Posts Tagged ‘Paul Low’

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