Posts Tagged ‘ESBRU history’

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.

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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.

suzy

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

The fastest woman to ever run the Empire State Building set an unbelievable record time at the 2006 edition of the race. In the men’s division, a young German returned to New York to try and fulfill a prophecy.

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, 2004 or 2005 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2006.

Making history

After becoming the first woman to run the Empire State Building in under 12 minutes, Andrea Mayr had a packed 2005 season.

European Mountain Running Championships 2005

Mayr had finished 2nd at the European Championships in Poland in 2004, losing out to the tough Czech Anna Pichrtová.

On 10th July 2005 she was lined up in Heiligenblut, Austria to take on Pichrtová again, this time on home soil on a 10km course with a total climb of 1,335m.

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Andrea Mayr (front right, #111) sets off at the start of the European Mountain Running Championship 2005

Andrea Mayr EC 2005

Running in driving rain, Mayr dominated from the start, and by the 6km mark she had already built a one minute lead over Pichrtová.

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By the time the Austrian crossed the finish line, second-placed Pichrtová was almost two minutes behind.

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World Athletic Championships 2005

When Mayr wasn’t dominating in the mountains or on the stairs, she was representing Austria in the 3,000m steeplechase (the national record of 9:47 she set in 2008 still stands, as do her half-marathon and marathon records).

She had made massive improvements to her steeplechase times from 2004 to 2005. In June 2005 she’d taken 20 seconds off her personal best to duck under the 10-minute mark for the first time and set a new Austrian record.

In August she headed to Helsinki, Finland to take part in the World Athletic Championships. It was a tough task for Mayr to compete against athletes who specialised exclusively in the steeplechase.

She trailed the front runners in a fast heat and ended up crossing the line in 11th position (out of 12) with a finishing time of 10:07 (the winning time in her heat was 9:32).

After an intensely competitive couple of months, Mayr sidestepped the World Mountain Running Championships in Wellington, New Zealand in September. Interestingly, though, Thomas Dold was at those championships, where he finished 73rd out of 105 finishers.

Donauturm Treppenlauf 2005

As always there was a stacked field of Europe’s top tower runners in Vienna on Saturday 12th November 2005, all looking to earn the coveted qualifying spot for the next edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

In the women’s division, Mayr took a straightforward win with a time of 4:13 to earn her place at the 2006 Empire State Building Run-Up. In second place was 19-year old Nada Pauer in 4:45.

Pauer was a highly competitive middle-distance track runner, who would go on to win the 3,000m indoor title at the Austrian national championships three months later. She also earned an invite to the ESBRU.

In the men’s race, Markus Zahlbruckner won again. His time of 3:32 was significantly faster than second-place Rudi Reitberger (3:44) and third-place Thomas Dold (3:47).

All three men would be heading to New York the following February.

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Markus Zahlbruckner and Andrea Mayr, winners of the 2005 Donauturm Treppenlauf

Taipei 101 Run-Up 2005

Just over a week later, on Sunday 20th November, Mayr was in Taipei to race up the newly built Taipei 101, which at the time was the tallest building in the world.

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Around £5,000 prize money was on the line for the winners, and Mayr admitted to ‘extreme fear’ ahead of the race. To add to her nerves, the race organisers brought the scheduled start time for the race forward by 30 minutes without much warning, which left the Austrian with just 10 minutes to warm up.

Despite the disruptions, Mayr ran a brilliant race, setting a blistering time of 12:38 (a course record that still stands). Melissa Moon was second and Svetlana Bahmend from Israel, who’d finished fourth at the 2005 ESBRU, was third.

Five-time ESBRU winner Paul Crake set the current men’s record of 10:29 at the same race. Rudi Reitberger was second, Jaroslaw Lazarowicz was third and Thomas Dold was fourth. It looked like the Austrian still had the number of his German rival and would be heading to New York with confidence.

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Andrea Mayr set the course record at Taipei 101 in 2005

‘This run is pure madness’, said Mayr, because the steps are ‘much, much higher’ than in New York. ‘It is extremely steep, just crazy’, she added.

When asked what other goals she had, Mayr answered, ‘I still dream of the Eiffel Tower’. Ten years later an annual race at the Paris landmark would begin – although Mayr is still yet to run it.

Poltegor Centre race

Mayr managed to squeeze in another stair race before the year was finished, this time at the Poltegor Centre in Wrocław, Poland on Saturday 17th December. The race was billed as the European Championships, but the absence of any of the top non-Polish runners undermined that billing somewhat.

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The now demolished Poltegor Centre in Wrocław

There was 2,000 zloty up for grabs for the winners, and as expected Mayr picked up the cash with very little trouble. She was the only woman on the day to run the 460 steps in under two minutes, finishing in 1:59.99.

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Andrea Mayr running the Poltegor Centre in 2005

Now Mayr could focus her attention on the next edition of the ESBRU, which was scheduled for Tuesday 7th February 2006.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2006

Mayr was a clear-cut pre-race favourite. There was no speculation that any of the other women on the start line were going to trouble her. Much as it had been in 2005, the question was ‘how fast can she go?’. Already the only woman to ever run under 12 minutes, the expectation was that she may be able to chop even more time off her record of 11:51.

In the lobby, Mayr took up position off to the right of the line up. Her nearest rival the past two years, Cindy Moll-Harris, was just left of centre. Standing behind and to the right of Mayr was Nada Pauer.

How Pauer would perform on her ESBRU debut was a bit of an unknown, but her strong athletic background and solid time at the Donauturm Treppenlauf suggested she would be in contention for a podium spot.

Amy Fredericks, who had finished third the past two years, was back. So too was Stacy Creamer (a two-time top five finisher), but nobody else on the start line really stood out as a potential new force to challenge the established order of top five finishers. Three-time winner Nina Kuscsik ran in the preliminary wave, though. Now 67, with her competitive racing days long behind her, the original queen of the ESBRU took it slowly and finished in 26:36.

Moll-Harris (101) got a good start and reached the door first, followed by Mayr (100), Fredericks (centre, 103) and Pauer (far left, 112).

2006 womens start

At what point Mayr made her break is unknown, but she was running alone by the 65th floor. No surprise given she was on course for another sub 12-minute time.

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Andrea Mayr at the 65th floor

The incredible Austrian made it three wins in a row as she set an unbelievable course record of 11:23.

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2006 Empire State Building Run-Up winner and course record holder, Andrea Mayr

Next onto the observation deck was an ecstatic Nada Pauer, finishing in 12:47. In the race video below you can hear someone – presumably Mayr – shout ‘NADA!’ as she approaches the line. Pauer, her happiness and energy radiating through the screen, roars a satisfying ‘YES’ once she finishes. Nada Pauer is still a top-level athlete, representing Austria in the 5,000m at the European Championships as recently as 2018.

News reports at the time list Cindy Moll-Harris as third, although the official results on the NYRR website have her listed in fourth, with exactly the same time as Denise Caruso (13:49). But were the splits available it would show Moll-Harris as a narrow leader. Regardless, it was a massive PB for Caruso who had finished in 17:03 in 2004 and 14:47 in 2005.

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Cindy Moll-Harris and Denise Caruso (105) battling it out at the 65th floor

‘I love this race and I love New York’, said Mayr. ‘When you finish first, it’s a feeling like you’re above the top of the world’.

‘During the race, I think you have to think of not starting too fast, because 86 floors is a long distance’, Mayr told reporters after her win. ‘Most of the people start a little too fast, and then they get slower and slower and then they break down’, she added. ‘The first 20 floors you have to say, “OK, you’re running but it’s not the end now, and you have to save some strength”‘.

Prophecy fulfilled?

‘He’s a really strong young guy. He’s the future of this race’, said Rudi Reitberger about Thomas Dold, after beating him by a split second at the 2005 Empire State Building Run-Up.

Would that ‘future’ become present at the 29th edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up?

The race for first place was expected to be between two-time winner Reitberger and Dold. Reitberger had finished ahead of the young German in Vienna and Taipei, just three months before the ESBRU, so he was a marginal pre-race favourite in New York.

But there was plenty of other serious talent on the start line to keep the pair looking over their shoulders.

Sproule Love was back after skipping the previous three editions. The tough American had finished third in 2001 and 2002 and was fancied to be back on the podium again. In the race video below you can see him standing on the start line with a small camera attached to the peak of his cap, ready to capture footage of the race for ESPN.

Poland’s Tomasz Klisz was there for the third time, while Dold’s German team mate, Matthias Jahn, was lined up for his debut.

Markus Zahlbruckner had earned his place by winning the Donauturm Treppenlauf, but he was conspicuous in his absence from the start line of the elite wave. Apparently, after falling foul of someone at NYRR, Zahlbruckner was placed in the second wave of men which set off after the main event. Alongside him in that wave was another name familiar to many readers, Syd Arak. The Indianapolis man made his debut that year and finished in 16:30.

Dold and Reitberger lined up side by side at the front of the pack. Sproule Love had positioned himself directly behind Reitberger, hoping to use the Austrian as a marker to help bring him to the top in the fastest time possible.

Dold got a great start and made it to the door first, followed by Tomasz Klisz, Matthias Jahn, Rudi Reitberger, Pedro Ribeiro and Sproule Love.

Dold maintained his lead throughout and by the 65th floor he had a bit of breathing space from his nearest rivals, Reitberger and Love.

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Thomas Dold running solo at the 65th floor

Love and Reitberger were stuck together a few floors below the German. Around the 70th floor, Reitberger pulled away from the American but he wasn’t able to claw back the lead from Dold.

Dold let out a roar as he crossed the line in 10:19, and then dropped to the ground in exhaustion. Reitberger followed in 10:36.

2006 finish

Rudi Reitberger steps over a prostrate Thomas Dold at the 2006 ESBRU

Sproule love secured his third podium finish and ESBRU PB with a 10:51 finish. Markus Zahlbruckner won his wave in 10:56, which made him the fourth fastest male, with Matthias Jahn taking fifth in 11:25. Amazingly, Mayr’s 11:23 made her fifth fastest overall.

‘The Empire State Building is famous all over the world and the Empire State Building Run-Up is one of the greatest events a tower runner can win,’ said Dold.

2006 winners

Andrea Mayr and Thomas Dold, winners of the 2006 Empire State Building Run-Up

 

2006 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series – the 2007 Empire State Building Run-Up.

 

After finishing on the podium at the 2004 World Mountain Running Championships, Andrea Mayr was back in New York to defend her ESBRU title, while the men’s race produced the closest finish ever seen at the event.

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 or 2004 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2005.

A legend begins

Five months after her record-breaking run at the ESBRU in 2004, Andrea Mayr was on the start line at the European Mountain Running Championships in Korbielow, Poland.

Mayr DNF’d her debut at the European Championships in 2002 and wasn’t at the event in 2003. But after her seventh place finish at the World Mountain Running Championships in 2003, she was expected to do well in Poland on the 7.2km course with 600m of vertical gain.

She did exceptionally well, finishing in second place behind the great Czech runner Anna Pichrtová. What’s more, she was ahead of the 1999 world champion, Rosita Rota Gelpi (ITA), as well as four-time world champion Isabelle Guillot (FRA) who took fourth place. Izabela Zatorska (POL), who had finished on the podium at four of the last five World Championships, was fifth.

Mayr had just blown in among the best of the best mountain runners in the world.

World Mountain Running Championships 2004

Two months later, Mayr was in Italy for the World Championships, a roughly 8.5km race with 862m of vertical ascent.

Defending champion Melissa Moon (NZL) wasn’t at the event, so Mayr was going head-to-head with the same set of tough Europeans she’d battled against in July.

It was a close race throughout that was only settled in the latter parts of the course. Rosita Rota Gelpi pulled away late on to take her second world crown. Anna Pichrtová was just 10 seconds behind, and Andrea Mayr finished third, a further 15 seconds after.

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Andrea Mayr on her way to 3rd place at the 2004 World Mountain Running Championships in Poland

In the men’s race, Jonathan Wyatt was up to old tricks again, winning his fourth world title by an incredible margin of almost 80 seconds.

The next big race for Mayr would be the Donauturm Treppenlauf in Vienna on 13th November.

World record breaker

Records for running backwards date back as far as the 1880s. On the 18th May 1883 in Chester, PA., a Mr. E. G. Hayes ran 100 yards backwards in 15.20.

121 years later an energetic, young German named Thomas Dold was attempting to break the world record of 3:36 for the backwards 1km, which he’d set in 2003. On 21st February 2004 he set a new best time of 3:35.

That summer he dedicated his time to claiming every record from 400m through to 2,000m – 400m, 800m, 1km, 1,500m, 1 mile, 2km. They all fell. The eccentric 19-year old could run faster backwards than most people could run forwards. But what was he like going up stairs?

Dold had popped up on the tower running scene in 2003, when he finished in sixth place at the stacked Donauturm Treppenlauf (Danube Tower race). Earlier that year he had finished 11th at the World Junior Mountain Running Championships in Alaska.

On the 2nd of October 2004 he was back on the stairs, this time in Munich for the inaugural 780-step Uptown München race.

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Hochhaus Uptown München

Dold recorded his first tower running victory in 3:47. He remarked to reporters that he enjoyed running a new event in a new building, because ‘anyone who already knows the stairwell has a clear advantage’. Munich offered a level playing field. But what of Vienna?

Dold had raced the Danube Tower just once. Rudi Reitberger had been racing the event since at least 1994, while Markus Zahlbruckner debuted in 1999. These powerhouses of Austrian stair climbing knew the course inside out.

On 13 November 2004, Dold went up against them for the second time.

Donauturm Treppenlauf 2004

Danube Tower

The cream of European tower running was in Vienna to try and win the coveted trip to New York for the Empire State Building Run-Up in February 2005.

Reitberger, Zahlbruckner, Lazarowicz and Klisz had all finished ahead of Dold in 2003.

But after the 2004 race only one man stood between Dold and top spot. Markus Zahlbruckner finished in 3:35.65, less than a second ahead of the German in 3:36.35.

Dold hadn’t won, but he’d made a statement. On the shorter courses, at least, he was a force. How he would fair in New York at the 1,576-step Empire State Building would have to be seen. For some reason, Zahlbruckner was unable to make it to New York. Whether the Donauturm Treppenlauf organisers gave the place to Dold instead or he received his own invite independently, we don’t know, but either way he would be going to the biggest race of all.

In the women’s division that day, Andrea Mayr produced a most stunning performance. The course record of 4:31 she’d set in 2003 had been impressive. The 4:10 she clocked in 2004 was simply breathtaking.

It looked like her rivals would be racing for second place in New York. What remained to be seen was how much faster could she go?

The opposition

In Tel Aviv, the Alterman twins were pulling strokes at the Azrieli Tower, again. The pair crossed the line hand in hand once more so they could both take the winner’s trip to New York to race the ESBRU.

They had done exceptionally well on their debuts in 2004, finishing in second and third. Racing with experience and knowledge of the course, they were well capable of finishing back on the podium and possibly even winning the thing.

In the women’s race, Svetlana Bahmend took the win to book her place at the 28th edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Svetlana Bahmend

Svetlana Bahmend, winner of the 2004 Azrieli Tower Run in Tel Aviv, Israel

There would be no Australian contingent heading to the 2005 ESBRU. Whether the organisers of the qualifying Sydney Tower Run-Up had stopped offering a travel package to the event is unknown, but the 2004 winners, Jeremy Horne and Helen Stanton, wouldn’t be carrying on the tradition of their successful compatriots.

Cindy Moll-Harris was going to be back to try and close the gap between herself and Mayr. The Austrian had broken the four-time champion at the 65th floor at the 2004 event, so Moll-Harris was eager to dictate the pace this time around and keep Mayr within her sights for a bit longer.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2005

A little under two weeks before the race, Andrea Mayr broke her right wrist after slipping on ice during training. She arrived in the lobby of the Empire State Building on Tuesday 1st February with it in plaster. The cast looked like it would prevent her from getting a decent grab on the railing, but it was unlikely to have a significant impact on her performance.

Moll-Harris false started just before the horn sounded, and was followed quickly by Mayr once the blast of the starter’s horn filled the lobby. Amy Fredericks, who was third in 2004, got a powerful start and put a little muscle on Moll-Harris to make it in first through the door to the stairwell.

2005 womens start

Cindy Moll-Harris (F2) heads for the stairwell door ahead of Andrea Mayr (F1)

Moll-Harris followed, then Mayr. Stacy Creamer (a two-time top five finisher) was next in, while the Israeli Bahmend pulled a ferret-like manoeuvre to slink in ahead of two women right before they entered the stairwell and take up fifth spot (see race video below).

Unfortunately, there’s not much in-race footage of the women’s event at the 2005 ESBRU, aside from a brief glimpse of Mayr and Moll-Harris running together through one of the corridors, so exactly what happened in the stairwell is a bit of a mystery. But the record shows that defending champion and course record holder Andrea Mayr ran the fastest time that any woman had ever managed at the Empire State Building Run-Up.

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What the 10-minute mark had been for the men, the 12-minute mark had been for the women. Paul Crake was the only man to have ever finished the race in under 10 minutes. Now Andrea Mayr was the only woman to have ever done it in under 12.

2005 Mayr wins1

Andrea Mayr becomes the first woman to run the Empire State Building in less than 12 minutes

Her winning time was a staggering 11:51. She shattered her own course record by 17 seconds, and finished 1:19 ahead of second-place Cindy Moll-Harris (13:10).

2005 mayr wins2

Amy Fredericks took third (13:57) and Svetlana Bahmend was just a second behind in fourth (13:58). Stacy Creamer (14:26) secured her third top-five finish from three starts.

‘I was trying to push myself the whole way’, said Mayr. ‘When you are running, you are in another world. You don’t feel pain so much. I don’t know how I did it.’

As close as it gets

As he had the year before, Rudi Reitberger got a pretty poor start, this time entering the stairwell in around ninth position. Among those ahead of him were Gabriel Lombriser (33), Christian Fuller (20), Thomas Dold (18), Dan Alterman (3) and Ran Alterman (2).

2005 mens start

The defending champion actually seemed fairly content with easing up from the back and picking off those in front of him as they slowed under the weight of their exertions.

There’s no footage of Reitberger in the race video below. The in-race clip that starts at 1:36 shows Dold in the lead early on, followed by Lombriser and then Dan Alterman.

The shouting that can be heard out of shot is coming from Ran Alterman, who seems to have taken over bully duties from his brother for that year (Dan Alterman harangued poor Paul Low out of 3rd place at the 2004 ESBRU).

Ran is trying to pass Christian Fuller, but the Coloradan is giving him nothing.

‘Are you not moving?!!’, says Alterman as he reaches across Fuller to grab the railing. The video editor cuts the shot just as Fuller begins his response with something sounding like ‘Fuck off…’

Rudi Reitberger gradually overtook them all until he was left with just the 20-year old German ahead of him. At the 75th floor he managed to pass him, too, but he couldn’t shake him off. Dold stayed with him the whole way, all the way out onto the flat course heading toward the finish line.

Rudi turned the corner for the home straight just a few metres ahead of Dold. He then made the fundamental error of slowing before the line to celebrate, while Dold kept going. The young German leapt for the line, diving to try and nick first place. But he was just too late. Reitberger had just broken the line to win his second ESBRU title, with both men credited with a 10:24 finishing time.

Dan Alterman took third (10:50) and Ran Alterman finished fourth (11:00).

2005 Rudi wins1

Rudi Reitberger crosses the line just as Thomas Dold makes his dive

2005 Rudi wins 2

2005 finish line

‘Last year I moved into first place on the 65th floor and after that I could take it a bit easy and enjoy myself. This year, I was not enjoying the race until the finish line’, said Reitberger. ‘This was absolutely the best race of my life’, he added.

‘Next year I think I’ll have a big chance to win’, said Thomas Dold.

It was a point with which Rudi Reitberger readily agreed. ‘He’s a really strong young guy. He’s the future of this race.’

Reitberger probably didn’t realise exactly how right he would turn out to be.

andrea and rudi

2005 ESBRU winners, Andrea Mayr and Rudi Reitberger

israelis 2005

Mazel tov: Ran Alterman (4th), Svetlana Bahmend (4th) and Dan Alterman (3rd).

 

2005 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series – the 2006 Empire State Building Run-Up.

Following Paul Crake’s retirement from the ESBRU, the men’s race was now completely wide open and a host of new talent arrived in New York to pick up the mantle of champion. In the women’s division, the course record that had stood for seven years finally fell.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-199719981999200020012002 or 2003 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2004.

All roads lead to Manhattan

With five-time winner Paul Crake retiring from participation at the ESBRU, the 2004 edition was wide open. Who would be in New York vying for the title?

On 31st October 2003 the first edition of the Azrieli Circular Tower Run-Up was held in Tel Aviv, with a trip to New York to compete at the 2004 Empire State Building Run-Up being offered to the winners.

The 23-year old Alterman twins, Ran and Dan, were in Tel Aviv that day to take part in the 1,144-step race.

The pair were Israel’s best triathletes and had already been competing for 10 years, representing Israel at international competitions. In 2001 Dan had won the Israeli triathlon championship. The following year Ran won it, before Dan took back his title in the summer of 2003.

The pair reached the top of the Azrieli Tower together and crossed the line holding hands – joint winners. They would both be heading for New York the following February.

altermans

The Alterman twins cross the line hand-in-hand at the Azrieli Tower Run-Up (*can’t confirm this is the 2003 finish. They made a habit of it apparently.)

The tough Israelis would certainly keep everyone on the start line at the next ESBRU honest, but those in the know had a keen eye on proceedings in Vienna, Austria on 15th November 2003, from whence the new king apparent was expected to emerge.

The Danube Tower race (Donauturm Treppenlauf) was one of the most fiercely contested stair races in Europe, due to the winners earning a three-day travel package to New York to compete at the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Winners of the event from previous years had made it onto the podium at the ESBRU – Matthias Schreiner, Rudi Reitberger and Markus Zahlbruckner.

2002 winner Zahlbruckner was the favourite, although Reitberger was expected to push him hard. But there was incredibly strong competition in Vienna to challenge them both. Czech athlete Roman Skalsky, who had finished sixth at the world championship race in Kuala Lumpur the year before was there, as was a lean German newcomer, Thomas Dold. From Poland there was the highly experienced Jaroslaw Lazarowicz, plus the youngster Tomasz Klisz.

rudi reit

Rudi Reitberger racing in Poland (c. early 2000s)

It was Rudi Reitberger who came out victorious, reaching the top of the 776-step tower in 3:37.62. Zahlbruckner was second in 3:39.49 and Skalsky third in 3:50.30.

A three-time podium finisher at the Empire State Building Run-Up (3rd in 1999, 2nd in 2000 and 2002), the path was now clear for Reitberger to complete the set and finally win the most famous race of all.

Although failing to win the travel package, Lazarowicz and Klisz would make the trip to Manhattan in February, regardless.

Down from the mountains

American mountain runner Paul Low, who had been part of the US national team since 1999 and had finished an impressive 15th at the World Mountain Running Championships in 2003, had been keen to run the ESBRU for a few years.

His wish was set to come true at the 2004 edition. Rudi Reitberger had finished a couple of minutes behind him, in 39th position, at the 2003 World Mountain Running Championships, so Low would surely be a challenger in New York. But his lack of tower running race experience was likely to have an impact on his performance.

paullow

Paul Low

Low wrote beautifully on his personal blog at the time about his motivations for wanting to compete in the event:

‘As a mountain runner, stair racing has intrigued me as a juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane. Mountain running is sacred. The races take place on courses that were, depending on your philosophical bent, created either by millions (or billions) of years of plate-tectonic-driven orogenic processes, God, or both. Race courses, as a matter of necessity, take competitors through unspeakable natural beauty and often finish in locales so perfect that one can’t help but consider amending some future will in order to ensure that your ashes are one day scattered in such a place. Running inside, no matter what the occasion, is profane – even something so viscerally enlightening as the employ of nothing but muscle, sweat, and a little bit of luck to climb over 1000′ in a matter of minutes…The stair climb as an athletic event is thus an evolution toward purity…Without the distraction of natural beauty, only pure effort and the singularity of getting to the top faster than anyone else remains. This is the intrigue – asking yourself for but a few minutes of sheer athletic aggression and expecting nothing in return.’

Having secured third place in his debut, Toby Tanser returned for another shot at the title. Likewise, Chris Solarz and Jose Fernandez Cano, both top-ten finishers from 2003, were heading back for a second go.

Spanish middle-distance track athlete Pablo Vega was also New York bound, ready to make his ESBRU debut.

All-in-all it was a good spread of strong athletes from a variety of disciplines that would guarantee a competitive men’s race after five years of singular dominance by the course record holder Paul Crake.

New and old rivals

Since her fourth ESBRU win in February 2003, Cindy Moll had married James Harris and was now running under the last name Moll-Harris.

As a four-time champion she would probably be the race favourite, but there was new and old competition heading to the ESBRU to try and stop her winning a fifth title.

Her long-time rival Fiona Bayly would be back after having missed the 2002 and 2003 editions. Bayly had debuted at the ESBRU in 1995 clocking a personal best 13:10, but her times in subsequent years had fluctuated wildly. She had finished a mere second behind Moll-Harris in 1998, but since then the gulf between the pair had grown. In 2001 Bayly had made it onto the podium in third place, but first-place Moll-Harris had finished 1:45 ahead of her. Would the two-year layoff prove beneficial and see Bayly return in her best form yet? If she could get close to her personal best, Bayly would be in with a serious chance of finally unseating the champion.

But if Moll-Harris was giving any consideration to her upcoming opposition, her thoughts were probably focused on Vienna. The Donauturm Treppenlauf had been a conveyer belt of fantastic talent from Europe in the men’s division of the ESBRU since the early 1990s, and now it was sending out fiercely strong women, too.

At the 2002 Empire State Building Run-Up, Kerstin Harbich had caught Moll-Harris by surprise and beaten her. In 2003 she pushed Moll-Harris hard up 80 floors before the American finally pulled away to win her record fourth title.

Harbich had qualified for the ESBRU both times by winning the Donauturm Treppenlauf in 2001 and 2002. In 2001 her winning time was 4:55, and in 2002 it was 4:47.

Moll-Harris would have known that her most serious competition for the 2004 ESBRU race would likely be the winner of the 2003 Donauturm Treppenlauf, but whether or not she troubled herself to find out exactly who it was, we don’t know.

If she had, it definitely would have given her something to think about, because a 24-year old medical student named Andrea Mayr won the race in a new course record of 4:31.

Mayr had been a steadily improving track runner for quite a few years, competing in a range of middle-distance events before specialising in the 3000m steeplechase. Off the track she excelled at mountain running and had finished 7th at the 2003 World Mountain Running Championship race in the snow in Alaska. In the video below (at 2:49-2:55) you can see Mayr in that race (wearing a white hat and #226).

Given the impressive performances by Kerstin Harbich at the 2002 and 2003 ESBRU, Mayr’s record time in Vienna, coupled with her impressive mountain running pedigree, certainly indicated she would be capable of running fast in New York.

Although she’d be racing for the first time on an unfamiliar course, she’d be able to tap into the extensive experience of her LCC Wien team mate Rudi Reitberger to help her get an idea of pacing and tactics.

Moll-Harris’ was probably going to have to run her best ever race if she was going to win a fifth title.

The rise of the Austrian Empire

On Tuesday 3rd February 2004, 33 women lined up in the lobby to contest the elite race at the 27th Empire State Building Run-Up.

At the start of the video below the camera pans along the gathering group of elite women, and we see Amy Fredericks (4th in 2001, wearing #F3) catching the attention of Fiona Bayly (F5). Mayr and Moll-Harris are nowhere to be seen, presumably off doing last-minute warm ups.

When the full group had gathered, Moll-Harris had settled in next to Fredericks, while Mayr was off to her right separated by two others.

Moll-Harris and Mayr both got good starts, with the reigning champion getting out in front and first through the door. Fredericks came in fast behind and from the video it looks like her and Mayr probably clashed a bit at the door, with the bigger Mayr appearing to edge just in front. Fiona Bayly slipped with her first step off the start line and ended up around seventh into the stairwell.

As ever, Moll-Harris liked to race out front, pushing the pace and forcing others to try and pass her if they could. There’s no insight into what happened over the first 64 floors of the course, but in the race video below Moll-Harris and Mayr head up the flight from floor 64 to 65 side-by-side (@1:11).

The laboured breathing of the champion can be heard before the pair emerge into shot and an observer viewing the scene in real time would have been able to call the race there and then.

Moll-Harris, using her favoured rope-pull technique on the railing, looks tired and heavy legged. Mayr on the other hand looks strong, still running as they approach the crossover point, where she takes the lead.

Mayr seems to have been happy to just track Moll-Harris all the way up until that point. Doing just enough to pressure her rival, testing her conditioning. The American obviously pushed the pace hard in an attempt to shake off the imposing Austrian and it finally caught up with her.

It was all Mayr from then on in. She steadily pulled away over the last 30 floors and crossed the finish line in a new course record of 12:08, taking 11 seconds off the time set in 1996 by Australia’s three-time champion, Belinda Soszyn.

2004 Mayr wins

2004 mayr wins2

Andrea Mayr wins the 27th Empire State Building Run-Up (2004)

Moll-Harris finished in 13:26 with Amy Fredericks coming in third in 13:48.

‘I thought I wouldn’t like it here, with all the skyscrapers,’ said Mayr. ‘Then I came and saw that some are really beautiful. Now I think the Empire State Building is the most beautiful’.

Emerging from the shadows

On the start line of the men’s elite wave, everyone appeared to be quite relaxed. Jose Fernandez Cano extended a hand to Jaroslaw Lazarowicz to wish him good luck, while Reitberger checked his watch was on the right setting. Nobody looked noticeably tense.

Reitberger seemed to get caught completely off guard by the starter’s claxon. In the race video below (@1:01) he still seems to be looking at his wrist as the others power away. The race favourite was swamped by those around him and made it into the stairwell in around 12th position. It was a terrible start.

In the photo below there’s Ran Alterman (21), Dan Alterman (20), Rudi Reitberger (just visible behind and to the right of Dan Alterman as you look at them), Toby Tanser (3), Chris Solarz (orange vest), Jaroslaw Lazarowicz (4), Pablo Vega (47) and Jose Fernandez Cano (black glasses, red sleeves).

2004 start colour

In this next photo Paul Low comes into shot (red head band, hand on Alterman’s shoulder) and Tomasz Klisz (38) can be seen next to the tall frame of Toby Tanser. The tall figure behind Low in the classic red and white striped vest will be a familiar name to many – it’s Hal Carson.

2004 Empire State Building Run Up

In his reflections on the race, Paul Low described what happened as the runners ploughed through the door to the stairs. It makes for interesting reading and so it’s worth sharing it in full:

‘After navigating my body through the doorway, I ran smack into the back of the runner in front of me. Instantly, the runner behind me ran into the back of me. It is at this point in the race, that the waiting begins. After running all out at the gun, the majority of the field than proceeds to stand still and wait for the congestion to clear sufficiently for forward motion to resume. This part of the race probably comprised less than one second; however, for those runners whose competitive nature has been sharpened by years of hard work (everyone in the race), the wait seems to take an eternity.

At this point, I was very discouraged about my chances of finishing well. Then, I looked up to see that race favorite Rudolf Reitberger was only two runners ahead of me. This convinced me that, despite what I thought was an awful start, I still had a chance to finish well since Reitberger had finished second in his previous two attempts at this race. The next few minutes of the race, I passed many competitors who had capitalized on a better-than-average lobby dash and were now victim to staggering levels of blood-borne lactic acid. Passing these runners was relatively easy despite the narrow width of the staircase as, by this time, I was moving considerably faster then they were. With every additional flight, however, passing became increasingly difficult. After six or seven minutes of running up stairs, I was not moving that much faster than the runners that I was passing. The last three or four times that I passed runners required several flights for me to completely get by. By this time, we had managed to work our way into the bulk of the women’s field who had started five minutes in front of the first men’s heat – adding significantly to the difficulty of navigating a race on stairs. With a few minutes to go, I had moved into third and was thoroughly dispirited as I could not see the leaders and time was running out.’

Up ahead of Low, Rudi Reitberger was locked in battle with Ran Alterman. Reitberger had found his way to the front and was holding onto the lead under heavy pressure from the young Israeli. You can see them in action in the video below at 1:21, as they approach the 65th floor, both still looking strong.

A few flights below, Paul Low was under serious pressure from Dan Alterman who he had passed earlier in the race. His memories of the final, frustrating minutes of his one and only ESBRU race make for unintentionally comic reading:

‘My last two passes had been extremely difficult (physically demanding and psychologically defeating) and I was completely fed up with the event and with my inability to deal with its rigors. The only runner to pass me during the race [Dan Alterman] then came up behind me and repeatedly attempted to forcefully pass on the right (inside). After being shoved and yelled at for a few flights, I pulled wide on the landing and allowed him the opportunity to pass on the inside. This was another mistake. A few minutes prior, it had taken me five flights to finally pass this guy. When I did so, it was on the left (outside) with no assistance. In return, I endured a few shoves before entering into a nadir of apathy about the event and the nature of competition in general. This was the end of my race and I ran slowly to the top thinking about how much time and money had been wasted on the trip.’

Low settled for fourth place, finishing in 11:11. Toby Tanser finished behind him in 11:37, while up ahead Dan Alterman kept the third position he’d bullied his way into.

His brother Ran didn’t quite have the legs to take the lead from Reitberger, and the Austrian held on to claim his first victory at the Empire State Building Run-Up in a time of 10:37, with Alterman finishing in 10:53.

2004 rudi wins2

Rudi Reitberger wins the 2004 Empire State Building Run-Up

2004 RUDI WINS

‘Thank you, Paul’, said a smiling Reitberger at the presentation ceremony as he lifted his trophy aloft – a nod to the absent Paul Crake whom he had finished second to in 2000 and 2002. ‘It’s the greatest victory of my life’, he added.

2004 ALTERMANS BEST

The Alterman twins rest after their podium finishes

‘We wanted to show another side of Israel, besides war and bomb blasts’, Ran told reporters when asked about competing in the race.

2004 mens podium

 

2004 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series – the 2005 Empire State Building Run-Up

 

2003 would be the last year that four-time champion Paul Crake would compete at the Empire State Building Run-Up. His legacy was already secure, but he was determined to finish on a spectacular high.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-199719981999, 20002001 or 2002 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2003.

The final chapter

A month after running his third sub 10-minute time at the Empire State Building, Paul Crake was at Mount Tennent to defend his ACT Mountain Running Championship title over a 12km course.

mt tennent

Mount Tennent, ACT, Australia

His key rivals on the day were 1996 national champion David Osmond, who had finished second when Crake won his first national title in 1998, and Ross Hudson who was runner up to Crake at the 2001 national championships by just four seconds.

Osmond pulled away late in the race to win in 1:01:21. Crake was second in 1:03:01 and Hudson was third.

A week later on Sunday 10th March, Crake took part in the hilly Weston Creek Half Marathon, finishing third in 1:10:04.

Not the perfect start to the season Crake wanted, but a solid showing nonetheless. He could now turn his attention to two big races in April.

2002 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge

On Sunday 7th April, Crake went head-to-head with Jonathan Wyatt at the Sky Tower in Auckland in what would be their final battle at the tallest structure in New Zealand.

Wyatt had won the previous three races the pair had contested, beating Crake by between 15-25 seconds each time.

In each of his winning years, Wyatt had taken the lead and maintained it without ever really dropping Crake completely. Wyatt had said himself that getting to the stairs first following the 150m run in meant the race was practically won, as passing in the narrow stairwell was so difficult.

This race played out largely as it had in years before. Wyatt took the lead and held it. But in the latter stages the New Zealander’s pace began to drop, while Crake surged. With just a few floors remaining Crake caught him, so close he could reach out and touch him. Wyatt wasn’t giving an inch, though, and the Australian found it impossible to pass.

The finish line for the event had been shifted around to the other side of the viewing floor. In previous years runners would exit the stairs, turn right and run around the floor to finish on the opposite side of the tower. Had they stuck with that format, Crake may very well have recorded his first win over Wyatt.

Unfortunately for him, it seems the finish at the 2002 edition was moved closer to the stairwell exit. Upon exiting the stairwell, Wyatt had to cover less ground to record his fourth victory in Auckland.

Wyatt crossed the finishing line in 5:07 and Crake in 5:08.

pjimage (2)

The close finish at the 2002 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge in Auckland, NZ

Melissa Moon retained her title in the women’s division with a finishing time of 6:39.

Australian Mountain Running Championships 2002

Three weeks later, on Sunday 21st April, Crake was at Mount Buffalo to defend his Australian Mountain Running Championships title.

mt buffalo

Mount Buffalo National Park, Australia

He was the course record holder for the peak, but a pre-race report said he had ‘experienced some recent injuries and is under a minor cloud.’ Regardless, he was still expected to be in among the top contenders over the 11.2km course.

As ever, many of Australia’s best mountain runners were on the start line, including David Osmond and Ross Hudson.

None, however, were a match that day for the magisterial Crake. He won the race, and his third national championship title, in 55:53. Second-place Russell Chin was a long way back in 59:52, while David Osmond trailed even further in third in 1:01:05.

Crake built on this victory by securing back-to-back wins at the monthly Mount Ainslie Run Up in May and June. Then he packed up and headed to Europe for the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) Grand Prix series and World Championship race.

The European Tour and World Mountain Running Championships

At the time, the WMRA GP series (now World Cup) included six races at courses around the world, with the vast majority each year in Europe. Runners needed to compete in at least three events to be considered for ranking, and their best three scores were recorded to give them a final total. The runner with the most points won the series. The World Championship race was always included in the series to give more top athletes the chance to meet the three race minimum.

Crake had competed in the 2001 GP series and finished eighth overall.

In 2002 he headed to Europe in June and competed at races every weekend, including the Grand Prix events in Italy, Austria and Slovenia.

Speaking about his routine during the European season, Crake said:

‘I usually come at the beginning of June, when the Alpine racing season begins. I run almost every weekend, some times twice (Saturday and Sunday), and I try to get overnight accommodation where possible. When I fail, I meet up with my friend Martin Cox [English mountain runner who would finish 4th at the World Championship race that year and 2nd in the GP series] at 2,500 meters and we camp there in tents until the next race. At this height the training has a greater benefit, the blood is additionally enriched by haemoglobin and your conditioning steadily improves. Often, instead of running, we do all-day treks around the surrounding peaks. These help us recover faster after the races. Plus, I always have the bike with me so I ride whenever I can, too. I’m roasting on it, though, because I’m carrying all the mountain gear with me.’

Just like in 2001, Crake had another solid Grand Prix series. He kicked off with a fifth place finish at the Challenge Stellina on 25th August.

The video below was made for the 25th anniversary of the event. Paul Crake isn’t in it, but you will get to see what the course was like and see what an absolute machine Jonathan Wyatt was in the mountains. He won the Stellina race that year.

 

The next event in the series was also the World Championship race – an 11.7km race in Innsbruck, Austria with 1,331m of vertical gain.

Conditions were terrible, with rains falling and a thick mist enveloping sections of the course. Still, Crake managed to record his best ever finish at the World Mountain Running Championships, crossing the finish line in 16th place. Jonathan Wyatt won his third world championship title [he would win three more in later years – 2004-05, 2008], finishing an unbelievable 3:34 ahead of second place.

wyatt 2002

Jonathan Wyatt approaches the finish line at the 2002 World Mountain Running Championships in Innsbruck, Austria

Next up for Crake was the 8.9km Hochfellnberglauf race in Bergen, Germany on 29th September. He finished 13th in a really solid group of competitors. He’s pictured in the image below after the event (crouched, front right, next to Wyatt in the centre).

bergen ladz

The final race in the GP series was held on Saturday 5th October at the Smarna Gora event in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Crake managed to finish in 5th position, which left him in 8th overall for the Grand Prix series.

Crake hung around in Europe for a short while longer, before heading to Malaysia for the biggest stair race of the year.

World Championship Tower Run 2002
kltower-titiwangsa-mountains

The Kuala Lumpur Tower, Malaysia

On Sunday 27th October, the ‘World Championship Tower Run’ was held at the Kuala Lumpur Tower in Malaysia.

As a result of its World Championship status, the event attracted an even stronger set of competitors than had been seen in some previous editions.

The newly-crowned world mountain running champion Jonathan Wyatt was back to try and win the race for a fourth time. Marco De Gasperi, another three-time world mountain running champion, was also there, as was his Italian teammate Emanuele Manzi, who’d finished fourth at the inaugural European Mountain Running Championships in July and had finished one place ahead of Crake at the World Mountain Running Championships.

Crake’s Alpine tent buddy Martin Cox was there, too, along with Russian mountain runner Iourri Oussatchev, who had been in contention for a podium place in Kuala Lumpur the past two years.

There was also strong representation from the tower running community. Markus Zahlbruckner, Jaroslaw Lazarowicz and Rudolf Reitberger, were all in attendance.

The masterful Wyatt, who had just had a flawless European mountain running season winning every race he took part in, was a clear favourite. The 800m uphill run into the tower favoured him and he was expected to reach the stairs first.

The New Zealander did get out in front and he maintained his lead to win in a time of 10:49. Crake followed not long after in 11:06, with Rudi Reitberger completing the top three in 11:27.

World Championship Tower Run 2002 results:

1. Jonathan Wyatt (NZL) – 10:49
2. Paul Crake (AUS) – 11:06
3. Rudolf Reitberger (AUT) – 11:27
4. Iourri Oussatchev (RUS) – 11:32
5. Marco De Gasperi (ITA) – 11:40
6. Roman Skalsky (CZE) – 11:56
7. Emanuele Manzi (ITA) – 12:07
8. Marcus Zahlbruckner (AUT) – 12:29
9. Jaroslaw Lazarowicz (POL) – 12:40
10. Martin Cox (ENG) – 12:41

In the women’s category, Melissa Moon also successfully defended her KL Tower title with ease, winning the race in 13:13 and breaking the course record of 13:14 she set the year before. Second place went to Russian Tatiana Cheigas (14:04), while Australian Alison O’Toole was third (15:11).

2002 KL Tower finishers

Finishers at the 2002 KL Tower race. Melissa Moon and Johnathan Wyatt hold their trophies. Paul Crake is standing behind Moon wearing the hat.

The end of the 2002 season

The end of the 2002 season was full of more successes for Crake. He won the Sydney Tower Run-Up (1,504 steps) for the fourth time, finishing in 6:53, just a second off the course record he set in 2000.

In December he won his sixth Black Mountain Challenge and then in January 2003 he secured his third Crackenback Challenge win in a row.

With that final win, Crake called time on his mountain running career, feeling that he had pretty much exhausted his potential and there was little room for improvement. He was already taking his cycling more seriously and was set to join an amateur road cycling team in Belgium in April 2003, with the hope of going professional shortly after.

He had been out on rides with professional cyclists back home in Australia, some who had competed at the Tour de France, and they had said that he could ‘pass’ in the world of professional cycling, so he wanted to give it a shot.

But before that he would head back to New York to attempt to seal his mythic status as the king of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

In an interview with a Croatian sports journalist, Crake spoke briefly about his training in the run up to the Empire State Building.

‘During the winter, I run 20 hours a week, and spend the same amount of time on the bike. My coach Cory Middleton and I work together to prepare the programme. I think a good runner must design new things to be different and better than others who train using existing and outdated methods.’

‘Several weeks before a stair race I work on specific training, including in high-rise buildings. I don’t want to go into details, though, because I want to keep my secrets’.

2003 Empire State Building Run-Up

The 26th Empire State Building Run-Up was held on Tuesday 4th February 2003.

A young Mark Sims was in New York that day. He had managed to get a place through the lottery, even though in different circumstances his stair running exploits in the UK would have been enough to get him a trip out there to race in the elite wave.

Sims had won the stair race at the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool from 1999-2002, and was able to more than hold his own with many of those racing in the elite wave (20 years on from his first victory in Liverpool, Sims is still one of the best tower runners in the UK).

mark sims

Mark Sims at the 2003 Empire State Building Run-Up

Sims joined others in the open category, which set off five minutes after the elite men.

Poor positioning in the lobby meant he was back behind several others and spent the first 20 floors battling past people before finding a clear stairwell and working on establishing a rhythm in the unorthodox Empire State Building – heading into the race he was unaware there was a landing to run on each floor.

Despite all this, Sims was still able to pull off a fantastic eighth fastest time overall (12:34), making him one of the few Brits to have ever finished inside the top 10 at the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Honour and glory

The start line for the elite race was full of new faces. No one in the lineup other than Crake and the veteran Joe Kenny had finished on the podium before, although there were some established tower runners ready to battle it out for second and third.

Markus Zahlbruckner had beaten Rudi Reitberger at the 776-step Danube Tower race in Vienna in November 2002 to earn his place at the race. He’d followed that up with a win at another Austrian stair race two weeks later, so was coming into the event strong and confident.

Jaroslaw Lazarowicz, who had hung with Crake for 50 floors at the 2001 edition, was also back again. He had finished third behind Reitberger at the Danube Tower.

Whether any of the new starters could possibly challenge Crake was a bit of an unknown. It was unlikely, but there was solid talent in among them that could at least be expected to push for a podium place.

Benoit Laval, a French ultra runner, was certainly worthy of consideration. He already had multiple podium finishes at trail marathons, and had participated in several multi-stage races around the world.

Toby Tanser, author of ‘Train Hard, Win Easy: The Kenyan Way’ (and in later years other titles) was also worthy of an each way bet for anyone putting money on the race.

A solid runner, clocking around sub 16-minutes for the 5km and sub 33-minutes for the 10km, he had a bit of speed on him. He also had a sub 70-minute half-marathon to his name, so evidently had the legs for longer distances, too.

Chris Solarz is now an established ultra runner with a bunch of Guinness World Record to his name, including fastest half marathon pushing a double buggy. In 2003 he was less well known but had obviously done enough to get his spot at the ESBRU.

To the honest observer it didn’t look very likely that anyone was going to challenge Paul Crake. Would the four-time champion be able to push himself throughout the course to run sub 10-minutes for a fourth time, and possibly even break his own course record of 9:37?

2003 start

As ever, Crake got a great start and made it into the stairwell first. In the colour image below there’s Stephen Gantz (4), Markus Zahlbruckner (2), Paul Crake (1) and Benoit Laval (22).

2003 mens start 2

In this black and white photo, Toby Tanser (48, left) can be seen. On the other side of Zahlbruckner is Jaroslaw Lazarowicz, while the figure heading out of shot on the right, wearing number 6, is Chris Solarz.

2003 mens start

Crake finished his ESBRU journey on a magnificent high, making his final run the most perfect of all. In the video below (1:12-1:17) you can see how strong and composed he looks approaching the 65th floor. He was untouchable that day and set a new course record of 9:33.

2003 crake wins

Paul Crake sets a new Empire State Building Run-Up course record of 9:33

‘To win five years in a row has been fantastic. It’s been a dream run,’ said Crake, who joined Al Waquie as a five-time champion.

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.’

2003 crake finish

Five-time ESBRU champion Paul Crake

Markus Zahlbruckner (AUT) finally made it onto the podium, finishing second in 10:58. Toby Tanser (USA) took third in 11:38. The rest of the top ten was made up of: Jaroslaw Lazarowicz (POL, 11:57), Chris Solarz (USA, 12:04), Aguilar Olalde (MEX, 12:18), Benoit Laval (FRA, 12:28), Mark Sims (GBR, 12:34), Ireneusz Korfini (POL, 12:40) and Jose Fernandez Cano (ESP, 12:45).

Moll v Harbich II: Revenge

In 2002, an unknown German had turned up at the Empire State Building and stopped Cindy Moll becoming the first four-time women’s champion.

A gutted Moll had retreated back to Indianapolis to ruminate on the race, using her disappointment to fuel her training.

Harbich was back for the 2003 edition. She had once again won the qualifying race at the Danube Tower in Vienna. It would be a straightforward battle between the two once more; Harbich looking to defend her title and Moll attempting to achieve something that had never been done.

In an interview with the Indianapolis Star just days before the race, they included just one quote from Moll regarding the race: ‘I’m in better shape than last year’.

It read ominously, as if to say, there will be no mistakes this time, no surprises. She will not be beaten.

In the video below (0:18-0:25) the camera shows Harbich and Moll next to each other on the start line, zooming in on the two towards the end. The young German is bouncing around, full of nervous energy, shaking out her arms. Moll stands a picture of focus, one arm across her body holding the other arm. One might say she even looks angry as she casts a sideways glance at her rival hopping around next to her.

2003 womens start

Both women got a good start, although it looks like neither was first into the stairwell.

As anticipated, it soon came down to just the pair and they ran neck and neck the whole way. Eventually, around the 75th floor Moll managed to create a bit of space and pull away to become the first four-time winner of the women’s division at the Empire State Building Run-Up. She crossed the line in 13:06, with Harbich close behind in 13:17.

2003 cindy moll finish

Cindy Moll becomes a four-time ESBRU champion

‘It was so disappointing last year,’ Moll told reporters. ‘I was so surprised by the German. I was better prepared this year. This was a tight race’.

‘It was really hard because I kept on trying to push the pace, but she was just right behind me the whole way until about 75 and then 80 I really started to pull away.’

2003 crake celebr2003 cindy moll trophy


Read the next installment in the series – the 2004 Empire State Building Run-Up.

In 2002, Paul Crake was going for his fourth win in a row. But in the months leading up to the race he had lost to his closest ESBRU rival for the first time ever at a major race. The Australian champion was beatable, but could he lose in New York?

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-199719981999, 2000, or 2001 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at the Empire State Building Run-Up in 2002.

The phase of mastery

Mount Ainslie is a long way from Manhattan, and three ESBRU titles and a new course record don’t count for much in the mountains of Australia.

Six weeks after setting a stunning new record time at the Empire State Building Run-Up, Paul Crake was back home ready to defend his ACT Mountain Running Championship title.

The 12km race was to be run over a course that covered Mount Ainslie and the neighbouring Mount Majura.

As the reigning champion Crake had everything to lose and the new crop of mountain runners from Canberra and beyond weren’t going to make it easy on him.

Unfortunately for them, Crake was now deep in a phase of mastery that would last for a couple more years and would include some of the best performances of his mountain running career.

He took the win in a time of 50:31, ahead of Ben Rattray (52:23) and Adrian Sheppard (52:51).

2001 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge

Three weeks later, the ongoing battle between Paul Crake and Jonathan Wyatt at the Sky Tower in Auckland continued.

Crake had won the inaugural event in 1998, but for the past two years he had finished second behind Wyatt, the 1998 and 2000 world mountain running champion.

2001 sky tower race

Wyatt and Crake approach the finish of the 2001 Sky Tower Vertical Challenge

2001 played out just as the previous two years had. Wyatt took his third win in a row in a time of 5:27, with Crake settling for second once again with his finish of 5:43.

2001 auckland finishes

Melissa Moon won the women’s division in a record time of 6:57. Among those at the race was the Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, who made it to the top in 21:48.

Australian Mountain Running Championships 2001

With the ACT championship in the bag, Crake headed to the national championship race on Saturday 19th May 2001.

But his training had been seriously hampered by a stress fracture, which had stopped him from running shortly after the Auckland race.

Although Crake had maintained his fitness with a heavy cycling and swimming workload, he had only started running again a week before the Championships, after six weeks out of action.

No one really knew what sort of shape he was in or how the event might go.

The 11.5km race was held at Camp Mountain, the same venue where Crake had lost his national title in 1999. But despite the less than ideal build up to the race, this time was to be different. Just.

He managed to hold on for the win by crossing the line in 43:10, a mere four seconds ahead of Ross Hudson.

Crake followed up his second national title win with victories in June and July at the monthly run up Mount Ainslie.

Telekom Malaysia Towerthon 2001

On Sunday 5th August, it was back to the stairs as he headed to Malaysia to race up the Kuala Lumpur Tower. He was once again racing Jonathan Wyatt, who was going for his third win in a row at the 2,058-step tower.

But there were plenty of other strong runners in Kuala Lumpur that day, including elite mountain runners and an in-form Rudi Reitberger, who had finished third the year before.

As expected, Wyatt took the win, reaching the top in 10:32.

‘I was a little bit disappointed with my time’, Wyatt said. ‘But on the whole I’m happy winning it three times in a row.’

But, in a bit of a shock result, it was not Crake who came in behind the champion. Rudi Reitberger ran the Australian hard the whole way and reached the top in 11:03, four seconds ahead of Crake in third place. This was the first time Crake had finished behind any of his ESBRU rivals.

In the women’s category, Melissa Moon also successfully defended her title, winning the race in 13:14, breaking her own course record of 13:24 set the year before.

Second place went to Angela Sheean of Australia with a time of 14:07, while Russian Tatiana Cheigas, who clocked 14:25, was third.

2002 wyatt moon 2001kl tower

2001 Malaysia Telekom Towerthon winners Melissa Moon and Jonathan Wyatt

The Wyatt Conundrum

Paul Crake is well known in tower running. His long-standing records at the ESBRU and Taipei 101 mean his name pops up in articles every year. In debates about the greatest tower runner ever, Crake is always mentioned.

But far fewer are familiar with Jonathan Wyatt. Yet during the height of Paul Crake’s stair running exploits, he never managed to get a win over Wyatt. In the early 2000s Wyatt was a formidable and pretty much invincible tower runner, so why did he never compete at the most famous race of all?

‘I was never invited to the Empire State Building Run-Up, but also I never asked, either’, Wyatt told Tower Running UK.

‘The time of the year never suited me with where I was in racing, often on the track in New Zealand or in heavy build-up training ready for a Euro [mountain running] season.’

Given the race record between the two, one might assume that had Wyatt made it to New York he may well have beaten Crake’s record and gone sub 9:30. But he disagrees.

‘I don’t think i would have run faster than Paul’s Empire States time. Maybe theoretically with proper stair training, more power and anaerobic work, you could say it would be theoretically possible. But with the training I was doing at the time he did it I can say with some certainty I wouldn’t have broken it.’

‘I never trained [specifically] for the races – Kuala Lumpur I did only because it was convenient as a stopover either going to Europe or coming back to New Zealand, so it was actually a nice way to run a race and break up the trip. The mountain training I was doing would put me in say 90% shape for a tower race, but to be really good I would have needed to train more specifically.’

‘I think some of Paul’s best tower races were when he had switched over to cycling and so I think there is something in that with the type of anaerobic training that you do on the bike being a help for towers.’

According to Wyatt, the difference between the pair on the stairs was possibly not as pronounced as some of the finishing times between them may suggest.

‘Paul would train specifically for some of the tower events and when we raced together he would be very close to me, much more than in a mountain race, and if the races we did had a decent amount of running to get to the tower, such as Kuala Lumpur [starts with an 800m uphill run to the tower], I had an advantage. Auckland was a short run in [150m], but there it was so difficult to pass [on the stairs] that getting to the tower door first was almost the race in itself!’

World Mountain Running Championships 2001

With a win at the Australian Championships Crake earned a spot on the national team to compete at the World Mountain Running Championships held on 16th September in Arta Terme, Italy.

Alongside Crake in the Australian men’s team was Daniel Green, who had beaten him for the 2000 Australian Championship title. From the world of stair running there was Austria’s Rudi Reitberger and Russia’s Iourri Oussatchev.

Crake had his best run at the Worlds to date, finishing in 17th position in a field of around 150.

Italy’s Marco De Gasperi won his third title in five years (he would go on to win two more in 2003 and 2007), while fellow Italian Emanuele Manzi took second. In the following years both men would go on to successfully compete at numerous stair climbing events around the world.

wmragp podium

Paul Crake (2nd from right) finished 8th in the World Mountain Running Association Grand Prix series in 2001

The end of the 2001 season

Crake’s brilliant season continued right up until the end of 2001. He defended his Sydney Tower Run-Up (1,504 steps) title with a winning time of 7:01. In November he defended his Four Peaks title, while setting a new record at Mount Feathertop in the process.

In December he won his fifth Black Mountain Challenge and then in January 2002 he secured his third Crackenback Challenge win in a row.

An incredibly successful 12 months had Crake in confident mood heading to New York for the 25th ESBRU on Tuesday 5th February.

2002 Empire State Building Run-Up

2002 esbru poster

The horror and sadness of September 11th 2001 hung over the ESBRU in February 2002. With the collapse of the Twin Towers, the Empire State Building had once more become New York’s tallest building.

The start line was peppered with firefighters and police officers, determined to give everything in memory of their fallen comrades.

Speaking before the race, Jules Pontpovero (wearing #70 in the start line image below) from the New York Fire Department said, ‘It’s gonna be a breeze for us. They had bunker gear, they had smoke, fire. We just have shorts, t-shirts and you guys giving us support, so it’s gonna be easy’.

After the event, Captain Tim Morgan from the NYFD said, ‘I was just trying to think of the guys you knew personally, from the youngest guy to the most experienced – the chief of the department we lost [on September 11th]’.

‘I thought, ‘Don’t give up. These guys didn’t quit. They were still running in the building trying to recover civilians’. He finished in 14:30.

Firefighter Kenny Bohan said the race gave people something positive to focus on. ‘In some small way, I think we did that. People showed up. Nobody was afraid of anything, and people came from all over the world to run in this race.’ His 14:15 finishing time meant he was the fastest firefighter, or policeman, on the day.

Fantastic four?

Paul Crake was going for his fourth win in a row. Only Al Waquie (1983-87) had so far managed to win more than three titles. Given his performances over the past three years, Crake should have been a certainty for a fourth title. But this time things had changed slightly.

2003 paul crake lobby

Paul Crake in the Empire State Building lobby before the start of the race

With Rudi Reitberger having finished ahead of Crake in Kuala Lumpur a few months before, the 2002 Empire State Building Run-Up took on a different feel. A thread in Crake’s shroud of invincibility had come loose. At least one man at the race knew he was capable of beating Crake. Was this time going to be different?

The start line was packed with talent. In the colour image below there’s 1990 ESBRU champion Scott Elliott (9), Paul Crake (25), Markus Zahlbruckner (6), Rudi Reitberger (8), Sproule Love (red bandana) and Jaroslaw Lazarowicz (5, with water bottle). In the black and white photo the shot opens up and in comes Bernd Hammer (45) who was 3rd in 1997 and 2nd in 1998.

2002 mens start

2002 mens start two

Sproule Love was first through the door. Love had transitioned to stair running from elite level international winter biathlon and had finished seventh in his ESBRU debut in 1999. An injury while cycling had ruled him out of the event in 2000, but he blew back onto the scene in 2001 with a third place finish, despite entering the stairwell in 11th or 12th position.

In 2002 he was determined to get a better start.

‘In my third running of the race [2002], I hadn’t yet learned the difficult lesson about pacing on the stairs and was convinced that one had to be first to the stairwell to contend for the win (now I’m not so sure that is the case). I was a 4:22 miler in high school and had a decent kick, so I figured that with some speed work I could beat everyone to the door. Although I managed to do that, it came at a cost’, Love recalled in 2019.

‘After leading for about 25 stories, I realized I had gone too fast and throttled back. But the die was cast: Paul caught me, of course. I stayed with him for a while, but couldn’t manage to hang on. Later, near the 65th floor traverse, Rudi caught me as well and moved into second place. Fortunately, I didn’t completely blow up and held on for another spot on the podium in exactly the same time as the year before.’

As he had done in all his previous wins, Crake pulled away in the final third of the race with a show of strength that couldn’t be matched by his rivals.

He once again ran sub 10-minutes, this time finishing in 9:40. Rudi Reitberger was second, but still some way back in 10:36, with Sproule Love managing to hold on for another podium place with a finishing time of 11:09. Just behind him in 11:13 was Markus Zahlbruckner from Austria.

2002 crake wins

‘It’s really something to come back and win this race again’, said Crake. ‘I think really it couldn’t have gone better’.

The battle for fifth place was a tight one, as you can see in the video below (@ 2:05). With 20 floors to go, Filipino athlete Arland Macasieb was under serious pressure from Poland’s Jaroslaw Lazarowicz and the 1990 ESBRU champion Scott Elliott.

Macasieb managed to hold on to the fifth spot, reaching the top in 11:54. Scott Elliott followed in 12:00 and Lazarowicz in 12:13.

Moll goes for a record fourth title

In the women’s division all eyes were on Cindy Moll who was also going for a record fourth title, which would have made her the most successful female competitor at the ESBRU. Interestingly, another three-time winner was on the start line that day. Nina Kuscsik (1979-81), now 63 years old, was back at the race again after a 20-year hiatus. She would go on to finish in 28:07.

The feeling in the lobby was that Moll would saunter to a record win. The start line was devoid of her rivals of recent years. The race was practically ceremonial.

Unfortunately for Moll, nobody had told the young German mountain runner Kerstin Harbich.

Like Markus Zahlbruckner in the men’s event, Harbich had earned her spot at the ESBRU by winning the 776-step Danube Tower race in Vienna in November 2001.

Harbich came in well under the radar, but she had been training with ESBRU legend and three-time winner Kurt König (1995-97). For seven months she had trained specifically with the ESBRU in mind. First to win in Vienna and then in New York.

‘My new trainer, Kurt König, has chased me countless times over the 250 steps of the Mittenwald Calvary in addition to my regular mountain running training’, said Harbich.

The starter’s horn failed to go off, which led to confusion at the start line. The focused Moll took instant advantage of the pondering around her and was into the stairwell comfortably ahead of the others. Harbich quickly realised what was happening and she weaved past a couple of women to get in behind Moll. Now the race was on.

The German kept close behind Moll all the way through the first 64 floors and then made her move. In the race video below you can see Harbich’s decisive pass (@ 1:52-1:58).

‘I felt so good and I knew that I would be faster on the last 22 floors’, said Harbich.

She pulled away to win in 12:46, while Moll finished in 13:25.

2002 harbich wins

Kerstin Harbich crosses the line to win the 25th Empire State Building Run-Up, 2002

2002 winners photo

2002 ESBRU winners – Paul Crake and Kerstin Harbich

 

The elderly man at the start and finish of the video is Chico Scimone from Sicily, Italy, who at the age of 90 was taking part in his 12th ESBRU event.

2002 Empire State Building Run-Up results

 

Read the next installment in the series – the 2003 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.

1994 fred lebow best

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

1994 eisman and belinda

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).

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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.