Posts Tagged ‘ESBRU history’

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 of the event 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

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 club 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 ESBRU 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 ESBRU 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 thirty 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 ESBRU results

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

 

Full 1987 results

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ylonka Wills

Barnard College athlete Ylonka Wills

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

1981 nina wins

Nina Kuscsik makes it three ESBRU wins in a row

Ochse attempts to defend his title

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

1981 squires stumbles1981 mass start

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

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

1981 SQUIRES MID RUN

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

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

1981 Squires wins

Pete Squires wins ESBRU 1981

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

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

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

 

1982 – A champion rises and a champion falls

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

1982 MASS START

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

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

MARY BETH EVANS ESBRU 1982

Mary Beth Evans, ESBRU winner 1982

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

A dramatic finish in the men’s race

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

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

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

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

1982 Ochse finish line

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

1982 Ochse finish line 2

Ochse punches the air and lets out a victory roar

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

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

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

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

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

 

1983 – A legend begins

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

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

1983 JOHN HOWARD WINS KONA 81

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

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

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

Al Waquie running

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

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

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

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

1983 finish Al Waquie

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

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

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

Burke Koncelik wins the women’s race

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

1983 WINNERS BURKE AL

Burke Koncelik and Al Waquie

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

1978 – The first ever Empire State Building Run-Up

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

Fred Lebow

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

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

6ef27ac7bb636f92058d08c3838696fd

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

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

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

In the men’s race, Gary Muhrcke, winner of the inaugural NYC Marathon in 1970 (2:31), was expected to do well. Paul Fetscher, who also ran the first NYC Marathon (and 40+ more subsequent NYC Marathons) was vying for victory, too. Elliot Denman, a racewalker who had competed  for the USA in the 50km walk event at the 1956 Olympics was there, as was Hugh Sweeny, a seasoned runner from new Jersey with a sub-2.30 marathon time (standing behind Schwam, laughing, above). None of them knew what to expect, but guesses for the winning time were between 20-25 minutes.

When the race was run it was Gary Muhrcke who had come out on top. And he’d managed to be a lot quicker than expected. He reached the top in 12.32, taking a clear lead by the 10th floor and holding it all the way to the finish.

1978 gary finish line

Gary Muhrcke wins ESBRU 1978

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

1978 Gary murche

Muhrcke speaks to reporters after his win

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

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

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

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

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

1978 Empire State Building Run-Up results
  1. Gary Muhrcke   12.32
  2. Hugh Sweeny    13.00
  3. Paul Fetshcer     13.15
  4. Rick Langsam    13.37
  5. Jim Crasher        13.56
  6. Bob Glover         14.03
  7. Joe Shapiro         14.41
  8. Joe Erskine         14.45
  9. Ed Holiday          15.30
  10. Marcy Schwam   16.04
  11. Brian Jones         16.14
  12. Chloe Foote        17.13(?)
  13. George Spitz       17.41
  14. Elliot Denman     25.14
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

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.

‘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‘.