Posts Tagged ‘Al Waquie’

One man cemented his legacy at the Empire State Building Run-Up between 1984 and 1987, and the women’s course record was chopped down more than once.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the ESBRU covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or read the second installment covering 1981-1983.

Otherwise keep following the story and read on to find out what happened at ESBRU between 1984 and 1987.

1984 – The women’s course record falls

The seventh edition of ESBRU took place on Thursday 1st March 1984. There were 28 men and nine women racing, and the oldest competitor in attendance was 72-year old Chico Scimone. As they had done since 1981, the women set off 86 seconds ahead of the men, one second for every floor of the race course.

In the women’s race, reigning champion Burke Koncelik returned to defend her title. The second and third place finishers from last year’s event, Isabelle Carmichael and Inez McLean, also returned.

It was Carmichael who came out victorious in a new record time of 13:32, beating the previous best time of 13:34.


Isabelle Carmichael sets a new women’s course record at ESBRU 1984

In second place was Inez McLean (13:46), while 1983 champion Burke Koncelik came third (13:53).

‘What a gas’, Carmichael said after the race, which she called ‘wacky’. ‘Normally I try to avoid running up steps whenever I can.’

1984 Carmichael

Carmichael shows off her winner’s trophy

She told reporters the worst effect of the climb is a very sore throat from gulping dry and not-too-fresh air in the narrow stairwell.

1984 womens winner

Carmichael was featured in Sports Illustrated after her win


Waquie attempts to defend his title

Once again the men’s field was packed full of talent. Reigning champion Al Waquie was back to defend his title. Two-time winner Jim Ochse was there again. Gary Fanelli, who would go on to run the marathon at the 1988 Olympics (for American Samoa) was also in the mix, as was Bruce Sherman, who at the time was six years into his now 40-year streak of running at least three miles every day.


After heading into the stairwell in first place, followed by Ochse, Waquie went on to make light work of the opposition, taking his second win in a row in a personal best time of 11:29. In second place was Gary Fanelli (12:10) and Bruce Sherman finished third (12:41).

1984 waquie finishline

‘I want to keep going until I’m undefeated’, said the 32-year old Waquie.


Waquie and Carmichael with their winner’s trophies

Full results of the Empire State Building Run-Up 1984

1984 complete results


1985 – Waquie aims for three-in-a-row

The seventh edition of ESBRU took place on Thursday 14th February 1985. 47 official runners took part, and two others snuck into the stairwell and ran to the top. Among those at the start line was 37-year old amputee Patrick Griskus, who was running 50 miles a week with an artificial left leg.

1985 mass start

Waquie (above #1) took the lead at the 30th floor and remained in front all the way to the top, which he reached in 11:42. Finishing close behind was New York firefighter Timothy McCauley (left of Waquie in #5 and FDNY t-shirt) in 11:59. Kenneth Stone was third in 12:06.


Al Waquie makes it three ESBRU titles in a row

‘It just takes practice, that’s all’, said Waquie. ‘A lot of hard work back home paid off here’.  According to the three-time champion, the key to the race is obtaining good running room by getting past other racers at the beginning. ‘I’ll be in good shape if I take the lead’, he said. The next major difficulty occurs around the 37th floor, where he begins to feel the uphill strain in his legs, but when he starts hearing people below, he gets his second wind.

Following presentation of the winner’s award, Waquie chanted an Indian song for race officials.

Women’s course record is broken

For the second year in a row, the women’s course record was broken. This time it was 25-year old Janine Aiello from San Francisco – a 10km specialist with times in the low 34 minutes – who did it in a time of 13:14. Aiello called the race ‘the most fantastic I’ve ever run’.


Record-breaker Janine Aiello crosses the line in 13.14

It was intense’, said Aiello. ‘I went into oxygen debt about halfway through, but I was feeling it only in my lungs, not my legs. It was a physical race because I used my arms a lot on the handrails. I sprinted right at first so I’d have room to run. I took the steps one at a time at first, then two steps at a time, then back to one when I got tired’.

Diedra O’Farrely placed second in 13:31, and Gillian Horovitz was third.


1986 – Waquie goes for a record fourth win

The eighth ESBRU took place on Thursday 20th February 1986, with a field of 48 runners (37 men, 11 women).

Al Waquie was back to defend his crown and attempt to push past Nina Kuscsik (1979-81), with whom he held the joint record for most ESBRU wins.

1986 Al Waquie training

Al Waquie training in May, 1985

Waquie made it four wins from four by reaching the 86th floor in a new personal best time of 11:26.

1986 Waquie win photo

Al Waquie makes it four straight wins

He was trailed by Kenneth Stone in second, who improved on his third-place finish the previous year. In third was Gary Fanelli (second in 1984) and fourth place went to Timothy McCauley, who was the runner-up in 1985.

‘The roughest part was the start’, Waquie told assembled journalists at the top. ‘I had to struggle my way through the crowd, but I did it’.

1986 stairwell battle

Runners battle it out at ESBRU 1986

Aiello returns to defend her title

Janine Aiello came back to New York to attempt to retain her ESBRU title and make a push on the course record she had set in 1985.

1986 womens start

The women’s start at ESBRU 1986 – Aiello is second from the right, against the wall

While she managed to take a second win, the course record eluded her. She finished in 13:18.32 (rounded up to 13:19 in all reports), five seconds off her record time.

1986 finish line janine aiello

Aiello admitted to being disappointed at falling short of a new record, but said ‘I still feel great’.

1986 winners photo together

Janine Aiello and Al Waquie – ESBRU winners 1986

Al Waquie 1986

Empire State Building Run-Up 1986 results

1986 results

1987 – Five is the magic number

By the time the 10th edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up came around on Thursday 12th February 1987, the race was no longer being described as a novelty event and it had grown in stature. Race reports were taking on a more serious tone, devoid of quips. The event itself was growing, too, and the 1987 edition had by far the largest field ever assembled in all the years it had run.

88 runners (70 men and 18 women) took part in the race, and the men’s field was so large, that for the first time it had to be split into two waves.

The first wave of men included defending champion Al Waquie, who was going for his fifth win in a row. Up against him was Joe Kenny, who interestingly was described in some reports as a ‘stair climber’. Of course, there were others in the competition who had stair race experience and could arguably be described as ‘stair climbers’, but their tower running usually played second fiddle to other disciplines, be it triathlon, cycling or road or mountain running.

Kenny already had three year’s stair climbing experience before he stepped up to compete at ESBRU. In 1986 he had won the Bop to the Top in Indianapolis (a feat he would go onto repeat from 1987-90) and set the course record. The weekend before ESBRU he had won a race up 31 floors in Austin, Texas. He knew what he was doing.

In Waquie’s four previous wins, he had gone up against some incredible athletes, but most of them were racing stairs for the first time. They lacked experience in pacing and stair climbing technique. Of course Waquie was learning on the fly as well – stair racing just once a year – but his extraordinary conditioning, forged in the mountains of New Mexico, took him beyond his rivals every time. But how would he fare against an experienced elite stair climber?

Another factor was the inclusion of a second wave. Other strong contenders were running in that wave, including Ken Stone, who had finished second the year before. So even if Waquie managed to hold off the challenge of Joe Kenny, he was still running blind and would have to wait to see the times of those who followed after him.

The final thing that cast serious doubt on Waquie’s attempt to make it five wins on the trot, was a knee injury he had sustained in July 1986. It had prevented him from running properly for seven months. How much of an impact would that have on his race?

Kenny blasted off from the start line, hoping to ‘shatter’ Waquie’s confidence by running hard at the start. But he was third through the door, behind Waquie, into the stairwell, and it took 20 floors to get past the two ahead of him and into the lead.

‘There is a crossover at the 20th floor and I was really pumped up’, said Kenny. ‘Once I got around them I just blasted up the stairs. By the 40th or so I passed the top woman. I was by myself halfway up, but I really started hurting.’

Waquie’s knee injury was hindering him and Kenny took full advantage. ‘I knew it was going to be slow after the 23rd floor,’ Waquie said after the race. ‘My knee was bothering me from about the 23rd to the 43rd floor’. But the reigning champion soldiered on, chasing the leaders.

The roar of spectators at the 65th floor crossover alerted Kenny that the defending champion was close behind, but he thought he could hold him off. Waquie had different ideas. At the 72nd floor he had Kenny and another climber in his sights, and he showed them both why he was a four-time champion.

‘He just blasted by me at the 72nd floor’, Kenny said. ‘I was one whipped puppy, anyway. I was just hanging on for dear life’.

‘Al’s a record holder at the Pikes Peak Marathon and you could really see that experience pay off. I think he stayed back at the start and saved his big move for the end. He really knows those stairs’

Waquie finished the last 14 floors strongly and reached the top in 11:56, his slowest ever winning time.

1987 Waquie finish

Al Waquie – five-time ESBRU champion 1983-1987

‘My legs were getting weak and heavy’, the champion said, ‘but later on I started feeling stronger again’.

Ken Stone won the second heat in a time of 12:22, which was quick enough to give him second place overall. Joe Kenny finished behind Waquie in 12:29, placing him third overall. Daniel Glickenhaus took fourth in 12:33 and Jeff Loureiro rounded out the top five with a 12:41 finish.

Despite falling short of his goal of winning ESBRU, Joe Kenny said ‘It was a great experience, and I’m really getting psyched for Indianapolis. There is no pushing or shoving there!’

For Waquie, this would be his last appearance at ESBRU. His knee injury brought his elite-level running career to a halt. The mountain-running legend, two-time Pikes Peak Marathon winner and record holder, and seven-time winner of the La Luz Mountain Run, was now a five-time winner of the Empire State Building Run-Up. His status as a tower running superstar was set in stone. It would be another 16 years before his amazing achievements at ESBRU would be matched.

The women’s race is wide open

With no previous champions in attendance at the women’s event, the 1987 race was wide open for a newcomer to win. Marathoner Sharon Given was the pre-race favourite. The Wendle twins, Janet and Jill, triathletes from Florida would also be in contention. In July 1986, Janet had come third in the Liberty-to-Liberty triathlon that runs from New York to Philadelphia across a distance of 107 miles.

In the end it was a slow race; in fact it was the second slowest winning time ever at ESBRU (only Marcy Schwam was slower at the inaugural Run-Up). Janet Wendle took victory in 15:12.

1987 Wendle finishing line

Janet Wendle, ESBRU winner 1987

Sharon Given was next in 15:28 and third place was taken by Susan Denisolais in 15:37. Eileen O’Rourke (16:18) and Pamela Wyzykowski (16:24) completed the top five. Jill Wendle was sixth.

Janet Wendle said the experience was far different from the triathlons in which she is used to competing. ‘This is all sprint,’ she said. ‘About the 50th floor you feel like your heart will come out of your chest. A lot of it’s mental. You can’t really think about the steps. You can’t look up.’

1987 winners

1987 winners 2

1987 ESBRU Champions: Al Waquie and Janet Wendle


1987 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series – A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 1988-1990.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the ESBRU, you can read it here. Otherwise keep following the story and read on to find out what happened at ESBRU between 1981 and 1983.

1981 – Course record is smashed and the three-peat is on

The fourth edition of ESBRU took place at 10.30am on Thursday 12th February 1981, and it involved a series of firsts. It was the 50th anniversary of the building’s completion, so the event attracted quite a lot of attention.

There were 30 men and eight women racing, ranging in age from 16 to 58, and for the first time they set off in separate starts. The women set off 86 seconds ahead of the men, one second for every floor of the race course.

Two-time winner Nina Kuscsik returned to defend her title and attempt to make it three in a row. She would be faced with strong competition from runners less than half her age. In among them was Ylonka Wills who was a standout athlete at Columbia’s Barnard College (the 3km and 5km college records she set in the early 80s weren’t beaten until the 2000s)

Ylonka Wills

Barnard College athlete Ylonka Wills

When the race was run, it was Kuscsik who came out on top. She secured her third ESBRU title by reaching the finish in 14.44 (note – this was reported in some papers as 14.46, but the majority listed 14.44). 19-year old Ylonka Wills was close behind in 14.54, while 21-year old Mary Beth Evans took third place in 15.21.

1981 nina wins

Nina Kuscsik makes it three ESBRU wins in a row

Ochse attempts to defend his title

At this event, 1980 champion Jim Ochse became the first man to attempt to defend his ESBRU title. But it would not be an easy task by any stretch. The pre-race favourite was actually Pete Squires, who had been awarded the Big Apple Award in 1980 for best all-round runner, presented by the New York Road Runners Club.

1981 squires stumbles1981 mass start

Look at the pictures above and you can see Squires (middle of the top image and near right in the bottom image) falling forward slightly during the melee of the mass start. This stumble cost him first spot heading into the stairwell and he was battling from the start to get ahead of those who’d passed him.

Into the early lead went Villanova University track star Larry Bova. But as is so often the case with inexperienced stair climbers, he set out way too fast and didn’t have the fitness to hold it. He began to fade fast, soon after the 10th floor. Squires soon climbed to the front and didn’t hold back. He passed Nina Kuscsik at the 28th floor.


Pete Squires ran all alone in the latter stages of the race

Before the race started, breaking the 12-minute barrier was the talking point among the assembled athletes. Not only did Squires break that, but he broke the 11-minute mark too, crossing the line in a new record of 10.59.

1981 Squires wins

Pete Squires wins ESBRU 1981

Bob Orazem, an excellent middle and long-distance runner from Staten Island, took second place in 12.04, at least eight floors back from Squires according to one report. 1980 champion Jim Ochse finished in third place with a time of 12.09.

Squires, who was running 120 miles a week at the time, attributed his success to taking two stairs at a time and not using the handrail unless necessary. ‘I didn’t start grabbing the railings until the 60th floor’, he said. What might his time have been if he had used them properly to keep his run as efficient as possible?

When asked if he would return again next year to defend his title, he said, ‘No, I never want to see it again. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My lungs are burning. It was so hard to get air. It took me so long to catch my breath at the end. But it’s a good challenge’.


1982 – A champion rises and a champion falls

The 1982 edition took place on Thursday 11th February. 48 runners took part, and once again the women set off 86 seconds ahead of the men.


Three-time champion Nina Kuscsik was back again to try and make it four wins from four (Kuscsik is in the middle above wearing the white vest #58). Mary Beth Evans, third in 1981, was expected to be her toughest challenge.

22-year old Evans forced Kuscsik back into second place, setting a new course record of 13.34 and becoming the first woman to run under 14 minutes.


Mary Beth Evans, ESBRU winner 1982

‘It’s not something I’d like to do every day’ Evans said about the race. She trained for it by swimming and doing a lot of road racing, and said she intentionally started slow and didn’t feel that tired after the race. She told reporters she ‘felt so good I could do it again…almost’.

A dramatic finish in the men’s race

Despite dismissing the idea of defending his crown, following his win the year before, Squires decided to return to the Empire State Building Run-Up again in 1982.

1980 champion and 1981 third place finisher Jim Ochse was also in attendance, aiming to secure another podium finish.

As he had done the year before, Squires took the lead early on, although this time a small pack of runners stayed with him. Around the 40th floor Squires made a push and separated himself from the others. He held the lead all the way to the final floor. Then disaster struck.

Squires tripped, some reports say on the very last step, and reportedly injured his leg, although he was able to get up and finish. But not before Jim Ochse passed him and ran outside to claim victory in a time of 11.41.

1982 Ochse finish line

An ‘ecstatic’ Jim Ochse jumps over the line to win ESBRU 1982

1982 Ochse finish line 2

Ochse punches the air and lets out a victory roar

‘I think I would have caught him even if he hadn’t fallen. I was closing fast, and I think he fell because he was just so tired’, Ochse said. ‘He made an unbelievable surge at about the halfway mark, I think that’s what did him in later on.’

At the 65th floor Ochse said he could hear people above cheering for Squires and guessed he was only around 20 seconds behind, and closing. As he began to close the gap, he said he could tell Squires was fading. ‘I could hear his feet hitting the steps quickly a few landings above and I knew he was down to one step at a time, and that he had to be tired’.

No stranger to the course, having run it twice before, Ochse said he trained by running up hills around his school, adding, ‘the last few weeks I’ve also been running up stairs’.

‘I’m ecstatic, but I think I’ll take the elevator down. I think I earned that’.

In his race report, Mark Will-Weber, a reporter for The Morning Call paper in Allentown, PA, wrote, ‘Like the long, long distances, Ochse has found the rigors of the strength-oriented stair races to his liking, as it doesn’t require blazing speed. Endurance and mental toughness are more useful tools of this trade’.


1983 – A legend begins

The sixth edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up took place on Thursday 17th February 1983 at 11am. 36 people took part (24 men and 12 women), and the women set off 86 seconds ahead of the men.

The start list for the men’s event was laced with talent. Three-time Olympic cyclist, and 1981 Ironman World Champion, John Howard was there. So was future American Ultrarunning Association Hall of Famer, Stu Mittleman, who in 1984 set a world record for 1,000 miles with a time of 11 days, 20 hours, 36 minutes, 50 seconds. At the time, he had wins in the NYRR 100-mile race (1980-82). Brian Searchinger, a promising local cyclist, was also in the line-up.


John Howard winning the 1981 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii

The 1980 and 1982 ESBRU champ, Jim Ochse was back again to defend his title. Also in attendance was two-time Pikes Peak Marathon winner (1981-82) – and record holder – Al Waquie.

Waquie is from Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico, a community renowned for its tradition of long-distance running. He has been described by well-known exercise physiologist and journalist Michael J. Joyner as ‘perhaps the most impressive runner I have ever seen, and that includes the likes of Alberto Salazar, Frank Shorter, Henry Rono and Bill Rogers’.

Al Waquie running

Al Waquie, two-time winner of the Pikes Peak Marathon

Waquie nearly didn’t make it to the start line. ‘When I was warming up on the side stairs, I got locked in. That was a close call. I had to get down on the floor and yell under the one-inch door opening. I got out 10 minutes before the race’.

His rivals may have wished he’d stayed there, as he took the win fairly easily in a time of 11.36. He said he could have gone a fair bit faster if he hadn’t been held up at the beginning of the race. The narrowness of the stairwell prevented him from passing as he would have liked in the early stages. He caught up with the lead woman at around the 30th floor, and after taking three floors to pass her he was able to pull away into a clear stairwell. ‘I didn’t know where I was until a floor marking finally appeared – 67th. I was surprised I was that far along, so I felt a lot stronger, picking up speed’. After that he ‘sprinted the last 19 floors’.

‘I’m still the king’ he shouted as he crossed the line. ‘I’m still the king of the mountain’. Later he told reporters, ‘I proved that I’m still the best at running uphill’.

1983 finish Al Waquie

‘I’m still the king’ – Al Waquie wins ESBRU 1983

Waquie told journalists that for most of the race he ran two and three steps at a time, and occasionally he used the railings. He thought he could beat the course record if he ran the race again, figuring he could do at least a 10.40.

In second place was Jim Ochse (12.14), while third place was taken by Brian Searchinger (12.49). John Howard was fourth (time not reported) and Guenter Erich was fifth (13.39).

Burke Koncelik wins the women’s race

Burke Koncelik, who was the New York Road Runners Club ‘Most Improved Runner of the Year’ in 1981, won the women’s race quite convincingly. She reached the top in 13.40, just six seconds off the course record set the year before. Isabelle Carmichael was second (14.21), third was Inez McLean (14.47), fourth Anna Thornhill (15.12) and fifth Debra Roche (15.17).


Burke Koncelik and Al Waquie

‘I really wanted to win’, she said. ‘You do this not only to finish, but to come first. Athletes like to prove they can do things’. The 5’11” tall Koncelik told assembled reporters she took two steps at a time and that ‘it was easy with my long legs’.


Read the next installment in the series – A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 1984-1987.