Posts Tagged ‘terry purcell’

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

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

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

An incredible comeback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Advance Australia Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Terry Purcell (centre) works to recover after his stumble

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

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

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Terry Purcell wins the 1998 Empire State Building Run-Up

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

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

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

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

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Cindy Moll and Terry Purcell – 1998 ESBRU winners

 

1998 Empire State Building Run-Up results

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Terry Purcell is a legend of the sport and when the Tower Running Hall of Fame is founded, he’ll be first in line to be inducted.

His outstanding contribution to the sport began in 1993 when he took part in his first race at Sydney’s Centrepoint Tower. Encouraged by friend, and fellow Australian, Geoff Case, who had won the Empire State Building Run-Up from 1991-1993, Purcell excelled from the very beginning.

Within two years he had destroyed Case’s record at the Sydney Tower by 24 seconds. In 1998 he won the ESBRU himself, and when he retired from competitive racing in 2011 he had won more elite races than any other climber before him. His record included five wins from five starts at Chicago’s AON Center (plus a long-standing course record that was only broken in February 2017) and nine wins from nine starts at the John Hancock Center (now 875 North Michigan Avenue).

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Terry Purcell winning the ESBRU in 1998.

Purcell came out of retirement in 2017 to race once more at the Hancock Center, and has been active on the US stair climbing scene for the past 18 months. In that time he’s secured wins, podium places and top five finishes in a spread of highly competitive races to take the number one spot at the top of the USA tower running rankings.

This is a cool video showing Terry Purcell MkII on his way to winning the Vertical Mile event at the Reunion Tower in Dallas back in January this year.

But it’s this next excellent video that we really want to bring to your attention. This interview is from around 2009, when Purcell had been racing and winning for 16 years. His knowledge and experience is invaluable and there are lots of useful insights here, ranging from how to pass rivals during a race to how he trains and his mental approach to stair climbing.

 

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Rich ‘Beyond Human’ Sirrs is the fastest UK stair climber on the circuit. He first blew onto the UK tower running scene in 2015 after a successful run of results while working in China. The Hull native caught the tail end of the inaugural UK Tower Running championship that year, and managed to set two British records in the process – at the Gherkin and the Heron Tower.

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In May 2016 he set a new British record at the Broadgate Tower and then departed our shores once again, this time heading for Singapore. We caught up with Beyond Human to see what he’s been up to since he left. Read on to find out how a grip strengthener and training alongside the best in the world have transformed him.

TRUK: We haven’t seen you racing in the UK for a while now – where have you been and what’s going on?

RS: I moved over to Singapore in June 2016 and haven’t had a chance to get back over to the UK yet. I’m living and working here with my girlfriend and really can’t say enough good things about the place. Plenty of training opportunities and chock-a-block with sports facilities – I have two Olympic sized pools within five minutes walk of my house! I’ve taken some time out from stair racing in 2017 and trained for my first aquathlon. I’ve enjoyed mixing it up and also seeing some benefits from adding swimming to my training. I’ve recently raced another aquathlon and ended up with podium place in my category, so quite pleased with that as my swim is still a little pedestrian.

My last race in the UK was at Broadgate Tower in May 2016 where I finished second behind an inform David Robles. I’ve seen there have been some close, competitive battles in my absence and I’d like to get involved in those races.

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Beyond Human salutes a victory in 2015 from the top of the winner’s podium

TRUK: So, how is training going?

RS: I’ve been suffering with shin and Achilles injuries from running for a couple of years now and I’ve made the commitment to try and injury proof my body with a regimen of strengthening and balance exercises, plus some custom orthotics, and so far it seems to be going in the right direction.

I’ve been doing a fair bit of trail running out here, and even managed to win a trail race in Malaysia earlier in the year, despite only being able to put down 10-15km a week running for the six months before it (lots of stairs and swimming though). Further proof stair climbing is a great way to maintain/enhance fitness.

I’ve been listening to podcasts when I’m open water swimming here at the beach in Singapore (big recommendation to swim and get MP3 on) usually Tim Ferriss or Joe Rogan and usually sports or nutrition related. Anyways I came across this guy called Pavel Tsatsouline and he was talking about strength training and how all the muscles can be recruited to fire together to greatly increase strength of a movement. For example, you can grip harder if you flex your glutes at the same time! It’s called muscle irradiation and it got me thinking that perhaps it could be an important factor in stair racing where you are literally powering up the stairs and firing so many muscles at the same time. The force you can pull on the rail and how the legs can fire you upwards must be an important factor and I realised then that strength training must be a key element and was one I was overlooking.

I’ve basically added a range of body weight exercises – chin ups, dips, press ups, leg raises…and grip training using bar and also a sprung grip trainer. I’m trying to give myself a more stable and efficient movement base to increase the force I can recruit to power myself up the stairs, but also to try and move and run more efficiently.

I was actually told all of this in 2014 by an inspirational P.E teacher and former Valencia CF (when they were good) strength and conditioning coach during my time as an English teacher in Northern Spain, but at the time I didn’t act upon his advice.

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TRUK: You’ve been training with Tomas Macecek (Czech stair climber, current world number 7) and Suzy Walsham (reigning ladies tower running world champion) out in Singapore. How has it been training with the world’s best?

RS: I took Suzy and Tom on my stair running tours of Singapore. It’s basically a 5km loop of Singapore CBD, which takes in 4 or 5 open access buildings of varying height 150-225m, with a variety of stairwells. We run to a building, ascend, come down in the lift, run to the next building, and repeat.

We go at a steady pace, not killing each other but also not slow. The key thing I noted from following them up was how stable and compact they looked in the stairs. There was an assuredness to their movements. No energy was being wasted hopping around or flailing arms around the corner. It just looked compact and stable and the turns were tight and controlled.

Tom is more of a power walker and seems to sort of sit into his stride. I’ve seen something similar in videos of the Colombian stair climber Frank Carreno (current world number two). I’m guessing that lowering the pelvis helps recruit more glute to the movement. Try it next time you walk up stairs, it feels weird but you feel kinda powerful as you stride up. Anyways I was running behind Tom, but still having to work pretty hard to keep up even though he was walking.

Suzy employs a technique where she has real quick feet as she ascends the stairs and then sort of takes a mini rest on the stairwell, which involves lifting the head slightly and opening the lungs up and then popping her head back down and whipping around the turn to do the rapid feet again up the next flight.

I don’t think we are anywhere near understanding what is the best way to climb stairs, however I’m personally starting to transition my training away from a bouncy run style to a more compact rail heavy walk which whips around the corners. I call this the ‘German style’ – Christian Riedl, Görge Heimann, Ralf Hascher all have a similar style to this, in my opinion.

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Beyond Human: Sirrs was profiled in a Chinese magazine in 2015.

TRUK: What does your training look like at the moment?

RS: On weekends I train in the local ‘council flats’ – 50 floors/160m or so I think. I have a left turning and right turning stairwell (my left is always slower – in fact at balls out I’m about 15 seconds slower on left turning than right. The only left turning race I’ve won is Heron Tower, and it wasn’t by very much.)

  • I start with 4 x 50 floors steady.
  • Then it’s onto 10-floor sprints up to the 50th. I’m looking for around 45 seconds to complete the sprint and another 45 seconds recovery. I’m using these more to develop my coordination and feel for the stairs rather than endurance so I don’t pay too much attention to recovery time.
  • Once a month or so I try to do a vertical km in this building, taking it easy but looking for the volume.

I will also do a lot of lunch time sessions during the week in my 36-floor office building:

  • 2 x 36 floors at a tempo pace, which is a steady pace that feels fairly quick but isn’t a full gas effort. This stairwell has very runnable stairs, which actually allow ‘aerobic stair running’. Basically I mean I can ascend and keep HR around 150 and still maintain a run. Not easy to do in most stairwells as it’s just too bloody hard on the body.
  • 2×10-floor sprints with recovery between sprints. 10 floor sprints are for me more about getting used to moving fast in the stairs and practising the coordination which it takes to move quickly without falling over. It definitely hurts, but for me the real pain comes in a 20-floor sprint, as you need time to get into that pain zone (it usually kicks in at around 16 floors). I’m not using 10 floor sprints to build endurance. It’s about coordination of hands and feet to whip around the turns. I don’t think the movements are easy and they take a lot of practice.
  • 20 floors steady + 16 floors surge. I recently introduced a training run where I take 20 floors at the tempo pace and then push for the last 16 floors. This hurts big time and helps to strengthen the mind to take on this zone when it inevitably arrives during a race. I started doing this after reading your article on Terry Purcell.
  • I also do a monthly vertical km here, too. Ascending seven times at a steady pace (around five minutes per climb). The idea here is to build some strength.

 

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“I could get used to this!” Sirrs embraces the perks of being a champion

TRUK: Do you do anything for recovery? How about diet and nutrition?

RS: I love eating too much, especially here in Singapore – got to be the world’s best place for food. Get anything you can imagine, all pretty well priced and eat outside every night. I consider my race weight to be around 70kg, but I’ve put on a little muscle recently since the strength training, so up that a couple of kilos.

I realise weight is a key factor in heaving yourself up the stairs and I’ve seen there is a trend for the top guys to drop weight. Some were definitely more bulky and muscular looking a few years ago and seem to have improved their times by trimming down.

It’s probably a place I can get some improvements in, but I lack a little will power when it comes to food! One thing i’ve started taking is probiotics. I suffered for three years with a recurring problem with yeast infections and gut problems. I put it down to training too much, which maybe was stressing the body and lowering my immune system. I started taking probiotics and it cleared up almost immediately and hasn’t come back.

TRUK: Can we expect to see you back in the UK anytime soon for a race?

RS: Not anytime soon!

TRUK: Where the f**k are the OPSRC (Orchard Park Stair Running Club) lads??

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To Hull and Back: the successful Orchard Park Stair Running Club (l-r) Michael “The Rampart” Johnston, Lawrence “Bleed ’em” Needham, Daniel “Beast Mode” Sirrs, Rich “Beyond Human” Sirrs and manager Paul “Toolbox” Spivey.

RS: I know mate, don’t get my started!!! I’m considering withdrawing their OPSRC membership. We cant have Total Motion Tower Runners as the best team in the UK! That keeps me up at night sometimes.

My bro (Daniel Sirrs) moved to Canada this year, hopefully we’ll see him in a U.S/Canada race in 2017! We have talked about doing a U.S trip in 2017 or 2018. I’m thinking Las Vegas race (Scale the Strat) could be good! We’ll have a good battle with West Coast Labels and Total Motion coming up soon and I expect it might be close! Imagine that, cross country style scoring format. That would be fun.

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Coming out of retirement doesn’t always work out well for sports stars. Some get it just right – think Sugar Ray Leonard (the first time), George Foreman, Michael Jordan (the first time). Others should have left well enough alone – Messrs Armstrong, Ali and Borg et al.

Last Sunday at the John Hancock Center in Chicago, one legend got it almost exactly right.

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The iconic John Hancock Center is the fourth tallest building in Chicago

If you talk with people who have been involved with stair climbing for years, one name will always eventually come up: Terry Purcell. When he retired from the sport in 2011 he left behind an unrivalled record.

24 years ago, Purcell laid the foundation stone for a now mythic reputation when he took part in his first race at Sydney’s Centrepoint Tower. Baited into it by fellow Australian Geoff Case, who had won the Empire State Building Run-Up from 1991-1993, Purcell excelled from the go. Within two years he had destroyed Case’s record at the Sydney Tower by 24 seconds. In 1998 he won ESBRU himself, and by the time he retired in 2011 he had won more elite races than any other climber before him. His record included five wins from five starts at Chicago’s AON Center (and a long-standing course record that was only broken in February 2017) and nine wins from nine starts at the John Hancock Center.

Purcell didn’t just standout for his incredible speed in the stairwell. He revolutionised the sport with his approach to race technique and specific training.

On technique:

Most guys don’t study technique…which is fantastic for me. They may be fitter and have more time to train, but they waste so much energy. I see people wasting it on the turns by taking too many steps. I see people not using the railing well to save your legs

On his opponents and training:

The way to kick them in the gut is to surge! But who does that? A guy who’s trained to do it for the last six months!”

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Terry Purcell winning the 1998 Empire State Building Run-Up

Hustle up the Hancock 2017

It was to the John Hancock Center that Purcell returned on Sunday to chase a record tenth victory. Standing in his way were two of the fastest American stair climbers of the past 15 years – Jesse Berg and Eric Leninger.

Sunday’s event had a beautiful romanticism to it, as old rivalries were reborn and close friendships were cast aside.

When Purcell won his first race at Hancock back in 2002, Berg finished almost two and half minutes behind him in 15th place. For the following two years Berg sat in fifth place, but just 1.30 off top spot. In 2005 he was up to fourth spot and only 48 seconds behind Purcell.

2006,  Berg finished second, going sub-ten minutes for the first time. 2007 he was third while Purcell lowered his course record to 9.30 (beaten by Sproule Love’s 9.23 in 2013). In 2008 Purcell took a break, but he returned the following year to win again, while Berg managed third. And so their rivalry played out until Purcell left the Hancock behind after a final victory in 2011, with Berg once again finishing in third spot – just five seconds behind.

All the while Eric Leninger was approaching unnoticed, slowly improving his times, edging closer to the much-coveted sub-ten minute time. In 2014 he finally managed to go under the ten minute barrier and take his first win. He defended his title in 2015 and 2016, also with sub-ten minute times.

In their time together on the race circuit, Purcell and Leninger developed a close friendship. Here Leninger discusses that bond:

In the last couple years we raced, Terry started becoming somewhat of a coach to me. I’ve always listened (and thought) I knew exactly what he was saying, but the more time goes on, the more I draw from our conversations…past and present. It’s an interesting dynamic between us filled with mutual respect and admiration, but also the fire of pure competition. He’s someone I hold in the highest regard…but also someone who brings out my absolute top level of competition. When he retired, I felt that part of my connection to the sport was lost, as there was no-one else on that starting line that I looked forward to racing as much as him. When I returned to the sport after a year off, Terry became a true mentor….helping me understand that life inside the stairwell is applicable to life outside the stairwell too.

Going for his fourth straight victory on Sunday, Leninger was probably first to know that Purcell was coming out of retirement to once again race up the 94 floors of the John Hancock Center. The ‘fire of pure competition’ was lit again.

But Purcell’s return was not to have the fairy tale ending. There would be no ten from ten.

It was Missoula firefighter, elite triathlete and trail runner, Andrew Drobeck who took the overall victory. He was competing alongside fellow firefighters as part of the ‘Firefighters for New York’ team. Established in 2002, the team competes each year to honour the firefighters who gave their lives on 9/11. His win helped them secure second overall in the team standings.

Drobeck has long been a top-level triathlete, winning in races from sprint to Ironman distance. But he is also no stranger to tower running. He’s won multiple races in full firefighting gear, including five straight wins at the renowned Scott Firefighter Stairclimb in Seattle’s Columbia Tower, where he holds the record of 10.39. But Sunday’s race was his first ‘regular’ race out of gear. There were many curious to see exactly what he could do in the stairs unimpeded by heavy apparatus. He didn’t disappoint.

He took the win in a time of 10.19. It was made all the more impressive by the fact he set off in the 13th wave, weaving his way to the top between reams of slower climbers from earlier heats.

Purcell took second overall, finishing in a time of 10.25. Berg got the closest to the Australian he had ever managed, finishing just one second behind in 10.26. Leninger took fourth in 10.34.

Brilliant to see Terry racing again, and exciting to see an elite athlete from another sport successfully manage the crossover to stair climbing, when many others have fallen short. It will be interesting to see what Drobeck can do in the sport if he makes it a focus.

He will be competing again at the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb on March 12th to raise money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. You can donate to that great cause and Drobeck’s attempt at a sixth straight win here.

Check out the full results from Hustle up the Hancock.

Ed. note: My heart leapt when I saw Purcell’s name on the results sheet for Hustle up the Hancock. He was the first stair climber whose results I studied and is a true legend of the sport. It was akin to the feeling I had when Gandalf re-emerged as Gandalf the White in LOTR having battled with the Balrog or when Mick Dundee was revealed to still be alive after the shootout at the end of Crocodile Dundee 2. It’s fantastic to see Terry return, and for me to get to write about an actual race he has taken part in.

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Darren ‘Optimus Climb’ Wilson emerged from his hiatus last weekend to set a new course record at the AON Center in Chicago.

The Australian star is in incredible form ahead of the 40th edition of the Empire State Building Run Up (1 February), where he hopes to repeat his 2016 victory.

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Optimus Climb: Darren Wilson – record holder at the AON Center, Chicago

The AON Center stair climb is a very competitive event in the USA race calendar, regularly drawing in the country’s best tower runners. The list of former winners is a who’s who of some of the sport’s greatest ever stair climbers: Sproule Love, Jesse Berg, Eric Leninger, Justin Stewart.

At the top of the AON Center pile is Australian Terry Purcell. A former ESBRU winner (1998), and victorious in multiple climbs throughout his long stair climbing career, Purcell’s record time of 9:26 was set in 2009 – the last of his five victories (from five starts) at the 80-floor building.

Wilson smashed the record by 25 seconds, setting a new time of 9:01 – a record we can almost guarantee will remain untouched for years.

Big D Climb in Dallas, Texas

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The Bank of America Plaza in Dallas

Down in Dallas it was the 9th edition of the Big D Climb at the Bank of America Plaza (1,540 steps). Stair climbers descended from around the USA to vie for supremacy, and it was ‘The Molten Puma’ Thomas Scott from Florida who took the win in 9:11.  Mark ‘Lord of the Incline’ Ewell from Colorado Springs wasn’t far behind in 9:23.

With the Cowboys having crashed out of the NFL playoffs a few weeks back, the locals were looking for some sporting Texan star to brighten their mood, and Scott ‘The Chalice of Thunder’ Stanley was good for the job. He made sure a Texan was standing on the podium, taking third in 10:05. Big shout out to one of our stair climbing heroes, Hal ‘The Statesman’ Carlson, who at 64 (!!!) took a massively impressive fourth place finish. Amazing longevity!

In the women’s division it was local athlete Anita ‘A for Aggression’ Averill who took the win (12:18). She was followed by another Texan, Jackie ‘The Stair Corroder’ Rust (12:44), with Madeleine ‘The Oakland Bad Ass’ Fontillas Ronk taking third (13:40). Our current stair crush, Sue ‘She’ll Amaze Ya’ Glaser, took fourth place (14:01).

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