Posts Tagged ‘Empire State Building Run Up’

ESBRU 2010

In 2010, defending champion Thomas Dold was going for a record-equaling fifth win. New and familiar faces were lined up in the lobby aiming to put a stop to the German juggernaut. In the women’s division, three-time champ Suzy Walsham was sitting out the race while pregnant. Could Cindy Harris now finally claim a fifth title? Or would a new champion emerge?

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-19971998199920002001200220032004200520062007, 2008 or 2009 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2010.

The first Vertical World Circuit

With his fourth ESBRU title in the bag, Thomas Dold set about the rest of the 2009 season eager to secure more accolades.

His win in New York in February had been the first race in the newly launched Vertical World Circuit (VWC), a stair climbing series consisting of eight events across four continents: Empire State Building Run-Up (New York), Ramada Tower Run (Basel), Pirelli Tower Vertical Sprint (Milan), Taipei 101 Run-Up, SkyRun Berlin, Sydney Tower Run Up, Torre de Collserola Vertical (Barcelona) and the ​​Singapore Vertical Marathon. A proposed ninth race at the Donauturm in Vienna was cancelled due to building works at the tower.

Dold would dedicate the rest of the year to winning the inaugural Vertical World Circuit.

Ramada Tower Run (Basel) 2009

Less than three weeks after his ESBRU victory, 24-year old Dold was in Switzerland, ready to renew his rivalry with European tower running sprint specialist Gabriel Lombriser.

The pair had been swapping course records at the 542-step Ramada hotel in Basel since Lombriser set a new record at the second edition in 2005. Dold broke it in 2006 and Lombriser claimed it back in 2007.

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The Ramada hotel in Basel, Switzerland

Dold hadn’t attended the 2008 edition of the race, but he was back on Saturday 21 February 2009 to face off once more with his Swiss rival.

Victory eluded the German, who had to settle for second behind the record setting Lombriser, who clocked a best time of 2:41.

Dold’s finishing time was just 0.9 seconds slower.

Pirelli Tower Vertical Sprint 2009

Dold skipped the Vertical Sprint at the Pirelli Tower in Milan 10 days later.

In Dold’s absence, Italians Marco De Gasperi and Fabio Ruga battled it out for top spot.

De Gasperi already had points on the board for the VWC, having finished second to Dold at the ESBRU in February, and was looking to pick up the maximum points available in this race.

He managed it by securing the narrowest of victories, with mere centimetres separating him from Ruga at the finish line.

Fabio Ruga

Marco De Gasperi (r) wins the 2009 Pirelli Tower Vertical Sprint ahead of Fabio Ruga

Record setting run in Stuttgart

Dold was back in action on Sunday 10 May at the 850-step Fernsehturm Stuttgart (TV Tower). He had won every edition of the race since it began in 2006.

Christian Riedl, Tomas Celko and Marcus Zahlbruckner were among the men looking to stop Dold’s winning run.

But the three-time champ was unstoppable as he set a new course record of 4:05.

Taipei 101 Run-Up 2009

The following weekend, Thomas Dold waited in the lobby of Taipei 101 alongside De Gasperi and Ruga. The experienced Fu-Cai Chen, third at the 2007 and 2008 Taipei 101 Run-Ups and fifth at the 2008 ESBRU, was with them, as was Pedro Ribeiro.

With a first and a second-place finish apiece leaving them level so far in the Vertical World Circuit standings, the pressure was on Dold and De Gasperi to win and create a bit of distance from the other.

The climate in Taipei that May was oppressively humid and created tough conditions inside the stairwell that put additional strain on the athletes.

Dold set off first at 8am and was followed 20 seconds later by De Gasperi.

The German maintained the distance from his Italian rival for around 40 floors, before De Gasperi began to close the gap.

‘Towards the 60th floor, I had gotten very close to Dold’, recalled De Gasperi shortly after the race, ‘so much so that I could hear his breathless breathing a few stairs above me. At that point, however, the effort began to take over.’

By the time they reached the top De Gasperi had managed to cut the gap again slightly but it wasn’t enough to take victory.

Dold clocked 11:05 to take the win, while De Gasperi had to settle for second with his 11:15 finish.

Thomas Dold Taipei 2009 finish

Thomas Dold 2009 Taipei 101 Run Up

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An exhausted Thomas Dold is helped from the finish line at the 2009 Taipei 101 Run-Up

The dominance continues

A week later, Dold was back racing in Germany. It was his third top-level race in 14 days. This time the venue was the Messeturm in Frankfurt.

It was the third edition of the race at the tower, which saw runners race up 1,344 steps to the 61st floor. Dold’s long-time rival, 26-year old Matthias Jahn, had won the first two editions of the race and was back in Frankfurt looking for a third straight win.

Dold 2009

Dold waiting to run in Frankfurt

But Dold was in dominant form. He set a new course record of 6:36 to take the honours ahead of Jahn, who reached the top in 6:54.

Thomas Dold Messeturm Frankfurt 2009

Thomas Dold nears the finish on his way to victory at the Messeturm Frankfurt in 2009

Dold messeturm 2009 winner

Thomas Dold celebrates his win at the Messeturm in Frankfurt

Eight days later, on Whit Monday 1 June, Dold raced for the fourth time in a little over three weeks. Once more he was squaring off against emerging European tower running stars Tomas Celko and Christian Riedl.

The 770 steps of the Park Inn Berlin-Alexanderplatz were the proving ground this time.

Dold had won the three previous editions of the race and was a favourite to make it four in a row.

He did just that, taking almost five seconds off his previous best time to set a new course record of 3:09.

In a little over 21 days, Thomas Dold had fully established himself as a practically invincible force in the world of tower running. In four races, he had set three course records and beaten many of the top competitors in the world in the process.

Dold took a break from racing in June and July and prepared for more Vertical World Circuit races in the back end of the year.

Sydney Tower Run-Up 2009

Sydney Tower Run-up winners

The next race in the series was the Sydney Tower Run-Up on Friday 21 August.

This event had been churning out Empire State Building Run-Up champions since the late 1980s. The offer of a trip to New York with race entry to the ESBRU had proven a lucrative draw for top Australian athletes.

Multi-time ESBRU winners, Geoff Case, Belinda Soszyn and Paul Crake were just some of the brilliant tower runners to emerge victorious in Sydney over the years.

Dold was making his debut at the 1,504-step tower, where A$7,500 were up for grabs for the winner. He would be going up against a familiar challenger in the form of Scott McTaggart.

McTaggart had won the Sydney Tower Run-Up for the past three years. He’d also finished fourth at the ESBRU in 2008 and 2009, so Dold knew who he was.

Also in attendance were former Australian mountain running champion Daniel Green, an old rival of Paul Crake, and 2004 Sydney Tower Run-Up winner Jeremey Horne.

Even with such a strong field of experienced competitors, Dold was tipped to win. But there was a dark horse in the line up who, although he was making his stair running debut, was anticipated to mount the most serious challenge to the German star.

It was the newly crowned Australian mountain running champion, Mark Bourne.

Dold and Bourne 2009 Sydney

Mark Bourne, Jim White, Thomas Dold and Scott McTaggart at the 2009 Sydney Tower Run-Up

But Dold secured the win with a time of 7:04. Newcomer Mark Bourne followed in 7:26 and Scott McTaggart took third spot in 7:35.

Dold had only arrived in Sydney on Tuesday, three days before the race, and just three hours after winning he was on a plane heading back to Germany.

Thomas Dold Sydney Tower Run Up winner 2009

Four weeks later, Dold set a new backwards running world record. Already a multi-world record holder in the discipline, he cut 23 seconds off his own 1,500m record to set a new best time of 5:01.

Two race-free months followed before Dold headed to Singapore for the finale of the Vertical World Circuit at the Swissotel Vertical Marathon on Sunday 22 November.

Singapore Vertical Marathon – the Vertical World Circuit finale

With an unassailable lead in the VWC, Dold wasn’t joined in Singapore by any of his big rivals.

Three-time winner Pedro Ribeiro and Poland’s Tomasz Klisz were well-established stair runners, but none were in the league of Dold.

Dold had broken the course record that had stood for nearly two decades when he won the event in 2008 in a time of 6:52. He was almost certain to win again. All eyes were on the clock to see if the German could beat his own time.

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Thomas Dold (r) alongside Pedro Ribeiro (12) at the start of the 2009 Swissotel Vertical Marathon

He ran clear from all his rivals, finishing almost a minute ahead of Klisz as he set a new record of 6:46.

Dold Swissotel Vertical Marathon 2009 winner

Thomas Dold on the roof of the Swissotel The Stamford, Singapore after setting a new course record

Dold Singapore 2009 winner

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Thomas Dold toasts his win alongside women’s winner Suzy Walsham

Dold left immediately for New Zealand to race at the Sky Tower Vertical Challenge in Auckland three days later. Predictably he won, setting what was widely reported as a new record time of 4:53.

Thomas Dold Sky Tower Auckland 2009

Thomas Dold nears the finish at the Sky Tower, Auckland in 2009

[Ed. note – The previous best time of 5:17 was set by Jonathan Wyatt in 1999. Paul Crake’s best time at the tower was 5:38. Wyatt and Crake had run 5:07 and 5:08 respectively in a brilliant race in 2002, but that was on a slightly shorter, altered course. Back in the early 2000s the race started with an approximately 150m pre-run into the tower. We were unable to determine if the 2009 edition started with a pre-run. But it’s hard to believe, although not inconceivable, that Dold undercut the time of two of the best tower runners of all time by 24+ seconds if he started from the same spot.]

With the first Vertical World Circuit title and a bunch of new course records in the bag, Dold headed into 2010 confident of securing a fifth Empire State Building Run-Up title.

2010 Empire State Building Run-Up

There was a notable absentee among the women lined up in the lobby of the Empire State Building on Tuesday 2 February 2010 for the 33rd edition of the Run-Up. The three-time winner from Australia Suzy Walsham, who had also won the Taipei 101 Run-Up and Singapore Vertical Marathon in 2009, was pregnant and sitting out the race.

Not since 2003 had anyone but Andrea Mayr or Suzy Walsham won the ESBRU. Finally there would be a different name in the record books.

Cindy Harris had bagged her fourth title in 2003, and since then she had finished in second place four times, as well as third and fourth in other years.

She’d retained her Bop to the Top title in Indianapolis nine days prior to the ESBRU, so was obviously in good shape. As a result, the Indianapolis veteran who had won her first ESBRU title in 1998 was on the shortlist of expected winners.

There were plenty of experienced ESBRU runners alongside Harris. One had even won it before while others had been on the podium and in the top five. But their personal records weren’t quite as good as Harris’ sub-13 minute best.

Michelle Blessing had won the ESBRU in 1995 and finished second in 1994 and third in 1996. She returned out of the blue in 2009 to finish 14th. Could she bounce back with a much better time in 2010? Blessing had also been coaching first time tower runner, but regular marathoner, Gretchen Hurlbutt. Could Blessing’s protege throw in a surprise performance of her own?

Amy Fredericks, who had finished third in 2004 and 2005 and fourth on a few other occasions, had a decent chance of getting back on the podium this year.

Stacey Creamer had finished in the top five on three previous occasions. Could she finally step onto the podium?

Caroline Gaynor was back for another shot too. A former rower at Columbia University who had turned her focus to Ironman events and other triathlon distances, Gaynor had finished fourth in 2008.

But there were some exciting debutants on the start line too.

New York-based Australian Rondi Davies was a sub-three hour marathoner and long distance open water swimmer. In 2008 she’d taken third at the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim and in summer 2009 she’d won the inaugural 10-mile Kingdom Swim at Lake Memphremagog up in Vermont. A complete unknown on the stairs, but a serious athlete and one to watch.

A far more familiar and formidable name was also on the start list, Melissa Moon from New Zealand.

The 2001 and 2003 world mountain running champion (also third in 1997 and 1998) was no stranger to tower running. She’d been racing on the stairs on and off for a decade, but had never taken part in the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Among her stair running successes were wins in very competitive races at the Telekom Malaysia Towerthon at Kuala Lumpur Tower in 2000-2002. She also won the Sky Tower race in Auckland in 2001 and 2002.

2002 wyatt moon 2001kl tower

Melissa Moon and Jonathan Wyatt – winners of the KL Tower Run 2001

In 2005 she had finished second behind Andrea Mayr at the inaugural Taipei 101 Run-Up, running a solid 13:34. She took third in 2006 and fourth in 2007.

Melissa Moon Taipei 2005

Melissa Moon took second at the 2005 Taipei 101 Run-Up

Moon had been in Sydney at the same race as Thomas Dold back in August. She’d finished fourth behind winner Vanessa Haverd, former ESBRU winner Angela Leadbeatter (1999) and reigning ESBRU champion Suzy Walsham. A little over 20 seconds separated Moon and Walsham, so the Kiwi runner was evidently in good stair climbing shape coming into 2010.

She’d been training regularly on the stairs of the 28-floor Majestic Centre in Wellington, where she had told security guards that she was trying to become the first New Zealander to win the Empire State Building race.

“They bent over backward,” said Moon, ‘What do you need? We’ll give you a swipe card.’ They put supportive signs in the stairwell.”

Well prepared and well experienced, all the signs pointed toward Melissa Moon launching the most serious challenge to Cindy Harris and the other experienced ESBRU runners.

ESBRU STRETCH 2010

Caroline Gaynor (orange vest) and Melissa Moon stretch next to Cindy Harris (103) on the front row of the start line at the 2010 Empire State Building Run-Up

At the sound of the starter’s horn, ambitious debutant Kacie Fisher (#105) got out in front of everyone. A former collegiate heptathlete at Cal Poly, Fisher had found out about the race three weeks before the start and said, ‘there was no way I was gonna miss this’.

ESBRU 2010

Cindy Harris followed closest, with Melissa Moon (#102) and Gretchen Hurlbutt (far right, red vest) running together a step behind.

ESBRU WOMENS22

Kacie Fisher gets out in front, followed by Cindy Harris, Melissa Moon and Gretchen Hurlbutt (by the wall in the red vest)

2010 esbru womens

ESBRU 2010 WOMENS DOOR

Caroline Gaynor (104, high white socks), Meghan Newcomer (white visor) and Amy Fredericks (blue vest) follow in behind the leading group

The start was fairly orderly and there were no serious shoves or falls, such as had marred the start of the 2009 ESBRU when Suzy Walsham was pushed into the wall as she headed for the door.

You can see in the image below that padding had been fixed to the walls on either side of the door to the stairwell, to prevent a repeat of the smashed lip and knee Walsham received the year before.

2010 womens door

Kacie Fisher enters the doorway, followed by Harris, Moon, Hurlbutt and Fredericks

Details on what played out in the stairwell have been difficult to find. The available in-race footage (scroll to the bottom for race videos) offers little insight. Likewise, post-race interviews in newspapers are devoid of details about how the race played out.

But given the information available, it’s been possible to piece together a story that seems to make sense.

It seems that the inexperienced Fisher went out way too fast and was tracked by Harris, who was probably wary of giving an unknown runner too much of a lead early on.

At the 50th floor, Fisher later claimed she ‘tore the lining of her lung from over expansion’ and her legs gave out. The pace must have taken a massive toll on her and Harris, because the pair were passed by a number of runners in the latter stages of the race.

Before the race Gretchen Hurlbutt had said her plan was to pace herself for the first half and then see what she had left for the rest of the race. She seems to have done just that, sticking behind Melissa Moon for much of the race before being dropped in the second half.

In the second video below Moon can be seen running on her own at what seems to be somewhere between the 68th and 72nd floors. She remained completely unchallenged as she surged to the top.

Down below Gretchen Hurlbutt passed Harris and Fisher and pushed into second place. She was tracked closely by Amy Fredericks, Rondi Davies and Stacey Creamer, all battling for the podium.

Amy Fredericks remarked after the race: “Two women that I passed, they were starting to keel over and they were doing single steps.” It’s likely she is referring to Fisher and Harris.

Harris and Fisher continued to be passed by multiple runners. Cindy Harris eventually finished in 13th place in 15:13 while Fisher ended up in 20th position, crossing the line in 15:54. Bear in mind, Harris had taken third the year before in a time of 13:49. In no uncertain terms, the race was a disaster.

Kacie Fisher 2010

Kacie Fisher drops to the floor after crossing the finish line

Harris and Gaynor 2010

Cindy Harris (middle) and Caroline Gaynor (right, 14:42 – seventh place) recovering after the race

For Melissa Moon, however, it was a triumph. She ran untested in the latter stages and crossed the finish line in 13:13.

Melissa Moon 2010 finish line ESBRU

Melissa Moon ESBRU 2010

Gretchen Hurlbutt followed 40 seconds later in 13:53, while Amy Fredericks won the battle for the final podium spot with her 14:15 finish.

Rondi Davies was fourth in 14:23 and Stacey Creamer took fifth in 14:25.

Gretchen Hurlbutt ESBRU 2010

Gretchen Hurlbutt takes second place at the 2010 Empire State Building Run-Up

Overall it was one of the slowest women’s races in years. Not since 2003 had anyone run slower than 14:00 and made it onto the podium.

But Melissa Moon had run an excellent and well-paced debut race and was delighted with her win.

‘When you know the history of this building, built in 1931, years ahead of its time, it is a privilege to run here. I’ve climbed taller buildings, but here, this race has a completely different meaning. I am very proud of this victory that I will be able to write on my CV.’

The drive for five

In the 32 previous editions of the Empire State Building Run-Up, two men had managed to win five titles: Al Waquie (1983-87) and Paul Crake (1999-2003).

Thomas Dold would join that unique group if he could hold off the challenge of his competitors one more time. His closest rivals in recent years, Rickey Gates (eight seconds behind in 2008) and Marco De Gasperi (22 seconds slower in 2009), weren’t in attendance, so the race really was Dold’s to lose.

Although there was a lot of established and fast emerging talent in the field, none of them were quite at the level of Dold.

Matthias Jahn was the most likely to launch a significant challenge on his compatriot. Jahn had been on the ESBRU podium in 2007 and 2008, and had beaten Dold before in shorter races at European venues.

But Dold had seen him off by an 18-second margin at the 1,344 step Messeturm in Frankfurt a few months earlier. He typically had Jahn’s number over the longer courses.

Similarly, Dold had beaten emerging European stars Christian Riedl and Tomas Celko at races back in 2009. Riedl was making his second apperance in Manhattan, while Celko was racing for the first time. The pair were decent shouts for a top 10 or possibly top five finish, but it was unlikely they would really challenge the reigning champion.

Another strong debutant and seasoned tower runner, Omar Bekkali, would possibly be in the mix for the top five, but it was hard to see him launching a serious challenge to Dold. Likewise, excellent athletes such as Javier Santiago, Jesse Berg and Pedro Ribeiro would be expected to be among the top finishers, but they’d never posed a threat to Dold at the ESBRU or various other races around the world.

The one unknown was the impressive Matthew Byrne from Scranton, PA. A successful collegiate runner for St Joseph’s University, Byrne had won three individual Atlantic 10 Conference championships while at the college in Philadelphia.

After college, he had qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon in 2004 and 2008. He’d also represented the United States in the World Mountain Running Championships in 2008 and 2009. He’d finished ahead of fellow USA team member Rickey Gates at the 2009 Championships, so was evidently a serious prospect.

Byrne would surely have reached out to Gates for tips on the race and the course as he prepared to make his ESBRU debut. Could he shock everyone and do what Rickey Gates had come so close to doing in 2008?

Gates had been stuck a few rows back from the start on his debut in 2007. Matthew Byrne made sure he was in prime position on the front row for his first race.

You can seen him in the picture below off to the left wearing #5. Left of him in the blue vest is Christian Riedl, then heading right across the lobby there’s Trevor Folgering (#10, well out of place and should be a couple of rows back), Jesse Berg (orange vest, #8), Tomas Celko (blue shorts, #44), Matthias Jahn (#3), Thomas Dold (#1) and Javier Santiago (blue longsleeves, #7).

The first image below, and the video at the bottom, shows that Byrne actually got the best start, gaining a step on Dold who was the next quickest to react to the horn. But the American had more ground to cover to the door and by the time the runners reached it Dold, as always, was in first place. Javier Santiago was next, followed by Jahn, Byrne and Jesse Berg.

2010 ESBRU MENS

2010 MENS START ESBRU

2010 ESBRU MEN RUSH

2010 Dold in front

2010 ESBRU NEAR DOOR

With Thomas Dold at the helm, the ESBRU was becoming increasingly formulaic. Some of his winning races had been a lot closer than others, but 2010 wasn’t one of them.

Details were scant in the post-race newspaper reports, but Dold was first in the door and didn’t relinquish the lead. The rest of the pack stuck with the powerful young German for as long as they could, but his strength saw him pull away in the second half of the race.

In the first video below (@0:38) you can see Dold running alone at the 65th floor crossover as he catches up with a group of runners from the women’s race. In the second video (@1:44) he is free from the crowds and running on a clear stairwell, likely somewhere between the 68th and 72nd floors.

He reached the top in 10:16, taking a record equaling fifth ESBRU title. He collapsed somewhat theatrically to the ground just after crossing the line and stayed on his knees for a while right in front of the finish, forcing tired runners to go around him as they too crossed the finish line.

Thomas Dold 2010 ESBRU finish line

Dold exhausted

Thomas Dold falls to his knees at the finish line of the 2010 ESBRU

He was followed by fellow German Matthias Jahn who crossed the finish in 10:56 (see him in the second video below @1:53 passing debutant Shari Klarfeld late in the race). Funnily, the margin between first and second in the men’s race was exactly the same as in the women’s, 40 seconds.

Matthias Jahn ESBRU 2010

Matthias Jahn celebrates taking second place as Thomas Dold and a race steward look on

Matthew Byrne took third in 11:29, while Omar Bekkali (11:51) and Javier Santiago (11:55) completed the top five.

Byrne said he’d like to come back next year and challenge Dold again, but noted he’d have to find a different strategy.

“He was off like a dart right from the beginning,” Byrne said of the start. “He really takes his stance early. I’d have to change something.”

Matthew Byrne ESBRU 2010

Matthew Byrne recovers after taking third at the 2010 Empire State Building Run-Up

CELKO Holec RIEDL 2010

Tomas Celko, Pavel Holec, Pedro Ribeiro and Christian Riedl recovering after the race

Dold 2010 winner

Thomas Dold celebrates his fifth straight ESBRU victory

“It took me six years to get to this point, and to be here as the winner this day is quite amazing,” Dold said. “To do this race six times and get five victories – it’s unbelievable right now. And to be named along with Paul Crake as a five-time winner is a big honour.”

2010 ESBRU WINNERS

Melissa Moon and Thomas Dold – 2010 Empire State Building Run-Up winners

2010 esbru podiums

2010 ESBRU: The women’s and men’s top 3


2010 Empire State Building Run-Up results

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The Empire State Building Run-Up (ESBRU) was first held in 1978. Since then each race has been packed full of exciting moments, surprises and disappointments.

Here are five of our favourite Empire State Building Run-Up moments. Feel free to share yours in the comments below.

1979: Last to the lobby, first to the top

ESBRU 1979

The second edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up took place at 10:30am on the morning of Thursday 15 February 1979.

At 9:40am the eventual winner was still sitting at the desk in his Manhattan office at 58th Street and Park Avenue, a mile-and-a-half from the Empire State Building.

Financial analyst Jim Rafferty had earned his invite to the ESBRU off the back of some solid road running performances in 1978. He was 25th at the New York Marathon in October and then in December he’d finished fourth in a 30km race organised by the New York Road Runners, the same organisers of the ESBRU.

Rafferty was one of just 20 men and four women that had been invited to the second edition of the new stair running event. But on the morning of the race he was in two minds about taking part. He was due to race in the Boston Marathon in April and was worried about picking up an injury in the unusual and novice event.

With less than an hour before the start, still sitting at his desk, he seemed to have settled on not running. But then he had a sudden change of heart.

‘I was worried about twisting an ankle on the stairs’, he said. ‘But then I thought it’d be a lot of fun. It’s not your everyday competitive event, you know.’

At 9.45am Rafferty asked his boss if he could have a couple of hours off, jumped in a cab and reached the building just before the start. You can see him on the far right in the picture above.

In the race, he took the lead fairly on and held it to the finish line, crossing it in a new record time of 12:19.

Eight weeks later Jim Rafferty set a personal best of 2:18.55 at the Boston Marathon.

Read more about Rafferty’s race at the 1979 ESBRU.

1987: The drive for five – Waquie vs Kenny

1987 Waquie finish

Heading into the 1987 race, Al Waquie already had four ESBRU wins to his name.

Typically he’d have been a firm favourite for a fifth win on the trot. But a knee injury sustained in July 1986 had prevented him from running properly for seven months.

As he and others toed the line in the first of two waves at the 1987 ESBRU, nobody knew what sort of shape Waquie was in.

Alongside him was the emerging stair climbing star from Indianapolis, Joe Kenny, who had won the 1986 Bop to the Top in his home city, plus other stair races in the USA.

Despite getting a good start, Waquie was already struggling by the 20th floor. Kenny passed him at the first crossover and began to pull away, looking set to put an end to Waquie’s winning streak.

But Waquie had different ideas. He powered on, while up ahead Kenny and another climber began to fade. With 14 floors to go, Waquie finally caught up with them and showed them both exactly why he was a four-time champ.

‘He just blasted by me at the 72nd floor’, Joe Kenny said. ‘I think he stayed back at the start and saved his big move for the end. He really knows those stairs’.

Waquie’s gutsy fifth win would be his last at the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Read more on the battle for top spot at the 1987 ESBRU (plus the story of Waquie’s 1984-1986 wins).

2003: One run to rule them all

2003 crake wins

With one eye on a pro cycling career, Paul Crake was ready to call time on his incredible run at the Empire State Building when he got set to race on Tuesday 4 February 2003.

Unbeaten in each of his four appearances at the ESBRU, Crake had become the first man to run the course in under 10 minutes when he clocked 9:53 in 2000. The following year he shocked the stair running world again by winning in 9:37.

But Crake had saved his best for last. His final run at the iconic New York tower was magisterial. He set an untouchable new record of 9:33.

‘To win five years in a row has been fantastic. It’s been a dream run,’ said Crake.

When asked why he kept returning year after year even though the race has no prize money, he responded: ‘It’s for the trophy, the honour and the glory.’

Read more about Crake’s record run in 2003.

2006: Faster, Mayr, Stronger

2006 Mayr wins

Already a two-time winner at the ESBRU, and the only woman to have run the full 86 floor course in under 12 minutes, Andrea Mayr was the firm pre-race favourite at the 2006 event. There was no suggestion that she might be beaten, instead the talk was all about how much faster could she go.

Three months before the ESBRU, Mayr had won the inaugural Taipei 101 Run Up in a time of 12:38 (a record that still stands). She was in outstanding form coming into the race.

The Austrian ran the course virtually unchallenged. She finished in an incredible new course record of 11:23, which was fast enough to place her fifth overall. Her record still stands.

2006 was the last time Mayr ran at the Empire State Building. Seven months later she went on to win her first World Mountain Running Championship title and began another history making run in that athletic discipline.

Read the story of Andrea Mayr’s record breaking ESBRU run in 2006.

2009: The Comeback

2009 ESBRU Walsham pushed

Although in February 2009 Suzy Walsham was a little over two years into her tower running career, she’d already established herself as the one to beat in Manhattan. She was going for her third straight ESBRU.

In 2007 and 2008, Walsham had been joined on the podium by Cindy Harris and Fiona Bayly. Both were once again expected to be among Walsham’s toughest challengers. Debutants Jessamy Hosking (AUS) and Daniela Vassalli (ITA) were also anticipated to be in the mix for the top spots.

When the claxon went off in the lobby, the mass of women dashed headlong for the door.

Running side-by-side towards the entrance to the stairs, Walsham and Vassalli were battling for space.

Nearing the door, it seemed like Walsham was going to pass the Italian, but Vassalli had other ideas. She reached up and shoved the Australian, causing her to lose her balance and smash face first into the stone door frame. You can see Walsham’s falling figure (yellow top) in the picture above.

Bruised and bashed with the front runners now well ahead, Walsham found herself in around 30th place by the time she had got off the floor and onto the stairs.

What followed was one of the defining moments in Walsham’s amazing ESBRU story.

She started picking off runner after runner, slowly pulling in the leaders. By the 50th floor she caught Vassalli. Hosking and Harris were still up ahead.

At the 65th floor Walsham took the lead and then held it all the way to the top. Her knee injured and her face swollen, she crossed the line in obvious pain just 13 seconds ahead of Vassalli who had surged into second place.

That comeback victory in 2009 was the slowest of the 10 ESBRU races Walsham would eventually win, but without doubt it is one of the best.

Read the story of the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up.

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Suzy Walsham Empire State Building Run Up

For the first time since 2010 Suzy Walsham will not attend the Empire State Building Run-Up.

The Australian star, who has remained unbeaten at the ESBRU since 2013, has decided not to compete at the race in May.

It’s somewhat of a surprise announcement from the athlete whose name has become synonymous with the iconic New York race. Since her debut in 2007, Walsham has gone on to become the winningest athlete ever at the venue, taking victory a record 10 times.

But her decision not to compete this year does not come as a complete shock given the close proximity of the Empire State Building Run-Up (Tuesday, May 12) to the Towerrunning World Championships at Taipei 101 in Taiwan (Saturday, May 9).

2007 Walsham wins

Suzy Walsham won on her ESBRU debut back in 2007

The absence of the 2018 world champion and reigning world number one opens the door for a new name, or a familiar one, to enter the ESBRU record books.

Walsham’s closest rivals in recent years have been four-time champion Cindy Moll-Harris (USA) and Laura Manninen (FIN).

With those two also likely to be at the World Championships in Taiwan the weekend before the ESBRU, it is perhaps unlikely they will make the long journey to New York in time for the race.

If that’s the case, it leaves the door open for a completely new name to step in and take the crown. Stephanie Hucko, Shari Klarfeld and Meg Santana, who have all finished on the podium in recent years, will likely be in the mix for top spot on Tuesday, May 12.

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It’s less than two weeks until the tower running season kicks off. 2019 was a standout year with close battles and course records aplenty, and with 2020 being a world championship year, the upcoming season promises to be just as exciting. Here are some of the tower running events we’re already getting hyped for.

World Championship at Taipei 101

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The third edition of the TWA world championship takes place on May 9th at Taipei 101 in Taiwan.

In the men’s event, Piotr Lobodzinski will be looking to defend the title he won in 2015 and 2018. He dominated the race at Taipei 101 in 2019, finishing in 10:46 – the third-fastest time ever at the tower. The Pole also won both rounds of the world championship in 2018, so will likely be the favourite heading into the event.

But expect to see stiff competition from different names than pushed Lobodzinski two years ago. Soh Wai Ching, Mark Bourne and Alexis Trujillo are just some of the athletes who had very solid 2019 seasons and will be in close contention for the podium come May.

Suzy Walsham will be looking to retain her world title, too. She was under a bit of pressure at the 2018 championship, with Valentina Belotti and Zuzana Krchova pushing her hard in the long and shorter rounds at Taipei 101.

Krchova has disappeared from the scene since then, but Belotti is on the rise and will likely be Walsham’s strongest competition. Will the 2015 world champion, Andrea Mayr, make a comeback this year? She had a massive mountain running and ski mountaineering season in 2019, but will she be tempted back onto the stairs?

Full race details for the championships are yet to be released, so we don’t know whether the same two-run format used in 2018 will be repeated or not. Could the TWA throw up something completely new?

There are lots of questions surrounding this event. The first four months of the year will give a good indication of what we might expect in May. It will be an exciting time.

The 43rd Empire State Building Run-Up

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Just three days after the world championship, the longest-running stair climb event returns for its 43rd edition.

The Empire State Building Run-Up always generates a lot of buzz, but it will be interesting to see who among the world’s best travels straight back to New York from Taiwan in order to make it onto the start line. If some of the big international names stay away, could we potentially see an American male take top spot for the first time since 1994?

Sproule Love has been on the podium twice in the past five years, in addition to 4th, 5th and 6th place finishes. Could he do even better this year?

In 2019, Piotr Lobodzinski became the second fastest man to ever run the building when he won in 10:05. Will he head back to Manhattan to try and dip under the 10-minute mark?

There are loads of unknowns surrounding this event, mostly related to the start list and who comes out unscathed and fully recovered from the world champs at Taipei 101. Regardless of who’s in attendance, the rich history of the ESBRU makes this event one to get hyped up for.

Vertical World Circuit

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Last year’s Vertical World Circuit (VWC) saw some fantastic battles on the stairs, particularly between eventual men’s winner Piotr Lobodzinski and his closest rival, Mark Bourne.

The men’s competitions has been fairly limited in recent years to Lobodzinski, Bourne and Japan’s Ryoji Watanabe. Hopefully this year some of the other big names in tower running will be able to venture out to Asia to complete more of the big races on the circuit.

Suzy Walsham secured her eighth VWC crown in 2019, and although the Australian absolutely romped to the title, winning all but one of the races she took part in, there was plenty to get excited about a little lower down the rankings.

From the UK perspective, the emergence of Sarah Frost on the international scene was a real high point of 2019.

The top UK tower runner took a record-breaking win in London, plus podium places and top-five finishes around the world to take fourth overall in the final VWC 2019 rankings. Hopefully Frost will be back on the circuit this year to fly the flag for UK stair climbing.

The 2020 races are yet to be announced, so it will be interesting to see if there are any new additions to the selection from last year.

22-climb event at the Broadgate Tower Run Up

The Broadgate Tower Run Up

The Broadgate Tower Run-Up has quickly emerged as the best stair running event in the UK. As part of the Vertical World Circuit in 2018 and 2019 it has attracted some big names to London, allowing the pick of the UK’s tower runners to go head-to-head with top international competition. It will hopefully be part of the VWC in 2020 too.

Last year, Sarah Frost and Ryoji Watanabe smashed the course records at Broadgate Tower, in what was one of the most competitive events seen in the UK for years. Could those records fall again?

The event truly offers something for everyone, from the elite race, to quarter, half and full vertical mile options. Although these categories aren’t unique, the inclusion this year of the 22-climb ‘Ultimate‘ is.

22 climbs up the 877-step tower for a total of 19,294 steps is a game changer and such a welcome challenge for those who lean toward ultra events. There are Everest stair climbs and genuine vertical marathon events around the world, but this is brand new to the UK.

It’s a hugely exciting development and testament to the forward-thinking approach of race organiser Matt Hudson of Total Motion Events.

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2009 men's start

In 2009, a controversial incident during the start of the ladies race led to one of the greatest comebacks in ESBRU history. In the men’s division, after the anti-climax of 2008, there was a much-anticipated re-run of the showdown between three-time winner Thomas Dold and mountain running star Marco De Gasperi.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-19971998199920002001200220032004200520062007 or 2008 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the ESBRU in 2009.

The rivalry continues

Just under three weeks after he won his third ESBRU title, Thomas Dold headed for Milan, Italy, for another showdown with Marco De Gasperi on Sunday 24th February 2008. The venue this time was the 710-step Pirelli Tower, which was hosting its second event.

De Gasperi had won the inaugural event at the tower in 2007 in 3:44. After the disappointment of his fall in the lobby of the Empire State Building Run-Up at the start of February, which had denied him a proper shot at Dold, he was eager to mount a challenge against the German on more familiar territory.

But disaster struck again. Two days before the race De Gasperi picked up an injury that ruled him out.

Even though the pre-race favourite was out, Dold certainly wasn’t guaranteed top spot. With mountain running stars such as Fabio Ruga and Alberto Gramegna on the start list, the young German would still have to work extremely hard for his win. And he did.

Dold reached the top in 3:30, setting a new course record and finishing a massive 14 seconds faster than De Gasperi had the year before.

Dold Pirelli 2008 winner

Thomas Dold crosses the line to set a new course record at the Pirelli Tower, Milan, Italy

Back in Germany

The next big race on the calendar for Dold was the SkyRun Berlin at the 770-step Hotel Park Inn at Alexanderplatz on Whit Monday, 12 May 2008.

He was going for his third win in a row at the tower. In 2007 he had beaten training partner Matthias Jahn by just 0.57 seconds, and with Jahn in attendance once more, Dold would need to be at his very best to secure the triple.

It took a record-breaking performance for him to win. He crossed the line in 3:14.2, with Jahn’s finishing time just 1.8 seconds slower.

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The Park Inn Hotel in Berlin

Subida Vertical Gran Hotel Bali

Next up was a trip to Benidorm, Spain to race up the 936-step Gran Hotel Bali on Saturday 17 May. Paul Crake had set the course record of 4:35 there back in 2003, at the first edition of the event, a few months after he set the ESBRU record.

Dold took the win in 4:40, trailed by Ignacio Cardona who finished in 4:58.

Dold Benidorm 2008

Greetings from Benidorm: Thomas Dold celebrates his fourth win from four starts in 2008

Less than a week later, on Friday 22nd May, Dold was home in Germany where he was aiming to secure back-to-back wins at the 850-step Stuttgart TV Tower.

He held off the challenge of Matthias Jahn to make it five wins from five starts in 2008.

Dold Stuttgart Tv Tower 2008

Thomas Dold celebrates his win at the Stuttgart TV Tower

Taipei 101 Run-Up 2008

The first three editions of the Taipei 101 Run-Up had been held in November, but in 2008 the race switched to the summer.

At the 2007 edition, Marco De Gasperi had created a shock when he won the prestigious race in his debut year of tower running. On that day he had beaten Dold by 17 seconds.

On Sunday 17 June 2008, the pair were back in Taiwan to do battle again. After the upset the year before, and then the question marks that lingered after the 2008 ESBRU, Dold was determined to make a statement that he was the best tower runner in the world.

He absolutely blitzed the 2,046-step course, becoming one of the only men to have run it in under 11 minutes. His winning time of 10:53 was a massive 46 seconds faster than De Gasperi’s second-place 11:39.

Taipei 101 Run Up Dold

Dold exits Taipei 101

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Roar power: Dold cries out after winning Taipei 101 Run-Up 2008

Dold wins Taipei 101 Run Up 2008

Still undefeated after six events, 2008 was shaping up to be Dold’s most successful season to date.

Chasing records in Singapore

After a summer breaking his own world records for running 800m (2:31) and 1,000m (3:20) backwards, Dold returned to the stairs on Sunday 16 November to attempt to break the course record at Swissotel The Stamford in Singapore.

The record there had been set way back in 1989 by Balvinder Singh, who had run up the hotel’s 1,336 steps in 6:55.

Thomas Dold Singapore Vert Marathon 2008

Thomas Dold at the start line of the Swissotel The Stamford Vertical Marathon 2008

Dold managed to do what no one else had been able to in 18 previous editions. He shaved three seconds off Singh’s time, crossing the line on the rooftop finish in 6:52. The win earned him a trip to New York and a spot at the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up.

The 2008 season had been an absolute triumph. Seven races, seven wins and three course records. Dold was in supreme form.

He would head into the Empire State Building Run-Up 2009 full of confidence. And he would need to be at his best, because the lobby in February would be packed full of talent.

Suzy Walsham: racing as a two-time champion

Also at the Swissotel Vertical Marathon was two-time ESBRU champion Suzy Walsham. Like Dold, she too had been enjoying a successful season up until that point

After securing her second Empire State Building Run-Up title in February, Walsham returned to her adopted home of Singapore and spent the rest of the year competing in road races in Asia.

In June, the Australian athlete took part in the Anlene Orchard Road Mile in central Singapore.

Walsham, who had won the inaugural race in 2007, retained her title with a speedy 4:39 finish.

walsham Orchard Mile winner 2008

Suzy Walsham (third from the left) celebrates winning the 2008 Anlene Orchard Mile

Walsham upped the distance to 10km the following month, as she lined up for the Shape Run in Singapore on Sunday 20 July. She clocked 35:18 to take first place.

On Sunday 10 August, she was in Bali, Indonesia, for another 10km road race. She put in another mammoth performance to set a new PB of 34:11 and take second place.

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Walsham with the rest of the top 5 women at the Bali 10km

In October the action returned to Singapore for the Great Eastern Women 10km event.

Walsham would be up against pre-race favourite Anintha Kiptum of Kenya, who held a 32:12 PB.

Although it was actually a slower race than anticipated, both women pushed themselves to the limit and paid for their exertions at the finish line.

Kiptum finished in 34:55, but collapsed shortly after and was later hospitalised.

Walsham followed 20 seconds later in 35:15, and was also in bad shape.

Walsham stagger

An exhausted Suzy Walsham begins to stagger at the finish line of the Women 10km

Walsham stagger 2

Supported by her partner David and a race official, Walsham is led away to the medical tent

Finishing the season on a high

Walsham was going for her third straight win at the Swissotel Vertical Marathon in November, the event at which she’d made her tower running debut in 2006.

Swissotel Vertical Marathon 2008

She duly came away with another win, reaching the rooftop finish in 8:19. Like Dold, she would now be heading back to New York to defend her title in February, 2009.

Her final race of 2008 was the Singapore Half Marathon on Sunday 7 December. Walsham put in a brilliant run to win in 1:17:42.

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walsham singapore half marathon 2008

Suzy Walsham crosses the line to win the 2008 Singapore Half Marathon

The 2008 season had been an excellent display of athletic diversity by Walsham. She typically stayed away from longer distance races, because with her history of stress fractures and calf strains she feared the training volume required would take too heavy a toll. But she had pushed herself into running up to half-marathon distance and been rewarded for her hard work.

Still a relative newcomer to tower running, Walsham had barely focused on the stairs at all throughout the 2008 season. She was obviously in excellent shape, but would she be able to transfer that flat-level speed to the stairwell when she headed back to Manhattan to defend her title?

Empire State Building Run-Up 2009

So, the reigning champions were in New York for the 32nd edition of the ESBRU, but who else was in the building on Tuesday 3 February?

Four-time winner, Cindy Harris (née Moll) was back. She had finished second to Walsham in 2007 and 2008, and would be expected to provide one of the biggest challenges to the Australian.

Harris had been maintaining her stair climbing dominance throughout 2008, continuing her win streaks at the Hustle up the Hancock (where she set a new course record) and Sears Tower stair climbs in Chicago.

Just under two weeks before the ESBRU, she retained her title at the Bop to the Top event in her hometown of Indianapolis.

A couple of other former ESBRU champions were also in attendance.

The 1995 champion, Michelle Blessing, was in the building.

Michelle Blessing 2009 ESBRU

1995 winner Michelle Blessing at the 2009 ESBRU

So too was three-time winner Nina Kuscsik (1979-1981). Although neither would be in contention for a podium spot, it was good to see the former champions back for another run.

2009 Nina Kuscsik

Three-time winner Nina Kuscsik at the 2009 ESBRU

But three new faces would very likely be in contention for the podium.

In May 2008, Australian Jessamy Hosking had won the Australian Mountain Running Championship. She had placed second in those championships in 2006.

Jessamy Hosking

Jessamy Hosking

Three months later, she won the Sydney Tower Run-Up to earn herself a trip to New York to race at the ESBRU. She had been third there in 2007.

But five weeks before the ESBRU, Hosking had broken a bone in her toe and was unable to walk. She maintained her fitness with work on the bike and in the pool, and headed to New York in pain, but hoping for the best.

Italy’s Daniela Vassalli was another debutant Walsham and Harris would have to look out for.

An accomplished marathoner and mountain runner, Vasalli had recently turned her attention to tower running.

She had been the fastest woman at the Pirelli Tower in Milan back in February 2008, setting a new course record of 4:31.

Daniela Vassalli 2008 ESBRU

Daniela Vassalli

The final dark horse in the lobby was American runner Emily Kindlon. She had won the Run the Rock stair climb at the Rockefeller Center in 2007 and 2008. She would likely be in among the top finishers.

Emily Kindlon 2008

Emily Kindlon (with fellow winner Chris Solarz) at the 2008 Run the Rock

Another Italian, Cristina Bonacina, was also on the start line, as was ESBRU veteran Fiona Bayly.

Funnily, there was an Andrea Myers in the line up. Not sure if she got a shout out by the announcer in the lobby, but if she did it probably put a split-second jolt of shock through some, until they realised it wasn’t three-time champion and course record holder Andrea Mayr hiding at the back.

After her massive winning margin in 2008, Walsham was the obvious favourite. But the new faces added a touch of uncertainty to the proceedings. Overall it looked to have the ingredients for being a tight, competitive race.

As the starter’s claxon went, Walsham’s right foot gave way on the marble floor. Despite stumbling, she managed to stay on her feet, but Harris (and we believe Abby Woods on the far wall) got a jump on her and got out in front.

2009 womens start

Bridget Carlson (#106), Lynda Hubbard (108), Fiona Bayly (black gloves), Suzy Walsham (yellow vest), Daniela Vassalli (head visible above Walsham’s), Emily Kindlon (red vest along the far wall) and Cindy Harris out in front.

Walsham got upright again and drew alongside Daniela Vassalli. Neither was prepared to give an inch and their arms were catching each other as they vied for space.

Harris reached the door first, followed by Woods.

Next came the critical point of the race. With Walsham and Vassalli shoulder to shoulder, and only room for one to go through the door next, something had to give.

Walsham made a move to pass first, but Vassalli was having none of it.

She set her hand on Walsham’s shoulder and as the Australian went to make her pass, Vassalli shoved her hard out to the side. At the speed they were going, Walsham didn’t stand a chance. She lost her balance and smashed face first into the stone door frame, while Vassalli carried on and passed through the door in third place.

2009 ESBRU Walsham pushed

Suzy Walsham hits the deck after being pushed into the door frame by Daniela Vassalli

The following mass of runners ran into and over the prostrate Walsham. Eventually she was hauled to her feet by some of her competitors and bundled onto the stairs.

Walsham, her face already beginning to swell badly from the impact, and her clattered knee causing her serious pain, had a very quick decision to make. Pull out or carry on?

Of course the indomitable two-time champ soldiered on. She was now back in around 30th position, injured and in shock. Could she rein Harris and the other front runners back in before they got to the 86th floor?

Slowly but surely Walsham began to pass the women who had rushed pass her in the lobby.

2009 Cindy Harris

Cindy Harris out in front at the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up

It took Walsham 50 floors before she caught up with Vassalli, who was chasing Harris and Hosking for top spot.

Revenge is sweet.

She passed the Italian and that was it. She wouldn’t let it slip now.

She powered on and caught up with Harris at around the 65th floor. An incredible show of determination, strength and will had led her to her third straight title.

Walsham crossed the line in 13:27, while Vassalli, who had surged pass Harris and Hosking in the final quarter of the race, finished 13 seconds back in 13:40.

Cindy Harris took third in 13:49 and Jessamy Hosking, with her broken foot, was fourth in 14:00. Emily Kindlon finished fifth in 14:22.

2009 Walsham finish2

2009 Walsham finish

Suzy Walsham wins the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up

‘I thought, “What should I do? Do I stop or keep going?”‘, Walsham said after the race, holding an ice pack against her damaged knee.

‘I decided, I didn’t come all this way to pull out, so just did the best I could – power up. It was very hard. My knee was in a lot of pain and I was worried about my nose, that it was broken, but the adrenalin kicked in.’

2009 walsham trophy

Bruised but not beaten: a swollen-lipped Suzy Walsham holds up her winner’s trophy

Walsham’s fellow Australian, Jessamy Hosking, had also suffered throughout her climb.

‘I started off and I was in huge pain the whole way just hoping no one would step on my foot. I got to the top and I got 4th place. I was so happy, but so sore at the same time.’

Hosking would later refer to her fourth place finish with a broken foot as her most memorable athletic achievement.

Daniela Vassalli returned to a hero’s welcome in Italy. The athletics media was full of praise for the excellent debut run that got her on the podium. She would go on to win numerous stair races around the world over the following two or three years, including the inaugural NSPCC Gherkin Challenge in London in 2010.

In the immediate aftermath of the race, Walsham’s fall was still being considered an ‘accident’ and there was no mention of an intentional shove from Vassalli.

Daniela Vassalli 2008 ESBRU 2

Daniela Vassalli – second place at the 2009 ESBRU

But tellingly, Vassalli was never invited back to race at the ESBRU again. Perhaps somebody reviewed the footage or had been in the lobby and seen exactly what happened. *ed. note: pretty sure the race director became aware of the incident and I read that he said explicitly that Vassalli would never be invited to race the ESBRU again, but am currently unable to find the source for that.

The following year, padding was erected around the door frame to try and limit the danger of similar incidents.

Dold goes for a fourth straight win

There was some serious talent in the men’s division at the 2009 ESBRU.

Matthias Jahn, Dold’s training partner, was back. He’d finished second in 2007 and third in 2008. Could he go one better this year?

Matthias Jahn 2008 towerrunner

Matthias Jahn training in Franfurt in May, 2008

Also returning was American trail runner Rickey Gates. He had also been on the podium in 2007 and 2008, alternating positions with Jahn, while Dold took top honours.

It had been a mixed 12 months for Gates since his second place finish at the 2008 Run-Up.

A couple of weeks after the ESBRU he’d won the Run the Register stair race in Denver, Colorado.

Later in 2008 he had won trail and mountain races at home and abroad, and had placed an excellent 12th at the World Mountain Running Championships in September. But he had failed to defend the USA Trail Running Championships (10km) title he’d won in 2007, finishing in 17th place at the 2008 edition.

Rickey Gates 2008

Rickey Gates wins the 2008 Grintovec mountain race in Slovenia

Gates’ fellow Americans, Tim Donahue, Dan Casper, Eric Blake and David Tromp, were also in the lobby. They would all be hoping to make it into the top ten.

Dan Casper was a decorated track and road cyclist (as well as a fireman) who had finished in ninth place on his ESBRU debut in 2008.

Eric Blake, who was making his debut, was a mountain runner and marathoner. He had taken part in the 2004 US Olympic trials for the marathon and had also been part of the US team that took part in the World Mountain Running Championships in 2004-2006 and 2008.

In July, 2008, he had won the US Mountain Running Championship. He would be one to watch out for.

Eric Blake 2008 US champion

Eric Blake crosses the line to win the 2008 US Mountain Running Championship

Although Marco De Gasperi had been soundly beaten by Thomas Dold at the Taipei 101 Run-Up back in June 2008, the rest of his season had gone pretty well. He finished third at the European Mountain Running Championships in July and then eighth at the World Championships in September.

After the disappointment of the 2008 Run-Up, when he fell in the lobby and had to battle his way back from around 50th place to make it into the top 10, De Gasperi was hoping for much better luck this time around. All eyes were on him.

His Italian mountain running team mate, Emanuele Manzi, was on the start line as well.

Germany’s Christian Riedl, just starting out on his tower running journey, was making his ESBRU debut.

Javier Santiago from Mexico was back for the second time, looking to improve on the 16th place he’d earned in 2008.

Poland’s Tomasz Klisz was back for the sixth-straight time.

Other names that will be well familiar to many American stair climbers were also in attendance: Henry Wigglesworth, Paul Curley, Jeff Dinkin, Bruce Yang, Syd Arak, James Harris and Stephen Marsalese, to name a few.

From Australia, Scott McTaggart was back. In August 2008, he had won his third straight Sydney Tower Run-Up title, earning himself a trip to the ESBRU.

He’d also won his fourth straight Australian Mountain Running crown a few months before, so was in fantastic shape.

He had made a brilliant debut in New York the year before, finishing fourth. Could he get on the podium this time around?

1980 and 1982 ESBRU winner, Jim Ochse, was also in the building that morning, although not in the elite wave. He had taken part in the preliminary wave that ran at 9am (90 minutes before the elite women set off), with his 16:18 finish earning him 11th place there.

A lesson in the perfect ESBRU start

On the start line, Marco De Gasperi had sensibly positioned himself right out to the side, to avoid getting tripped by the charging runners behind him. But it meant he pretty much gave up getting through the door first.

To his left was cyclist Dan Casper, who had US mountain runner Eric Blake (bib #2 in the final video at the bottom of the story) just off his left shoulder.

Next along were Matthias Jahn and Thomas Dold. Scott McTaggart (red vest in the final video at the bottom) was on Dold’s left-hand side.

Rickey Gates, Tim Donahue, Duncan Lonsdale (who finished in 17:08 and should have been nowhere near the front) and Paul Curley made up the rest of the front row.

In a comical moment in the final video below (@0:11-0:16), the announcer calls out, ‘From Austria…Rudolf Reitberger’.

Matthias Jahn and Thomas Dold have a WTF? moment as they whip their heads around looking to find the two-time champion. Of course, he wasn’t there. Rudi still got a nice round of applause though.

2009 men's start

Marco De Gasperi (#37), Dan Casper, Matthias Jahn (3), Thomas Dold, Rickey Gates, Tim Donahue (in gloves and visor), Paul Curley

As always, master starter Thomas Dold reached the door first. It’s really interesting to watch the start in slow motion (0.25 playback speed on the final YouTube video at the bottom). Dold looks totally unprepared. He’s standing upright, no forward lean like his rivals and he looks relaxed. All the others are tensely staring straight ahead waiting to hear the claxon.

Dold, instead, is watching the starter (far right of the screen). At 0:22 seconds into the final video you see the starter’s arm going up with the claxon in hand. Watch Dold’s eyes track the hand up to the highest point. He then lets his weight fall forward and is already almost through pushing off his back foot as the claxon sounds.

Compare his footwork with Rickey Gates, two along from him (to the right as you look at it). Dold is almost on his third step before Gates has fully finished his first.

It’s actually masterful, and watching it this way it’s clear why Dold almost invariably made it to the door first in every ESBRU race he won. That, coupled with the spread out arms holding others back, of course.

Is it a truly false start? There’s a lot of twitching going on on the front line – Matthias Jahn also appears to jump the gun. It wouldn’t wash at an IAAF event that’s for sure.

Dold was followed through the door by Dan Casper, Matthias Jahn, Tim Donahue and Marco De Gasperi, in that order.

Just behind them, Rickey Gates had been twisted sideways by passing runners and then his legs had gone from under him. He hit the deck, with Scott McTaggart almost being taken out as well. You can see the incident beginning at 0:24 in the video below (slow it down).

Fortunately for Gates he landed on his backside and just slides along the floor right to the doorway, where he pops back up again. McTaggart did well to not go down, and you can see the mini-pause at the door as McTaggart braces against the following runners to give Gates time to get up properly.

2008 ESBRU mens lobby

Thomas Dold reaches the door first, followed by Dan Casper (#6), Matthias Jahn (3), Tim Donahue (7) and Marco De Gasperi (37). In the centre you can see Rickey Gates (87) turned sideways and heading for the floor.

2009 ESBRU men at door

The fast and frenetic battle for the door at the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up

By the 20th floor (where we believe the image below was shot), Gates had picked up at least one place as he hunted down Dold and the other front runners.

He’s followed by Scott McTaggart, while Tim Donahue can be seen coming into the picture.

Rickey Gates ESBRU 2009

Rickey Gates, Scott McTaggart and Tim Donahue

Up ahead, Thomas Dold was running the race of his life. Marco De Gasperi was bringing out the very best in him.

At around the 40th floor, Dold caught up with the back end of the women’s wave that had been set off five minutes before the men.

The German, who led from the start, had to weave his way through scores of runners as he chased his fourth title.

Thomas Dold ESBRU 2009

Dold weaves through a crowd during the second half of the race

It’s a shame the organisers didn’t leave 10 minutes between the women’s and men’s wave, because it’s quite possible that given a clear run Dold could have become the second person (after Paul Crake) to have finished in under 10 minutes.

He pulled away from De Gasperi and the chasing Rickey Gates in the final quarter of the race to cross the finish line in 10:07. He had taken a second off the personal best time he set in 2008.

2009 Thomas Dold finish

Thomas Dold 2009 ESBRU finish

Marco De Gasperi finished second in 10:29. Rickey Gates made it back onto the podium for the third year in a row by finishing third in 10:40.

De Gasperi and Dold ESBRU 2009

Marco De Gasperi congratulates Thomas Dold

Thomas Dold 2009 Empire State Building Run Up

‘This is such a special win for me,’ said Dold. ‘You have to train a lot to get a victory like this, and it gets harder every year—lots of guys want it.’

2009 Dold celebrates

Thomas Dold celebrates his fourth ESBRU win

Dold had to fight to hold onto the finish tape he took as a souvenir. In the video below (posted by Javier Santiago who finished in ninth place), you can see Santiago’s finish (he crashes into reporters as Dold is being interviewed) and then you see the doorman trying to yank the finishing tape out of Dold’s hands as he heads back inside.

2009 winners colour

Empire State Building Run-Up 2009 winners – Suzy Walsham and Thomas Dold

This is a really good video from NYRR and has some different angles of the start, plus more in-race footage than the one underneath it. You can see Walsham running at 1:20-1:35, and you can watch Thomas Dold working his way past some of the slower finishing ladies at 1:44-1:52.

This final video is the one that was referenced throughout this piece, i.e. where you can see Dold’s start and Rickey Gates’ fall, etc.

 

2009 Empire State Building Run-Up results

You might also be interested in:

EmpireStateBuildingAdmission

1978 Gary Muhrke (USA) 12:32 Marcy Schwam (USA) 16:04
1979 Jim Rafferty (USA) 12:19  Nina Kuscsik (USA) 15:03
1980 Jim Ochse (USA) 12:20  Nina Kuscsik (USA) 14:39 (ESBRU history 1978-1980)
1981 Peter Squires (USA) 10:59  Nina Kuscsik (USA) 14:44
1982 Jim Ochse (USA) 11:41  Mary Beth Evans (USA) 13:34
1983 Al Waquie (USA) 11:36  Burke Koncelik (USA) 13:40 (ESBRU history 1981-1983)
1984 Al Waquie (USA) 11:29  Isabelle Carmichael (USA) 13:32
1985 Al Waquie (USA) 11:42  Janine Aiello (USA) 13:14
1986 Al Waquie (USA) 11:26.13  Janine Aiello (USA) 13:18.32
1987 Al Waquie (USA) 11:56  Janet Wendle (USA) 15:12 (ESBRU history 1984-1987)
1988 Craig Logan (AUS) 11:29  Janine Aiello (USA) 13:42
1989 Robin Rishworth (AUS) 11:08  Suzanne Malaxos (AUS) 12:24
1990 Scott Elliot (USA) 10:47  Suzanne Malaxos (AUS) 12:27 (ESBRU history 1988-1990)
1991** Geoff Case (AUS) 10:13  Corliss Spencer (USA) 11:32
1992** Geoff Case (AUS) 09:33  J’ne Day-Lucore (USA) 12:00
1993 Geoff Case (AUS) 10:18  Sue Case (AUS) 12:42 (ESBRU history 1991-1993) – indoor finish, exact number of floors TBD but likely 86.
1994** Darrin Eisman (USA) 9:37  Belinda Soszyn (AUS) 11:36
1995 Kurt König (GER) 10:39  Michelle Blessing (USA) 13:03
1996 Kurt König (GER) 10:44  Belinda Soszyn (AUS) 12:19
1997 Kurt König (GER) 10:22  Belinda Soszyn (AUS) 12:32 (ESBRU history 1994-1997)
1998 Terry Purcell (AUS) 10:49 Cindy Moll (USA) 14:17 – race report
1999 Paul Crake (AUS) 10:15  Angela Sheean (AUS) 13:23 – race report
2000 Paul Crake (AUS) 9:53  Cindy Moll (USA) 12:51 – race report
2001 Paul Crake (AUS) 9:37  Cindy Moll (USA) 12:45 – race report
2002 Paul Crake (AUS) 9:40  Kerstin Harbich (GER) 12:46 – race report
2003 Paul Crake (AUS) 9:33*  Cindy Moll (USA) 13:06 – race report
2004 Rudolf Reitberger (AUT) 10:37  Andrea Mayr (AUT) 12:08 – race report
2005 Rudolf Reitberger (AUT) 10:24  Andrea Mayr (AUT) 11:51 – race report
2006 Thomas Dold (GER) 10:19  Andrea Mayr (AUT) 11:23* – race report
2007 Thomas Dold (GER) 10:25  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 13:12 – race report
2008 Thomas Dold (GER) 10:08  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 12:44 – race report
2009 Thomas Dold (GER) 10:07  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 13:27 – race report
2010 Thomas Dold (GER) 10:16  Melissa Moon (NZL) 13:13 – results
2011 Thomas Dold (GER) 10:10  Alice McNamara (AUS) 13:03 – results
2012 Thomas Dold (GER) 10:28  Melissa Moon (NZL) 12:39 – results
2013 Mark Bourne (AUS) 10:12  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 12:05 – results
2014 Thorbjorn Ludvigsen (NOR) 10:06  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 11:57 – indoor finish on 86th floor, so slightly shorter course – results
2015 Christian Riedl (GER) 10:16  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 12:30 – results
2016 Darren Wilson (AUS) 10:36  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 12:19 – results
2017 Piotr Lobodzinski (POL) 10:31  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 12:11 – results
2018 Frank Carreno (COL) 10:50  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 12:56 – results
2019 Piotr Lobodzinski (POL) 10:05 Suzy Walsham (AUS) 12:18 – results

* course record
** course shortened to 80 floors, instead of traditional 86, due to construction

Find out all the winners from other events around the world in our historical tower running results database.

In 2008, Thomas Dold went head-to-head at the ESBRU with a mountain running champion who had just won his fifth world title. Could the king of the mountains derail the two-time champion’s attempt to win three in a row?

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-1997199819992000200120022003, 200420052006 or 2007 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 2008.

Racing as the champ

After securing his second ESBRU title in February 2007, Thomas Dold focused heavily on tower running for the rest of the season. Already a well-established reverse-running world record holder at multiple distances, the German champion took a break from racing backwards and turned his full attention to the stairs.

First up was the Ramada Tower Run in Basel, Switzerland, where Dold had set a course record in 2006.

Facing him in the race up the tower’s 542 steps was the Swiss multi-sport athlete Gabriel Lombriser, whose 2005 record Dold had broken the year before.

It wasn’t the ideal day for Dold, as Lombriser reclaimed his course record with a finishing time of 2:43. Dold had to settle for second, with a finish of 2:45.

The next big race on the calendar was the SkyRun Berlin at the 770-step Hotel Park Inn at Alexanderplatz on Whit Monday, 28 May 2007. Dold had won the event in 2006 and was keen to get back to winning ways in a building he was familiar with.

BERP1_ParkInn-Berlin-ExteriorView

The Park Inn hotel in Berlin

He won his second SkyRun Berlin title in a time of 3:17, finishing a mere 0.57 seconds ahead of Matthias Jahn.

‘That was one of the tightest races I’ve ever experienced’, said Dold. ‘All the more, I am pleased that I was able to win despite the very strong competition.’

2007 skyrun berlin Dold

Dold lays down exhausted after winning the SkyRun Berlin

Less than two weeks later, on Thursday 7th June, Dold was in Stuttgart where he was aiming to break his course record at the 850-step TV Tower.

He managed to do just that, smashing his record by 12 seconds to finish in 4:32.

Dold Stuttgart TV Tower 2007

Dold celebrates his win at the Stuttgart TV Tower

A quiet, race-free summer followed and it wasn’t until 11th November that the German powerhouse was back in the stairwell. This time in Vienna for the Donauturm Treppenlauf, where he was aiming to win for the second year in a row.

Dold maintained his winning form, taking victory in 3:32.22, to earn a travel package to the Empire State Building Run-Up 2008.

In the women’s division that day, Andrea Mayr took victory in 4:16.78. But the three-time ESBRU champion would choose not to take up the opportunity to head back to New York to attempt to win for a record-equaling fourth time in 2008.

The man to beat Dold?

Meanwhile in Italy, a four-time world mountain running champion had crossed over to stair racing and was making waves.

At the start of 2007, Marco De Gasperi took his first major stair race win at the 710-step Pirelli Tower in Milan, with a time of 3:44.

Pirelli Tower race Milan

Pirelli Tower, Milan

De Gasperi had blown onto the international mountain running scene when he won the World Junior title in 1996, aged 19.

The following year, 1997, he made his senior debut and won his first major world title. Over the next six years he would go on to alternate world championship wins with the legendary Jonathan Wyatt. De Gasperi was champion in 1999, 2001 and 2003.

He then secured a final World Championship win in September 2007. He had also finished second at the 2007 European Championship in July, so was heading into the end of the year full of confidence and in outstanding form.

Due to his mountain running pedigree, and tower running win earlier in the year, De Gasperi was invited to take part in one of the biggest races in the tower running calendar; the Taipei 101 Run Up.

Marco De Gasperi 1997

Marco De Gasperi after winning his first mountain running world title in 1997

Paul Crake, the course-record holder and winner of the first two editions of the Taipei 101 Run Up, had been tragically paralysed from the waist down in a cycling accident shortly after winning the event for the second time in 2006.

Could De Gasperi be the man to pick up the mantle for mountain runners and dominate in tower running? Taipei 101 would be his first major test against many of the world’s best.

Taipei 101 Run Up 2007

At the time, Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world. All eyes were on the race, as in the men’s division the reigning world mountain champion was going up against arguably the best tower runner in the world, Thomas Dold.

While in the women’s division, the new ESBRU champion Suzy Walsham was challenging reigning Taipei 101 champion and course-record holder, Andrea Mayr.

Mayr had won the inaugural Taipei 101 event in 2005, climbing the 2,046 steps in a stunning time of 12:38 (a record that still stands). She defended her title in 2006. She was also a three-time ESBRU champion (2004-2006), and had finished second at the World Mountain Running Championships two months prior, so everyone was eager to see how the newcomer Walsham would fare against the more experienced Austrian mountain runner.

Melissa Moon, the former world mountain running champion (2001, 2003), and winner of the first tower running world championship in Kuala Lumpur in 2002, was there, too. The New Zealander was expected to provide a strong challenge to Walsham and Mayr.

Also in the lobby was a selection of tough local athletes looking to secure a first Taipei 101 title for a Taiwanese runner.

tAIPEI 101 2007 START

Andrea Mayr put in a brilliant run to once again go under the 13-minute mark (12:54) and take her third win in a row at Taipei 101.

‘I did well today because I put pressure on myself,’ said Mayr. ‘When I return home, I will rest up and prepare for the next season’s races.’

AM T101 2007

Andrea Mayr reaches the top of Taipei 101 to secure her third title

The impressive Walsham, still with less than a handful of stair races to her name, managed to secure second place in 13:42.

Suzy Walsham Taipei 101 Run Up

Suzy Walsham, second place at Taipei 101 Run Up 2007

Taiwanese athlete Jenny Hsiao-Yu Li was third in 14:16, and Melissa Moon took fourth place in 15:17.

World Mountain Running Champion vs ESBRU Champion

In the men’s race, Thomas Dold went off first. He finished in 11:56, well off the 11:16 he had set the year before when he finished second behind Paul Crake (10:31).

Thomas Dold Taipei 101

Thomas Dold sets off at the 2007 Taipei 101 Run-Up

Dold’s time held up through the first nine challengers. Then Marco De Gasperi set off. The Italian reached the top in 11:39, taking the title and sending a small shock through the tower running world.

‘I am excited,’ De Gasperi said. ‘I think I won the title for Paul Crake who cannot attend this year’s race because he was injured.’

Taipe de gasperi

Marco De Gasperi reaches the top of Taipei 101

Thomas Dold told reporters, ‘I thought I was prepared and was in good shape, but still came second. However, to come second in an international race is still great.’

Taipei 101 2007 winners

2007 Taipei 101 Run-Up winners – Marco De Gasperi and Andrea Mayr

Everything was now set up for a brilliant showdown in New York in three months time. Some were prematurely calling De Gasperi the best stair racer in the world. One big win does not a world beater make. But, if he could repeat the feat at the Empire State Building three months down the line, and halt the winning run of Thomas Dold, maybe then he could fairly be called the best in the world.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2008

59 women were in the lobby on Tuesday 5th February, 2008 for the 31st edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Cindy Moll-Harris and Fiona Bayly were back again. Their long-running rivalry had been ongoing for a decade and the pair had finished on the podium behind Walsham in 2007.

Moll-Harris was in form, having won the Bop to the Top in Indianapolis for the 14th time in a row just three days before the ESBRU.

At the 2007 Empire State Building Run-Up, Moll-Harris had finished just 12 seconds behind the debutant Walsham. This year she was once again expected to provide the Australian with her strongest challenge.

Unknown to Moll-Harris, Walsham’s preparation had been seriously impeded by a calf strain that had prevented her from running for the two weeks leading into the race. In fact, as the event approached Walsham wasn’t even sure she would make it to the start line. Would the injury slow the defending champion down enough to allow her rivals to put even more pressure on her?

2008 walsham warmup

Suzy Walsham limbers up before the start of the 2008 Empire State Building Run-Up

Also lined up in the lobby was 24-year old Caroline Gaynor, a former rower at Columbia University who had turned her focus to Ironman events and other triathlon distances. Evidently a strong athlete, she was an unknown factor. But it would be a major upset for her to topple Walsham or Moll-Harris.

Among the other women taking part that day was the incredible three-time winner Nina Kuscsik (1979-1981), the original queen of the ESBRU. But at 69 years old her fastest days were behind her – she would go on to finish in 25:07.

On the start line, Suzy Walsham (#101) was lined up in the centre of the front row. To her left was Moll-Harris (102) and next along, closest to the inside wall, was Fiona Bayly (103). On Walsham’s right was the debutant Gaynor (104).

At 1:01 of the first video below (skip to 1:01 and don’t watch whole video if you want to avoid SPOILERS in the men’s event), the camera pans along the start line with someone trying to elicit a reaction from the athletes. Bayly raises her eyebrows and nods her head. Next, a nervous looking Moll-Harris forces a nod at the camera. Walsham gives absolutely nothing, before the excited, smile-filled face of Caroline Gaynor rolls into shot.

The defending champion looked fully focused.

With the introductions over, the runners prepared themselves for the blast of the starter’s claxon. Walsham was crouched low, poised and ready to push hard off the line as she had done so many times before throughout her successful middle-distance track career.

YSTAIRCASE1-jumbo

She got a good start, managing to reach the doorway first, gaining a step on Moll-Harris who followed just behind her. Gaynor edged in front of Bayly and off they went.

As so often the case, specific details on exactly how the race played out once inside the stairwell are hard to come by.

We know that Walsham pulled away from Moll-Harris at the 35th floor, and then had a unchallenged run through to the finish.

In the video above at 1:45 (don’t watch whole video if you want to avoid spoilers in the men’s event) we see Walsham climbing on her own on an unspecified part of the course.

When the Australian reached the top, she had taken a massive 28 seconds off her 2007 winning time to finish in 12:44 and secure a second straight win. She was well clear of Cindy Moll-Harris, who took second in 13:33, and Fiona Bayly, who was third in 13:57. Caroline Gaynor (14:35) just held on to fourth place under serious pressure from the experienced Stacey Creamer (14:37).

2008 walsham wins

Suzy Walsham wins the 2007 Empire State Building Run-Up

‘It was fantastic to win such a famous race again this year. New York is a special place and this is a special building, so it’s a huge achievement for me’, Walsham told assembled reporters after the race.

‘Last year I was new, and I let everyone go at the start. I didn’t get a good position going through the door, and I didn’t go out very fast—I was way back in the pack. This year I got a much better position and I was the first going into the stairs. I led the whole race but the second place girl was right behind me for the first 30 floors and that probably made me go a whole lot faster. The last 20 stories were really hard.’

‘I knew I was winning, then I really wanted to get a fast time. But I really slowed down a lot in the last 10 to 15 floors. I couldn’t hear the girl behind me, but I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other. You’ve just got to get to the top.’

‘Bizarre’, commented Walsham on the lack of impact the calf strain had on her going up the stairs. ‘I nearly didn’t come, but I did a stair session on Friday and it felt okay. Today it was fine.’

Dold vs De Gasperi II

The start line for the men’s elite race was crammed full of established and emerging talent.

Joining Marco De Gasperi among the debutants that day was Tim Donahue, who would go on to be a very successful stair climber in the following years.

Fu-Cai Chen was also there. He had finished third at Taipei 101 Run-Up, where Dold had beaten him by less than half a second. He was definitely one to watch.

Jesse Berg was back for another try after his impressive seventh-place finish in his 2007 debut. Joining him for a second go were Canadian Shaun Stephens-Whale and Tim Van Orden from the USA.

Van Orden was coming into the race in what he said was ‘the best shape of my life’. In October 2007 he had won a race at the US Bank Tower in Los Angeles, beating Jesse Berg in the process, and proving himself one of the best American tower runners.

Among the well-established ESBRU runners in the lobby were Markus Zahlbruckner, Stephen Marsalese and Tomasz Klisz.

Not since Paul Crake’s final ESBRU run in 2003 had an Australian featured among the top finishers in New York – in fact only one Australian male had even raced at all in the intervening period.

Finally now a top athlete was being sent over from Australia to try and reclaim glory for the country that had secured an incredible 11 elite men’s division wins in the 30 years the competition had run.

Scott McTaggart was a highly impressive athlete with experience on the track, mountains and stairs. He had won the Sydney Tower Run-Up in 2006 and 2007, and was expected to be among those challenging for a podium place.

The bulk of the chatter in the build-up was all about the De Gasperi vs Dold showdown. Could the Italian replicate his success at Taipei 101 on a New York course that the young German was fast making his own?

But, although the focus was on those two, it would have been foolish to overlook the two men that had joined Dold on the podium in 2007.

Second in 2007 (and sixth in 2006), Matthias Jahn had once again spent the year training with Dold, pushing his training partner as close as possible at the SkyRun Berlin in May. He had made obvious improvements, but bettering his excellent sub-11 minute personal best time would be some achievement.

Rickey Gates had been stuck a few rows back from the front of the elite men at his debut in 2007. Despite the poor starting position that year he had managed to work his way up through the field to finish in third place.

Following that race, Gates had gone on to win the USA Mountain Running Championships and USA Trail Running Championships (10km) on back-to-back weekends in June 2007. In December he was crowned the USATF Mountain Runner of the Year.

RICKEY GATES

Rickey Gates winning the 2007 US 10km Trail Running Championships

In February 2008 he was in the front row in the Empire State Building lobby and was expected to provide Dold with a very serious test.

Over before it started

The lunacy and mismanagement of the start of the Empire State Building Run-Up was never so apparent as in 2008.

To be fair, the organisers did get the front row of the start line almost right, but ‘almost right’ really wasn’t good enough this time around, and it cost one man a chance of challenging for the title.

As ever, Thomas Dold was front and centre, preparing to spread his arms wide as soon as the claxon sounded to try and prevent anyone from passing him. Matthias Jahn was on his right, ready to assist his training partner in blocking people from passing.

Rickey Gates had rightly been moved to the front, and also lined up there was another American, Jesse Berg. All were rightly given prime spots.

Shaun Stephens-Whale was on Jahn’s right-hand side. He would go on to become an accomplished stair runner, but in 2008 he shouldn’t have been in the front row.

It could well be argued that the experienced Tomasz Klisz should have traded places with one of the faster runners behind him (at least ones he knew about, such as Markus Zahlbruckner). That really depends where you stand on start line etiquette. He had managed a sub 12-minute run in 2006, but only 14:10 in 2007. What form was he in this year? His position on the front row is questionable.

But then the shit show really starts.

Salvatore Ferrara (#69) had some how found himself on the front row unchecked, albeit out to one side. Sporting what seems to be a picture of the late Chico Scimone (the veteran ESBRU participant who took part into his 90s) on his t-shirt, the 54-year old Italian would go on to finish in 21:13.

On the other side, by the inside wall, was Fabio Silva (#12). Certainly deserving of being closer to the front than Ferrara, but still way out of place. A polite word from one of the officials and he should have been shuffled back.

In fact the man arranging the start line made a call for ‘numbers one through nine’, but it didn’t quite materialise. One through nine would have been a fairer front row, but still some way off the most desirable line up.

Among those in row two stood Van Orden, Zahlbruckner and De Gasperi. Shockingly, Van Orden hadn’t been seeded at all. His initial position was way back in the field, but with some last-minute negotiating and shuffling he rightly managed to get himself in among the race favourites.

Criminally, Fu-Cai Chen was way down the order as well. He was a definite contender for a podium spot, but wasn’t even in the second row of runners.

Accidents happen, even with the best planning. What’s to say that even if all the fastest men had been out in front, one wouldn’t have tripped anyway. We’ll never know. But the set up for the start of the ESBRU certainly did nobody any favours, that’s for sure.

When the starter’s horn went off, Dold, Jahn and Gates got a jump on everyone else, with the reigning champion reaching the door first. Behind them disaster was striking.

2008mensstart

Rickey Gates (#3), Matthias Jahn (2) and Thomas Dold (l-r) race out in front

Dold was already at least two metres ahead of De Gasperi when the Italian was tripped and fell.

2008 mens start final

Marco De Gasperi falls at the start of the race

de gasperi falls

Tim Van Orden (centre blue vest) skips around the fallen De Gasperi. On the other side by the wall is Markus Zahlbruckner, with Tim Donahue behind him with a hand on his back. The man with the blue vest heading out of shot on the right is Shaun Stephens-Whale. On the far left, in the yellow vest and wearing glasses is Stephen Marsalese. Fu-Cai Chen can be seen just to the right of the man in red (Kurt Hess, #78, another man woefully out of place). The diminutive Chen is wearing glasses, and a flash of his yellow vest is visible among the melee.

2008 deGasperi on floor

Marco De Gasperi scrambles towards the stairwell

A loud gasp ran through the lobby as the assembled reporters, photographers and spectators saw the Italian go down and winced as the mass of runners bundled over him. De Gasperi, to his credit, did a fantastic job of scrambling to get his feet back under him, all while moving towards the doorway on all fours. He managed to save himself from the bulk of the crowd following in behind and get on to the stairs in one piece, although now well out of the running.

The much anticipated New York showdown between the reigning ESBRU champion and the reigning world mountain running champion was over before it barely got going.

Apparently, by the time De Gasperi had reached the 10th floor, he was in around 50th place.

But up above, a serious battle was still going on.

Thomas Dold had hit the stairs in first position, followed by Jahn, Gates, Klisz and Berg.

The group settled in at a fast pace, the fastest that Dold had ever raced at the ESBRU.

As they climbed floor after floor, much of the chasing pack began to fade away. Tomasz Klisz slowed along with Shaun Stephens-Whale.

Australian Scott McTaggart pushed up into the chasing pack, where a tough battle for a top five finish ensued between him, Jesse Berg, Markus Zahlbruckner and Fu-Cai Chen.

Incredibly, Marco De Gasperi was going flat out floors below, powering his way through dozens of runners, hoping to close in on the top 10. Would he be able to do it?

Up ahead, Dold, Gates and Jahn climbed alone. They were tracking 10 seconds faster than the previous fastest time Dold had run in 2006. Eventually the pace became too much for Jahn and he began to fade.

But Rickey Gates was sticking with Dold and making him work harder than he’d ever had to before.

As he reached the 80th floor, Dold looked down over the railing and could see the American less than two flights behind him. He wasn’t slowing down.

The champion soaked up the pressure, though, and reached the observation deck eight seconds ahead of Gates.

A quick glance behind as he turned the corner for the finishing straight and Dold knew he had it. The hands went up and a cry rang out as he crossed the line in 10:08. A third straight ESBRU win, and with it a share of the record (with fellow German Kurt Konig) as the most successful European stair climber at the Empire State Building Run-Up.

2008 dold celebrates at line

DOLD WINS 2008

DOLD WINS 2

‘At this moment, I’m feeling so tired, but I’ll feel good soon,’ said Dold after his win. ‘It’s always a really hard fight, especially at the start. Then you leave the other runners behind and you hope you don’t see them again, and you just focus and don’t think about anything except the victory’

‘It was really hard to pass the women in the race ahead of ours. Starting at the 30th floor I had to pass three and four and five of them at a time. Normally this is not so much of a problem. I am a little bit disappointed in the time, but I will feel good about it tonight.’

Rickey Gates was second in 10:16, followed by Matthias Jahn in 10:56. Scott McTaggart (11:30), Fu-Cai Chen (11:32) and Jesse Berg (11:41) followed.

Then, almost miraculously, came Marco De Gasperi in 11:46. What might the Italian have achieved if he had been allowed a clear run?

‘Maybe I was a little naive, but I didn’t expect such a difficult and tight initial fight’, commented De Gasperi. ‘Certainly the best athletes had more experience and cunning than me. This is a particular and fascinating event that I have the chance to win. I will certainly try again next year.’

2008 WINNERS 2

2008 Empire State Building Run-Up winners, Thomas Dold and Suzy Walsham

Below is Tim Van Orden’s race video, including a post-race interview with Marco De Gasperi.

 

2008 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series – the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up.

With course record holder Andrea Mayr calling it a day at the ESBRU, a powerhouse of Australian athletics stepped forward to attempt to carry on her country’s winning tradition in New York. Meanwhile, the reigning men’s champion Thomas Dold was back to defend his title.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-1997199819992000200120022003, 20042005 or 2006 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 2007.

Genesis

At the time of the 20th edition of the Swissotel Vertical Marathon in Singapore on 19th November 2006 there seemed to be nothing particularly noteworthy about the event. As had been the case since the Westin Stamford hotel first hosted the race in 1987, a good spread of runners from Singapore and beyond turned up to compete. But future events would go on to show that the 20th edition of that race was one of the most significant moments in tower running history; the debut of Suzy Walsham.

Swissotel Stamford Singapore

Swissotel The Stamford in Singapore

Very few of the people at the Swissotel that day would have known they were lining up against one of Australia’s top athletes, and even fewer would have known that the soon-to-turn 33-year old Walsham had emerged at the top of Australian middle-distance running 15 years ago. Her athletic journey to Singapore had been remarkable.

Suzy Walsham had been competing at a high level since the mid to late 1980s, finishing well every year in a range of distances at the Australian All Schools’ Track and Field Championships. In 1988 she broke the Australian under-16 women’s record for the 1500m.

Suzy Walsham 1988

14-year old Suzy Walsham in 1988, running at the site of what would later become the Sydney Olympic Park

Her performances steadily improved until she was eventually selected to represent Australia at the inaugural World Junior Women’s Cross Country Championships in Stavanger, Norway in March 1989. Competing against some of the best young runners in the world, many of whom were significantly older than her, the 15-year old Walsham put in an excellent run to finish in ninth place.

You can watch the young Walsham at those championships in the video below. Click forward to 5:07 and you will see her come into shot in the gold top and green shorts wearing #9.

Walsham 1989 3

Suzy Walsham in 1989. She raced barefoot for a lot of her teenage years.

Walsham 1989

A year later, Walsham, now 16, was competing in the 1990 Australian National Championships in the under-18 and under-20 divisions. She had set a PB of 4:11.04 at the beginning of 1990, a time that actually ranked her #1 in the world for U/20 that year, so was in fantastic form.

A precocious talent, she won the 1500m and 3000m under-20 races, plus the under-18 800m title at the national championships. Interestingly, Suzanne Malaxos, who had just won the second of her two ESBRU titles (1989-1990), was also competing at the national championships that year, where she finished second in the senior 10km track race.

Walsham’s impressive wins earned her a spot on the Australian team that was heading to Plovdiv, Bulgaria for the 1990 World Junior Athletics Championships in August.

But disaster struck just three months months before the World Junior Championships when Walsham developed a stress fracture. The battle was now on just to get to the start line. Up until 10 days before the championships she was unable to run at all and was limited to just pool running. But the indomitable Walsham battled on and made it to Plovdiv.

In the 1500m event, she finished 4th in her heat, with a time of 4:23.66, which was good enough to earn her automatic qualification for the final the following day.

The full final is in the video below (intros start at 33:47). Despite the horrible build up to the championships, Walsham still ran a good race. Understandably she was just a little off the pace of the top runners. She finished in 4:19.23, which placed her 8th in a field of 15.

Finishing eight seconds off her PB was disappointing of course, but given the circumstances Walsham was happy enough with her performance. The winner, Qu Yunxia of China (4:13.67), went on to win Olympic 1500m bronze two years later in 1992 and World Championship gold in the 5000m in 1993.

Walsham actually finished ahead of Olga Yegorova who would go on to win World Championship gold in the 5000m in 2001.

A few months later at the 1991 Australian Track and Field Championships in Sydney in February, Walsham was competing for her first senior title aged just 17.

She was up against the likes of Jodie Hebbard, who’d finished second in the 1500m at the 1982 and 1984 national championships as a teenager, and Anne Cross, who was third in the same event the year before.

walsham barefeet

“Suzy’s blistered feet after a weekend on the track. The tape she uses as protection, however, peels back the damaged skin to expose raw flesh which constantly requires bathing in salt water. One blister was so big and painful that it halted her training for a week. Fearing it was infected, Walsham went to a doctor who was shocked by what he saw. ‘The blister had spread right up into my toes, and the doctor had never seen anything like it’, she said.” – March 1991

Walsham had spent a lot of her youth competing barefoot but had recently made the switch to using spikes on the track.

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Walsham 1991

Suzy Walsham, 1991

Walsham ran an excellent race, shocking many and winning her first 1500m senior title in 4:12.40.

A month later, Walsham was back out on international duty, competing in the junior women’s race at the 1991 World Cross Country Championship in Belgium. There was a strong field of runners assembled, including future multi-Olympic and world champions, plus the former marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe.

Once more Walsham proved she could more than hold her own with the best in the world. She managed to finish 13th in the field of 124 finishers, and even crossed the line ahead of Paula Radcliffe who was 15th.

A decline in fortunes

And then things started to go wrong. Beset by injuries and illness, Walsham’s athletic career stuttered before it had the chance to pick up full steam.

In 1992, Walsham didn’t get to defend her senior 1500m title at the Australian Championships. Instead she ran in the under-20s race, where she finished 4th. It was a frustrating time for the promising young athlete as she struggled to meet the same times that had earned her her first title 12 months prior.

Just over a couple of weeks later, she was in Boston for the junior women’s race at the 1992 World Cross Country Championship. She finished 76th out of 104 racers. Paula Radcliffe won the race.

Walsham didn’t feature in the 1993 national championships, but did return to the senior ranks in 1994 where she finished 7th in the 1500m.

She finished 7th again in the 1500m in 1995, but was still struggling to get back to the form that had secured her first senior title in 1991.

Then from 1996-1998, Walsham didn’t appear at the nationals at all, and it’s hard to find any results for her during this period.

Emerging from the shadows

But toward the end of 1998, Walsham began to emerge again, picking up podium places at regional races and racing in the 800m as well as the 1500m. She took this good form into the start of 1999, picking up wins and podium places in the 1500m and 800m at races in Sydney and Canberra. The comeback was on.

She wasn’t quite there yet to race at the 1999 or 2000 national championships, but she finished 9th at the Australian Olympic Trials for the 1500m in August 2000.

Walsham 2000

Suzy Walsham on the comeback trail in January 2000

Then on Saturday 24th March 2001, a decade after winning her first national senior title, Walsham was finally back on the start line for another 1500m national championship race. She was the fastest in the heats the day before and headed into the final full of confidence.

Her incredible determination and perseverance earned her a second Australian Championship title. Her winning time of 4:14.61 was the quickest she’d run for some time.

Walsham nationals 2001

On her way to winning the 1500m at the 2001 Australian Championships

In February 2002 she won the 800m and the 1500m at the NSW Championships, but could only manage 5th in the 1500m at the Australian Championships in April. At the end of the year, Walsham began to work with a new coach, Said Aouita.

Aouita, a former world record holder for the 1500m and 5000m, had won 5000m gold at the 1984 Olympics and 1987 World Championships, and Olympic bronze in the 800m in Seoul in 1988. Walsham began to improve immediately under his guidance.

In April 2003, Walsham won her third national title, taking victory in the 1500m in 4:12.96.

Walsham wins 2003

Crossing the line to win the 2003 Australian Championships

Seven weeks later she set a new personal best in the 1500m of 4:07.08 while racing at the famous Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. The week before she had set a new 800m PB at a race in Portland.

The 2004 national championships were a bit of a disappointment as Walsham aimed for the 800m and 1500m double. She managed 4th in the 800m and 5th in the 1500m.

By the time the 2005 nationals came around, she had parted ways with Aouita and was now working full time and being coached by her younger sister Debbie.

She made it to the final of the 1500m, where she managed to finish in third place.

Walsham 2005 AC

Walsham in action in the 1500m heats at the 2005 Australian Championships

Then in 2006 everything came together.

On Friday 3rd February, Walsham ran in the final of the 1500m at the Australian Championships and placed second in 4:08.72, which was one of the fastest finishes she’d managed for a long time.

The next day she ran in the heats of the 800m and qualified easily for the final on Sunday. In the final she did what every athlete dreams of. She ran a PB of 2:01.85 to win a fourth national title, an incredible 15 years after her first one.

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800m final at the 2006 Australian Track and Field Championships

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walsham 2006 800

walsham wins 800m

Walsham was now on the Australian national team that was selected to compete at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, and she was finally going to fulfill a long held ambition to represent her country at senior level at a major championships.

‘I think I’ve finally reached a place in my life where I’ve got a bit of balance,’ Walsham told reporters after her 800m victory. ‘I’m just so excited about it. I’ve had five months of injury-free training. Debbie’s just been fantastic.’

Asked whether she could win double gold at the Commonwealth Games, Walsham said: ‘Both races are going to be tough, but I’ve just got to get my foot on the line and then anything can happen.’

2006 Commonwealth Games, Melbourne

In Melbourne, she qualified for the semi-finals of the 800m, as one of the fastest runners-up in the heats. But the pace in her semi-final was a bit too quick and her 2:04.02 finish wasn’t good enough to get her to the final.

In the 1500m she fared much better. She qualified for the final automatically by finishing fourth in her heat.

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Walsham leads the pack in the 1500m heats of the 2006 Commonwealth Games

You can watch the full race from the final in the video below (spoilers under video).

Walsham finished in 6th place, and with that final high she called time on her track and field career. Her athletics journey had been incredible. Battling through multiple injuries and setbacks to take a fourth Australian Championships title 15 years after first winning as a 17 year old. Then to cap off your career with a 6th-place finish at the Commonwealth Games is so impressive and inspirational.

On the rise

Walsham relocated to Singapore later in 2006 and when there she saw an advertisement for the Swissotel Vertical Marathon. What caught her eye was that first prize was a trip to New York to race at the Empire State Building. She’d never raced in a tower before, but backed herself as having a good shot given the shape she was in.

So there she found herself lined up at the hotel in November 2006, not knowing what to expect.

The 73-floor/1,336-step tower was going to be a baptism of fire, but Walsham was more than up to the task. She won the race and set a new course record in the process. She was heading to New York.

Dold goes from strength to strength

After securing his first ESBRU title in February 2006, Thomas Dold went from strength to strength on the stairs. Throughout the rest of 2006 he secured wins in Basel, Berlin and Stuttgart. He also set more world records in backwards running, with new best times for the 1500m and 3000m.

Dold 2006 SkyRun Berlin

Thomas Dold on his way to winning the SkyRun Berlin 2006

In October he competed at the second Taipei 101 Run Up and finished second to Paul Crake, who won the race in 10:31. Dold was second in 11:16, which was 37 seconds faster than third-placed Rudi Reitberger. It was an impressive performance by the young German that would have been looked upon ominously by his ESBRU rivals.

Then on the 11th November 2006 he finally won the Donauturm Treppenlauf in Vienna at the fourth attempt. Everything was set up perfectly for Dold to try and win his second ESBRU title.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2007

On Tuesday 6th February, Suzy Walsham was lined up in the lobby alongside 55 other women.

walsham lobby

Suzy Walsham (centre) prepares for her ESBRU debut in 2007

Four-time winner Cindy Moll-Harris was back, and would probably have been backing herself to win for a record fifth time, given that the supreme Andrea Mayr wasn’t there.

Her long-time rival Fiona Bayly was also on the start line. Bayly had debuted in 1995 (coming second in a personal best 13:10) and had finished on the podium multiple times, most notably in 1998 when she finished just a second behind the winner, Moll-Harris.

Amy Fredericks, who had finished fifth in 2006 and third in 2004 and 2005, was also there. The casual observers would have been looking for the winner among those three.

That trio was lined up in the centre of the front row of racers. The unknown Walsham stood behind them.

Fredericks got a typically fast start and was through the door first, followed immediately by Moll-Harris and then Bayly.

2007 womens start 2

Amy Fredericks heads for the stairwell door at the start of the 2007 ESBRU

2007 womens start 3

Walsham managed to make it through the door in around 13th position. Not a terrible start, but she was going to have her work cut out passing a heap of women who were definitely slower than her.

But she powered through them and by the 65th floor crossover she had established a narrow lead. You can see her in the video below displaying that now familiar rhythmic and staggered stair climbing style that has served her so well since (@0:40).

Walsham managed to maintain her lead despite Moll-Harris and Bayly pushing hard just a couple of floors below. She finally exited onto the observation deck and crossed the line in 13:12 to win on her debut.

2007 Walsham wins

Suzy Walsham wins her first ESBRU title in 2007

Moll-Harris was next in 13:24, with Bayly once again a mere second behind her in 13:25.

‘The start was a nightmare’, said Walsham. Trying to get out in front wasn’t too pleasant either for the Australian. ‘I pushed my way through. There was one girl who was holding both sides and I said “I want to get past, hold one side”‘.

2007 Walsham celebrates

walsham celebrates

Dold goes for two in a row

With his dominance at several stair races throughout 2006, Thomas Dold was expected to defend his ESBRU title.

Alongside him in the lobby were plenty of experienced ESBRU athletes, including Rudi Reitberger, Jaroslaw Lazarowicz, Tomasz Klisz and Dold’s German team mate Matthias Jahn.

Among the others in the lobby that day were several men that will be familiar to many readers: Jesse Berg, Ralf Hascher, Tim Van Orden, David Tromp and a 17-year old Shaun Stephens-Whale.

Ultra-runner and adventurer Rickey Gates was also in the lobby ready to make his ESBRU debut. Well known now for his endurance feats, which include his TransAmericana project in 2017, he was one of the hottest new prospects in US mountain running back in 2007. Later in the year he would go on to be named USA Track and Field Mountain Runner of the Year, after winning both the U.S. Mountain Running Championship and U.S. Trail Championship in back-to-back weeks. Unfortunately for him, he was placed pretty far back in the pack at the Empire State Building. He certainly had the caliber to be in contention for a podium spot, but given his position in the pack it was going to take some serious work to catch up with the front runners.

Matthias Jahn got a good start and seemed to open up a gap for Dold to come through. Perhaps they had a plan for Jahn to tail the stronger Dold who would pull him onto the podium.

You can see Dold in the yellow vest in the picture below, looking like he’s about to be passed by a bunch of guys.

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2007 mens start

But the reigning champion quickly powered through and by the time they reached the door he was in first place, with Jahn right behind him.

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2007 mens start 2

2007 mens start 1

The Empire State Building Run-Up is renowned for its mass start, and in the days before it streamlined the elite race it was often derided as being ridiculous and unnecessarily dangerous. There had been stumbles before in the men’s elite race, and there had been falls at the back of the women’s elite starts before, but never had there been a significant pile up at the front of the men’s race. This time, unfortunately, was different.

Jose Mateo Martinez went down hard just before the door (you can see him falling in some of the images above) and the surrounding runners ran over him. Most managed to stay on their feet but Tomasz Klisz went down – you can see his journey to the floor in the two images below.

2007 mens start 3

2007 mens start 4

The whole sequence was recorded and later uploaded by Tim Van Orden. You can watch it in the video below (some of his annotations are incorrect, Klisz is Polish not Austrian).

Out in front, Dold and Jahn maintained their positions. The faster Dold began to pull away in the later stages of the race and as Jahn began to tire, the climbers below him started to close in.

2007 Dold solo

Thomas Dold builds his lead

At 0:24-0:30 in the men’s race video below you can see Rudi Reitberger (#2), Rickey Gates (#51) and Tommy Coleman (#27) battling for a podium spot around the 65th floor. Up ahead and out of shot is Pedro Ribeiro.

Dold crossed the line in 10:25, aggressively ripping the tape from the grasp of the two men holding it at the finish line and throwing it on the floor. In the race videos below you can hear someone saying what sounds like, ‘shit…SHIT!’ as Dold crosses the line to win for the second time. The young German was already building a fan base.

2007 Dold approaches finish

Thomas Dold turns the corner on the observation deck heading for the finish

2007 Dold wins

Dold reaches out to tear down the finish line

Matthias Jahn managed to hold on to second place, crossing the line in 10:56. Dold ran back along the observation deck to check if his countryman was coming behind him and when Jahn emerged the pair yelled and hollered across the line before embracing.

2007 Jahn and Dold

Matthias Jahn jumps for joy as Thomas Dold cheers him on

You can see it in the video below (and hear the comical ‘shit, SHIT’ a bit clearer, too). Their impassioned antics are reminiscent of the beach scene in Rocky 3 when Balboa and Creed embrace in the surf after an intense sprint session.

Rickey Gates managed to win the battle for third and crossed the line in 11:02, ahead of Pedro Ribeiro in 11:10 and Rudi Reitberger in 11:12.

‘I might have done a little better if I didn’t have to start 30 feet back,’ said Gates.

‘It’s just a mob mentality. Off the start, it goes from about 30 feet wide down to 3 feet wide in about five seconds…It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like it. It’s certainly a new experience trying to cram 50 runners into a little 3-foot-wide stairwell.’

‘My time was fast. Certainly a lot of Americans have run faster than me in previous years, but it was cool to be the top American finisher. I knew I was going to do well – I was just not sure how well’.

He even spoke of one runner intentionally reaching back and trying to slap him in the face as he attempted to pass on the stairs. But he was unperturbed and determined to return in 2008 where he would be given a better place on the start line.

2007 Dold Jahn hands

Dold and Jahn celebrate on the observation deck

2007 podium in lift

Men’s podium in the lift: Matthias Jahn, Rickey Gates and Thomas Dold (l-r)

2007 Dold winner

2007 winners

Thomas Dold and Suzy Walsham – ESBRU winners 2007

2007 Empire State Building results

Read the next installment in the series – the 2008 Empire State Building Run-Up.

Incredibly, the winners of the 1998 Empire State Building are still competing in and winning events over 20 years later. Their victories in 1998 thrust them into the spotlight on the biggest stage in tower running.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-1993 or 1994-1997 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 1998.

An incredible comeback

As she promised, 1997 winner Belinda Soszyn did not return to New York to defend her title. The three-time winner and course record holder had checked out on top, and so the women’s race was wide open.

Fiona Bayly was back after missing the 1997 edition. Having finished second in 1995 and fourth in 1996, and with a personal best time of 13:10, she was fancied to take the win. But Bayly was suffering with tendonitis and bursitis in her right foot. What effect this would have on her performance would have to be seen.

Unlike in previous years, there were no renowned elite athletes in the field of 29 women. No previous ESBRU winners turned up and there was no Australian champion in attendance, either. There were some highly competitive local club runners in the mix, but none that had the sort of massively impressive times or titles that had been seen among the women in years past.

But there was an experienced tower runner on the start line and she was expected to be Bayly’s strongest competition. 29-year-old Cindy Moll, an accountant from Indianapolis, had already enjoyed success at stair climbs in her home city, including wins at the Bop to the Top at OneAmerica Tower in 1995, 96 and 97. She was coming into the event off the back of a confidence-boosting win at a tough 7-mile race in Indiana, just 12 days earlier.

Moll had actually taken part in her first Bop to the Top tower race in 1985, while still a high-school student, but she wouldn’t return to the stairs for quite some time after that. ‘It took me eight years to do a second one. I started too fast and learned you have to pace yourself’.

At the start line of the Empire State Building Run-Up, Moll looked relaxed. Bayly, just a few steps to her left, was crouched in position like a 1,500m runner at the start of a race, ready to hit the stairwell first. Just before the starter’s claxon went off, Moll slightly lost her balance and as she adjusted her feet the horn sounded and she was immediately passed by those around her. She entered the stairwell in around fifth or sixth position. Not a disaster, but not the start she wanted. Bayly was first onto the stairs.

The race was a slow one – the slowest since 1987 in fact. But it was the closest race seen at the ESBRU up until this point, too.

Bayly set off hard, and was well and truly out of sight of everyone by the halfway mark. When Moll got to the 60th floor, she was told that Bayly was around 40 seconds ahead of her. But despite thinking the race for first place was probably over, she pushed on.

Up ahead, the hard early pace and the pain from her injured foot began to take its toll on Bayly, and she started to slow.

Incredibly, in 20 floors, Moll managed to claw back the 40-second deficit and by the 80th floor she had caught up to Bayly. Passing on the narrow stairs of the Empire State Building is always hard, especially against a climber that is determined to stop you getting through.

But Moll made her move on the 84th floor and finally took the lead.  At the finish line, just one second set the two apart, and it was Cindy Moll who crossed first in 14:17 for a brilliant comeback win on her ESBRU debut. Maria Fernadez from Mexico was third in 15:16.

‘My legs started to feel rubbery’, said the winner. ‘I kind of got that burst of energy in the last floor’.

Bayly was understandably gutted. ‘I’m so furious, I’m just really disappointed’, she told reporters. ‘My foot couldn’t hurt anymore’

Nine days later, Moll defended her title at the 37-floor Bop to the Top race, winning in 5:05. She was quickly establishing herself as the best stair climber in the USA. Her legendary tower running career, which is still ongoing, was now well under way.

Advance Australia Fair

Heading into the race on Thursday 19th February, Terry Purcell knew exactly what was expected of him. Five of the ten previous men’s races at the ESBRU had been won by Australians. In the other five events, an Australian had finished in second or third in each of them.

Purcell himself had been second in 1996, finishing just seven seconds behind the winner Kurt Konig. It had been five years since an Australian won, so now was the time for Purcell to step up and join the ranks of Aussie ESBRU champions.

Described by one journalist as having ‘quadriceps that look like sides of beef’, Purcell was coming in off the back of a win at the Sydney Tower Run in late 1997. His confidence was high.

According to some reports, the pre-race favourite was actually Bernd Hammer from Austria. No big surprise given he had finished fourth in 1996 and third in 1997.

As the athletes limbered up in the lobby, Hammer took a knee, clasped his hands together and prayed.

God surely doesn’t favour one tower runner over the other, but if he does, he may have had a soft spot for Jesus Zerpa, a tough runner who would be challenging for a podium place.

At the start line, 27-year-old Purcell adopted his familiar low stance with knees bent and body parallel to the ground. A master starter, Purcell flew off the line at the first hint of noise from the claxon. But as he went for his second step, his right foot slipped on the sleek lobby floor and he stumbled badly (see image below). He just managed to save himself from completely falling, but it had cost him ever so slightly and he was passed by at least one runner heading into the stairwell.

Hammer slipped at the start, too; his right foot also giving way massively as he tried to push off. His stumble cost him far more than Purcell, and around nine or ten men were ahead of him as they hit the stairs.

1998 ESBRU START

Terry Purcell (centre) works to recover after his stumble

Purcell quickly took the lead. Despite his poor start, it wasn’t long before Hammer made up the gap and settled in behind him. The pair climbed close together for the large part of the 86 floors.

At around the 75th floor, Purcell managed to pull away. He created a small lead for himself and held it tightly right to the finish, crossing the line in 10:49. Hammer finished in 10:57, and Jesus Zerpa was third in 11:23.

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Terry Purcell wins the 1998 Empire State Building Run-Up

As Purcell crossed the line, Michael Baume, the Consul-General of Australia to New York, stepped forward and draped the Australian flag around his shoulders, just as he’d done for Belinda Soszyn the year before. Baume had put Purcell up in his official residence for the days leading up to the race.

‘I couldn’t let the Australian tradition down’, said the victorious Geelong man. ‘I realised today when I was at the 55th floor, I looked at it and I thought, hey I’d be finishing in Melbourne now, and I’ve got another 31 floors to go. And the second Austrian guy, he was sitting right behind me then, I was thinking, ya know, just drop down a bit so I can have a bit of a relax. But I couldn’t. Not until about the last 10 floors could I get away from him.’

‘I’m used to about seven or eight minutes for a race’, Purcell added. ‘Those last three minutes really hurt’.

Already a stair climbing legend in his own country, this win put Purcell firmly on top on the global scene. A permanent move to the USA just a couple of years later saw him quickly establish himself as the best climber in the States. His record would go on to include five wins from five starts at Chicago’s AON Center (and a long-standing course record that was only broken in February 2017) and nine wins from nine starts at the John Hancock Center. He retired from the sport in 2011, but made a stunning return in March 2017, and at the time of writing is once again the top-ranked US tower runner.

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Cindy Moll and Terry Purcell – 1998 ESBRU winners

1998 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series – the 1999 Empire State Building Run-Up.

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

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-1990 or 1991-1993 instead.

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

1994 – The last race on the short course

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

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

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

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

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Fred Lebow holds the tape as Belinda Soszyn crosses to win

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

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

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

Fred Lebow

Fred Lebow 1932-1994

Stair climbing newcomer wins the men’s division

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

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

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

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

Darrin Eisman

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

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

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

1994 WINNERS BEST

Eisman and Soszyn celebrate winning the 1994 ESBRU

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

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

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

Full 1994 ESBRU results

 

1995 – A new King emerges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1995 WINNERS CELEBRATE

King Kurt and King Kong lift Michelle Blessing aloft

1995 Empire State Building Run Up results

 

1996 – Champions do battle

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

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

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

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

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

1996 WOMEN WINNER

Belinda Soszyn sets a new course record at the 1996 ESBRU

Konig goes for the double

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

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

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

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

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

1996 MATTIAS SCHREINER THIRD PLACE

Matthias Schreiner crumples at the finish line

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

1996 Empire State Building Run-Up results

1997 – Konig and Soszyn go for three

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

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

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

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

1997 KONG BEST QUALITY

Kurt Konig, ESBRU champion 1995-1997

A two-horse race

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

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

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

 

1997 Empire State Building Run-Up results

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

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

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

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

1991 – The course is shortened

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

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

Australian champions head for New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1991 CASE WINS RIALTO RUN

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

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

1991 WINNER CASE TRAINS WITH 2ND PLACE LADY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A runaway winner in the women’s race

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

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

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

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

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

 

1991 Empire State Building Run-Up results

 

1992 – Case aims for back-to-back wins

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

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

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

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

1992 GEOFF CASE FINISHING

Geoff Case crosses the line for his second ESBRU win

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

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

Day-Lucore takes victory in the women’s race

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

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

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

 

1992 Empire State Building Run-Up results

 

1993 – The Cases return to New York

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

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

Sue Case looks to settle scores

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

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

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

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

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

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

1993 sue case wins

Sue Case wins the Empire State Building Run-Up 1993

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

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

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

Geoff Case goes for three-in-a-row

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

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

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

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

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

1993 GEOFF FINAL FINISH

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

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

1993 winners better

Stair Cases: the winners show off the spoils of victory

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

 

1993 Empire State Building Run-Up results

 

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

In 1988 an Australian stair running champion arrived at the Empire State Building Run-Up, and in doing so he would kick start a long tradition of Aussie dominance at the event.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the ESBRU covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-1983, or 1984-1987, instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU between 1988 and 1990.

1988 – The Aussies arrive

On Sunday 2nd August 1987 the first Rialto Tower Run-Up took place in Melbourne, Australia. As the event had been inspired by the ESBRU, the organisers offered the fastest man and woman an all-round trip to New York, plus entry to the 1988 Empire State Building Run-Up.

Challenging for the top prize that Sunday were two-time Olympic marathoner (1976/1980) Chris Wardlaw, steeplechase champion Craig Logan, who also had a sub-30-minute 10km time, and mountain runner Robin Rishworth.

In the end it was Logan who was fastest up the 54-floor Rialto Tower in 7:28. He was getting married in January 1988 and was going to use his free trip to New York as a honeymoon. He’d make time for the ESBRU.

On Wednesday 17th February 1988 Logan was on the start line alongside 78 other men, ready to battle it out for the 11th ESBRU title – plus an Apple computer from the race sponsors. Alongside him were Joe Kenny, who was third the year before, Daniel Glickenhaus who had been fourth, and two-time champion Jim Ochse (1980 and 1982). Five-time champion Al Waquie did not return to defend his title. He told organisers he couldn’t get the time off work, but surely his troublesome knee also played a factor in him checking out on top.

Logan blasted off the start line and into the stairwell ahead of all the others. He would not relinquish the lead the whole way up, reaching the top of the 1,576 steps in 11:29.

1988 ESBRU

He held off a challenge from Joe Kenny, who you can see in the photo below was just yards behind, finishing in 11:32.

1988 craig logan finish 2

As they had done for the previous few years, The Indianapolis News ran a detailed post-race report on Joe Kenny’s experience at the ESBRU.

‘I had him in my sights all the way’, Kenny told reporter Mike Davis, ‘I just ran out of floors.’

Kenny was around the 18th person into the stairwell. ‘There was a huge pileup of bodies at the start, but I paced myself pretty well, and by the 20th floor crossover I was sixth. It was just like a regular race – I was in control, passing people and even keeping track of my splits.

‘Last year I just died at the 50th floor and was in agony the whole last way. This time was different, though.’ At the 65th floor, he [Kenny] moved past the top woman and found out he was only six seconds behind Logan. ‘I thought, ”I’ll get this guy”, but he was just too strong.’

1988 craig logan finish photo

The agony of victory – 1988 ESBRU champ Craig Logan suffers at the finish line

For his part, Logan said, ‘I’m probably just good at running up stairs. I was ahead all the way. I got in the stairwell first and stayed in front’. But he admitted ‘it gets a bit boring going around, and around, and around.’ The Rialto Tower race had been Logan’s only previous stair climb and he said ‘that one felt harder’.

A former champion returns in the women’s division

Janine Aiello, course record holder and champion in 1985 and 1986, returned to tie Nina Kuscsik’s record of three titles in the women’s division.

She was preparing for the 1988 US Olympic marathon trials in May, but took time out of her training schedule to fly in from San Francisco and win in 13:42.

1988 winners together

She pointed out that running stairs isn’t a formal part of her marathon training, and that she enters the ESBRU ‘for the fun of it.’ ‘It doesn’t interfere with my training plans. The only thing is that I like to emphasise aerobic racing. Because you run up steps in the Empire, it’s like an anaerobic event and can be too tiring for many runners’.

‘I knew I had to take it easy in the beginning and let people go out and kill each other for the first 10 or 20 floors…I love this race because it’s a true challenge in every sense of the word…It feels easier every year. You just battle gravity the whole way…The idea of running up a building – it’s really kind of crazy.’

 

 

Full 1988 ESBRU results – some results may differ from report due to differences in rounding up/down

1989 – The Rise of the Aussies

The women’s division of the Melbourne Rialto Tower Run 1988 was won by Suzanne Malaxos. That earned her a spot at ESBRU 1989 and set up a clash of champions; as joining her on the start line in New York on Thursday 9th February was defending ESBRU title holder Janine Aiello. Alongside them were 16 other women.

Malaxos, 27, absolutely destroyed the women’s course record by 49 seconds, winning in a time of 12:24. Aiello took second place.

‘I was fourth in the door and passed one girl virtually straight away, and passed the first two at about the 20th floor and led from then on’, Malaxos said.

‘She [Aiello] had the upper hand and few of the others had previous experience. Once you get on the stairs it is every man for himself, but I guess today was my day. I broke the record by [almost] one minute and that capped it off really nicely. You get into a bit of a rhythym and when you are winning you forget about how much it hurts.’

In the men’s event it was another Australian, 23-year old mountain runner Robin Rishworth, who was victorious among a field of 76 other men. He had earned his spot at the ESBRU by smashing the course record at the Rialto Run-Up in Melbourne a few months before. His winning time at the ESBRU was 11:08.

1989 WINNERS

Advance Australia Fair – Rishworth and Malaxos hug it out with King Kong

With no American winner in either the men’s or women’s race, media coverage the following day was fairly reduced. There were no finish line photos to be found, and just a couple of detailed reports on the event.

Full 1989 ESBRU results – some results may differ from report due to differences in rounding up/down.

1990 – The course record finally falls

On Tuesday 13th February 1990, 110 competitors (91 men and 19 women) took part in the 13th edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

1990 mass start

Defending champion Suzanne Malaxos (above centre, wearing #101) was back over from Australia, having won the Rialto Run-up again in 1989.

Malaxos wins Rialto 1989 to enter 1990 esbru

Suzanne Malaxos on her way to winning the 1989 Rialto Tower Run-Up, to earn a spot at ESBRU 1990

Among the tough women she would be facing off against was triathlete, and soon-to-be USA national duathlon champion, Corliss Spencer.

In the end it turned out to be a bit of a one-way contest as Malaxos went sub-13 minutes for the second time in a row, and just three seconds shy of the course record she set the previous year. Her winning time was 12:27. Corliss Spencer was second in 13:10 and J. Hallwood-Miller finished third in 14:51.

The men’s event was a far more competitive affair.

Robin Rishworth returned to have a shot at two wins in a row. But he would be facing some serious competition.

Alongside him on the start line was an outstanding and versatile athlete called Scott Elliott. A runner with a 4:08 mile time and a multi-time winner of the Pikes Peak Half Marathon, Elliott was clocking between 80-100 miles a week in the rarefied air of Boulder, Colorado in the build up to the ESBRU. He even had stair climbing experience, having received an invite to the event after winning a stair race in Denver.

Elliott completely blew the opposition away and broke Pete Squires course record, which has stood since 1981. By finishing in 10:47, he became only the second man to have ever finished the race in under 11 minutes (Squires had managed it by less than half a second). He started some way back from the early leaders but paced himself well, picking off racers and eventually taking the lead at the 76th floor.

Robin Rishworth ran a brilliant race, setting a new PB of 11:02, but it wasn’t enough to stop Elliott. The ever-present Joe Kenny was on the podium again with an 11:24 finishing time. Brian McCauliff (11:26) and Andy Hampsas (11:49) completed the top five.

‘It’s a tough race, and it requires more oxygen,’ Elliott said. ‘It’s a madhouse at the start,’ he added, having got caught in the middle of the pack as runners entered the stairwell.

‘I’m pretty confident about breaking (the record again),’ Elliott said. ‘The slow start might have cost me a few seconds. I think I can chop another 10 or 20 seconds off.’

Elliott and Malaxos said they’d be back in 1991 to defend their titles.

1990 aussies

Rishworth (2nd) and Malaxos (1st) celebrating at the finish line with the Australian flag

 

Full 1990 ESBRU resultssome results may differ from report due to differences in rounding up/down

Read the next installment in the series ‘A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 1991-1993

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.

1984 cARMICHAEL WINS

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.

1984 START LINE

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.

1984 WINNERS

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.

1985 WAQUIE FINISH

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’.

1985 JANINE AIELLO FINISH BEST

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.

1981 SQUIRES MID RUN

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.

1982 MASS START

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 1982

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.

1983 JOHN HOWARD WINS KONA 81

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).

1983 WINNERS BURKE AL

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.

The Empire State Building Run-Up is the longest-running stair climb event in the world, and for over 40 years it has played host to the greatest tower runners to have ever raced.

When it began in 1978, it was seen as just a bit of fun. ‘A pleasant midweek diversion between events of a more standard nature’. But it kick-started the American stair running scene, which has grown to become the busiest in the world. It is the most iconic stair climb in the global calendar.

This is the first part in a series covering the history of the event. Drawing largely from newspaper archives it will show who the racers were, how they felt about the event and how the races played out through the years.

This is the story of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

1978 – The first ever Empire State Building Run-Up

Fred Lebow has been referred to as ‘the P.T. Barnum of track and field’. There were definitely elements of the showman about him, but more importantly he was a visionary, and a most significant contributor to the sport of tower running.

Fred Lebow

In 1978 he was six years into his 22-year reign as president of the New York Road Runners. In 1970 he had organised the first New York City Marathon for a small group of 55 runners. On Wednesday 15th February 1978 another one of his bold ideas came to fruition – a race up the stairs of the Empire State Building. ‘No building in the world has the charisma of the Empire State’, said Lebow.

That inaugural race, as it would remain for several years, was invite only and just 15 people – 12 men and 3 women – took to the start line to take on the 1,576 steps (note – all reports from the early years say there are 1,575 steps, but we’ll use the modern count to avoid confusion later on).

6ef27ac7bb636f92058d08c3838696fd

This being the first event of its kind in the USA, the organisers had no idea what effect the challenge might have on competitors. So, they limited entry to runners who had previously taken part in an ultra-marathon of at least 50km. The one exception was Kathy Marx, a reporter with the short-lived New York paper The Trib, who dropped out on the 26th floor.

To be doubly sure they were covered, there was a doctor on hand and there were water stations on the 23rd and 65th floors.

In among the runners was ultra-marathoner Marcy Schwam (wearing #11 in the middle of the photo above). She would be challenged by Chloe Foote, a member of the Central Park Track Club, which Lebow himself was an early member of.

In the men’s race, Gary Muhrcke, winner of the inaugural NYC Marathon in 1970 (2:31), was expected to do well. Paul Fetscher, who also ran the first NYC Marathon (and 40+ more subsequent NYC Marathons) was vying for victory, too. Elliot Denman, a racewalker who had competed for the USA in the 50km walk event at the 1956 Olympics was there, as was Hugh Sweeny, a seasoned runner from new Jersey with a sub-2:30 marathon time (standing behind Schwam, laughing, above). None of them knew what to expect, but guesses for the winning time were between 20-25 minutes.

When the race was run it was Gary Muhrcke who had come out on top. And he’d managed to be a lot quicker than expected. He reached the top in 12:32, taking a clear lead by the 10th floor and holding it all the way to the finish.

1978 gary finish line

Gary Muhrcke wins ESBRU 1978

‘It was a lot easier than most of us expected. I used the handrail a lot’, said Muhrcke.  ‘It’s hard to describe what it was like. It was different. I’ll know better tomorrow when I find out which muscles hurt’. He predicted, very ambitiously, that with practice he could probably take three minutes off his finishing time.

1978 Gary murche

Muhrcke speaks to reporters after his win

In second place was Hugh Sweeny, who finished in 13 minutes flat. He didn’t try any special techniques, telling reporters he just ran as fast as he could. But he was disappointed there was only juice available at the top.

‘If somebody puts a six-pack at the top of Sears Tower in Chicago, it will draw marathoners from all over.’ Sweeny also thought there was potential in the sport, chatting with reporters about the possibility of a triple-crown of stair climbs. ‘You can start with the World Trade Center, then have the Eiffel Tower, and then end it with the Empire State, the third jewel in the crown’.

Third place Paul Fetscher (13.15) said ‘there’s not much room for tactical maneuvering on stairs’. But Fetscher was sharp enough to start using the railings early pretty early on in the race, and most runners said they took two stairs at a time.

‘After I’d run up a bunch of stairs and then get to the flat part, I’d turn, ape-style, by grabbing the rail and swinging myself up the next flight’

Marcy Schwam, who was putting in 80 miles a week at the time, was the first woman to finish, in a time of 16.03. ‘My calves hurt a little bit’, she said to reporters at the top. ‘It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Mentally I had prepared myself for a more difficult race. I think I could have done better. The worst part was that it was dark’.

1978 Empire State Building Run-Up results
  1. Gary Muhrcke  12:32
  2. Hugh Sweeny  13:00
  3. Paul Fetshcer  13:15
  4. Rick Langsam  13:37
  5. Jim Crasher  13:56
  6. Bob Glover  14:03
  7. Joe Shapiro  14:41
  8. Joe Erskine  14:45
  9. Ed Holiday  15:30
  10. Marcy Schwam  16:04
  11. Brian Jones  16:14
  12. Chloe Foote  17:13 (?)
  13. George Spitz  17:41
  14. Elliot Denman  25:14

For more details on the winners of this event read our separate account of the first Empire State Building Run-Up.

1979 – A pioneer of women’s running and a last-minute entry

The second ESBRU took place on Thursday 15th February 1979, with an expanded field of 24 runners (20 men, 4 women).

ESBRU 1979

Despite the first event being branded as a gimmick, Lebow was determined to turn the ESBRU into a firm fixture on the sporting calendar in New York. He told reporters the race would soon become an event as accepted as the New York City Marathon and that a 10-minute climb up the Empire State would rival the legendary four‐minute mile as a goal for world‐class runners.

Neither Marcy Schwam, nor Gary Muhrcke (due to controversy over him being on fire department disability pension when winning in 1978) returned to defend their titles.

When the pre-race favourite – British marathoner Chris Stewart (2:13 PB) – pulled out after injuring himself while training, the event became wide open.

The returning Fetscher or Sweeny, second and third the year before, were fancied to be among those set to take top spot. So was Cahit Yeter, who was the American record holder over 100km at the time.

In the women’s division, all eyes were on running legend Nina Kuscsik (far left in the photo above, wearing #18), winner of the Boston and New York City Marathons in 1972, and a champion for the official inclusion of women in long-distance running events.

A last-minute entrant

The race was set to start at 10.30am. At 9.45am, marathoner and financial analyst Jim Rafferty, who was on the start list, was still sitting at his desk at 58th Street and Park Avenue, a little over a mile-and-a-half away from the Empire State Building. He’d readily agreed to take part, but as the day approached he became nervous of being injured on the stairs. He didn’t want to jeopardise his training for the Boston Marathon in April.

‘I had my doubts about doing this,’ said Rafferty. ‘I was worried about twisting an ankle on the stairs. But then I thought it’d be a lot of fun. It’s not your everyday competitive event, you know.’

At 9.45am he asked his boss if he could have a couple of hours off, jumped in a cab and reached the building just before the start.

When the racers hit the stairwell, Rafferty quickly took to the front alongside Paul Fetscher. Taking two steps at a time, the pair ran neck-and-neck for the first 20 floors. Then Rafferty began to pull away, at times lengthening his lead to over three flights. Interestingly, reports say he only began to use the railings once he had passed the 60th floor.

The 26-year old reached the top in a new record of 12:19. Fetscher followed in second in 12:37, with Sweeny taking third in 12:59. Cahit Yeter was fourth.

1979 Jim Rafferty finish

Gary Rafferty wins ESBRU 1979

‘I wouldn’t want to do this every day’, a winded Rafferty said after the race, ‘but I didn’t feel too bad, even though we were running in a closed space. What was eerie was being able to hear the panting and gasping for breath of runners five to 10 floors behind me. You don’t get that outdoors.’ Asked if he’d done any specific training for the race, he said ‘I thought about running up to my office on the 48th floor at 277 Park Ave, but I never got around to it’.

As anticipated Nina Kuscsik ran to victory ahead of the other three women that took part. Her winning time of 15:03, was a full minute faster than Schwam’s time the year before.

Nina 1979 winner

Nina Kuscsik, winner of the Empire State Building Run-Up 1979

‘I’ve had this infatuation for this building since I was a teenager’, she told reporters. ‘It really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I could have gone another 50 stories’.

1979 Winners together

Kuscsik and Rafferty celebrating their wins

In this recently-released archive news footage, you can see Rafferty finishing the race. You also get to listen to Fred Lebow describe what climbing the building feels like as a reporter comically drags himself to the top.

1980 – Kuscsik returns to defend her title

The third edition of the ESBRU expanded again to include 34 runners (26 men and eight women). It took place on Thursday 14th February.

1980 ESBRU

Jim Rafferty decided not to return to defend his title, so the men’s field was wide open once again. 1977 British Fell Running Champion Alan McGee was due to race, but for some unspecified reason he didn’t make it to the start line. 1968 Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot was another late dropout.

1979 winner Nina Kuscsik returned to become the first person to attempt to defend their ESBRU title (in the photo above, she’s the third runner in from the left wearing #1 in a white t-short. Fred Lebow is on the far left wearing the hat, urging the runners on).

Among the challengers to Kuscsik was Julia Bruno, who had won a 50-mile race in Central Park in November 1979. But Kuscsik managed to make it two wins in a row, reaching the top in a new record time of 14:39.

kuscsik 1980

Nina Kuscsik speaks to reporters after her win

‘I started off easy this time’, she said. ‘I was in better shape last year but I paced myself better this time around. There was nobody near me. I just had the crowd to urge me on’.

The men’s event was a closer battle. Medical student Jack Bellah took an early lead and held it until around the 70th floor.

1980 JACK BELLAH IN THE LEAD_

Jack Bellah in the lead at the 65th floor

At the 71st floor, 25-year old ultra-marathoner Jim Ochse took to the front. He held the lead all the way to the top and finished in 12:20, just a second slower than Rafferty’s time the year before.

1980 COLOUR FINISH OCHSE

1980 winner Jim Ochse approaches the finish line

‘Believe it or not, I dreamed about this race last night. And I won it then, too’, Ochse said after his win. ‘Actually, I just don’t know how I did it. I’m still pretty stunned. The race was kind of hard to describe. Early in the race, I felt like a dog. It got tough after the 40th floor. I think I took the lead, though, around the 71st floor. I’m a supermarathoner you see, I’ve got no speed, and the race was probably too short for me. I just ran out of floors to climb. I could have gone much higher.’

1980 winner James Ochse

Ochse celebrates winning the Empire State Building Run-Up 1980

 

Read the next installment in the series – A history of the Empire State Building Run-Up: 1981-1983.