Manchester’s Jones Wins in Doha

Posted: March 20, 2017 in News

‘The Manchester Myth’ Andi Jones won for the second year in a row at The Torch Stair Run in Doha, Qatar, this past weekend.

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The Lancashire man reached the top of the 1,304 step building, which hosted the 2015 world championships, in a time of 7.09. He was in a completely different league to his competitors, which comes as no surprise as Jones has a sub-30min PB for 10k and a 2:15 marathon PB.

In second place was Qatar’s Mohamed al-Obaidly (8.49), with Kenyan Hillary Rotich taking third in 9.05.

Speaking after the event, Jones told Gulf Times, ‘I’m very proud of my achievement and for earning first place once more. My participation in this competition stems from my constant need to challenge myself and surpass my previous results. I prepared really well for this and it paid off in the end. I’m really happy.’

In the women’s open category it was a slightly closer run affair. But Katerina Matousova held on to win in 10.42. She was followed by Lily Saad (11.02) and Ireland’s Gretta Beckett (11.38).

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Top three ladies (l-r): Lily Saad, Katerina Motousova, Gretta Beckett

Alston and Scott battle in Miami

Troy ‘The Future’ Alston and ‘The Flying Doctor’ Thomas Scott went head-to-head again on Saturday in another closely run battle, this time at Miami’s One Biscayne Tower.

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One Biscayne Tower, Miami, Florida

The two men, separated in age by 22 years, regularly battle it out at the various Fight For Air Climbs across Florida. Once again it was the younger Jacksonville native, Alston, who took the win.

He reached the top of the 648-step/38-floor building in a time of 3.11 with Scott finishing in 3.25. TJ ‘Candyman’ King rounded out the podium in a time of 4.12.

In the women’s division it was last year’s winner, French woman Anita ‘La Vitesse’ Haudebert, who again took the win, finishing in 5.21, earning her an impressive 8th overall. Andrea Csalari and Gina Allchin were second and third, respectively – with just .1 of a second separating the pair.

Check out the full results.

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The effort you need to ascend you can not find in any other sport. It is purely athletic, because it demands from the champion as much strength as speed and as much agility as enduranceLe Journal

The third edition of La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel takes place this week on Thursday 16th of March. Among the racers taking part this year will be the reigning world champion, Piotr Lobodzinski, who’ll be aiming to make it three wins in a row in Paris.

With its narrow field of participants – only 128 this year – and, of course, its iconic venue, entrance to La Verticale is one of the most sought after in the tower running calendar.

Tracing its origins back as far as 1905, the Eiffel Tower stair climb is probably the world’s oldest tower run. Though the first organised stair climb goes back a couple of years before that, when an outdoor stair race was held at Rue Foyatier in Paris 1903. You can read about that event here.

Combining reports from multiple newspapers and magazines from 1905, we have put together an account of that first race at the Eiffel Tower.

Le Championnat de L’Escallier 1905

Organised by a magazine called Les Sports, the race took place on Sunday 26th November 1905. It was a cold day with very heavy rains and strong winds. Yet despite the bad weather, large crowds gathered at the foot of the Tower, and on the platforms on the way up, to witness this ‘unique spectacle’. This comes as no surprise. At the time, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest man-made structure in the world, with the longest staircase. Those in attendance were witnessing history.

Newspaper Le Journal said ‘Les Sports had the unique idea to have athletes from all sports battle it out on a new ground…the stairs.’ The magazine’s aim was to pit champions and elite athletes from various sporting traditions against each other in the ultimate test of fitness. Runners, cyclists and footballers were all among those who took part in the event.

Of the 300 entrants who were due to attend, 283 made it to the start line. Those who took part did so in ‘racing outfits and espadrille shoes’.

The race involved running up 729 steps to the second platform (of three) at the Eiffel Tower. The reason they didn’t run to the top is the organisers felt the stairs on the upper levels were too narrow, and that it could have proved dangerous once the stairwell got crowded.

One newspaper report states that ‘competitors at this challenge were not allowed to pull on the railing’. There are some pictures that show competitors holding the railing, but we believe they were promotional shots taken before the event itself. None of the in-race images show runners holding on to the railing, although in one of the pictures below a runner looks dangerously close to reaching out and grabbing it. If, indeed, they didn’t touch the railing at all – and if the post-race report felt it worth mentioning, we may assume they didn’t – then the times they clocked in 1905 become all the more impressive. Ultimately it remains unknown.

The day was split into two sections; in the morning (9am-12pm) ‘veterans and novices’ took on the climb, and in the afternoon (2pm) ‘professional and amateur champions from different athletic groups’.

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The start from the foot of the Eiffel Tower. The runners were timed by Salomon, official timer of the A.C.F.

La Vie au Grand Air (a sports journal from the time) explains how the organisers handled the issue of timing:

The organisers had a great idea to avoid problems of classing. The runners had attached on their back a small bit of cloth on which was written a letter followed by a number – the minute of the start of their race. The runners went every minute, timed by MM Salomon & Richard. The timer at the second platform only had to calculate the difference between the start time marked on the back of the climber and the time of arrival.

Some racers really struggled on the day. This excerpt from one report will sound familiar to those who have set off a bit too fast at the start of a stair race:

Those who reach their fifth landing can conclude that it is relatively easy and with a bit of courage you could reach the top. Alas! They were disillusioned by the reality at hand- the leaders set aside, you could see the fast runners compared to the exhausted lads before even the first platform, who dragged themselves to the top painfully with sighs and desperate hiccups.

The exertion proved far too much for some runners. Apparently two or three passed out at the top and had to be resuscitated with CPR.

Aside from the stair climbers taking on the challenge as a test of their fitness, there were also ‘some eccentrics’ there on the day who ‘amused the public with unique variations: One man climbed it in 9mins 59secs while carrying a 50kg bag of cement on his back, another climbed it backwards, and a third, a waiter, did the ascent holding a tray with six full glasses.’

At the business end of things, the morning waves were highly competitive, with times from the amateurs rivaling those in the elite category later in the day.

The veterans and novices category was won by Luiz in a time of 3.19, he was followed by Pieli in 3.23, with the veteran A. Thiebaud reaching the second platform in 3.29. As seems customary of the time, competitors were largely mentioned by last name only.

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‘The arrival at the second floor for one of the runners’

Controversy at the elite race

The main event of the day was widely anticipated. Leading Parisian papers had write ups on the day of the event talking about the upcoming race. One even featured it on the front page.

According to Le Journal, ‘The champions of all sports fully understood the challenge and began training in a different way for this championship’.

Heading into the race, an amateur cyclist named Forestier was the favourite. He had won the Paris-Dieppe cycling race in 1903. Having done some research, he may well be Eugene Forestier, who later became a professional cyclist and came 15th in the 1908 Tour de France, competing for the Peugeot-Wolber team.

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Forestier

The fastest time on the day was set by Menu who finished in 3.03. But for some untold reason he was later disqualified.
The earliest report on the race came from the newspaper Le Siecle who listed the top four finishers and their times, but added, ‘We give these results with much reservation as a claim of fraud was placed against the winner.’ Obviously doubts had been raised about Menu soon after the race finished, but no where does it say exactly why he fell under suspicion.

Another report said ‘Menu did a baffling performance: 3mins 3 sec, but was disqualified…the difference in time between the first and the second – 16 seconds – had caused doubts from the start.’

The 16 second gap refers to the difference between Menu and Luiz (winner of the novices category). Presumably, Forestier hadn’t even set off before speculation arose over the speed of Menu’s time. Perhaps he was disqualified for pulling on the railing? It’s hard to think how else he may have ‘cheated’. It will remain a mystery.

With Menu disqualified victory went to the pre-race favourite, Forestier, who finished in a time of 3.12. He was followed by Lepage in 3.16 with Louis Prevost finishing third in 3.17.

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‘The start of the first floor’

The morning papers and weekly magazines were full of praise for the performance of the athletes. One even calculated how quickly Forestier would have climbed Mont Blanc by stairs had he maintained the same pace – 2 hours and 15 minutes, apparently.

One paper asked, ‘Is this to say that ‘on the stairs’ cyclists are better than regular runners? This is possible. What is certain is that the ones who came first were especially trained at this sport.’

Le Petit Journal concluded, ‘The event was remarkably organised… It allowed us to see the endurance and agility of all the sportsmen – cyclists, footballers, runners, walkers – that took part in this unique competition.’

We finish with the best quote from all the coverage:

After all, why would it be stranger to race up the stairs than to run on the road or on a track?

Why indeed.

The 2017 UK Tower Running Championship is now well underway, with the first three races already completed. We catch up with all the action from the past couple of weeks.

Beetham Tower Run, Manchester, 2017

The first race was held on 26 February at Beetham Tower, Manchester where a hotly anticpated battle between reigning UK champion Mark ‘The Marauder’ Sims and Slovakia’s Patrik ‘The Nitra Nitro’ Schneidgen – newly resident in the UK- didn’t disappoint.

Schneidgen managed to set a new course record (4.17) at the 798-step venue and also logged his first win over the ever-strong Sims, who finished in 4.29. Full results here.

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‘The Nitra Nitro’ Patrik Schneidgen celebrates his victory at Manchester’s Beetham Tower

Conquer the Broadgate Tower, London, 2017

The following weekend, 4th March, the action was in London at Broadgate Tower. Again it was Schneidgen and Sims who went head-to-head for top honours. Sims had defeated the young Slovak track star twice before at the venue in the City of London, but buoyed by his victory in Manchester, Schneidgen entered the race with supreme confidence.

He managed to take another win, in a time of 4.21, with Sims a mere four seconds behind. You can read a full account of that event from race organisers Total Motion Events. Full results here.

St George’s Tower Run, Leicester, 2017

Last weekend, 11th March, saw race three of the UK championships in Leicester. The sprint event, at the 351-step St George’s Tower, drew in some well-known European tower runners, including Rolf ‘The Wanderer’ Majcen. With Schneidgen racing in Poland on the same day, it was a perfect chance for Mark Sims to make up some lost ground and win again at a venue he dominated at last year.

Not only did he manage to hold off a strong challenge from Spain’s Christian Lopez, he also broke his own course record (which he set at the venue’s inaugural race last year) by three seconds, finishing in a time of 1.32. Full results here.

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Two-time UK champion Mark Sims toasts his new course record at St George’s Tower in Leicester

UK Tower Running Championship 2017

In its third year, the UK Tower Running Championship has a simple format and is open to all UK residents. Each race in the series has points on offer, ranging from 40 for the winner down to 10 for tenth place. The full breakdown of points in descending order is: 40, 32, 26, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10.

The person with the mosts points accumulated at the end of the series is crowned UK champion.

Year on year we have added more races to the championship. In 2015 there were four races, in 2016 there were six, and for 2017 we hope to possibly top that. At the time of writing we have had three races, with one more definitely in the calendar for September. We will be adding more races as they are announced and you can track which events are part of the UK championship series by following our regularly updated UK stair race calendar.

You can see the current standings in this year’s championship below.

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Over the last ten days or so, I’ve spent hours poring through pages and pages of archived French newspapers. As the third edition of the modern Verticale de la Tour Eiffel is due to take place later this month, I wanted to piece together a thorough account of what I had long assumed was the first recorded stair race – the Eiffel Tower stair climb of 1905. But just as I was finishing that piece, I caught wind of a stair race that had taken place two years earlier elsewhere in Paris.

There was no specific date mentioned for the event, just a year – 1903. And so I returned to the archives, and starting with 1 January 1903 began the at times tedious, but more often exciting, task of reading through multiple newspapers in search of a mention of a stair race. I eventually found it and here is the story of what is possibly the first ever stair race.

Le Championnat de l’Escalier, 1903

Quatorze juillet (14th July), or Bastille Day as it’s commonly known, is France’s national day. It commemorates the storming of the Bastille and the beginning of the French Revolution of 1789. It has long been a day of celebration and festivity throughout France.

14th July 1903 was a day of sporting revolution. Competitive stair racing began in France.

Organised by a publication called Revue Sportive the race took place on the steps of the famous Rue Foyatier (Foyatier Street) in Montmartre, Paris. Rue Foyatier now leads right up to the Sacré-Cœur, but the basilica was still under construction in 1903, so we’re not sure exactly where the racers finished.

The event involved a straight sprint up 256 steps. According to reports ‘it was a great success, which was deserving of its innovation, in the centre of gay Montmarte on a day of national celebration’.

The event was split into four categories: men, ladies, boys and girls. Below are photos/pictures from the event with the original captions translated.

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‘A series in the women’s division’

Unfortunately there is no mention of times in the reports I found (I am hoping that with further research I may discover some more comprehensive coverage), so we don’t know what sort of speeds they were clocking back then. We do however have times for the Eiffel Tower races of 1905 and 1906, and when we tell the full stories from those events you will be very surprised at how the athletes from back then match up against the elite stair climbers of today.

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‘The champion in the women’s race’

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‘Some of the competitors at the finish line’

You can see from the photos the event attracted a large crowd of interested spectators. You also get a real sense when reading the coverage (particularly later on with the Eiffel Tower races) that the sport was immediately respected in the highest regard by sports reporters.

Montmatre race 1903

‘The finish line in one series’

The fastest time on the day belonged to a Mr de Baeder. He also happened to be the director of Revue Sportive, organiser of the race, and the starter on the day.

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‘Mr de Baeder, director of the Revue Sportive, wins the championship’

If you’re ever in Paris (and some of you reading this will be there soon for the Eiffel Tower race on 16th March 2017), head to Rue Foyatier, to where it all began, and run those steps. This purest of sports began there 114 years ago.

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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The third installment of the UK tower running championship begins in just under two weeks time on Sunday 26th February with The Christie Tower Run at Beetham Tower in Manchester.

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Beetham Tower, Manchester

The first race of the planned six-race series starts at the tenth tallest tower in the UK and is hosted by The Christie Charity. Two-time UK champion, and current course record holder, Mark ‘The Marauder’ Sims will be there on the day to begin the defence of his title, as he seeks to make it three championship wins in a row.

He will be challenged by Slovakia’s Patrik ‘The Nitra Nitro’ Schneidgen aka ‘Mr Guinness’. The two standout stair climbers have had a number of head-to-head battles over the last 16 months, with Sims coming out on top in each race. But sprint specialist Schneidgen will surely welcome a race at the 798 step Beetham Tower. Having run Sims incredibly close at last year’s Total Motion Events Broadgate Tower Run Up (877 steps), he will fancy his chances of an upset in Manchester.

Sims, however, is a man for all occasions. It was not by chance the Liverpool-based tower runner found himself in the world’s top-20 at the end of last year. His times and conditioning have been improving year-on-year. He will be determined to secure his status as arguably the greatest stair climber the UK has ever seen by making it three championship titles in a row. With a solid performance at The Climb to Abu Dhabi race last month, Sims is obviously in good shape heading into the domestic season.

The Christie Tower Run will see stair climbing return to the north of England for the first time since 2014. We know there are fast guys in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Merseyside and beyond. Personal trainer Peter Hopson is still record holder at Bridgewater Place in Leeds. Will he be racing in Manchester? Will the event attract some new talent to the UK tower running scene? Can the dominance of Mark Sims be broken by some as yet unknown athlete?

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There is still time to sign up to take part in The Christie Tower Run. The event is open to people of all abilities and there is no qualifying criteria for entry in the UK championship. The top ten finishers will be awarded points and they will carry those into the remaining races of the championship. The athlete with the most points at the end of the year will be crowned 2017 UK tower running champion.

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Troy ‘The Future’ Alston aka Stair Climb Elite and Stephanie ‘The Oracle’ Hucko set new course records at the Bank of America Tower in Jacksonville, Florida last weekend.

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The Bank of America Tower, Jacksonville, FL

Locked in a year-on-year rivalry with ‘The Flying Doctor’ Thomas Scott, Alston was aiming to make it six wins in a row as he headed into his hometown event.

The inclusion of John ‘Renegade’ Osborn into the mix this year meant Alston had to dig deep to secure victory again. His time last year at the 832 step Bank of America Tower was an incredibly speedy 4:24.

The Future managed to wipe five full seconds off that, crossing the mat in 4:19.

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A victorious Troy Alston celebrates his new course record

Thomas Scott took second in 4:37, with Osborn just behind him in 4:41.

In her first time racing in Jacksonville, Stephanie ‘The Oracle’ Hucko ran the fastest time ever by a woman at the event as she reached the top in 5:21 – only the second ever sub-six minute time in the ladies division.

Coming off a strong fifth place finish at the demanding Empire State Building Run Up just three days before, the Australian’s time was fast enough to earn her an impressive sixth place overall on the day.

Kate ‘The Say Hey Kid’ Mays took second in 6:26, with Suzanne “The Fjord” Bergen completing the podium in 6:30.

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