Posts Tagged ‘Swissotel Vertical Marathon’

Singapore has a long tower running history, with the first edition of the Swissotel Vertical Marathon taking place way back in 1987.

Over three decades later and a new group of tower running enthusiasts in Singapore are working to take the sport to new heights.

We caught up with the Towerrunning Association of Singapore to find out a bit more about who’s who in the organisation and what its goals are.

TRUK: Congratulations on getting officially registered earlier this year. Tell us about your plans for the Association and for the sport of tower running in Singapore?

TAS: Singapore is a recognised global hub for air travel, shipping, and finance and it’s our aim that one day it be considered an international hub of tower running. The Towerrunning Association of Singapore has managed to become a focal point of an already thriving underground tower running scene.

There are groups and individuals all over Singapore who are training in their local HDBs (Housing Development Board buildings) who often caught the tower running bug at one of the several high profile races which were (prior to COVID) taking place annually, such as the Swissotel Vertical Marathon, National Vertical Marathon and multiple other local community HDB and charity events.

Thomas Dold at the Swissotel Vertical Marathon 2009

There are many members of our association who have travelled internationally to races in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, USA, Malaysia and more, which makes us one of the most well travelled tower running associations in the world.

We plan to raise the profile of the sport in Singapore, develop a local stable of athletes and race against the best in the region (especially our close friends in the Malaysia Towerrunning Association who are developing their own group of strong athletes). Obviously, we’ll have to wait until the COVID situation improves so that races may open up again.

TRUK: What’s happening right now with TAS? From Instagram it looks like you guys are having regular meet ups and training sessions.

TAS: Since the virus has been brought under control in Singapore we are looking at relaunching our regular training sessions, and planning for future events. We host regular training sessions once a week on Saturdays, and have another training session during the week for the hardcore members who want to do more.

During this period we have to make sure to adhere to certain COVID restrictions still in place which mean we can train in one stairwell with a group of no more than five people, and keep proper social distancing measures.

Singapore is blessed with having ample training grounds for tower runners. To understand why, we have to go back a little in history. Prior to 1960, Singapore’s landscape was predominately low-rise, as local villages known as kampungs made up of wooden single houses known were the norm.

However, in 1961 after the largest fire in Singapore’s history gutted an entire kampung leaving 16,000 homeless, the Singapore government vowed to transform public housing with the establishment of the Housing Development Board, or HDB.

The end result is that Singapore went vertical, building thousands of high-rise concrete buildings in which 80% of Singaporeans live today. Many of these HDB buildings are 40 floors or higher with open stairwells, offering the ideal place to train. In fact Singapore has over 10,000 HDB blocks of over 10 storeys which people can use to stair train.

We’re lucky that we have access to multiple 40/50 storey HDB blocks (130m) and even a 69-floor private condo block to train (220m). We don’t think there are many training groups around the world who have such easy access to these high-rise buildings.

As we continue to train, we look to increase our membership and build more awareness toward our sport. We often see random people train on stairs when we train at different locations. Many are not aware of our Association, so we’d like to reach out and encourage them to join.

Singapore also has a large population of runners and sports enthusiasts of all kinds, and we hope to entice some to cross over to the world of tower running. Although tower running in general remains a niche sport, we hope to change that perception.

Back to our latest plans. We recently did a few time trial events that were successful and look to do more in the future. We also have the year end coming up and may do another Christmas climb which proved to be popular last year. We also have our AGM coming up in the spring next year.

TRUK: Tell us a bit about who’s who in the Towerrunning Association of Singapore

TAS: We have 13 founding Association members who come from all nationalities and backgrounds. Just to name a few, our President Eddie Tan is a seasoned veteran with 10+ years of tower running experience and many international races under his belt.

SC Tan, our Secretary, has been a dedicated stair climber for 10+ years as well. We have Michele Tan, one of the fastest female tower runners in Malaysia, Rich Sirrs, former UK number one who moved to Singapore a few years back, and Mateusz Dolata from Poland.

Charles Supapodok, an American, started stair climbing late in life but competes internationally and has posted some fast times recently. Mark Budweciz is an Aussie who has placed well in regional competitions so far. Kai Peng, our Association’s treasurer is the youngest in our group, but is a rising star.

Our remaining founding members came to know one another through regular tower running sessions. They too shared the same desire as the rest of us in promoting this sport further.

TRUK: How’s Singapore’s race calendar looking for 2021? Will you guys have events on over there?

TAS: So far it doesn’t look like there will be any events in 2021 until the COVID situation improves. Singapore moved into its Phase 2 reopening on June 19th, where it remains today. Phase 3 would increase the size for group activities from 5 to 8, but this does not seem enough to allow for races to resume. For the time being we don’t see any races happening in 2021, unfortunately. ■

You can keep up to date with the Towerrunning Association of Singapore on Instagram and Facebook.

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Swissotel Vertical Marathon 1 winners

1987 Kenneth Keng (SIN) 7:20  Helen Gilbey (AUS) 9:04
1988 Kenneth Keng (SIN) 7:35  Helen Gilbey (AUS) 8:46
1989 Balvinder Singh (SIN) 6:55
1990 Law Kah Yew (SIN) Helen Gilbey (AUS)
1991 – 1998 Results yet to be found
1999 Adrian Mok (SIN)
2000 ?
2001 ?
2002 ?
2003 Pedro Ribeiro (POR)
2004 Ben Pulham 7:35  Esther Tan
2005 Pedro Ribeiro (POR) 7:18  Kristy Rice (USA) 10:13
2006 Pedro Ribeiro (POR)  Suzy Walsham (AUS)
2007 Mwai Zakayo Nderi (KEN) 7:03  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 8:31
2008 Thomas Dold (GER) 6:52  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 8:19
2009 Thomas Dold (GER) 6:46*  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 8:29
2010 Thomas Dold (GER) 6:51  Melissa Moon (NZL) 8:57
2011 Matthias Jahn (GER) 7:16  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 8:23
2012 Darren Wilson (AUS) 7:13  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 7:51*
2013 Mark Bourne (AUS) 6:51  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 7:57
2014 Mark Bourne (AUS) 6:46*  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 8:02
2015 Piotr Lobodzinski (POL) 6:48  Suzy Walsham (AUS) 7:46**
2016 Piotr Lobodzinski (POL) 6:55  Suzy Walsham (AUS)
2017 Piotr Lobodzinski (POL) 6:33  Suzy Walsham (AUS) **
2018 Ching Chun Lo  Bridget Robertson **

* course record
** indoor finish on 69th floor due to poor weather on 73rd floor helipad

1980s westin stamford

Home to some of the biggest races in tower running, Asia is fast becoming the main arena of the sport. But stair running is nothing new to the region – Singapore has been hosting races for over 30 years.

Swissotel The Stamford hotel in Raffles City, Singapore is famous in the lore of tower running, most notably as the venue for the stair racing debut of the incredible Suzy Walsham in 2006. But the Australian superstar’s first race at the Vertical Marathon was actually the 20th edition of the event.

Read on to find out how the Asian tower running scene began in Singapore in 1987.

Back in 1987, the now Swissotel The Stamford was part of the Westin chain of hotels. William McCreary was managing director of Westin Stamford and the nearby Plaza, and under his stewardship the two hotels jointly designed to organise the first stair race event in the region.

As the tallest hotel in the world at the time, the 226-metre high Stamford was selected as the venue for the event. With 1,336 steps spread over 73 floors, the building would prove quite a challenge to the first time runners in Singapore.

All the funds raised by the ‘Vertical Marathon’ would go to the Community Chest, which had been established in 1983 to raise funds for social welfare projects in Singapore.

The trial run

Practice sessions in buildings hosting tower runs aren’t unique and nowadays a number of large events, particularly in the United States, grant participants access to the stairs weeks in advance of the race.

But the Vertical Marathon in 1987 was slightly different in that it appears to have officially timed the trial run, which was held in February a full three months before the big race in May.

The fastest man and woman at the trial run even got their pictures in one of the biggest English-language newspapers in Singapore, The Straits Times.

Time trial winners 1987

David Cheah Fook Choy, a 25-year old technician with the Public Utilities Board, was fastest to the top with a time of 8:20.

Mr Cheah said he was exhausted after the first 40 floors and had to walk the remaining 33. ‘But the heavenly view you catch at the top of the building makes it all worth the while’, he added.

The fastest woman in the trial was a 31-year old British athlete, Helen Gilbey, a lecturer at the College of Physical Education. Already a well-established athlete in Singapore with a number of road races of varying distances under her belt, Gilbey finished with a trial time of 10:05.

‘After running 50 floors, oooh! I had to pull myself up using the safety banisters’, she told reporters.

The pair would head into the main race as firm favourites.

Vertical Events Sports Association

Before the main event had even taken place, an industrious group had got together and formed the Vertical Events Sports Association (VESA). The stated aims of the association were to promote and organise ‘all forms of vertical sport, including climbing steps or walking and running up high buildings’.

The Association was met with incredulity. It took six months for the Registrar of Societies to sign off on it – double the usual length of time it took to register a new association.

But Kenneth Jalleh, President of VESA, was determined to show this was no joke. ‘In no way are we going to try and push this as a fun thing. This is serious’, he told reporters. ‘Nobody realises just how good an exercise this is. It’s aerobic, it builds up a lot of strength and it’s dirt cheap’.

‘And we’ve got some of the tallest buildings in the world and most Singaporeans live in high-rise buildings’, added honorary secretary Kelvin Tan.

Jalleh also referenced the growing popularity of the sport in the USA and said that in 1986 a stair climb event at the World Trade Center had attracted 26,000 participants (Ed. note – this number seems almost impossible and we’ve been unable to find additional references to this event happening).

A public health warning

A little under a month before the race took place, The Straits Times carried an interview with two doctors, under the headline – ‘Vertical run only for very fit’.

The pair advised that those thinking of taking part in the upcoming Vertical Marathon should be very fit and train for the event.

Dr Low Lip Ping from the Singapore National Heart Association said: ‘I would not recommend anyone to take part in such an event as stairs racing, because it gives the person little chance to warm up and thus cause the blood pressure to go up too fast.’

Dr Giam Choo Kiong, Head of Sports Medicine and Research at the Singapore Sports Council added: ‘Running up stairs has been shown to be up to three times as strenuous as running on the level. Therefore, running up stairs continuously is not recommended for people who are unfit or do not train for such an activity.’

By this point, less than four weeks out from the race, 100 people had already signed up. They did so by picking up an entry form from the HR departments at either the Plaza or Stamford hotels.

The first Singapore Vertical Marathon

On Sunday 3rd May 1987 the first Singapore Vertical Marathon took place. 180 of the 250 available spaces had been filled, with 130 men and 50 women at the start line.

Participants had to be between 16 and 40 years old and each was asked to raise at least $73 – a dollar for each floor of the hotel they would be running up.

The prize for the fastest man and woman was a two-night stay at the Executive Suite of the Westin Plaza with American breakfast included, plus a year’s free membership at Raffles City Health Club.

The event got underway at 9am, with batches of four runners setting off every two minutes. Officials from the Singapore Amateur Athletic Association acted as marshals, timekeepers and recorders.

Spectators were gathered on the ground floor of the hotel to follow the action. Seven cameras had been set up at various points throughout the stairwell to relay the event live.

With her marathon-running background and strong trial run time of 10:05, Helen Gilbey was favourite to take the win in the women’s division. She told reporters she was hoping to finish in under 9:30. Gilbey did even better than anticipated, reaching the rooftop finish in 9:04.

Helen Gilbey SVM 1987

Helen Gilbey exits onto the rooftop of the Stamford hotel to win the first Singapore Vertical Marathon in 1987

Leong Siew May finished second in 10:25, and Tan Meow Liang was third in 10:41.

In the men’s race, Kenneth Keng took victory in 7:20. A successful athlete for a number of years, Keng had won the Singapore triathlon from 1983-1985.

Ken Keng 1987

He edged out the February trial run winner David Cheah who finished in 7:47. Another triathlete, Martin Hagger, finished third in 8:12.

Keng told reporters that the race was ‘grueling’, but that he’d do it again next year.

The organisers put forward Kenneth Keng’s and Helen Gilbey’s name to the Guinness Book of Records, and apparently Keng was listed in the 1987 edition.

The whole event raised $20,000 dollars for the Community Chest of Singapore.

1988 Singapore Vertical Marathon

Both 1987 winners returned on Sunday 8th May 1988 to defend their titles.

Kenneth Keng secured victory in a time of 7:35.

‘I went too fast in the beginning’, he said. ‘I should be very happy with the time as I’ve just recovered from the flu.’

Helen Gilbey said before the race she was aiming to finish in ‘anything under nine minutes’. She did just that, setting a new course record of 8:46.

Helen Gilbey 1988 winner SVM

‘I’m very pleased, and very relieved it’s all over as well’, said Gilbey. ‘My husband and I live in a 14-storey apartment block and we have been running nine times up the stairs three times a week. This has been going on for the last six to eight weeks.’

1988 singapore winners

Helen Gilbey and Kenneth Keng celebrate winning the 1988 Singapore Vertical Marathon

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