Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

Race season will soon be upon us and no doubt there will be lots of newcomers to the sport taking on their first tower. With Vertical Rush for Shelter just a few months away training should be starting now at the latest, so we’ve put together some stair running tips to help those new to the sport.

Why stair climbing?

Stair climbing is the perfect workout as it’s free, low impact and high-intensity, which means you get a great fitness boost in a short space of time. No big long runs or expensive fitness classes here. You’ll likely burn as many calories doing a solid 15-minute stair workout as you would doing an hour long steady state jog.

Where to run stairs in London?

If you’re in London your best bet is to go to the Tower Wing of Guy’s Hospital. There you’ll find 700+ steps on a quiet stairwell (if you go in the evenings) that’s open until 10pm. If you’re not in London, you should be looking for hospitals and hotels as your go to training venues. If you work in an office with 6+ floors, or have access to a block of flats, that will be perfect too. Find out more ideas on where to run stairs in London.


Guy’s Hospital, London – tallest hospital in the world and TRUK training venue!

Take two steps at a time

If possible you really want to be taking two steps at a time while your training for a stair race and when you’re racing. If you’re hoping to make a fast time at Vertical Rush this is essential. It can feel harder but try single stepping the same distance and you’ll see you actually expend more energy, especially if you’re not just walking.

Use the railing

We see a lot of newcomers to stair climbing not touch the railing, but it’s far more efficient if you do. Not only does it keep you stable and straight, thus focusing your energy on going up, but it also helps you to take the turns on each landing a little quicker, which will save you time overall. Add to that a decent upper body workout and pulling on the railing is a no-brainer.


US stair running legend Kristin Frey demonstrating a great rail technique – hand over hand like a pulling a rope

Coming down the stairs

Ideally you always want to get the lift back down after you have done your stair climb training sets. All the non-impact benefits are undone if you have to keep descending stairs once you reach the top. It will leave you with sore calves and quads for a couple of days after too. If getting the lift down is simply not an option then try and spread the load around your muscles by using different descending techniques each time (sideways, backwards, feet turned in and then out), or even each flight.


Should have taken the lift – avoid descending the stairs when you can and be careful when you can’t

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Over the last few weeks we’ve been training a few people on the stairwell at the world’s tallest hospital for some of the upcoming UK stair races. During sessions we’ve been asked various questions about strength training for stair running, including how often to do it, and what sort of routines. We’ve decided to explore the question a bit further over the coming weeks.

Unfortunately, proper strength training is often overlooked by stair climbers. They assume that running sets on their favourite stairwell will be all they need to make the gains that will help them compete. Then come race day the legs give out on the championship floors and they can end up just missing a PB or slipping agonisingly out of the top 10 or 20. A simple strength training routine for stair running will help build endurance in the legs and stop them giving out too soon in a race, as well as helping to prevent injuries.


Mo Farah and Galen Rupp (Olympic 10km gold and silver medalists, London 2012) decide they want to go hard and not home. Do the same!

We recommend incorporating a strength training routine twice a week and, if you have time, doing it on the same day as your stair running. This may seem counter-intuitive, but by running and strength training on the same day you leave yourself a recovery day or an easy workout day the day after. Remember, you need a rest day to help cement your strength gains and give your body a proper chance to recover and repair.

Squats and lunges are great all purpose lower body exercises, so those are great go to exercises to get started with. But, there is loads of variety when it comes to leg routines, from high-intensity goblet squat routines to more complicated exercises involving suspension ropes and balance boards. Renowned American stair climber, and head of X-Gym in Seattle, P.J. Glassey demonstrates a great routine using a suspension rope in this YouTube clip.


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In the right amount, pre-race nerves can sometimes enhance performance, but when they get out of control they can really suck the enjoyment out of an event.

There are loads of strategies available to try and tackle them, such as breathing exercises, listening to music or tensing and relaxing each muscle group.

Read on to find out three of our favourite methods for tackling pre-race nerves.

Have your gear packed the night before

It’s the night before race day, what are you doing? Up late watching the UFC? (guilty) Watching the Bulls play? (guilty). Or are you in bed early with your race bag packed and ready by the door? Do you know your route to the tower and how long it’s going to take to get there? Have you planned what you’re having for breakfast?

All of these things if left to the last minute add to the stress of race day. A little bit of time taken to plan ahead and you can head into your race with only one thing on your mind…giving everything you have in the stairwell, just like world number one Suzy Walsham.


Visualise the race

The importance of visualisation for success in stair running is more important than for any other running discipline. How so?

Well, if you wanted to, you could run around 50 fairly competitive 5k races a year in the UK just turning up to your local free Parkrun event. Every single week somewhere in the country or near a city you live in there will almost certainly be an organised race to take part in. This allows runners to build up race experience and more importantly pacing strategies. There are then more blocks with which to build your vision before each race of how things are going to potentially play out.

But this just isn’t the case with UK tower running. Even if you had managed to sign up to every stair race in the country last year, you would only have raced less than 15 times. Most of those races would have been different too. Different turns, vastly differing numbers of stairs and widely different numbers of fellow climbers. Figuring out a pacing strategy for a building you get to enter once a year is difficult. Sure, if you can get access to a tall tower for your training you can work on pacing and technique, but how many of us have that luxury?

This is where the importance of visualisation comes in. You often have to work with limited experience and knowledge, so you have to take the bits you do know about and enhance them and make them clear and bright in your mind. This can be tricky, but if you can get it right it really helps come race time.


If you’ve raced a certain tower before, then draw on that experience. Picture the buzz around the start line, imagine dashing into the stairwell, feel the lactic acid building and your pulse racing upwards. Remember where the real hurt kicks in and have a strategy for handling the effect that has on your mind and will. All this will go quite some way to helping you settle your pre-race nerves. Have a race plan in your mind and stay focused on executing it.

If you haven’t raced the course before, then do some research. Ask around to people who have raced it. Look for pictures online of the stairwell; how many stairs on each flight? what way do they turn? how close together are the railings?

Piece together an idea of what lies ahead and see it over and over again. Imagine crushing each flight, taking each landing turn smoothly, and kicking hard at the end of the race. Once the race is over make sure you recall the stairs and your experience so you can PB at next year’s event.

Check your expectations

If it’s your first climb and you’re not usually very sporty, then perhaps you’ll be nervous about finishing at all, or worried about the potential pain. Listen, you’re a lot stronger than you think. We really wish people would unchain the physical limitations they put on themselves. When we speak to people about stair climbs, we too often hear ‘oh I could never do that’. Or on the Facebook pages of events, you will always see people posting nervous messages asking if it’s ok if they walk or saying they probably won’t make it. You can walk and you will make it, and when you get to the top you will feel amazing! Trust us on that. The buzz on that last flight of stairs, no matter how fast you got to the top is just brilliant. So lose the nerves. Be proud you’re taking part and raising important funds for charity, and most importantly enjoy the day.

For those stair climbers who are set on being competitive, it’s a slightly different story. Your nerves are all gonna be about performance. Will I win? Will I make the top ten? Will I get an age group medal? It’s great to have these athletic aspirations, and they can drive you on to good times. But if you don’t keep them in check they can also ruin the weeks leading up to a race. One useful strategy is to have a ‘good’, ‘great’ and ‘excellent’ goal for your race. You can decide for yourself what these are, and hopefully they will lessen that fear of ‘failure’, because at the very least you are going to realise one of them

Also remember, “working hard doesn’t guarantee success, it only gives you the opportunity to succeed.” Give your best during training and on race day, and then whatever the result is you can be proud of yourself.

If you’re looking for more tips check out our run down of the top five stair climbing websites you should visit for training tips and advice on racing.

Preparing for a stair climbing race can be tricky if you don’t have access to a tall building.

But even if you don’t live or work in a high-rise tower, there are still options available to get in some great, specific training.

Read on to find out some of the best places to run stairs in London.

Running stairs on the London Underground

Keep to the left!

When traveling on the tube, don’t just stand on the escalators. Get moving and pump up the left hand side two steps at a time. If you’re a regular commuter, you will certainly get some benefits from these short bursts.

For something more substantial, you’ll want to head onto the emergency stairs at one of the stations. The popular suggestion when this comes up is to head for Covent Garden, where there are 193 steps. People often wrongly assume this is the tallest set of stairs on the Underground. It isn’t. That honour goes to Hampstead Station on the Northern Line, which boasts over 320 stairs.

Covent Garden is one of the busier stations on the network and in our opinion it’s to be avoided. Its central location is appealing, but it’s just too busy, and really the ride out to Hampstead is worth it. There you will almost certainly have the stairs to yourself for the duration of your session, and the lift is close to the top of the steps making fairly quick intervals possible. The staff there are pretty friendly too and might let you leave a bag in their office while you train. Do not leave anything at all on the stairs while you are running, as you will almost certainly be asked to move it. Pack light and run with your stuff in a back pack if you can’t, or don’t want to, leave it with the staff upstairs.

Also, be sure to bring some water, and maybe some latex gloves because the bannisters are very, very sooty and will leave your palms completely black.

The only down side to training on the underground is that it can be quite difficult to get a good rhythm going on the spiral staircase. Plus there are no landing turns so you won’t be able to practice those either.

The entrance to the stairs at Hampstead tube station.

‘I’ve got a stair race to win, of course it’s an emergency!!’

Hospitals and public buildings

London is home to the tallest hospital in the world, which is Guy’s – with its Tower Wing being the tallest building in it. There are 700+ stairs there to train on, and access in and out is pretty straightforward. It’s located a very short walk from London Bridge Station, just behind The Shard, and is the best option in the city for stair running.

Check out its location here.

Guys Hospital Tower Wing

The Tower Wing at Guy’s hospital offers 700+ steps of clear running


We’re not going to name the hotels you can train at in London because we don’t want them being overrun and security being tightened so much nobody can access them. There are hotels across the city you can walk into and get a few lengthy runs in without attracting much attention. You will have to ‘shop’ around a bit as some will have higher security than others, but training on hotel stairwells is a viable option.


‘Yeah…err…i’m staying here. Yep on the top floor, that’s right.’


These are a real treasure. We have 170 steps at our office (7 floors) and with the lift right next to them it is very easy to get in a lot of stair running before or after work. If you work in a tall office block you are flying, and should make the very most of the opportunity. If like us you work in quite a small block, you will have to be creative with your routines, but it is still definitely possible to get a great workout in with only 5 or 6 floors.


If you live in a tall block of flats you are good to go. If not then ask about on Facebook to see if any of your friends will let you visit them and get in some long climbs. If neither of those options are a possibility you can sometimes access flats early in the day using the ‘Trades’ entry button. Some flats won’t have this and instead have a security desk. We find that if you are friendly enough and explain that you are training for a charity run, they will sometimes let you in. If you do manage to get access to a high-rise you also have the benefit of taking the lift down, which saves your legs and cuts down on training time.

Found some stairs, but not sure what to do now? Read our guide on stair climbing for beginners to find out some training tips and advice.

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Stair running is an extremely demanding activity, and so it really pays to be wearing the right gear so you’re as comfortable as possible during your race.

Dressing for a stair race doesn’t differ much from any running event, but there are a couple of things unique to the sport that are worth considering.

Read on for a quick rundown of the key clothing decisions you should be thinking about ahead of your stair race.


A lot of this would seem to be just plain common sense but you would be surprised what some people wear during stair running events. We have seen people labouring up the stairs in hoodies, jeans and boots. While these participants would obviously not be looking to win, or even compete, their clothing choices make for an altogether more uncomfortable experience than is necessary.

Keep things light and aim for comfort. Shorts and either a vest/singlet or a technical t-shirt made from some sort of wicking material will be best. Some stairwells can be a little chilly, but once you’re a few floors into your race, and whether you are walking or running, you are going to be heating up real quickly. Less is definitely best.


Your regular running shoes will be just fine for a stair race. If you check out photos of elite runners at events around the world, most of them tend to have on pretty standard footwear. That being said, the recent upsurge in the popularity of minimalist footwear has found its way into the tower running scene too, and quite a few runners do favour light weight, zero drop shoes such as Vibram’s Five Finger range or the Merrell Trail Glove.

Some successful runners even race barefoot, with Americans Henry Wigglesworth and Paul Curley both preferring to run unshod.

Read our full in-depth guide on what shoes to wear for a tower race for more advice.


Sorry, what are those things you’ve got on your feet?

Some athletes will also wear compression socks, with the aim of saving their calves a little bit in the longer climbs.


Quite often one of the first bits of advice novice stair climbers tend to hear from ‘experts’ is to wear cycling or weightlifting gloves, or more commonly, to wear one glove depending on which way the stairs turn. The suggestion being that they will allow competitors to grip the railing better and help produce a faster time.

The fact is the vast majority of elite stair climbers do not wear gloves and it’s really just a matter of preference. For example, Piotr Lobodzinksi, the reigning men’s tower running champion doesn’t wear gloves, but, Suzy Walsham the reigning women’s tower running champion does.

A set of gloves isn’t going to make the difference between winning and losing. If you have a pair already and you feel they are working for you in your training runs, and it gives you a bit more confidence then of course wear them on the day. But there’s no need to buy a pair especially for your first stair run.

Music and headphones

In global stair races, these are often allowed and used by competitors. They are more popular in the longer stair climbs, which last upwards of nine minutes, where the blast of some of your favourite psych up tunes can really help when you’re battling fatigue.

However, for health and safety reasons, most UK race organisers will not let you bring anything at all into the stairwell, so to bring or not to bring is not even a consideration.

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Elite level training tips: Mark Sims

Posted: January 24, 2015 in Training

Mark Sims is likely the most successful British stair runner ever. He has chalked up wins at The Gherkin, Spinnaker Tower, The Great Yorkshire Stair Climb (Bridgewater Place, Leeds), Beetham Tower (Manchester), and was winner at The Royal Liver Building (Liverpool) nine years in a row. He has also had success abroad, finishing eighth at the Empire State Building Run Up, which is one of the showcase events on the stair running calendar. That top ten finish in among the world’s elite runners is arguably his most impressive performance.

During the build up to this year’s Towerrunning World Cup Final in Vienna, Mark kindly took some time out to answer a few questions about how he prepares for a race, what tips he’d give to a novice climber and what world tower he’d really like to run up.

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What does a typical week of training look like for you as you prepare for a stair race?

I’m fortunate enough to be able to use the stairs where I work after 5:30pm so depending on family commitments I will try and train on them 2 to 3 times a week. I’ll do 3 to 4 timed ascents of differing lengths (either to target my speed or endurance), and to increase the intensity I use leg weights.

Away from the stairs I do some strengthening exercises, mostly squats of between 200-400 reps, as well as calf raises and sit-ups. I’ve also been trying to add a bit more endurance running by doing my local Park Run (5km) of a Saturday morning

Alongside this I’m cycling five days a week to and from work which exercises similar muscles.

What sort of technique do you use on the railings?

Depending on the width of the stairwell I’ll either use both sides or just the inside rail. I’m mostly using it to take some of the weight off the legs and also to help give me some kind of rhythm/pattern.

What key tips would you give to a novice stair climber preparing for their first race?

Know what you are up against. So have an idea of how long it will take you to cover the number of steps you are racing over. This will then allow you to focus your training better. I’d also want to tell them that during the race it may hurt on the way up, but the feeling that you get when you’ve finished is well worth it, and as they say, the pain is only temporary.

What race would you really like to do? or what global tower would you really like to run up?

The Torch in Doha, Qatar has held a race since 2012 and for March 2015 it will be the location of the world championships – I’d really enjoy being part of that.

What are your favourite and least favourite aspects of stair running?

I believe that if you make the training as hard as possible then the racing will be easier, so my favourite aspect would be the racing and the views you get from the top, and least favourite is pushing yourself in training.

Do you have any pre-races rituals?

None, but as a Christian I do like to pray before I race.

How do you tend to pace yourself during a race?

This made me laugh when I thought about it as if I were being brutally honest my answer would have to be badly, as my pace definitely slows the further I am into a race. However the plan is always to start off at a steady pace and get into a good rhythm and then push myself as hard as possible for the last quarter of the race.

What are the key qualities needed to succeed in stair climbing, and how can they be developed?

From a purely athletic point of view you need to be strong both physically and mentally, and the best way to develop these is practice. However, I’ve seen a vast range of people competing in stair running events for various reasons and success can be measured in so many different ways.

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Kristin Frey is a vegan endurance athlete and elite stair runner from Illinois who came third in the 2013 Tower Running World Cup standings. She started her athletic career as a marathoner before transitioning into tower running in the 2010 season. She immediately began clocking up wins and has maintained her position among the world’s best stair runners for the last few years. She also has three top ten finishes in the Empire State Building Run Up (2011-2013), one of the classic events of the stair running calendar.

Last year, in the lead up to the NSPCC Gherkin Challenge, Tower Running UK got in touch with Kristin in order to get some insight into how the best tower runners train for an event. Kristin was very generous with her time and provided some great information about how she trains and her favoured techniques while powering up the stairs.

1. How do you pace yourself during a race?
“I usually try to start off conservative, or on the slower side, and pace myself during a climb. I will usually check my watch every 10-20 floors to see what kind of pace I’m on and I pick a “go-floor” where I tell myself to pick up the pace so I can finish strong.  I’m never actually running up the steps, some of the other top climbers can get away with that, but I usually take two steps at a time and its a quick walk.”

2. What sort of rail grip/technique do you use?
“I usually use the rail like a rope, so I’m pulling myself hand over hand.  I find that to be best for me.  Other climbers may use both rails if the stairwell is narrow enough and some of the top climbers may run up the steps barely touching the rail, but I prefer to stick to the inside rail.”

3. Could you give us an insight into your training regimen, e.g. sets, length of intervals, pace, alternating two step and one step runs?
My favourite training building is 20 floors, it takes me about 2:30-3:00 to climb depending on my pace.  Sometimes I will do 5 climbs using my normal technique and a fast pace, my rest will be the elevator ride down (usually about 3:00).  I will also do 5-10 floor sprints where I’m running steps. Whenever I’m doing a standard climb workout, I will always take two steps.

When I’m sprinting I will vary between one step running and two steps.  For sprints, I may do 5-10 floors then rest 1:00 then go again.  Maybe do 5-6 sprints. For cross training I do a lot of spinning and will also run on the treadmill with the incline set to 11-15%.  You could do intervals that will last the duration of your race, so 5:00 intervals if you think it’ll take you 5:00 to climb, etc.”

4. What one crucial tip would you give to a novice (but fit) stair runner to help them achieve a good time?
“I think the main thing is getting in some training in the stairwell so your familiar with it, and you can work on some technique.  Your heart rate will be high almost immediately and you’ll be breathing hard so start off conservative. Most people will start off too fast and then get tired after 5-10 floors!  It’s better to have extra energy and to pick up your pace along the way instead of crawling to the top”

If you can adapt some of these tips to your training schedule and be mindful of Kristin’s tip to pace yourself properly on race day, you stand a good chance of clocking a competitive time.

Tower Running UK would like to extend a massive thank you to Kristin Frey for her help and wishes her the best for the 2014 season, where she is planning to put most of her focus on ultramarathons. You can follow her progress at her blog:

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