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Coming out of retirement doesn’t always work out well for sports stars. Some get it just right – think Sugar Ray Leonard (the first time), George Foreman, Michael Jordan (the first time). Others should have left well enough alone – Messrs Armstrong, Ali and Borg et al.

Last Sunday at the John Hancock Center in Chicago, one legend got it almost exactly right.

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The iconic John Hancock Center is the fourth tallest building in Chicago

If you talk with people who have been involved with stair climbing for years, one name will always eventually come up: Terry Purcell. When he retired from the sport in 2011 he left behind an unrivalled record.

24 years ago, Purcell laid the foundation stone for a now mythic reputation when he took part in his first race at Sydney’s Centrepoint Tower. Baited into it by fellow Australian Geoff Case, who had won the Empire State Building Run-Up from 1991-1993, Purcell excelled from the go. Within two years he had destroyed Case’s record at the Sydney Tower by 24 seconds. In 1998 he won ESBRU himself, and by the time he retired in 2011 he had won more elite races than any other climber before him. His record included 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 Centre.

Purcell didn’t just standout for his incredible speed in the stairwell. He revolutionised the sport with his approach to race technique and specific training.

On technique:

Most guys don’t study technique…which is fantastic for me. They may be fitter and have more time to train, but they waste so much energy. I see people wasting it on the turns by taking too many steps. I see people not using the railing well to save your legs

On his opponents and training:

The way to kick them in the gut is to surge! But who does that? A guy who’s trained to do it for the last six months!”

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Terry Purcell winning the 1998 Empire State Building Run-Up

Hustle up the Hancock 2017

It was to the John Hancock Center that Purcell returned on Sunday to chase a record tenth victory. Standing in his way were two of the fastest American stair climbers of the past 15 years – Jesse Berg and Eric Leninger.

Sunday’s event had a beautiful romanticism to it, as old rivalries were reborn and close friendships were cast aside.

When Purcell won his first race at Hancock back in 2002, Berg finished almost two and half minutes behind him in 15th place. For the following two years Berg sat in fifth place, but just 1.30 off top spot. In 2005 he was up to fourth spot and only 48 seconds behind Purcell.

2006,  Berg finished second, going sub-ten minutes for the first time. 2007 he was third while Purcell lowered his course record to 9.30 (beaten by Sproule Love’s 9.23 in 2013). In 2008 Purcell took a break, but he returned the following year to win again, while Berg managed third. And so their rivalry played out until Purcell left the Hancock behind after a final victory in 2011, with Berg once again finishing in third spot – just five seconds behind.

All the while Eric Leninger was approaching unnoticed, slowly improving his times, edging closer to the much-coveted sub-ten minute time. In 2014 he finally managed to go under the ten minute barrier and take his first win. He defended his title in 2015 and 2016, also with sub-ten minute times.

In their time together on the race circuit, Purcell and Leninger developed a close friendship. Here Leninger discusses that bond:

In the last couple years we raced, Terry started becoming somewhat of a coach to me. I’ve always listened (and thought) I knew exactly what he was saying, but the more time goes on, the more I draw from our conversations…past and present. It’s an interesting dynamic between us filled with mutual respect and admiration, but also the fire of pure competition. He’s someone I hold in the highest regard…but also someone who brings out my absolute top level of competition. When he retired, I felt that part of my connection to the sport was lost, as there was no-one else on that starting line that I looked forward to racing as much as him. When I returned to the sport after a year off, Terry became a true mentor….helping me understand that life inside the stairwell is applicable to life outside the stairwell too.

Going for his fourth straight victory on Sunday, Leninger was probably first to know that Purcell was coming out of retirement to once again race up the 94 floors of the John Hancock Center. The ‘fire of pure competition’ was lit again.

But Purcell’s return was not to have the fairy tale ending. There would be no ten from ten.

It was Missoula firefighter, elite triathlete and trail runner, Andrew Drobeck who took the overall victory. He was competing alongside fellow firefighters as part of the ‘Firefighters for New York’ team. Established in 2002, the team competes each year to honour the firefighters who gave their lives on 9/11. His win helped them secure second overall in the team standings.

Drobeck has long been a top-level triathlete, winning in races from sprint to Ironman distance. But he is also no stranger to tower running. He’s won multiple races in full firefighting gear, including five straight wins at the renowned Scott Firefighter Stairclimb in Seattle’s Columbia Tower, where he holds the record of 10.39. But Sunday’s race was his first ‘regular’ race out of gear. There were many curious to see exactly what he could do in the stairs unimpeded by heavy apparatus. He didn’t disappoint.

He took the win in a time of 10.19. It was made all the more impressive by the fact he set off in the 13th wave, weaving his way to the top between reams of slower climbers from earlier heats.

Purcell took second overall, finishing in a time of 10.25. Berg got the closest to the Australian he had ever managed, finishing just one second behind in 10.26. Leninger took fourth in 10.34.

Brilliant to see Terry racing again, and exciting to see an elite athlete from another sport successfully manage the crossover to stair climbing, when many others have fallen short. It will be interesting to see what Drobeck can do in the sport if he makes it a focus.

He will be competing again at the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb on March 12th to raise money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. You can donate to that great cause and Drobeck’s attempt at a sixth straight win here.

Check out the full results from Hustle up the Hancock.

Ed. note: My heart leapt when I saw Purcell’s name on the results sheet for Hustle up the Hancock. He was the first stair climber whose results I studied and is a true legend of the sport. It was akin to the feeling I had when Gandalf re-emerged as Gandalf the White in LOTR having battled with the Balrog or when Mick Dundee was revealed to still be alive after the shootout at the end of Crocodile Dundee 2. It’s fantastic to see Terry return and actually get to write about an actual race he has taken part in.

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Stair Climb in Manchester

Posted: January 18, 2017 in Uncategorized

Stair climbing returns to Manchester on Sunday 26th February 2017 with The Christie Tower Run at the city’s 46-floor Beetham Tower. Standing at 169m, and with 798 steps, Beetham Tower is the tallest UK building outside of London.

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Beetham Tower has 798 steps and is the 11th tallest tower in the UK

It’s been three long years since the north of England held a stair climb (the 2014 Great Yorkshire Stair Climb at Bridgewater Place in Leeds), so this event will be welcome news for tower runners in that part of the country. Getting down to London for races has been demanding for northern-based athletes.

The lack of stair climbs up there has been frustrating. Especially given that reigning UK tower running champion, Mark Sims, is based in Liverpool and the highest ranked UK stair climber in the world, Rich Sirrs, is from Hull.

There has been ongoing demand and interest among athletes so this Manchester stair climb is a perfect opportunity for people to turn out and test themselves in a building that’s taller than some popular race venues in London.

UK Tower Running Championship

The event will also be the first race in the 2017 UK Tower Running Championship. Now in its third year, the championship has been dominated the last two years by Mark Sims. Perhaps this new Manchester stair climbing challenge will unearth some fresh talent that might be able to challenge the most decorated UK stair climber of all time.

The second event of the championship will take place just two weeks later down in Leicester, when the LOROS St George’s Tower Run enjoys its second edition. A popular and highly competitive event in 2016, the LOROS team have already doubled the number of participants for this year.

They are hoping well over 100 racers will take on the 351 step sprint race on 11 March. This event, in a relatively small building, is an excellent entry level race for people curious about the sport. We highly encourage people to sign up and invite their friends to join them in this stair climbing challenge in Leicester city centre.

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St George’s Tower in Leicester is venue for the second race of the 2017 UK Tower Running Championship on 11th March 2017

More events will be added to the UK championship later in the year as new races are announced. We hope this will include more stair climbs outside of London, so the competition can stretch far beyond the borders of the capital.

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Gabbert and Jacobs Win in Berlin

Posted: January 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

The German stair climbing season got underway in cold wintery conditions last weekend with a race at the 29 floor Ideal-Hochhaus in Berlin.

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The 29 floor Ideal-Hochhaus in Berlin

It was the 17th edition of the popular Towerrunning Germany event, and despite the absence of some of the leading European runners it proved to be highly competitive.

Tower Run Berlin

The race started with a 400m run to the entrance of the Ideal tower block, located in the south of the German capital. Snow the previous day made the run quite treacherous, with many runners sliding around in the slush covered car park leading to the stairs. Once inside the gritty, exposed stairwell, athletes had to climb 465 steps before reaching the top. The narrow stairs make overtaking difficult so there was quite a push in the run for prime position entering the stairwell.

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World number two, Christian Riedl, at a previous edition of the Berlin Tower Run

It was tower running regular Johannes Gabbert who took the win. Entering the stairs first ahead of Gerrit Kröger, he maintained the front position right to the top, eventually finishing in a time of 3:32.38. Gabbert had taken a strong victory in Frankfurt last summer, just seconds outside the course record, so it was perhaps no surprise to see him at the top of the podium.

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Gabbert on his way to victory in Frankfurt in 2016 (credit – MOZ/Martin Stralau)

Just two seconds behind him in a time of 3:34.49 was Gerrit Kröger. The Kiel native was sixth in the German Towerrunning Cup in 2016 and has a string of excellent performances behind him over the last couple of years, including a second place finish at last years’ Berlin Tower Run.

Completing the podium was Poland’s Karol Galicz, who finished in 3:36.76. Only the top three made it in under the 3.40 mark, separating themselves from the rest of the field by ten clear seconds.

Sylvia Jacobs Shows Young Guns How It’s Done

In the women’s division, reigning German Towerrunning champion Sylvia Jacobs proved once again that age is no barrier to success in this sport. The 54 year old held off a close challenge from much younger rivals to take victory in a time of 4:38.25.

Just behind her was Corinna Beck who, like her team mate Kröger, had also finished second last year. She reached the top in 4:43.38, with Anna Lena Böckel just behind in 4:45.59.

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Happy new year to all. We start 2017 with a short guest post from elite tower runner Rolf Majcen about his recent experiences racing in Iran. It’s great to see the sport spreading ever further across the world and new towers and locations being opened up for competition.

There was blue sky and white mountains overlooking Tehran on 16th December 2016, when the first edition of the International Stair Climbing Competition took place at the 1,693 step Milad Tower.

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The impressive Milad Tower in Tehran, Iran

Some 80km from the race venue, Mount Damavand, at 5,610 m the highest peak in Iran and the Middle East, was clear to see and showed its most beautiful side.

The air in Tehran was very clean after rain and some light snowfall the night before. Tehran itself is a big city at 1,200 meters above sea level. From the Milad Tower, the view over the city and to the mountains is spectacular. That’s no surprise, as the impressive Tower itself stands on a hill, putting it at an altitude of 1,547m above sealevel!

The race, in the world’s sixth tallest tower, was a great event and perfectly organized. The 301 meter vertical race route was perfectly marked, and all the participants were warmly welcomed by the race officials.

The VISA for entry to Iran was perfectly prepared by the race organisers and was very easy to pick up at Tehran airport. Staff drivers from the event picked up international athletes from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport (60km outside the city) and brought them to a guest house just a minute beside the 435 meter high Milad Tower. They did everything to keep them feeling happy, relaxed and safe.

Milad Tower Stair Climb

The race itself was won by the strong and experienced Iranian marathon runner Ahmad Asadi in 10:45. Second place was Iman Kooshki (10:57). The podium was completed by Austrian Rolf Majcen (11:31), who, in his 139th stair climbing competition, felt his performance hampered slightly by the lack of acclimatization to the high altitude, but was happy to secure his 64th top three result.

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The top three (back row l-r) Iman Kooshki, Ahmad Asadi, Rolf Majcen (Photo: Tehran Times/ Mohammad Mohsenifar)

The victory ceremony was an impressive one, as stair climbing competition in Milad Tower is of huge importance for Iranian Sport.

All international athletes are very warm heartedly welcomed to the next edition in 2017.

Tower Running UK looks forward to the 2017 edition of what sounds like a fantastic event. You can also check out these cool action photos from the event as featured in the Tehran Times.

Sims Retains UK Championship Title

Posted: November 28, 2016 in Uncategorized

Mark ‘The Marauder’ Sims retained his UK championship title last Sunday with a win at the Broadgate Tower Run Up.

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Mark Sims – 2016 UK Tower Running Champion

The Liverpool-based elite dominated the five-race UK championship, which began in February, taking four wins and a third place finish.

His four victories came in Leicester (St George’s Tower), Portsmouth (Spinnaker Tower), London (20 Fenchurch St and Broadgate Tower). His third place finish came back in May at Broadgate Tower.

Outside of the designated championship races, Sims put in impressive performances elsewhere throughout the season. He took wins at the inaugural Grate 48 at London’s Leadenhall Building and proved himself among the world’s best at the European Championship in the summer.

Perhaps most notably he was the highest placed UK finisher at Vertical Rush back in March. There he beat the current world number eight, Emanuele Manzi, to fourth spot, finishing just 17 seconds behind world number one Piotr ‘Showtime’ Lobodzinski in the process.

This season of standout performances has now brought Sims to 20th in the world, his highest position to date (though it should be noted that his abilities warrant a higher position, and it is only the weighting of global towerrunning events that limits Sims from pushing further into the world rankings).

A huge congratulations to Mark on retaining his title and showing the world that the UK has some of the best tower running talent around.

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It’s always an exciting time at Tower Running UK HQ when a new building plays host to a stair race. Last year the charity Mencap held a great event that involved three stair climbs around London, culminating in a final climb at 20 Fenchurch Street, aka the Walkie Talkie Building or the Jaguar Melter.

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This year the Mencap team return to Fenchurch Street on Sunday 17 July with a single-climb event. The unique-looking building in the City of London has 36 floors and 828 steps, in a left turning staircase that is perfect for fast times.

Competitors will be treated to amazing views from the top and a champagne reception in the popular Sky Garden, Europe’s highest roof garden. Add to that prizes for the fastest runners and highest fundraisers and you have a brilliant event for a great cause – helping support those with learning disabilities.

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All the details for the event can be found on Mencap’s event web page here. We hope to see a lot of you there.

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Power Up The Tower

Posted: March 31, 2016 in Uncategorized

Looking for a stair running race in London? The lifesavers at The Royal Free Hospital in Belsize Park have just the ticket. On Thursday 7th April from 6.30pm-8.30pm, people will be taking on 12 floors and 350 steps to reach the top of the hospital.

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To be honest this is one of the best tower running bargains you are going to get in the capital. Entry is only £10 and unlike the other major London charity races, there is no fundraising minimum. Plus there are prizes for the fastest man and woman on the evening.

350 steps is a great entry-level distance, so if you are curious about stair climbing this is the event for you. At a similar distance race in Leicester this month, times ranged from 1min35 to 5mins50, so whether you’re racing to win or just looking to try something new it will be a quick event and all for a great cause – The Royal Free Charity.

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