong and fresh Crake still looks at the 65th floor.

Crake would have known he was going fast and probably felt another sub 10-minute finish was on the cards. But the king of the ESBRU was accustomed to running naturally, eschewing technology and sensing his way up the building with a finely honed internal pacing system. Without a watch he couldn’t have known exactly how fast he had run.

His finishing time was an unbelievable 9:37. He had taken 16 seconds off his improbable winning time from the year before.

2001 colour crake finish

Paul Crake sets a new course record of 9:37

‘You know what they say, ‘third time lucky’, but I’ve already won the race twice so it’s more like, ya know…I’m pretty pleased about that one’, Crake said. ‘The race went pretty much as I planned. There was a lot of pushing and shoving at the start but then I settled in.’

The race for the remaining podium places was tightly contested. Germany’s Holger Munkelt took second in 11:02 and American Sproule Love became only the second American since 1994 to make it onto the podium (Jesus Zerpa was third in 1998).

Moll aims for third title

It was an exclusive group of women that had won the Run-Up three times: Nina Kuscsik (1979-81), Janine Aiello (1985-86, 1988) and Belinda Soszyn (1994, 1996-97). At the 2001 ESBRU Cindy Moll was heavily tipped to join them.

In January she had broken the course record at the Bop to the Top in Indianapolis, with a winning time of 4:26. It was the seventh time in a row she’d won the race. Among the 38 women on the start line in New York, she was the one to beat.

Moll’s ESBRU rival Fiona Bayly was back again, hoping to push the reigning champion a bit harder than she had in 2000.

2001 womens start

Also in the race was Nelly Simón from Mexico (who we suspect may be the same Simón that’s now a sports analyst with ESPN). Her 15:00 finish the year before had earned her fifth place, so she was an outside shot for a podium place given the slightly reduced quality of the field compared to previous editions.

Also an outside shot for third place was Stacy Creamer, who had finished ahead of Simón in 2000, clocking a 14:22. Not among the fastest women, but possibly good enough to get her on the podium if the going was slow all-round. Over the following 10-15 years, Creamer actually went on to become a solid age group duathlete and triathlete, competing at international competitions for the USA and even bagging some top-3 finishes.

Bayly, Moll and Simón all got good starts, with Moll getting off the line marginally quickest. But the taller Simón kept her arms out and managed to muscle ahead of Moll to get into the stairwell first. Moll followed, with Bayly immediately behind her.

But as it turned out, Moll could have given her rivals a minute head start, and she would still have reined them in, such was her conditioning on the day.

The two-time champ was unstoppable, clocking a personal best 12:45 and securing her third win from four starts.

‘I didn’t like the beginning, I never do’, Moll told reporters. ‘Fortunately I didn’t fall. It’s really hard at the beginning because it’s that mass start, but after I got through the first few floors and away from the pack, then I felt a lot better about the race.’

 

2001 Empire State Building Run-Up results

For 23 years, a sub 10-minute finish at the Empire State Building Run-Up stood as a seemingly impossible mark to achieve. Then reigning champion Paul Crake turned up.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-19971998 or 1999 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out how the record fell at ESBRU in 2000.

First year as an ESBRU champion

After his record-breaking ESBRU run on 25th February 1999, Paul Crake returned to Australia for what would turn out to be a year of mixed fortunes.

There is no obvious record online of the 1999 ACT Mountain Running Championship (which usually took place around Feb/March), so whether Crake defended his title this year or not is a mystery for now. But after such an outstanding year in 1998, he had plenty of other titles to defend in 1999.

On Tuesday 6th April he got started with another hard-fought win at the Mt Ainslie run up in Canberra.

Back to Auckland

On the 10th April, Crake headed back to Auckland to defend his title at the Sky Tower Vertical Challenge.

In its second year, the event attracted around 600 competitors and among them were a host of incredible athletes.

Alongside Crake (the Empire State Building Run-Up and Sydney Tower Run-Up champion), was Jonathan Wyatt, the 1998 World Mountain Running Champion. Guainas Salanga, winner of the inaugural Kuala Lumpur Towerthon in 1998 was also there. The tough Kuala Lumpur race he’d won involved a 800m uphill run into the tower to scale 2,058 steps.

Reports say a fourth-place finisher at the World Mountain Running Championship was also at the event, which is likely to have been New Zealander Aaron Strong.

The race began with a 150m run along Federal Street before runners turned into the tower and up the 1,051 stairs. The pace over the first 150m was apparently very fast and there was a bit of a melee up the first five floors, with elbows thrown and plenty of shouts to move over for faster runners.

Once the runners settled a bit, it became a two-man race between Crake and Wyatt.

Wyatt was an incredible athlete who excelled at a multitude of distances. In 1996 he had competed in the 5,000m at the Atlanta Olympic Games for New Zealand. His personal best at the distance was 13:27.

Jonathan Wyatt cross country

Jonathan Wyatt

In 1997 he turned his focus to mountain running and the following year won his first World Championship title.

1999 sky tower crake

Paul Crake approaches the finish of the 1999 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge

1999 wyatt stairs

Jonathan Wyatt closes in on victory

It was Wyatt who came out on top in the second edition of the Sky Tower Vertical Challenge. He won in a time of 5:17, while Crake finished second in 5:38.

1999 wyatt finish

Wyatt wins in 5:17

1999 sky tower crake finish

Crake takes second in 5:38

Australian Mountain Running Championships 1999

The next major race in Crake’s calendar was the defence of his national mountain running title on Saturday 26th June.

The 13.2km race was held at Camp Mountain, about 12 miles outside of Brisbane.

The result didn’t go the way Crake would have hoped, and he succumbed to his second title loss of 1999. Bruce Hogg took the win in 52:59, with Crake finishing second in 53:45.

In the women’s division, the new ESBRU champion Angela Sheean took victory to earn a spot alongside Crake at the World Mountain Running Championships in Borneo.

In the World Championship race in September on Mt Kinabalu, Crake managed to finish in 37th position (out of 99 finishers).

Kuala Lumpur Towerthon 1999

In July, Crake was in Malaysia to race against Jonathan Wyatt at the Kuala Lumpur Towerthon. The tough race began with an 800m uphill run into a climb of 2,058 steps.

As he had done in Auckland, Wyatt got the better of his Australian rival, winning the race in 10:39. Crake was second in 11:22 and A. Geevaraj was third in 12:16.

In the women’s division, the new ESBRU and Australian Mountain Running champion Angela Sheean faced off against fellow Australian and three-time ESBRU champion Belinda Soszyn.

In a closer race than the men, Sheean took the win in a time of 14:18. Malaysia’s Yuan Yu Fang was second in 14:30 and Soszyn third in 14:56.

1999 kl champs wyatt sheean

Jonathan Wyatt and Angela Sheean

Into the new millennium

We were unable to find any record of the Sydney Tower Run-Up which was scheduled for September 1999, so are not sure if Crake defended his title that year. Despite a year of mixed fortunes, he saw out the end of the 20th century on a high by winning his third Black Mountain Challenge in a row on the 12th December 1999.

In the new millennium, he picked up where he’d left off, with winning ways. Just 10 days before he was due to race the Empire State Building, he won the ACT Mountain Running Championship, the same event that had launched his successful senior career in 1998. Despite an up-and-down past 12 months, recent wins had buoyed Crake’s confidence and leading into the race at the Empire he was a clear favourite to win.

The sub 10-minute finish

133 men took part in the 23rd edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up on Wednesday 23rd February 2000.

Jesus Zerpa, third in 1998, was back, as was Austria’s Rudi Reitberger who had made it onto the podium in 1999. Fellow Austrian, Rolf Majcen, had also made the trip over to New York for the biggest race on the tower running calendar.

1998 champion Terry Purcell was hoping to go one better than his second-place finish in 1999.

But all eyes were on Paul Crake. Could he do what nobody else had ever achieved and break the 10-minute mark?

2000 mens start

Paul Crake (centre, #1) flanked by Terry Purcell (centre-right, #2) and Rudi Reitberger (centre-left #3)

He got off to a great start, making it first into the stairwell. And that was it. He was gone. Just as he’d done in 1999, he hit the stairs in first position and stayed there.

When Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile mark in 1954, he did so by just over half-a-second. When Pete Squires broke the sub 11-minute mark at ESBRU in 1981, he also managed it by around half a second.

There would be no split-seconds for Crake. His finishing time was an emphatic 9:53. He had destroyed his own course record by 22 seconds and achieved something that many thought impossible. The image below clearly shows him through the line at 9:52, but the official recorded time was rounded up.

To put this into context for those unfamiliar with tower running and the Empire State Building Run-Up. Crake is the only person to have ever run the course in under ten minutes. The closest other time is the 10:07 ran by German Thomas Dold in 2009 (Thorbjorn Ludvigsen managed a 10:06 in 2014, but the race course was slightly shorter that year so his time isn’t directly comparable). All of the great tower runners that have followed Crake have been some way off his amazing time. But he wasn’t done yet. In the following years he would truly shock everyone.

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The first sub 10-minute finish at the Empire State Building Run-Up

In the battle for second place, Terry Purcell and Rudi Reitberger were closely matched. The Austrian had trailed Purcell by just five seconds in 1999.

In the race video below you can see the pair tight together as they reach the crossover point at the 65th floor, with Purcell leading the way (1:03).

But somewhere over those last 20 floors, Reitberger managed to slip past the Aussie and reverse their positions from the year before.

Reitberger crossed the line in 10:56, while Purcell completed the course in 11:08.

mens podium

Rudi Reitberger, Paul Crake and Terry Purcell

Crake said his debut in 1999 helped provide the base for his incredible win in 2000. ‘I think it comes down to experience. There’s been a couple of races in Australia where I’ve bummed up the start and I couldn’t come through. But when you’ve got the confidence that you can come through, it helps in a race like this.’

‘Today the pain sort of started coming after 20 or 30 floors, then it maintained at that level. Then about, sort of, the 55 mark, I thought I might have gone out a bit hard here. I might have to back off. But nah, I thought I’ll stick with it, and fortunately I was able to hold the pace until the finish line.’

Moll vs Bayly II

With no Australian woman in attendance and no other elite international competitors around, the 2000 ESBRU was a straight clash between homegrown, all-American talent.

In 1998, Cindy Moll had won on her debut, beating the experienced Fiona Bayly by a mere second. Moll hadn’t had a great race in 1999. Bayly, as far as we know, wasn’t there.

Now they would go head-to-head once again.

Cindy Moll was having a brilliant year already, despite it being just seven weeks old. On February 6th she won a race at the Amoco Building (now Aon Center) in Chicago. Then on the 12th February Moll took her second win of the year at the Bop to the Top in Indianapolis. She must have been brimming with confidence standing in the lobby of the Empire State Building.

Moll made an improvement to her start and this time she was first through the door, ahead of Bayly who was close behind.

2000 moll start

Cindy Moll (F3) reaches the stairwell door ahead of Fiona Bayly (F2) at the 2000 Empire State Building Run-Up

In the video below you see Moll climbing solo at around the 65th floor (0:49). There was to be no repeat of the super-close battle that played out in 1998 between herself and Bayly. The in-form Moll was a clear winner this time around. Her winning time was a personal best 12:51, meaning she joined a small group of elite women that had managed to run under 13 minutes.

2000 moll finish colour

2000 cindy moll finish

Cindy Moll wins her second Empire State Building Run-Up title in 2000

Bayly came in second in 13:13, while Theresa Uhrig – a sub three-hour marathoner from California – was third in 13:30.

Four days later Moll made it four wins from four starts as she successfully defended her title at the ‘Hustle up the Hancock’ race at the John Hancock Center in Chicago.

2000 winners photo

2000 Empire State Building Run-Up champions Paul Crake and Cindy Moll

 

2000 Empire State Building Run-Up results

In 1999 an Australian mountain running champion arrived in New York to begin a five-year run of incredible times at the ESBRU that would leave the tower running world stunned.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-1997 or 1998 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 1999.

Paul Crake – the king of the ESBRU

Mount Coree is part of the Brindabella Range that sits on the border of New South Wales (NSW) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Standing at just 1,421 m (4,662 ft), there are more prominent peaks in the Brindabella Range, but perhaps none as important as Coree.

Because, just as Mount Ida in Crete was home to the infant Zeus, so Coree marks the place where the legend of Paul Crake really begins in 1998.

Mount Coree

Mount Coree

Already a four-time winner of the Australian Junior Mountain Running Championship, Crake headed to Mount Coree on Saturday 28th March 1998 to take a step up and face off against elite senior competition in the ACT Mountain Running Championship.

The 1996 Australian Mountain Running Champion David Osmond was there – the same man who had finished second at ESBRU in 1995 and 1997 – as was the 1997 national champion Chris Cook. Trevor Jacobs, who had dominated the ultra scene in the area for the past decade was also at the start line. It wasn’t the first time Crake had faced off against some of these men, but it was arguably the biggest stage so far in his burgeoning athletic career.

The young Crake, 21-years-old and a banking and finance student at the University of Canberra, blew them away. He pulled away from the pack after just 1.5km of the 8km course to finish in a course record 38:13. It was over a minute before second-place David Osmond crossed the line behind him. Paul Crake had well and truly arrived.

Stepping into tower running
Sky Tower Auckland

Sky Tower, Auckland, New Zealand

The following Saturday, 4th April 1998, Crake was in Auckland, New Zealand to take part in the inaugural 1,081-step Sky Tower Vertical Challenge. Crake already had stair climbing experience at this point. He had finished third at the Sydney Tower Run-Up in October 1997, and had won the Telstra Tower Run-Up in Canberra in November 1997.

This would be another serious test on the stairs for Crake as he was facing off against the newly crowned ESBRU champion Terry Purcell, as well as New Zealand mountain runner Aaron Strong who had finished fourth at the World Mountain Running Championship in 1997.

A mass-start event, racers had to run 150 metres along the street outside the Sky Tower before heading inside and onto the stairs. To the surprise of many, Crake won the race comfortably in 5:39. Strong was second in 6:10 and Purcell was third in 6:25.

‘I knew if I was gonna have a chance of winning this i’d have to go out hard, but I didn’t think i’d have to go out that hard’, he told reporters after his win.

Over the next few years, Auckland would play host to the toughest battles Paul Crake ever faced on the stairs.

Australian and World Mountain Running Championships

After his win in New Zealand, Crake returned home to Canberra and immediately began preparations for the Australian Mountain Running Championship that was set to take place on 9th May. With the victory at the ACT Championship in March, he was the favourite going into the 12km race at kunanyi / Mount Wellington in Tasmania.

It was a tough race for all the runners in attendance. They had to contend with sleet, snow, slippery surfaces, a blizzard on the summit and a wind chill temperature of minus twenty degrees during the last section of the course.

But in spite of the hardships on the course, Crake managed to secure his first Senior title, winning in 66:26. He held off New Zealander Aaron Strong, the same man he’d beaten in Auckland the month before.

Now it was time for Crake to prepare for the World Mountain Running Championships on Réunion island in September 1998. David Osmond would be joining him at the 15km race, as would three-time ESBRU winner Belinda Soszyn, as the representatives for Australia.

As would be expected with a world championship in any sporting discipline, it was a big step up in competition for the Canberra man. It was a challenging race for Crake, due in no small part to the bad stomach cramps mid-run that impacted his performance. But he managed to finish 26th in a field of around 130 starters, which he was reasonably happy with, all things told.

Sydney Tower Run-Up

The year was winding down for Crake, but he still had some key races to focus on. In December he would attempt to defend his title at the Black Mountain Challenge in Canberra, and maybe even secure another win at the monthly run up Mt Ainslie, which attracted a really strong set of runners from the ACT area. He’d won the inaugural run back in April.

But before then he was focused on preparing for the Sydney Tower Run-Up in October.

sydney tower

Sydney Tower

Started in 1990, the organisers of the Sydney Tower Run-Up offered a trip to New York with entry to the Empire State Building Run-Up to the winners of the event.

Previous winners included former ESBRU champions Geoff Case, Sue Case, Terry Purcell and Belinda Soszyn.

Typically run up a course of 1,504 steps, the 1998 event was held on a shortened course, as it had been in 1997 when Terry Purcell won for the second time.

Crake took victory in Sydney to earn a spot at the Empire State Building Run-Up 1999.

In the women’s division, it was 22-year-old Angela Sheean, from Lake Macquarie, New South Wales who took victory. Sheean was having a stellar year, with a third place finish in the Australian Half Marathon Championships back in June and a second place finish at the New South Wales 10km Championships in May.

The Empire State Building Run-Up 1999

In numerology the number 22 is referred to as one of the master numbers, loaded with power and potential. In February 1999, the 22-year-olds Crake and Sheean were in New York for the 22nd ESBRU. The omens were positive.

Alongside Crake at the start line was reigning champion Terry Purcell. Bernd Hammer, second in 1998, and Rudolf (Rudi) Reitberger were also in attendance. Unfortunately the New York Road Runners website doesn’t currently display the results for the 1999 race, so it’s not clear who else stood alongside them that year (we’ve reached out to NYRR for more information). In addition, the 1999 edition of the ESBRU was one of the most poorly covered by the press so details of the race and results were very hard to come by.

Crake was first into the stairwell, and he held that position all the way to the top in what was a record-breaking run. He reached the 86th floor in 10:15, followed by Terry Purcell in 10:54. Austria’s Rudi Reitberger finished third in 10:59.

1999 crake colour

crake finish 1999

Paul Crake sets a new course record at the 1999 Empire State Building Run-Up

‘It’s an excellent result for the Australians’, said a smiling Crake at the top. A patriotic Purcell echoed that, telling reporters, ‘At least another Aussie won. That’s the main thing’.

‘I came over here from Australia, sort of not knowing what to expect because I hadn’t run this race before, but as it’s turned out, you know, everything went exactly to plan’, Crake said during a post-race interview. ‘I broke the record by six seconds’.

The champion was actually misinformed. Geoff Case’s 1993 time of 10:18 (albeit with an indoor finish) was considered the course record at the time. Crake was referring to the 10:22 clocked by Kurt Konig in 1997.

1999 PAUL CRAKE CELEBRATES

Crake celebrates his win

 

Sheean makes it an Aussie double

In the elite women’s division, Angela Sheean would be going head-to-head with reigning champion Cindy Moll.

As it had in 1998, a jittery start cost Moll precious positioning heading into the stairwell. Sheean exploded off the start line and was gone.

The Australian reached the top in 13:23, a fair bit ahead of Nancy Rowe who finished in 13:50.

1999 sheean wins

Angela Sheean wins the 22nd Empire State Building Run-Up

As he’d done for all the podium-finishing Aussies the last few years, Michael Baume, the Consul-General of Australia to New York, stepped forward and draped the Australian flag around the new champion’s shoulders.

‘How was it?’, said one reporter to Sheean immediately after her win. ‘I don’t wanna run any more stairs!!’, she quickly replied.

A few months after her ESBRU win, Sheean went on to win the Australian Mountain Running Championship. She followed this up with a top-20 finish at the 1999 World Mountain Running Championship in Borneo in September.

In March 2000, she defended her mountain running title to become a two-time national champion. Then, once more, she made it inside the top-20 at the World Mountain Running Championships, this time in Germany.

Sheean wouldn’t return to the Empire State Building, but she would run stairs again. She won the Sydney Tower Run-Up once more in October 2000, shattering Belinda Soszyn’s 1996 course record by an incredible 67 seconds to finish in 8:45.

Read the next installment in the series to find out what Crake did at ESBRU 2000.

Incredibly, the winners of the 1998 Empire State Building are still competing in and winning events over 20 years later. Their victories in 1998 thrust them into the spotlight on the biggest stage in tower running.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-1993 or 1994-1997 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 1998.

An incredible comeback

As she promised, 1997 winner Belinda Soszyn did not return to New York to defend her title. The three-time winner and course record holder had checked out on top, and so the women’s race was wide open.

Fiona Bayly was back after missing the 1997 edition. Having finished second in 1995 and fourth in 1996, and with a personal best time of 13:10, she was fancied to take the win. But Bayly was suffering with tendonitis and bursitis in her right foot. What effect this would have on her performance would have to be seen.

Unlike in previous years, there were no renowned elite athletes in the field of 29 women. No previous ESBRU winners turned up and there was no Australian champion in attendance, either. There were some highly competitive local club runners in the mix, but none that had the sort of massively impressive times or titles that had been seen among the women in years past.

But there was an experienced tower runner on the start line and she was expected to be Bayly’s strongest competition. 29-year-old Cindy Moll, an accountant from Indianapolis, had already enjoyed success at stair climbs in her home city, including wins at the Bop to the Top at OneAmerica Tower in 1995, 96 and 97. She was coming into the event off the back of a confidence-boosting win at a tough 7-mile race in Indiana, just 12 days earlier.

Moll had actually taken part in her first Bop to the Top tower race in 1985, while still a high-school student, but she wouldn’t return to the stairs for quite some time after that. ‘It took me eight years to do a second one. I started too fast and learned you have to pace yourself’.

At the start line of the Empire State Building Run-Up, Moll looked relaxed. Bayly, just a few steps to her left, was crouched in position like a 1,500m runner at the start of a race, ready to hit the stairwell first. Just before the starter’s claxon went off, Moll slightly lost her balance and as she adjusted her feet the horn sounded and she was immediately passed by those around her. She entered the stairwell in around fifth or sixth position. Not a disaster, but not the start she wanted. Bayly was first onto the stairs.

The race was a slow one – the slowest since 1987 in fact. But it was the closest race seen at the ESBRU up until this point, too.

Bayly set off hard, and was well and truly out of sight of everyone by the halfway mark. When Moll got to the 60th floor, she was told that Bayly was around 40 seconds ahead of her. But despite thinking the race for first place was probably over, she pushed on.

Up ahead, the hard early pace and the pain from her injured foot began to take its toll on Bayly, and she started to slow.

Incredibly, in 20 floors, Moll managed to claw back the 40-second deficit and by the 80th floor she had caught up to Bayly. Passing on the narrow stairs of the Empire State Building is always hard, especially against a climber that is determined to stop you getting through.

But Moll made her move on the 84th floor and finally took the lead.  At the finish line, just one second set the two apart, and it was Cindy Moll who crossed first in 14:17 for a brilliant comeback win on her ESBRU debut. Maria Fernadez from Mexico was third in 15:16.

‘My legs started to feel rubbery’, said the winner. ‘I kind of got that burst of energy in the last floor’.

Bayly was understandably gutted. ‘I’m so furious, I’m just really disappointed’, she told reporters. ‘My foot couldn’t hurt anymore’

Nine days later, Moll defended her title at the 37-floor Bop to the Top race, winning in 5:05. She was quickly establishing herself as the best stair climber in the USA. Her legendary tower running career, which is still ongoing, was now well under way.

 

Advance Australia Fair

Heading into the race on Thursday 19th February, Terry Purcell knew exactly what was expected of him. Five of the ten previous men’s races at the ESBRU had been won by Australians. In the other five events, an Australian had finished in second or third in each of them.

Purcell himself had been second in 1996, finishing just seven seconds behind the winner Kurt Konig. It had been five years since an Australian won, so now was the time for Purcell to step up and join the ranks of Aussie ESBRU champions.

Described by one journalist as having ‘quadriceps that look like sides of beef’, Purcell was coming in off the back of a win at the Sydney Tower Run in late 1997. His confidence was high.

According to some reports, the pre-race favourite was actually Bernd Hammer from Austria. No big surprise given he had finished fourth in 1996 and third in 1997.

As the athletes limbered up in the lobby, Hammer took a knee, clasped his hands together and prayed.

God surely doesn’t favour one tower runner over the other, but if he does, he may have had a soft spot for Jesus Zerpa, a tough runner who would be challenging for a podium place.

At the start line, 27-year-old Purcell adopted his familiar low stance with knees bent and body parallel to the ground. A master starter, Purcell flew off the line at the first hint of noise from the claxon. But as he went for his second step, his right foot slipped on the sleek lobby floor and he stumbled badly (see image below). He just managed to save himself from completely falling, but it had cost him ever so slightly and he was passed by at least one runner heading into the stairwell.

Hammer slipped at the start, too; his right foot also giving way massively as he tried to push off. His stumble cost him far more than Purcell, and around nine or ten men were ahead of him as they hit the stairs.

1998 ESBRU START

Terry Purcell (centre) works to recover after his stumble

Purcell quickly took the lead. Despite his poor start, it wasn’t long before Hammer made up the gap and settled in behind him. The pair climbed close together for the large part of the 86 floors.

At around the 75th floor, Purcell managed to pull away. He created a small lead for himself and held it tightly right to the finish, crossing the line in 10:49. Hammer finished in 10:57, and Jesus Zerpa was third in 11:23.

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Terry Purcell wins the 1998 Empire State Building Run-Up

As Purcell crossed the line, Michael Baume, the Consul-General of Australia to New York, stepped forward and draped the Australian flag around his shoulders, just as he’d done for Belinda Soszyn the year before. Baume had put Purcell up in his official residence for the days leading up to the race.

‘I couldn’t let the Australian tradition down’, said the victorious Geelong man. ‘I realised today when I was at the 55th floor, I looked at it and I thought, hey I’d be finishing in Melbourne now, and I’ve got another 31 floors to go. And the second Austrian guy, he was sitting right behind me then, I was thinking, ya know, just drop down a bit so I can have a bit of a relax. But I couldn’t. Not until about the last 10 floors could I get away from him.’

‘I’m used to about seven or eight minutes for a race’, Purcell added. ‘Those last three minutes really hurt’.

Already a stair climbing legend in his own country, this win put Purcell firmly on top on the global scene. A permanent move to the USA just a couple of years later saw him quickly establish himself as the best climber in the States. His record would go on to include five wins from five starts at Chicago’s AON Center (and a long-standing course record that was only broken in February 2017) and nine wins from nine starts at the John Hancock Center. He retired from the sport in 2011, but made a stunning return in March 2017, and at the time of writing is once again the top-ranked US tower runner.

1998 purcell and moll

Cindy Moll and Terry Purcell – 1998 ESBRU winners

 

1998 Empire State Building Run-Up results