Archive for the ‘Tower running history’ Category

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

2000 crake finish

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.

16831856_10154849324540999_4210814132973125614_n

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

As the community mourned the loss of an icon, the first European champion of the ESBRU was crowned.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-1990 or 1991-1993 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU between 1994 and 1997.

1994 – The last race on the short course

Just as it had been in 1991 and 1992, the 1994 Empire State Building Run-Up was run on a shortened course of 80 floors.

On the morning of Thursday 17th February, 33 women headed into the lobby to race. The start list was full of fresh names. A few ESBRU veterans were there, including 1991 champion Corliss Spencer, 1993 fourth-place finisher Prapti Jensen and Peggy Schaab. But there were also a lot of first timers, and with 1993 champion Sue Case absent, the race was wide open.

Representing Australia this time around was Belinda Soszyn, who had won the 1993 Sydney Tower race to earn her place in New York. The USA was very well represented by Oonagh Bruni, a fast marathoner from California with multiple sub 2.50 times to her name; Michelle Blessing, a top-level triathlete and mountain runner; and pro-cyclist Elizabeth Emery.

It was school teacher Soszyn, described by one journalist as ‘a sturdy stick of a person with legs like two iron bars’, who took the win. Her finishing time of 11:36 was 20 seconds ahead of Oonagh Bruni (11:56), with Michelle Blessing a further 20 seconds back in 12:16.

1994 fred lebow best

Fred Lebow holds the tape as Belinda Soszyn crosses to win

‘A bit of a sweat, and I don’t usually sweat’ said the new champion, when asked about the race.

The photo above is a poignant one. Sadly, the 1994 Empire State Building Run-Up would be the last that Fred Lebow would attend. He finally succumbed to the brain cancer he had been diagnosed with in early 1990 and passed away later that year on the 9th October.

Lebow is truly one of the founding fathers of competitive tower running. He persevered with the ESBRU, riding out the derision it faced in the early years, and helped it grow in stature. Year-on-year from 1978-1994 he managed to attract a range of serious athletes from a variety of countries and disciplines to take part. He genuinely believed in tower running as a legitimate sporting activity and not just as a sideshow to more traditional forms of running. His legacy is the longest-running, and most iconic, stair climb event in the world.

Fred Lebow

Fred Lebow 1932-1994

 

Stair climbing newcomer wins the men’s division

Three-time winner Geoff Case didn’t take part in 1994, and neither did many of the top finishers of the past few years. So, just as the women’s race was, the men’s event was wide open.

European athletes Kurt Konig (GER) and Matthias Schreiner (AUT) would be in the mix, as would the new Aussie champion on the block, Phil Griffiths. For the USA, two-time national duathlon champion Darrin Eisman from Colorado would be leading the charge.

Eisman had earned his place by winning a race in 1993 up 37-floors of 1999 Broadway in downtown Denver.

‘I was working in Denver at the time, and heard about this [race] the day before’, said Eisman. ‘I ran to the building at lunch and ran to the top, then decided I’d race the next day. Ended up winning an all expenses paid trip to the Empire State Building stair climb.’

Darrin Eisman

The champion’s steps at 1999 Broadway, Denver, Colorado

In winning the Denver race, Eisman joined a list of winners that included former ESBRU champions Scott Elliott and J’ne Day-Lucore. That was surely a good omen.

Eisman would make it two wins from two stair races when he reached the 80th floor of the Empire State Building in 9:37. Kurt Konig was close behind him in 9:52, with Phil Griffiths third in 10:04. For the first time in the event’s 17-year history, there would be only one American in the top five, as Austrian Matthias Schreiner and Canada’s Harreson Martell followed.

1994 WINNERS BEST

Eisman and Soszyn celebrate winning the 1994 ESBRU

1994 eisman and belinda

Eisman was characterised by one journalist (the same one who creatively described Soszyn) as, ‘a lithe figure decidedly unmolested by the sweet rolls and hoagy dogs of life’.

‘It was awful. The dust, the dust, my lungs are so full of dust’, said the new champion when questioned at the finish. ‘Nobody wanted to yield. They held onto both the handrails and wouldn’t let me by.’

‘I can tell you that 37 [floors] is certainly a lot less than 80…I cant believe this. The Empire State Building!! Pretty tall.’

Full 1994 ESBRU results

 

1995 – A new King emerges

Stair racing can trace its origins back to Europe in 1903, when the first recorded stair race took place in Paris, France. This was followed just two years later by the first known tower run, which took place at the newly constructed Eiffel Tower.

Given the history of the sport in Europe, it was only a matter of time before a champion from that part of the world emerged. In 1995 that’s what happened, when the race returned to its traditional 86-floor/1,576-step distance.

In fact it was the first year that not a single American runner made it into the top five in the men’s race.

Unfortunately, beyond a very straightforward listing of the results in just a few publications, there were hardly any reports on the 1995 ESBRU. So there’s not much to say about this event. Although there is a video of the event below.

Germany’s Kurt Konig (which translates as ‘king’ in English) improved on his second-place finish in 1994 to win in a time of 10:39. He held off a strong challenge from Australian David Osmond (10:48) and fellow German Dieter Randtl (11:06).

In the women’s race, there was expected to be a close battle between two outstanding American athletes. Second place in 1994, Michelle Blessing returned to the ESBRU, having once again won the qualifying race at 1999 Broadway in Denver. With reigning champion Belinda Soszyn missing, Blessing was tipped for the win.

But keen observers would have known that the highly accomplished New York athlete Fiona Bayly, although racing for the first time, would surely be in contention for the title.

Blessing’s stair racing experience served her well and she managed to hold on for the win, reaching the 86th floor in 13:03. Bayly was just a flight or so behind in 13:10. Aussie Chrissy Griffiths (a possible relation of Phil Griffiths from the 1994 event) was third in 13:26.

1995 WINNERS CELEBRATE

King Kurt and King Kong lift Michelle Blessing aloft

 

 

1995 Empire State Building Run Up results

 

1996 – Champions do battle

After missing out on competing at the previous edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up, Belinda Soszyn knuckled down and made sure to secure her place at the 1996 ESBRU by winning the 1995 Sydney Tower Run.

In New York she would be going head-to-head with reigning champ Michelle Blessing. The impressive Fiona Bayly was back for another crack, and Japanese triathlete Haruna Hosoya (who would go on to represent Japan at the 2000 Olympics) was also in the mix. Germany’s Bernadette Hudy, owner of a 2.41 marathon PB, would be leading the charge for the European competitors.

Soszyn ran the race like a woman possessed. Nobody came close to her and she set a new course record of 12:19, taking five seconds off the time that her compatriot Suzanne Malaxos had set in 1989.

Blessing was some way back in 13:04. A few months later she would carry the Olympic torch through Colorado Springs on a leg of its relay journey in the build-up to the Atlanta Olympics.

Haruna Hosoya was third in 13:16, with Fiona Bayly finishing fourth in 13:20, and narrowly missing out on back-to-back podium finishes.

1996 WOMEN WINNER

Belinda Soszyn sets a new course record at the 1996 ESBRU

 

Konig goes for the double

Kurt Konig was back again, this time to defend his title. Among the 106 men challenging him at the Empire State Building were the 1995 third and fourth-place finishers, Dieter Randtl and Matthias Schreiner. A young and fast Austrian named Bernd Hammer was also there hoping to be the next European winner.

Once more, Australia sent forth one of its strongest sons. This time it was the phenom Terry Purcell. He had earned his place by destroying the course record at Sydney Tower by a massive 24 seconds. The previous record had been set by three-time ESBRU champion Geoff Case in 1992. Purcell would be one to watch.

At the start line Konig looked relaxed, standing upright with his hand on his watch, waiting for the starter’s orders. Off to his right stood Purcell with head low, looking focused. On the call of ‘on your marks’, Purcell bent down into a low stance, with his torso almost parallel to the ground. He would likely have been warned by others, maybe Case or Soszyn, about the vital strategic importance of getting into the stairwell first or second, and he was set. When the starting horn sounded, Purcell blasted off the line and duly made it first through the door.

What exactly played out in the stairwell we don’t know. But the video below shows that by the 66th floor changeover, Konig was in front. He would hold onto that lead for the remaining 20 floors and cross the finish line in 10:44, slightly slower than his winning time the year before.

Purcell was just seven seconds back in 10:51, while Austrian tower running star Matthias Schreiner made it onto the ESBRU podium at the third attempt, although he suffered from his exertions. For the second year in a row, no American athlete made it into the top five.

1996 MATTIAS SCHREINER THIRD PLACE

Matthias Schreiner crumples at the finish line

Also running was Sports Illustrated journalist Michael Finkel. You can read his article on his experiences at the event here.

 

1996 Empire State Building Run-Up results

 

1997 – Konig and Soszyn go for three

The reigning ESBRU champions both came back to the event in 1997. Kurt Konig was aiming to join Al Waquie and Geoff Case in a small group of male winners with at least three titles. Belinda Soszyn was going for her third title in four years, hoping to take her place alongside Nina Kuscsik and Janine Aiello as three-time champions.

Konig would once again face off against David Osmond from Australia, who he had beaten by just nine seconds in 1995. Bernd Hammer was also racing, eager to make it onto the podium after his fourth place finish the year before. Matthias Schreiner was back, joined by another speedy Austrian called Rudolf Reitberger.

ESBRU veterans Brian McCauliff and Joe Kenny were also in attendance, no doubt keen to stop the growing pattern of American absence from the top five.

Kurt Konig clocked his fastest ever time to take his third win in a row. His 10:22 finish was the second-fastest time clocked in the building and was just four seconds off the course record set by Geoff Case in 1993.

1997 KONG BEST QUALITY

Kurt Konig, ESBRU champion 1995-1997

A two-horse race

With few of the familiar top-level women in attendance, the 1997 ESBRU women’s race was a straightforward battle between reigning champion Belinda Soszyn and 1996 third-place finisher Haruna Hosoya.

Although Hosoya clocked an 18-second PB to finish in 12:58 and become one of the few women to go sub-13 minutes, it was still some way off Soszyn’s winning time of 12:32.

‘The emotional feeling is, my God, that’s really great. Three is wonderful. Three is enough to stop at’, said Soszyn after her win. And she did stop. Soszyn would go out on top and never return to the ESBRU again.

 

1997 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series ‘A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 1998‘.

As construction on the Empire State Building meant the race course was shortened to 80 floors, an Australian stair climbing champion and his speedy sister-in-law battled to maintain a growing tradition of Aussie dominance at the event.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the ESBRU covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-1987 or 1988-1990 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU between 1991 and 1993.

1991 – The course is shortened

The Empire State Building was opened in 1931, and so after 60 years of use it was due some renovations. One element of the planned works was to adapt the 86th floor observation deck to make it accessible to disabled visitors. That meant the traditional ESBRU finish out on the deck was out of the question, and so in 1991 the race would be run over a shortened course of 80 floors/1,430 steps.

129 runners (97 men and 32 women) turned up to the race, and with neither of the 1990 champions returning, the event was wide open. Reigning men’s champ, Scott Elliott, was out due to bone spurs, while Suzanne Malaxos hadn’t won (or possibly didn’t take part in) the Rialto Tower Run-Up which awarded the winners an all expenses paid trip to New York to race the ESBRU. Instead, a new pair of Aussie superstars were in New York.

Australian champions head for New York

On Sunday 7th October 1990, the fourth edition of the Rialto Tower Run-Up in Melbourne, Australia took place. As they had been since 1987, the winners of this event were awarded an all expenses paid trip to New York to race up the Empire State Building.

Former ESBRU champions Craig Logan (1988) and Robin Rishworth (1989) had seized their opportunity when it came. So had two-time champion Suzanne Malaxos (1989-1990). The winners of this fourth edition of the Rialto Tower Run-Up would have a lot to live up to.

Among those vying to be the next Aussie stair climbing sensations were two runners from the Geelong Cross Country Club. Geoff Case was an A-standard runner for the club, as was his sister-in-law Sue Case. Both were winners of the club’s ‘King Of the Mountains’ title, which was run at Ceres, the highest point in the city of Geelong.

Geoff had found out about the Rialto Run in 1988, after hearing that the coach of Aussie marathoner Steve Moneghetti (four-time Olympian, and World Championship bronze medallist in 1997) was taking part in this new and unusual event. He was instantly curious.

When registration for the 1989 edition came around he signed up. Setting off in a time-trial format, Case had to pass more than 40 other runners on his way to a sixth-place finish. ‘When I went home, I looked at the times and realised the five people in front of me were in the elite group and didn’t have to pass anyone,’ said Case.

‘I mean the guy who finished fifth had just beaten Rob de Castella [1983 marathon world champion] in a fun run two weeks earlier. I realised then I was competing against the elite and it excited me a lot.’

Just a month later Geoff began training in earnest, specifically with the 1990 Rialto Tower race in mind. He was soon doing 13 sessions a week, including cycling to Lorne [approx. 40 miles from his home in Highton] and back, running up and down Queens Park hill 10 times and running to the top of the You Yangs [a mountainous area north of Geelong] and around its base. Joining him for a lot of this training was his sister-in-law Sue.

When the pair got to Melbourne that Sunday in October 1990, they were unstoppable, and they both took first place in their divisions in the race up 53 floors (Geoff’s winning time was 7:23).

1991 CASE WINS RIALTO RUN

Hard work pays: Geoff Case winning the 1990 Rialto Tower Run-Up

Following the event, the Rialto Tower management opened the building to the Cases, and so every Thursday from October 1990 to February 1991 they added specific stair running sessions to their already packed training schedule in preparation for the Empire State Building Run-Up.

1991 WINNER CASE TRAINS WITH 2ND PLACE LADY

Sue and Geoff Case training on the stairs of the Rialto Tower, in preparation for ESBRU 1991

When the Cases made it to New York, they had every reason to be confident. Training had gone well, and although there were a lot of strong athletes and experienced stair climbers racing, there was no clear favourite in either the men’s or women’s race.

The ever-present Joe Kenny, who had second and third-place ESBRU finishes to his name, was back again to try and finally win the title. Previous top-five finishers Brian McCauliff and Daniel Glickenhaus were in contention, too. Also on the start line, but not expected to be near the top finishers, was Scott Haley, the son of Bill Haley of Rock Around the Clock fame. Bill Haley had died almost exactly 10 years before, and Scott said, ‘He was blind in one eye and could never participate in sports. Music became a way for him to have an impact. He would have been proud of me for doing this.’

It was Geoff Case who took the win in a time of 10:13 (keep in mind it was on a shorter course of 80 floors). Unfortunately, post-race reporting of the 1991 ESBRU was really limited and we were unable to find a single image of the start or finish (but read on to see video footage of the event).

In second place was Brian McCauliff in 10:25, with Joe Kenny taking third in 10:41.

Asked why does he do it, Case said, ‘It’s just the recognition to myself and the friends back home,’ he said. ‘It was to do just what I’ve been doing in training. It’s fantastic.’

‘We take out timber windows and put in aluminum,’ he said. ‘So, I’m up and down ladders all the time,’

He described the first few floors of the race as a ‘mad scramble with arms legs going everywhere. You had to say ‘excuse me, excuse me,’ you had to shove a little bit.’

A runaway winner in the women’s race

Lining up with Sue Case on the start line was mountain running champion J’ne (pron. Janie) Day-Lucore, who was a two-time Pikes Peak Ascent champion (1989-1990) and course record holder.

The 1985 third-place finisher, Gillian Horovitz, was there, too. British-born Horovitz (nee Adams) was a serious marathoner throughout the 1980s. In 1980 she won the Paris Marathon, and came third at the Boston Marathon and Tokyo Marathon. She also came third at the London Marathon in 1981. She would eventually go on to take fourth at the Commonwealth Games marathon in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, showing brilliant longevity in a hugely accomplished career. Years later she would successfully battle ovarian cancer, too.

Another strong competitor looking to deny Sue Case the title was 1990 second-place finisher Corliss Spencer, and she was coming in really strong. In November 1990 she had won the United States Biathlon Federation national championship (biathlon aka duathlon – run/cycle/run – rather than skiing/shooting) in Central Park. She had also won the Central Park triathlon earlier in 1990.

Spencer would go on to take the win, finishing in 11:32, a clear 44 seconds ahead of Sue Case (12:16). Gillian Horovitz secured her second podium finish at ESBRU with a time of 12:53.

‘My bike racing skills helped, since a bike race builds the same muscles you need to climb stairs,’ said the new champion, Spencer.

 

1991 Empire State Building Run-Up results

 

1992 – Case aims for back-to-back wins

Geoff Case returned in 1992 to defend his title. He had earned his spot by winning a race up the 1,504-step Sydney Tower in October 1991.

When he took the start line at ESBRU on Thursday 13th February, alongside 96 other men, he had five straight stair race wins to his name, and was in blistering form.

The usual suspects of the last few years were alongside him – Joe Kenny, Daniel Glickenhaus and Brian McCauliff.

Case was a clear winner in 9:33 (the race was up the shorter course of 80 floors). He was followed, as he had been the year before, by McCauliff in 9:59, while Steve Richards from Boulder, Colorado took third in 10:36.

1992 GEOFF CASE FINISHING

Geoff Case crosses the line for his second ESBRU win

‘It was a bit hairy there for a second’ said Case, describing how he tripped on the first step after entering the stairwell and narrowly avoided being trampled. At about the 40th floor, Case said he knew he was going to win.

‘After 10 floors you’re in that pain. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing 50 or 80 floors’, said the two-time champ. ‘There are a hundred guys stronger than me…Maybe I’m hungrier than everyone else…A good head is the key. If the mind goes, the body stops.’

Day-Lucore takes victory in the women’s race

J’ne Day-Lucore took the win in the women’s division in 12:00. That was a massive 87-second improvement on the the time that had earned her sixth place the year before. Already a two-time winner and record holder of the Pikes Peak Ascent, she would go on to win that race again later in 1992 and one last time in 1993.

Her nearest rival among the other 22 women racing was the youngest runner, 20-year old Australian Diane Nash. Like Case, Nash had earned her place at ESBRU by winning the Sydney Tower race a few months before. The impressive Gillian Horovitz was third in 12:47.

There was limited coverage of the 1992 ESBRU, although there is a video below with some race footage and the winners finishing (apologies for the poor quality). Publications that had previously ran fairly large post-race spreads were now limited to a few lines. Where there was more extensive coverage, it tended to be in smaller, local newspapers and focused on charity runners and the causes they were running for. The early nineties seem to be the start of a general decline in interest in the event as a sporting spectacle. The same level of media treatment of tower running can be seen today. Whether interest rose again later in the decade, or in the noughties, is to be seen.

 

1992 Empire State Building Run-Up results

 

1993 – The Cases return to New York

There remains a small amount of confusion about what length the course was in 1993. We’ve seen results listed, on Wikipedia or other blogs for example, with asterisks and footnotes saying that from 1991-1994 the course was shortened to 80 floors. In 1991, 1992 and 1994 the race was definitely run on that shortened course of 1,430 steps. But some reliable newspaper reports from 1993 say that that year it was run up the traditional 86 floors. The video below shows it was an indoor finish, but the finish line looks to be in a different place to that in the 1991 video, suggesting it’s not on the 80th floor. The finishing times also back up the argument that it took place over the full length course.

All of this leads us to believe that it was almost certainly run up the full 86 floors/1,576 steps, but ended inside because the outdoor observation area was inaccessible – similar to the weather-induced internal finish in 2014. If anyone has information to fully clarify this, we’d welcome it.

Sue Case looks to settle scores

After her second-place ESBRU finish in 1991, Sue Case went away and regrouped. She didn’t make it to New York in 1992, but she was back in Australia training hard. As the end of 1992 approached, her hard work began paying off.

She raced the Sydney Tower Run in September, and was up against Tani Buckle, who had won the marathon silver medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games competing for Australia. Elite triathlete Belinda Soszyn was there, too.

Case cleared them all out, finishing ahead of second-place Buckle by over 30 seconds and setting a new course record in the process. This win earned her a trip to New York to take part in ESBRU 1993.

A few weeks later, in October ’92, she was back at the familiar Rialto Tower in Melbourne. She set a new course record there as well, taking a massive 35 seconds off the previous best time.

Lining up in the lobby of the Empire State Building on Tuesday 16th February, alongside 25 other elite women, she was full of confidence. 1992 champion J’ne Day-Lucore was there, as was 1991 champion Corliss Spencer. Canadian cycling team member Debbie (Prapti) Jensen was sure to be among those challenging for top spot as well.

But for Case, it didn’t matter. She was unstoppable; destroying her rivals and winning by over a minute. She finished in 12:42, ahead of former collegiate runner Kathy Swanson in 13:44 and Corliss Spencer in 13:57.

1993 sue case wins

Sue Case wins the Empire State Building Run-Up 1993

Case said she had a slight problem breathing in the stairwell. ‘The stairwell is hardly used and so the dust gathers there’, she said. ‘But still, winning is such a lovely sensation.’

Joining her at the finish line was her husband, and Geoff’s brother, Brian. He had raced in the men’s division, finishing in 12:41. ‘We do a lot of hill climbing, but mainly it’s running up the stairwell at the Rialto’, said Brian, when asked how they train.

‘The stairwell there [at Rialto] has concrete steps because its a newer building, where as here the steps are made from wood, so it’s a little easier on the knees’, added Sue.

Geoff Case goes for three-in-a-row

As he had the year before, Geoff Case earned a flight to New York and entry to ESBRU by winning the Sydney Tower Run in September 1992, and setting a new course record. He had also come third in the Rialto Run-Up a few weeks later.

The line-up in the men’s race at ESBRU 1993 was truly international, peppered with non-American athletes. It included Irishmen, Brits, additional Australians, a Spaniard, Norwegians, an Austrian and Canada’s Harreson Martell and David Wiseman.

Geoff had spent the whole year building up to the event, dedicating himself to securing three ESBRU titles. It would have taken a massive performance from his rivals to deny him a third win, and the task was beyond them all.

He secured victory in a new course record of 10:18. Behind him was fellow Australian Glen Davison in 10:43 (Davison went on to win the NYRR 10km Bagel Run a few days later in 30:41). Third place went to Norwegian alpine skiier, Tore Olsen.

After the race, a celebratory Case said, ‘This is the toughest building I’ve raced in, but this was the easiest race for me. I was prepared, I knew I’d get what I wanted. By the 34th floor I knew I was in command. If someone challenged me then I could just pick up the pace.’

1993 GEOFF FINAL FINISH

Three-sy does it: Geoff Case wins his third ESBRU title

The Cases would not return to the Empire State Building again. A new breed of stair runners, including Terry Purcell and Belinda Soszyn, soon began dominating in Sydney and Melbourne, to become the new Australian representatives at ESBRU during the rest of the 1990s.

1993 winners better

Stair Cases: the winners show off the spoils of victory

The video below is footage from the race, plus an interview with the two winners. You can see both Sue and Geoff making it first into the stairwell in the respective mass starts. At the 21-second mark you see Geoff grabbing a water at the 66th-floor.

 

 

1993 Empire State Building Run-Up results

 

Read on to find out what happened at the ESBRU 1994-1997.