Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Dold’

2009 men's start

In 2009, a controversial incident during the start of the ladies race led to one of the greatest comebacks in ESBRU history. In the men’s division, after the anti-climax of 2008, there was a much-anticipated re-run of the showdown between three-time winner Thomas Dold and mountain running star Marco De Gasperi.

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 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-19971998199920002001200220032004200520062007 or 2008 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 2009.

The rivalry continues

Just under three weeks after he won his third ESBRU title, Thomas Dold headed for Milan, Italy, for another showdown with Marco De Gasperi on Sunday 24th February 2008. The venue this time was the 710-step Pirelli Tower, which was hosting its second event.

De Gasperi had won the inaugural event at the tower in 2007 in 3:44. After the disappointment of his fall in the lobby of the Empire State Building Run-Up at the start of February, which had denied him a proper shot at Dold, he was eager to mount a challenge against the German on more familiar territory.

But disaster struck again. Two days before the race De Gasperi picked up an injury that ruled him out.

Even though the pre-race favourite was out, Dold certainly wasn’t guaranteed top spot. With mountain running stars such as Fabio Ruga and Alberto Gramegna on the start list, the young German would still have to work extremely hard for his win. And he did.

Dold reached the top in 3:30, setting a new course record and finishing a massive 14 seconds faster than De Gasperi had the year before.

Dold Pirelli 2008 winner

Thomas Dold crosses the line to set a new course record at the Pirelli Tower, Milan, Italy

Back in Germany

The next big race on the calendar for Dold was the SkyRun Berlin at the 770-step Hotel Park Inn at Alexanderplatz on Whit Monday, 12 May 2008.

He was going for his third win in a row at the tower. In 2007 he had beaten training partner Matthias Jahn by just 0.57 seconds, and with Jahn in attendance once more, Dold would need to be at his very best to secure the triple.

It took a record-breaking performance for him to win. He crossed the line in 3:14.2, with Jahn’s finishing time just 1.8 seconds slower.

BERP1_ParkInn-Berlin-ExteriorView

The Park Inn Hotel in Berlin

Subida Vertical Gran Hotel Bali

Next up was a trip to Benidorm, Spain to race up the 936-step Gran Hotel Bali on Saturday 17 May. Paul Crake had set the course record of 4:35 there back in 2003, at the first edition of the event, a few months after he set the ESBRU record.

Dold took the win in 4:40, trailed by Ignacio Cardona who finished in 4:58.

Dold Benidorm 2008

Greetings from Benidorm: Thomas Dold celebrates his fourth win from four starts in 2008

Less than a week later, on Friday 22nd May, Dold was home in Germany where he was aiming to secure back-to-back wins at the 850-step Stuttgart TV Tower.

He held off the challenge of Matthias Jahn to make it five wins from five starts in 2008.

Dold Stuttgart Tv Tower 2008

Thomas Dold celebrates his win at the Stuttgart TV Tower

Taipei 101 Run-Up 2008

The first three editions of the Taipei 101 Run-Up had been held in November, but in 2008 the race switched to the summer.

At the 2007 edition, Marco De Gasperi had created a shock when he won the prestigious race in his debut year of tower running. On that day he had beaten Dold by 17 seconds.

On Sunday 17 June 2008, the pair were back in Taiwan to do battle again. After the upset the year before, and then the question marks that lingered after the 2008 ESBRU, Dold was determined to make a statement that he was the best tower runner in the world.

He absolutely blitzed the 2,046-step course, becoming one of the only men to have run it in under 11 minutes. His winning time of 10:53 was a massive 46 seconds faster than De Gasperi’s second-place 11:39.

Taipei 101 Run Up Dold

Dold exits Taipei 101

Taipei 101 Run Up Dold4

Taipei 101 Run Up Dold3

Roar power: Dold cries out after winning Taipei 101 Run-Up 2008

Dold wins Taipei 101 Run Up 2008

Still undefeated after six events, 2008 was shaping up to be Dold’s most successful season to date.

Chasing records in Singapore

After a summer breaking his own world records for running 800m (2:31) and 1,000m (3:20) backwards, Dold returned to the stairs on Sunday 16 November to attempt to break the course record at Swissotel The Stamford in Singapore.

The record there had been set way back in 1989 by Balvinder Singh, who had run up the hotel’s 1,336 steps in 6:55.

Thomas Dold Singapore Vert Marathon 2008

Thomas Dold at the start line of the Swissotel The Stamford Vertical Marathon 2008

Dold managed to do what no one else had been able to in 18 previous editions. He shaved three seconds off Singh’s time, crossing the line on the rooftop finish in 6:52. The win earned him a trip to New York and a spot at the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up.

The 2008 season had been an absolute triumph. Seven races, seven wins and three course records. Dold was in supreme form.

He would head into the Empire State Building Run-Up 2009 full of confidence. And he would need to be at his best, because the lobby in February would be packed full of talent.

Suzy Walsham: racing as a two-time champion

Also at the Swissotel Vertical Marathon was two-time ESBRU champion Suzy Walsham. Like Dold, she too had been enjoying a successful season up until that point

After securing her second Empire State Building Run-Up title in February, Walsham returned to her adopted home of Singapore and spent the rest of the year competing in road races in Asia.

In June, the Australian athlete took part in the Anlene Orchard Road Mile in central Singapore.

Walsham, who had won the inaugural race in 2007, retained her title with a speedy 4:39 finish.

walsham Orchard Mile winner 2008

Suzy Walsham (third from the left) celebrates winning the 2008 Anlene Orchard Mile

Walsham upped the distance to 10km the following month, as she lined up for the Shape Run in Singapore on Sunday 20 July. She clocked 35:18 to take first place.

On Sunday 10 August, she was in Bali, Indonesia, for another 10km road race. She put in another mammoth performance to set a new PB of 34:11 and take second place.

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Walsham with the rest of the top 5 women at the Bali 10km

In October the action returned to Singapore for the Great Eastern Women 10km event.

Walsham would be up against pre-race favourite Anintha Kiptum of Kenya, who held a 32:12 PB.

Although it was actually a slower race than anticipated, both women pushed themselves to the limit and paid for their exertions at the finish line.

Kiptum finished in 34:55, but collapsed shortly after and was later hospitalised.

Walsham followed 20 seconds later in 35:15, and was also in bad shape.

Walsham stagger

An exhausted Suzy Walsham begins to stagger at the finish line of the Women 10km

Walsham stagger 2

Supported by her partner David and a race official, Walsham is led away to the medical tent

Finishing the season on a high

Walsham was going for her third straight win at the Swissotel Vertical Marathon in November, the event at which she’d made her tower running debut in 2006.

Swissotel Vertical Marathon 2008

She duly came away with another win, reaching the rooftop finish in 8:19. Like Dold, she would now be heading back to New York to defend her title in February, 2009.

Her final race of 2008 was the Singapore Half Marathon on Sunday 7 December. Walsham put in a brilliant run to win in 1:17:42.

walsham singapore half marathon 2008

Suzy Walsham crosses the line to win the 2008 Singapore Half Marathon

The 2008 season had been an excellent display of athletic diversity by Walsham. She typically stayed away from longer distance races, because with her history of stress fractures and calf strains she feared the training volume required would take too heavy a toll. But she had pushed herself into running up to half-marathon distance and been rewarded for her hard work.

Still a relative newcomer to tower running, Walsham had barely focused on the stairs at all throughout the 2008 season. She was obviously in excellent shape, but would she be able to transfer that flat-level speed to the stairwell when she headed back to Manhattan to defend her title?

Empire State Building Run-Up 2009

So, the reigning champions were in New York for the 32nd edition of the ESBRU, but who else was in the building on Tuesday 3 February?

Four-time winner, Cindy Harris (née Moll) was back. She had finished second to Walsham in 2007 and 2008, and would be expected to provide one of the biggest challenges to the Australian.

Harris had been maintaining her stair climbing dominance throughout 2008, continuing her win streaks at the Hustle up the Hancock (where she set a new course record) and Sears Tower stair climbs in Chicago.

Just under two weeks before the ESBRU, she retained her title at the Bop to the Top event in her hometown of Indianapolis.

A couple of other former ESBRU champions were also in attendance.

The 1995 champion, Michelle Blessing, was in the building.

Michelle Blessing 2009 ESBRU

1995 winner Michelle Blessing at the 2009 ESBRU

So too was three-time winner Nina Kuscsik (1979-1981). Although neither would be in contention for a podium spot, it was good to see the former champions back for another run.

2009 Nina Kuscsik

Three-time winner Nina Kuscsik at the 2009 ESBRU

But three new faces would very likely be in contention for the podium.

In May 2008, Australian Jessamy Hosking had won the Australian Mountain Running Championship. She had placed second in those championships in 2006.

Jessamy Hosking

Jessamy Hosking

Three months later, she won the Sydney Tower Run-Up to earn herself a trip to New York to race at the ESBRU. She had been third there in 2007.

But five weeks before the ESBRU, Hosking had broken a bone in her toe and was unable to walk. She maintained her fitness with work on the bike and in the pool, and headed to New York in pain, but hoping for the best.

Italy’s Daniela Vassalli was another debutant Walsham and Harris would have to look out for.

An accomplished marathoner and mountain runner, Vasalli had recently turned her attention to tower running.

She had been the fastest woman at the Pirelli Tower in Milan back in February 2008, setting a new course record of 4:31.

Daniela Vassalli 2008 ESBRU

Daniela Vassalli

The final dark horse in the lobby was American runner Emily Kindlon. She had won the Run the Rock stair climb at the Rockefeller Center in 2007 and 2008. She would likely be in among the top finishers.

Emily Kindlon 2008

Emily Kindlon (with fellow winner Chris Solarz) at the 2008 Run the Rock

Another Italian, Cristina Bonacina, was also on the start line, as was ESBRU veteran Fiona Bayly.

Funnily, there was an Andrea Myers in the line up. Not sure if she got a shout out by the announcer in the lobby, but if she did it probably put a split-second jolt of shock through some, until they realised it wasn’t three-time champion and course record holder Andrea Mayr hiding at the back.

After her massive winning margin in 2008, Walsham was the obvious favourite. But the new faces added a touch of uncertainty to the proceedings. Overall it looked to have the ingredients for being a tight, competitive race.

As the starter’s claxon went, Walsham’s right foot gave way on the marble floor. Despite stumbling, she managed to stay on her feet, but Harris (and we believe Abby Woods on the far wall) got a jump on her and got out in front.

2009 womens start

Bridget Carlson (#106), Lynda Hubbard (108), Fiona Bayly (black gloves), Suzy Walsham (yellow vest), Daniela Vassalli (head visible above Walsham’s), Emily Kindlon (red vest along the far wall) and Cindy Harris out in front.

Walsham got upright again and drew alongside Daniela Vassalli. Neither was prepared to give an inch and their arms were catching each other as they vied for space.

Harris reached the door first, followed by Woods.

Next came the critical point of the race. With Walsham and Vassalli shoulder to shoulder, and only room for one to go through the door next, something had to give.

Walsham made a move to pass first, but Vassalli was having none of it.

She set her hand on Walsham’s shoulder and as the Australian went to make her pass, Vassalli shoved her hard out to the side. At the speed they were going, Walsham didn’t stand a chance. She lost her balance and smashed face first into the stone door frame, while Vassalli carried on and passed through the door in third place.

2009 ESBRU Walsham pushed

Suzy Walsham hits the deck after being pushed into the door frame by Daniela Vassalli

The following mass of runners ran into and over the prostrate Walsham. Eventually she was hauled to her feet by some of her competitors and bundled onto the stairs.

Walsham, her face already beginning to swell badly from the impact, and her clattered knee causing her serious pain, had a very quick decision to make. Pull out or carry on?

Of course the indomitable two-time champ soldiered on. She was now back in around 30th position, injured and in shock. Could she rein Harris and the other front runners back in before they got to the 86th floor?

Slowly but surely Walsham began to pass the women who had rushed pass her in the lobby.

2009 Cindy Harris

Cindy Harris out in front at the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up

It took Walsham 50 floors before she caught up with Vassalli, who was chasing Harris and Hosking for top spot.

Revenge is sweet.

She passed the Italian and that was it. She wouldn’t let it slip now.

She powered on and caught up with Harris at around the 65th floor. An incredible show of determination, strength and will had led her to her third straight title.

Walsham crossed the line in 13:27, while Vassalli, who had surged pass Harris and Hosking in the final quarter of the race, finished 13 seconds back in 13:40.

Cindy Harris took third in 13:49 and Jessamy Hosking, with her broken foot, was fourth in 14:00. Emily Kindlon finished fifth in 14:22.

2009 Walsham finish2

2009 Walsham finish

Suzy Walsham wins the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up

‘I thought, “What should I do? Do I stop or keep going?”‘, Walsham said after the race, holding an ice pack against her damaged knee.

‘I decided, I didn’t come all this way to pull out, so just did the best I could – power up. It was very hard. My knee was in a lot of pain and I was worried about my nose, that it was broken, but the adrenalin kicked in.’

2009 walsham trophy

Bruised but not beaten: a swollen-lipped Suzy Walsham holds up her winner’s trophy

Walsham’s fellow Australian, Jessamy Hosking, had also suffered throughout her climb.

‘I started off and I was in huge pain the whole way just hoping no one would step on my foot. I got to the top and I got 4th place. I was so happy, but so sore at the same time.’

Hosking would later refer to her fourth place finish with a broken foot as her most memorable athletic achievement.

Daniela Vassalli returned to a hero’s welcome in Italy. The athletics media was full of praise for the excellent debut run that got her on the podium. She would go on to win numerous stair races around the world over the following two or three years, including the inaugural NSPCC Gherkin Challenge in London in 2010.

In the immediate aftermath of the race, Walsham’s fall was still being considered an ‘accident’ and there was no mention of an intentional shove from Vassalli.

Daniela Vassalli 2008 ESBRU 2

Daniela Vassalli – second place at the 2009 ESBRU

But tellingly, Vassalli was never invited back to race at the ESBRU again. Perhaps somebody reviewed the footage or had been in the lobby and seen exactly what happened. *ed. note: pretty sure the race director became aware of the incident and I read that he said explicitly that Vassalli would never be invited to race the ESBRU again, but am currently unable to find the source for that.

The following year, padding was erected around the door frame to try and limit the danger of similar incidents.

Dold goes for a fourth straight win

There was some serious talent in the men’s division at the 2009 ESBRU.

Matthias Jahn, Dold’s training partner, was back. He’d finished second in 2007 and third in 2008. Could he go one better this year?

Matthias Jahn 2008 towerrunner

Matthias Jahn training in Franfurt in May, 2008

Also returning was American trail runner Rickey Gates. He had also been on the podium in 2007 and 2008, alternating positions with Jahn, while Dold took top honours.

It had been a mixed 12 months for Gates since his second place finish at the 2008 Run-Up.

A couple of weeks after the ESBRU he’d won the Run the Register stair race in Denver, Colorado.

Later in 2008 he had won trail and mountain races at home and abroad, and had placed an excellent 12th at the World Mountain Running Championships in September. But he had failed to defend the USA Trail Running Championships (10km) title he’d won in 2007, finishing in 17th place at the 2008 edition.

Rickey Gates 2008

Rickey Gates wins the 2008 Grintovec mountain race in Slovenia

Gates’ fellow Americans, Tim Donahue, Dan Casper, Eric Blake and David Tromp, were also in the lobby. They would all be hoping to make it into the top ten.

Dan Casper was a decorated track and road cyclist (as well as a fireman) who had finished in ninth place on his ESBRU debut in 2008.

Eric Blake, who was making his debut, was a mountain runner and marathoner. He had taken part in the 2004 US Olympic trials for the marathon and had also been part of the US team that took part in the World Mountain Running Championships in 2004-2006 and 2008.

In July, 2008, he had won the US Mountain Running Championship. He would be one to watch out for.

Eric Blake 2008 US champion

Eric Blake crosses the line to win the 2008 US Mountain Running Championship

Although Marco De Gasperi had been soundly beaten by Thomas Dold at the Taipei 101 Run-Up back in June 2008, the rest of his season had gone pretty well. He finished third at the European Mountain Running Championships in July and then eighth at the World Championships in September.

After the disappointment of the 2008 Run-Up, when he fell in the lobby and had to battle his way back from around 50th place to make it into the top 10, De Gasperi was hoping for much better luck this time around. All eyes were on him.

His Italian mountain running team mate, Emanuele Manzi, was on the start line as well.

Germany’s Christian Riedl, just starting out on his tower running journey, was making his ESBRU debut.

Javier Santiago from Mexico was back for the second time, looking to improve on the 16th place he’d earned in 2008.

Poland’s Tomasz Klisz was back for the sixth-straight time.

Other names that will be well familiar to many American stair climbers were also in attendance: Henry Wigglesworth, Paul Curley, Jeff Dinkin, Bruce Yang, Syd Arak, James Harris and Stephen Marsalese, to name a few.

From Australia, Scott McTaggart was back. In August 2008, he had won his third straight Sydney Tower Run-Up title, earning himself a trip to the ESBRU.

He’d also won his fourth straight Australian Mountain Running crown a few months before, so was in fantastic shape.

He had made a brilliant debut in New York the year before, finishing fourth. Could he get on the podium this time around?

1980 and 1982 ESBRU winner, Jim Ochse, was also in the building that morning, although not in the elite wave. He had taken part in the preliminary wave that ran at 9am (90 minutes before the elite women set off), with his 16:18 finish earning him 11th place there.

A lesson in the perfect ESBRU start

On the start line, Marco De Gasperi had sensibly positioned himself right out to the side, to avoid getting tripped by the charging runners behind him. But it meant he pretty much gave up getting through the door first.

To his left was cyclist Dan Casper, who had US mountain runner Eric Blake (bib #2 in the final video at the bottom of the story) just off his left shoulder.

Next along were Matthias Jahn and Thomas Dold. Scott McTaggart (red vest in the final video at the bottom) was on Dold’s left-hand side.

Rickey Gates, Tim Donahue, Duncan Lonsdale (who finished in 17:08 and should have been nowhere near the front) and Paul Curley made up the rest of the front row.

In a comical moment in the final video below (@0:11-0:16), the announcer calls out, ‘From Austria…Rudolf Reitberger’.

Matthias Jahn and Thomas Dold have a WTF? moment as they whip their heads around looking to find the two-time champion. Of course, he wasn’t there. Rudi still got a nice round of applause though.

2009 men's start

Marco De Gasperi (#37), Dan Casper, Matthias Jahn (3), Thomas Dold, Rickey Gates, Tim Donahue (in gloves and visor), Paul Curley

As always, master starter Thomas Dold reached the door first. It’s really interesting to watch the start in slow motion (0.25 playback speed on the final YouTube video at the bottom). Dold looks totally unprepared. He’s standing upright, no forward lean like his rivals and he looks relaxed. All the others are tensely staring straight ahead waiting to hear the claxon.

Dold, instead, is watching the starter (far right of the screen). At 0:22 seconds into the final video you see the starter’s arm going up with the claxon in hand. Watch Dold’s eyes track the hand up to the highest point. He then lets his weight fall forward and is already almost through pushing off his back foot as the claxon sounds.

Compare his footwork with Rickey Gates, two along from him (to the right as you look at it). Dold is almost on his third step before Gates has fully finished his first.

It’s actually masterful, and watching it this way it’s clear why Dold almost invariably made it to the door first in every ESBRU race he won. That, coupled with the spread out arms holding others back, of course.

Is it a truly false start? There’s a lot of twitching going on on the front line – Matthias Jahn also appears to jump the gun. It wouldn’t wash at an IAAF event that’s for sure.

Dold was followed through the door by Dan Casper, Matthias Jahn, Tim Donahue and Marco De Gasperi, in that order.

Just behind them, Rickey Gates had been twisted sideways by passing runners and then his legs had gone from under him. He hit the deck, with Scott McTaggart almost being taken out as well. You can see the incident beginning at 0:24 in the video below (slow it down).

Fortunately for Gates he landed on his backside and just slides along the floor right to the doorway, where he pops back up again. McTaggart did well to not go down, and you can see the mini-pause at the door as McTaggart braces against the following runners to give Gates time to get up properly.

2008 ESBRU mens lobby

Thomas Dold reaches the door first, followed by Dan Casper (#6), Matthias Jahn (3), Tim Donahue (7) and Marco De Gasperi (37). In the centre you can see Rickey Gates (87) turned sideways and heading for the floor.

2009 ESBRU men at door

The fast and frenetic battle for the door at the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up

By the 20th floor (where we believe the image below was shot), Gates had picked up at least one place as he hunted down Dold and the other front runners.

He’s followed by Scott McTaggart, while Tim Donahue can be seen coming into the picture.

Rickey Gates ESBRU 2009

Rickey Gates, Scott McTaggart and Tim Donahue

Up ahead, Thomas Dold was running the race of his life. Marco De Gasperi was bringing out the very best in him.

At around the 40th floor, Dold caught up with the back end of the women’s wave that had been set off five minutes before the men.

The German, who led from the start, had to weave his way through scores of runners as he chased his fourth title.

Thomas Dold ESBRU 2009

Dold weaves through a crowd during the second half of the race

It’s a shame the organisers didn’t leave 10 minutes between the women’s and men’s wave, because it’s quite possible that given a clear run Dold could have become the second person (after Paul Crake) to have finished in under 10 minutes.

He pulled away from De Gasperi and the chasing Rickey Gates in the final quarter of the race to cross the finish line in 10:07. He had taken a second off the personal best time he set in 2008.

2009 Thomas Dold finish

Thomas Dold 2009 ESBRU finish

Marco De Gasperi finished second in 10:29. Rickey Gates made it back onto the podium for the third year in a row by finishing third in 10:40.

De Gasperi and Dold ESBRU 2009

Marco De Gasperi congratulates Thomas Dold

Thomas Dold 2009 Empire State Building Run Up

‘This is such a special win for me,’ said Dold. ‘You have to train a lot to get a victory like this, and it gets harder every year—lots of guys want it.’

2009 Dold celebrates

Thomas Dold celebrates his fourth ESBRU win

Dold had to fight to hold onto the finish tape he took as a souvenir. In the video below (posted by Javier Santiago who finished in ninth place), you can see Santiago’s finish (he crashes into reporters as Dold is being interviewed) and then you see the doorman trying to yank the finishing tape out of Dold’s hands as he heads back inside.

2009 winners colour

Empire State Building Run-Up 2009 winners – Suzy Walsham and Thomas Dold

This is a really good video from NYRR and has some different angles of the start, plus more in-race footage than the one underneath it. You can see Walsham running at 1:20-1:35, and you can watch Thomas Dold working his way past some of the slower finishing ladies at 1:44-1:52.

This final video is the one that was referenced throughout this piece, i.e. where you can see Dold’s start and Rickey Gates’ fall, etc.

 

2009 Empire State Building Run-Up results

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In 2008, Thomas Dold went head-to-head at the ESBRU with a mountain running champion who had just won his fifth world title. Could the king of the mountains derail the two-time champion’s attempt to win three in a row?

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-1997199819992000200120022003, 200420052006 or 2007 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 2008.

Racing as the champ

After securing his second ESBRU title in February 2007, Thomas Dold focused heavily on tower running for the rest of the season. Already a well-established reverse-running world record holder at multiple distances, the German champion took a break from racing backwards and turned his full attention to the stairs.

First up was the Ramada Tower Run in Basel, Switzerland, where Dold had set a course record in 2006.

Facing him in the race up the tower’s 542 steps was the Swiss multi-sport athlete Gabriel Lombriser, whose 2005 record Dold had broken the year before.

It wasn’t the ideal day for Dold, as Lombriser reclaimed his course record with a finishing time of 2:43. Dold had to settle for second, with a finish of 2:45.

The next big race on the calendar was the SkyRun Berlin at the 770-step Hotel Park Inn at Alexanderplatz on Whit Monday, 28 May 2007. Dold had won the event in 2006 and was keen to get back to winning ways in a building he was familiar with.

BERP1_ParkInn-Berlin-ExteriorView

The Park Inn hotel in Berlin

He won his second SkyRun Berlin title in a time of 3:17, finishing a mere 0.57 seconds ahead of Matthias Jahn.

‘That was one of the tightest races I’ve ever experienced’, said Dold. ‘All the more, I am pleased that I was able to win despite the very strong competition.’

2007 skyrun berlin Dold

Dold lays down exhausted after winning the SkyRun Berlin

Less than two weeks later, on Thursday 7th June, Dold was in Stuttgart where he was aiming to break his course record at the 850-step TV Tower.

He managed to do just that, smashing his record by 12 seconds to finish in 4:32.

Dold Stuttgart TV Tower 2007

Dold celebrates his win at the Stuttgart TV Tower

A quiet, race-free summer followed and it wasn’t until 11th November that the German powerhouse was back in the stairwell. This time in Vienna for the Donauturm Treppenlauf, where he was aiming to win for the second year in a row.

Dold maintained his winning form, taking victory in 3:32.22, to earn a travel package to the Empire State Building Run-Up 2008.

In the women’s division that day, Andrea Mayr took victory in 4:16.78. But the three-time ESBRU champion would choose not to take up the opportunity to head back to New York to attempt to win for a record-equaling fourth time in 2008.

The man to beat Dold?

Meanwhile in Italy, a four-time world mountain running champion had crossed over to stair racing and was making waves.

At the start of 2007, Marco De Gasperi took his first major stair race win at the 710-step Pirelli Tower in Milan, with a time of 3:44.

Pirelli Tower race Milan

Pirelli Tower, Milan

De Gasperi had blown onto the international mountain running scene when he won the World Junior title in 1996, aged 19.

The following year, 1997, he made his senior debut and won his first major world title. Over the next six years he would go on to alternate world championship wins with the legendary Jonathan Wyatt. De Gasperi was champion in 1999, 2001 and 2003.

He then secured a final World Championship win in September 2007. He had also finished second at the 2007 European Championship in July, so was heading into the end of the year full of confidence and in outstanding form.

Due to his mountain running pedigree, and tower running win earlier in the year, De Gasperi was invited to take part in one of the biggest races in the tower running calendar; the Taipei 101 Run Up.

Marco De Gasperi 1997

Marco De Gasperi after winning his first mountain running world title in 1997

Paul Crake, the course-record holder and winner of the first two editions of the Taipei 101 Run Up, had been tragically paralysed from the waist down in a cycling accident shortly after winning the event for the second time in 2006.

Could De Gasperi be the man to pick up the mantle for mountain runners and dominate in tower running? Taipei 101 would be his first major test against many of the world’s best.

Taipei 101 Run Up 2007

At the time, Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world. All eyes were on the race, as in the men’s division the reigning world mountain champion was going up against arguably the best tower runner in the world, Thomas Dold.

While in the women’s division, the new ESBRU champion Suzy Walsham was challenging reigning Taipei 101 champion and course-record holder, Andrea Mayr.

Mayr had won the inaugural Taipei 101 event in 2005, climbing the 2,046 steps in a stunning time of 12:38 (a record that still stands). She defended her title in 2006. She was also a three-time ESBRU champion (2004-2006), and had finished second at the World Mountain Running Championships two months prior, so everyone was eager to see how the newcomer Walsham would fare against the more experienced Austrian mountain runner.

Melissa Moon, the former world mountain running champion (2001, 2003), and winner of the first tower running world championship in Kuala Lumpur in 2002, was there, too. The New Zealander was expected to provide a strong challenge to Walsham and Mayr.

Also in the lobby was a selection of tough local athletes looking to secure a first Taipei 101 title for a Taiwanese runner.

tAIPEI 101 2007 START

Andrea Mayr put in a brilliant run to once again go under the 13-minute mark (12:54) and take her third win in a row at Taipei 101.

‘I did well today because I put pressure on myself,’ said Mayr. ‘When I return home, I will rest up and prepare for the next season’s races.’

AM T101 2007

Andrea Mayr reaches the top of Taipei 101 to secure her third title

The impressive Walsham, still with less than a handful of stair races to her name, managed to secure second place in 13:42.

Suzy Walsham Taipei 101 Run Up

Suzy Walsham, second place at Taipei 101 Run Up 2007

Taiwanese athlete Jenny Hsiao-Yu Li was third in 14:16, and Melissa Moon took fourth place in 15:17.

World Mountain Running Champion vs ESBRU Champion

In the men’s race, Thomas Dold went off first. He finished in 11:56, well off the 11:16 he had set the year before when he finished second behind Paul Crake (10:31).

Thomas Dold Taipei 101

Thomas Dold sets off at the 2007 Taipei 101 Run-Up

Dold’s time held up through the first nine challengers. Then Marco De Gasperi set off. The Italian reached the top in 11:39, taking the title and sending a small shock through the tower running world.

‘I am excited,’ De Gasperi said. ‘I think I won the title for Paul Crake who cannot attend this year’s race because he was injured.’

Taipe de gasperi

Marco De Gasperi reaches the top of Taipei 101

Thomas Dold told reporters, ‘I thought I was prepared and was in good shape, but still came second. However, to come second in an international race is still great.’

Taipei 101 2007 winners

2007 Taipei 101 Run-Up winners – Marco De Gasperi and Andrea Mayr

Everything was now set up for a brilliant showdown in New York in three months time. Some were prematurely calling De Gasperi the best stair racer in the world. One big win does not a world beater make. But, if he could repeat the feat at the Empire State Building three months down the line, and halt the winning run of Thomas Dold, maybe then he could fairly be called the best in the world.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2008

59 women were in the lobby on Tuesday 5th February, 2008 for the 31st edition of the Empire State Building Run-Up.

Cindy Moll-Harris and Fiona Bayly were back again. Their long-running rivalry had been ongoing for a decade and the pair had finished on the podium behind Walsham in 2007.

Moll-Harris was in form, having won the Bop to the Top in Indianapolis for the 14th time in a row just three days before the ESBRU.

At the 2007 Empire State Building Run-Up, Moll-Harris had finished just 12 seconds behind the debutant Walsham. This year she was once again expected to provide the Australian with her strongest challenge.

Unknown to Moll-Harris, Walsham’s preparation had been seriously impeded by a calf strain that had prevented her from running for the two weeks leading into the race. In fact, as the event approached Walsham wasn’t even sure she would make it to the start line. Would the injury slow the defending champion down enough to allow her rivals to put even more pressure on her?

2008 walsham warmup

Suzy Walsham limbers up before the start of the 2008 Empire State Building Run-Up

Also lined up in the lobby was 24-year old Caroline Gaynor, a former rower at Columbia University who had turned her focus to Ironman events and other triathlon distances. Evidently a strong athlete, she was an unknown factor. But it would be a major upset for her to topple Walsham or Moll-Harris.

Among the other women taking part that day was the incredible three-time winner Nina Kuscsik (1979-1981), the original queen of the ESBRU. But at 69 years old her fastest days were behind her – she would go on to finish in 25:07.

On the start line, Suzy Walsham (#101) was lined up in the centre of the front row. To her left was Moll-Harris (102) and next along, closest to the inside wall, was Fiona Bayly (103). On Walsham’s right was the debutant Gaynor (104).

At 1:01 of the first video below (skip to 1:01 and don’t watch whole video if you want to avoid SPOILERS in the men’s event), the camera pans along the start line with someone trying to elicit a reaction from the athletes. Bayly raises her eyebrows and nods her head. Next, a nervous looking Moll-Harris forces a nod at the camera. Walsham gives absolutely nothing, before the excited, smile-filled face of Caroline Gaynor rolls into shot.

The defending champion looked fully focused.

With the introductions over, the runners prepared themselves for the blast of the starter’s claxon. Walsham was crouched low, poised and ready to push hard off the line as she had done so many times before throughout her successful middle-distance track career.

YSTAIRCASE1-jumbo

She got a good start, managing to reach the doorway first, gaining a step on Moll-Harris who followed just behind her. Gaynor edged in front of Bayly and off they went.

As so often the case, specific details on exactly how the race played out once inside the stairwell are hard to come by.

We know that Walsham pulled away from Moll-Harris at the 35th floor, and then had a unchallenged run through to the finish.

In the video above at 1:45 (don’t watch whole video if you want to avoid spoilers in the men’s event) we see Walsham climbing on her own on an unspecified part of the course.

When the Australian reached the top, she had taken a massive 28 seconds off her 2007 winning time to finish in 12:44 and secure a second straight win. She was well clear of Cindy Moll-Harris, who took second in 13:33, and Fiona Bayly, who was third in 13:57. Caroline Gaynor (14:35) just held on to fourth place under serious pressure from the experienced Stacey Creamer (14:37).

2008 walsham wins

Suzy Walsham wins the 2007 Empire State Building Run-Up

‘It was fantastic to win such a famous race again this year. New York is a special place and this is a special building, so it’s a huge achievement for me’, Walsham told assembled reporters after the race.

‘Last year I was new, and I let everyone go at the start. I didn’t get a good position going through the door, and I didn’t go out very fast—I was way back in the pack. This year I got a much better position and I was the first going into the stairs. I led the whole race but the second place girl was right behind me for the first 30 floors and that probably made me go a whole lot faster. The last 20 stories were really hard.’

‘I knew I was winning, then I really wanted to get a fast time. But I really slowed down a lot in the last 10 to 15 floors. I couldn’t hear the girl behind me, but I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other. You’ve just got to get to the top.’

‘Bizarre’, commented Walsham on the lack of impact the calf strain had on her going up the stairs. ‘I nearly didn’t come, but I did a stair session on Friday and it felt okay. Today it was fine.’

Dold vs De Gasperi II

The start line for the men’s elite race was crammed full of established and emerging talent.

Joining Marco De Gasperi among the debutants that day was Tim Donahue, who would go on to be a very successful stair climber in the following years.

Fu-Cai Chen was also there. He had finished third at Taipei 101 Run-Up, where Dold had beaten him by less than half a second. He was definitely one to watch.

Jesse Berg was back for another try after his impressive seventh-place finish in his 2007 debut. Joining him for a second go were Canadian Shaun Stephens-Whale and Tim Van Orden from the USA.

Van Orden was coming into the race in what he said was ‘the best shape of my life’. In October 2007 he had won a race at the US Bank Tower in Los Angeles, beating Jesse Berg in the process, and proving himself one of the best American tower runners.

Among the well-established ESBRU runners in the lobby were Markus Zahlbruckner, Stephen Marsalese and Tomasz Klisz.

Not since Paul Crake’s final ESBRU run in 2003 had an Australian featured among the top finishers in New York – in fact only one Australian male had even raced at all in the intervening period.

Finally now a top athlete was being sent over from Australia to try and reclaim glory for the country that had secured an incredible 11 elite men’s division wins in the 30 years the competition had run.

Scott McTaggart was a highly impressive athlete with experience on the track, mountains and stairs. He had won the Sydney Tower Run-Up in 2006 and 2007, and was expected to be among those challenging for a podium place.

The bulk of the chatter in the build-up was all about the De Gasperi vs Dold showdown. Could the Italian replicate his success at Taipei 101 on a New York course that the young German was fast making his own?

But, although the focus was on those two, it would have been foolish to overlook the two men that had joined Dold on the podium in 2007.

Second in 2007 (and sixth in 2006), Matthias Jahn had once again spent the year training with Dold, pushing his training partner as close as possible at the SkyRun Berlin in May. He had made obvious improvements, but bettering his excellent sub-11 minute personal best time would be some achievement.

Rickey Gates had been stuck a few rows back from the front of the elite men at his debut in 2007. Despite the poor starting position that year he had managed to work his way up through the field to finish in third place.

Following that race, Gates had gone on to win the USA Mountain Running Championships and USA Trail Running Championships (10km) on back-to-back weekends in June 2007. In December he was crowned the USATF Mountain Runner of the Year.

RICKEY GATES

Rickey Gates winning the 2007 US 10km Trail Running Championships

In February 2008 he was in the front row in the Empire State Building lobby and was expected to provide Dold with a very serious test.

Over before it started

The lunacy and mismanagement of the start of the Empire State Building Run-Up was never so apparent as in 2008.

To be fair, the organisers did get the front row of the start line almost right, but ‘almost right’ really wasn’t good enough this time around, and it cost one man a chance of challenging for the title.

As ever, Thomas Dold was front and centre, preparing to spread his arms wide as soon as the claxon sounded to try and prevent anyone from passing him. Matthias Jahn was on his right, ready to assist his training partner in blocking people from passing.

Rickey Gates had rightly been moved to the front, and also lined up there was another American, Jesse Berg. All were rightly given prime spots.

Shaun Stephens-Whale was on Jahn’s right-hand side. He would go on to become an accomplished stair runner, but in 2008 he shouldn’t have been in the front row.

It could well be argued that the experienced Tomasz Klisz should have traded places with one of the faster runners behind him (at least ones he knew about, such as Markus Zahlbruckner). That really depends where you stand on start line etiquette. He had managed a sub 12-minute run in 2006, but only 14:10 in 2007. What form was he in this year? His position on the front row is questionable.

But then the shit show really starts.

Salvatore Ferrara (#69) had some how found himself on the front row unchecked, albeit out to one side. Sporting what seems to be a picture of the late Chico Scimone (the veteran ESBRU participant who took part into his 90s) on his t-shirt, the 54-year old Italian would go on to finish in 21:13.

On the other side, by the inside wall, was Fabio Silva (#12). Certainly deserving of being closer to the front than Ferrara, but still way out of place. A polite word from one of the officials and he should have been shuffled back.

In fact the man arranging the start line made a call for ‘numbers one through nine’, but it didn’t quite materialise. One through nine would have been a fairer front row, but still some way off the most desirable line up.

Among those in row two stood Van Orden, Zahlbruckner and De Gasperi. Shockingly, Van Orden hadn’t been seeded at all. His initial position was way back in the field, but with some last-minute negotiating and shuffling he rightly managed to get himself in among the race favourites.

Criminally, Fu-Cai Chen was way down the order as well. He was a definite contender for a podium spot, but wasn’t even in the second row of runners.

Accidents happen, even with the best planning. What’s to say that even if all the fastest men had been out in front, one wouldn’t have tripped anyway. We’ll never know. But the set up for the start of the ESBRU certainly did nobody any favours, that’s for sure.

When the starter’s horn went off, Dold, Jahn and Gates got a jump on everyone else, with the reigning champion reaching the door first. Behind them disaster was striking.

2008mensstart

Rickey Gates (#3), Matthias Jahn (2) and Thomas Dold (l-r) race out in front

Dold was already at least two metres ahead of De Gasperi when the Italian was tripped and fell.

2008 mens start final

Marco De Gasperi falls at the start of the race

de gasperi falls

Tim Van Orden (centre blue vest) skips around the fallen De Gasperi. On the other side by the wall is Markus Zahlbruckner, with Tim Donahue behind him with a hand on his back. The man with the blue vest heading out of shot on the right is Shaun Stephens-Whale. On the far left, in the yellow vest and wearing glasses is Stephen Marsalese. Fu-Cai Chen can be seen just to the right of the man in red (Kurt Hess, #78, another man woefully out of place). The diminutive Chen is wearing glasses, and a flash of his yellow vest is visible among the melee.

2008 deGasperi on floor

Marco De Gasperi scrambles towards the stairwell

A loud gasp ran through the lobby as the assembled reporters, photographers and spectators saw the Italian go down and winced as the mass of runners bundled over him. De Gasperi, to his credit, did a fantastic job of scrambling to get his feet back under him, all while moving towards the doorway on all fours. He managed to save himself from the bulk of the crowd following in behind and get on to the stairs in one piece, although now well out of the running.

The much anticipated New York showdown between the reigning ESBRU champion and the reigning world mountain running champion was over before it barely got going.

Apparently, by the time De Gasperi had reached the 10th floor, he was in around 50th place.

But up above, a serious battle was still going on.

Thomas Dold had hit the stairs in first position, followed by Jahn, Gates, Klisz and Berg.

The group settled in at a fast pace, the fastest that Dold had ever raced at the ESBRU.

As they climbed floor after floor, much of the chasing pack began to fade away. Tomasz Klisz slowed along with Shaun Stephens-Whale.

Australian Scott McTaggart pushed up into the chasing pack, where a tough battle for a top five finish ensued between him, Jesse Berg, Markus Zahlbruckner and Fu-Cai Chen.

Incredibly, Marco De Gasperi was going flat out floors below, powering his way through dozens of runners, hoping to close in on the top 10. Would he be able to do it?

Up ahead, Dold, Gates and Jahn climbed alone. They were tracking 10 seconds faster than the previous fastest time Dold had run in 2006. Eventually the pace became too much for Jahn and he began to fade.

But Rickey Gates was sticking with Dold and making him work harder than he’d ever had to before.

As he reached the 80th floor, Dold looked down over the railing and could see the American less than two flights behind him. He wasn’t slowing down.

The champion soaked up the pressure, though, and reached the observation deck eight seconds ahead of Gates.

A quick glance behind as he turned the corner for the finishing straight and Dold knew he had it. The hands went up and a cry rang out as he crossed the line in 10:08. A third straight ESBRU win, and with it a share of the record (with fellow German Kurt Konig) as the most successful European stair climber at the Empire State Building Run-Up.

2008 dold celebrates at line

DOLD WINS 2008

DOLD WINS 2

‘At this moment, I’m feeling so tired, but I’ll feel good soon,’ said Dold after his win. ‘It’s always a really hard fight, especially at the start. Then you leave the other runners behind and you hope you don’t see them again, and you just focus and don’t think about anything except the victory’

‘It was really hard to pass the women in the race ahead of ours. Starting at the 30th floor I had to pass three and four and five of them at a time. Normally this is not so much of a problem. I am a little bit disappointed in the time, but I will feel good about it tonight.’

Rickey Gates was second in 10:16, followed by Matthias Jahn in 10:56. Scott McTaggart (11:30), Fu-Cai Chen (11:32) and Jesse Berg (11:41) followed.

Then, almost miraculously, came Marco De Gasperi in 11:46. What might the Italian have achieved if he had been allowed a clear run?

‘Maybe I was a little naive, but I didn’t expect such a difficult and tight initial fight’, commented De Gasperi. ‘Certainly the best athletes had more experience and cunning than me. This is a particular and fascinating event that I have the chance to win. I will certainly try again next year.’

2008 WINNERS 2

2008 Empire State Building Run-Up winners, Thomas Dold and Suzy Walsham

Below is Tim Van Orden’s race video, including a post-race interview with Marco De Gasperi.

 

2008 Empire State Building Run-Up results

Read the next installment in the series – the 2009 Empire State Building Run-Up.

With course record holder Andrea Mayr calling it a day at the ESBRU, a powerhouse of Australian athletics stepped forward to attempt to carry on her country’s winning tradition in New York. Meanwhile, the reigning men’s champion Thomas Dold was back to defend his title.

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-1997199819992000200120022003, 20042005 or 2006 instead.

Otherwise read on for the next installment in the series and find out what happened at ESBRU in 2007.

Genesis

At the time of the 20th edition of the Swissotel Vertical Marathon in Singapore on 19th November 2006 there seemed to be nothing particularly noteworthy about the event. As had been the case since the Westin Stamford hotel first hosted the race in 1987, a good spread of runners from Singapore and beyond turned up to compete. But future events would go on to show that the 20th edition of that race was one of the most significant moments in tower running history; the debut of Suzy Walsham.

Swissotel Stamford Singapore

Swissotel The Stamford in Singapore

Very few of the people at the Swissotel that day would have known they were lining up against one of Australia’s top athletes, and even fewer would have known that the soon-to-turn 33-year old Walsham had emerged at the top of Australian middle-distance running 15 years ago. Her athletic journey to Singapore had been remarkable.

Suzy Walsham had been competing at a high level since the mid to late 1980s, finishing well every year in a range of distances at the Australian All Schools’ Track and Field Championships. In 1988 she broke the Australian under-16 women’s record for the 1500m.

Suzy Walsham 1988

14-year old Suzy Walsham in 1988, running at the site of what would later become the Sydney Olympic Park

Her performances steadily improved until she was eventually selected to represent Australia at the inaugural World Junior Women’s Cross Country Championships in Stavanger, Norway in March 1989. Competing against some of the best young runners in the world, many of whom were significantly older than her, the 15-year old Walsham put in an excellent run to finish in ninth place.

You can watch the young Walsham at those championships in the video below. Click forward to 5:07 and you will see her come into shot in the gold top and green shorts wearing #9.

Walsham 1989 3

Suzy Walsham in 1989. She raced barefoot for a lot of her teenage years.

Walsham 1989

A year later, Walsham, now 16, was competing in the 1990 Australian National Championships in the under-18 and under-20 divisions. She had set a PB of 4:11.04 at the beginning of 1990, a time that actually ranked her #1 in the world for U/20 that year, so was in fantastic form.

A precocious talent, she won the 1500m and 3000m under-20 races, plus the under-18 800m title at the national championships. Interestingly, Suzanne Malaxos, who had just won the second of her two ESBRU titles (1989-1990), was also competing at the national championships that year, where she finished second in the senior 10km track race.

Walsham’s impressive wins earned her a spot on the Australian team that was heading to Plovdiv, Bulgaria for the 1990 World Junior Athletics Championships in August.

But disaster struck just three months months before the World Junior Championships when Walsham developed a stress fracture. The battle was now on just to get to the start line. Up until 10 days before the championships she was unable to run at all and was limited to just pool running. But the indomitable Walsham battled on and made it to Plovdiv.

In the 1500m event, she finished 4th in her heat, with a time of 4:23.66, which was good enough to earn her automatic qualification for the final the following day.

The full final is in the video below (intros start at 33:47). Despite the horrible build up to the championships, Walsham still ran a good race. Understandably she was just a little off the pace of the top runners. She finished in 4:19.23, which placed her 8th in a field of 15.

Finishing eight seconds off her PB was disappointing of course, but given the circumstances Walsham was happy enough with her performance. The winner, Qu Yunxia of China (4:13.67), went on to win Olympic 1500m bronze two years later in 1992 and World Championship gold in the 5000m in 1993.

Walsham actually finished ahead of Olga Yegorova who would go on to win World Championship gold in the 5000m in 2001.

A few months later at the 1991 Australian Track and Field Championships in Sydney in February, Walsham was competing for her first senior title aged just 17.

She was up against the likes of Jodie Hebbard, who’d finished second in the 1500m at the 1982 and 1984 national championships as a teenager, and Anne Cross, who was third in the same event the year before.

walsham barefeet

“Suzy’s blistered feet after a weekend on the track. The tape she uses as protection, however, peels back the damaged skin to expose raw flesh which constantly requires bathing in salt water. One blister was so big and painful that it halted her training for a week. Fearing it was infected, Walsham went to a doctor who was shocked by what he saw. ‘The blister had spread right up into my toes, and the doctor had never seen anything like it’, she said.” – March 1991

Walsham had spent a lot of her youth competing barefoot but had recently made the switch to using spikes on the track.

suzy

Walsham 1991

Suzy Walsham, 1991

Walsham ran an excellent race, shocking many and winning her first 1500m senior title in 4:12.40.

A month later, Walsham was back out on international duty, competing in the junior women’s race at the 1991 World Cross Country Championship in Belgium. There was a strong field of runners assembled, including future multi-Olympic and world champions, plus the former marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe.

Once more Walsham proved she could more than hold her own with the best in the world. She managed to finish 13th in the field of 124 finishers, and even crossed the line ahead of Paula Radcliffe who was 15th.

A decline in fortunes

And then things started to go wrong. Beset by injuries and illness, Walsham’s athletic career stuttered before it had the chance to pick up full steam.

In 1992, Walsham didn’t get to defend her senior 1500m title at the Australian Championships. Instead she ran in the under-20s race, where she finished 4th. It was a frustrating time for the promising young athlete as she struggled to meet the same times that had earned her her first title 12 months prior.

Just over a couple of weeks later, she was in Boston for the junior women’s race at the 1992 World Cross Country Championship. She finished 76th out of 104 racers. Paula Radcliffe won the race.

Walsham didn’t feature in the 1993 national championships, but did return to the senior ranks in 1994 where she finished 7th in the 1500m.

She finished 7th again in the 1500m in 1995, but was still struggling to get back to the form that had secured her first senior title in 1991.

Then from 1996-1998, Walsham didn’t appear at the nationals at all, and it’s hard to find any results for her during this period.

Emerging from the shadows

But toward the end of 1998, Walsham began to emerge again, picking up podium places at regional races and racing in the 800m as well as the 1500m. She took this good form into the start of 1999, picking up wins and podium places in the 1500m and 800m at races in Sydney and Canberra. The comeback was on.

She wasn’t quite there yet to race at the 1999 or 2000 national championships, but she finished 9th at the Australian Olympic Trials for the 1500m in August 2000.

Walsham 2000

Suzy Walsham on the comeback trail in January 2000

Then on Saturday 24th March 2001, a decade after winning her first national senior title, Walsham was finally back on the start line for another 1500m national championship race. She was the fastest in the heats the day before and headed into the final full of confidence.

Her incredible determination and perseverance earned her a second Australian Championship title. Her winning time of 4:14.61 was the quickest she’d run for some time.

Walsham nationals 2001

On her way to winning the 1500m at the 2001 Australian Championships

In February 2002 she won the 800m and the 1500m at the NSW Championships, but could only manage 5th in the 1500m at the Australian Championships in April. At the end of the year, Walsham began to work with a new coach, Said Aouita.

Aouita, a former world record holder for the 1500m and 5000m, had won 5000m gold at the 1984 Olympics and 1987 World Championships, and Olympic bronze in the 800m in Seoul in 1988. Walsham began to improve immediately under his guidance.

In April 2003, Walsham won her third national title, taking victory in the 1500m in 4:12.96.

Walsham wins 2003

Crossing the line to win the 2003 Australian Championships

Seven weeks later she set a new personal best in the 1500m of 4:07.08 while racing at the famous Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. The week before she had set a new 800m PB at a race in Portland.

The 2004 national championships were a bit of a disappointment as Walsham aimed for the 800m and 1500m double. She managed 4th in the 800m and 5th in the 1500m.

By the time the 2005 nationals came around, she had parted ways with Aouita and was now working full time and being coached by her younger sister Debbie.

She made it to the final of the 1500m, where she managed to finish in third place.

Walsham 2005 AC

Walsham in action in the 1500m heats at the 2005 Australian Championships

Then in 2006 everything came together.

On Friday 3rd February, Walsham ran in the final of the 1500m at the Australian Championships and placed second in 4:08.72, which was one of the fastest finishes she’d managed for a long time.

The next day she ran in the heats of the 800m and qualified easily for the final on Sunday. In the final she did what every athlete dreams of. She ran a PB of 2:01.85 to win a fourth national title, an incredible 15 years after her first one.

2006 walsham nationals1

800m final at the 2006 Australian Track and Field Championships

walsham 2006

walsham 2006 800

walsham wins 800m

Walsham was now on the Australian national team that was selected to compete at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, and she was finally going to fulfill a long held ambition to represent her country at senior level at a major championships.

‘I think I’ve finally reached a place in my life where I’ve got a bit of balance,’ Walsham told reporters after her 800m victory. ‘I’m just so excited about it. I’ve had five months of injury-free training. Debbie’s just been fantastic.’

Asked whether she could win double gold at the Commonwealth Games, Walsham said: ‘Both races are going to be tough, but I’ve just got to get my foot on the line and then anything can happen.’

2006 Commonwealth Games, Melbourne

In Melbourne, she qualified for the semi-finals of the 800m, as one of the fastest runners-up in the heats. But the pace in her semi-final was a bit too quick and her 2:04.02 finish wasn’t good enough to get her to the final.

In the 1500m she fared much better. She qualified for the final automatically by finishing fourth in her heat.

2006 commonwealth walsham

Walsham leads the pack in the 1500m heats of the 2006 Commonwealth Games

You can watch the full race from the final in the video below (spoilers under video).

Walsham finished in 6th place, and with that final high she called time on her track and field career. Her athletics journey had been incredible. Battling through multiple injuries and setbacks to take a fourth Australian Championships title 15 years after first winning as a 17 year old. Then to cap off your career with a 6th-place finish at the Commonwealth Games is so impressive and inspirational.

On the rise

Walsham relocated to Singapore later in 2006 and when there she saw an advertisement for the Swissotel Vertical Marathon. What caught her eye was that first prize was a trip to New York to race at the Empire State Building. She’d never raced in a tower before, but backed herself as having a good shot given the shape she was in.

So there she found herself lined up at the hotel in November 2006, not knowing what to expect.

The 73-floor/1,336-step tower was going to be a baptism of fire, but Walsham was more than up to the task. She won the race and set a new course record in the process. She was heading to New York.

Dold goes from strength to strength

After securing his first ESBRU title in February 2006, Thomas Dold went from strength to strength on the stairs. Throughout the rest of 2006 he secured wins in Basel, Berlin and Stuttgart. He also set more world records in backwards running, with new best times for the 1500m and 3000m.

Dold 2006 SkyRun Berlin

Thomas Dold on his way to winning the SkyRun Berlin 2006

In October he competed at the second Taipei 101 Run Up and finished second to Paul Crake, who won the race in 10:31. Dold was second in 11:16, which was 37 seconds faster than third-placed Rudi Reitberger. It was an impressive performance by the young German that would have been looked upon ominously by his ESBRU rivals.

Then on the 11th November 2006 he finally won the Donauturm Treppenlauf in Vienna at the fourth attempt. Everything was set up perfectly for Dold to try and win his second ESBRU title.

Empire State Building Run-Up 2007

On Tuesday 6th February, Suzy Walsham was lined up in the lobby alongside 55 other women.

walsham lobby

Suzy Walsham (centre) prepares for her ESBRU debut in 2007

Four-time winner Cindy Moll-Harris was back, and would probably have been backing herself to win for a record fifth time, given that the supreme Andrea Mayr wasn’t there.

Her long-time rival Fiona Bayly was also on the start line. Bayly had debuted in 1995 (coming second in a personal best 13:10) and had finished on the podium multiple times, most notably in 1998 when she finished just a second behind the winner, Moll-Harris.

Amy Fredericks, who had finished fifth in 2006 and third in 2004 and 2005, was also there. The casual observers would have been looking for the winner among those three.

That trio was lined up in the centre of the front row of racers. The unknown Walsham stood behind them.

Fredericks got a typically fast start and was through the door first, followed immediately by Moll-Harris and then Bayly.

2007 womens start 2

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

2007 womens start 3

Walsham managed to make it through the door in around 13th position. Not a terrible start, but she was going to have her work cut out passing a heap of women who were definitely slower than her.

But she powered through them and by the 65th floor crossover she had established a narrow lead. You can see her in the video below displaying that now familiar rhythmic and staggered stair climbing style that has served her so well since (@0:40).

Walsham managed to maintain her lead despite Moll-Harris and Bayly pushing hard just a couple of floors below. She finally exited onto the observation deck and crossed the line in 13:12 to win on her debut.

2007 Walsham wins

Suzy Walsham wins her first ESBRU title in 2007

Moll-Harris was next in 13:24, with Bayly once again a mere second behind her in 13:25.

‘The start was a nightmare’, said Walsham. Trying to get out in front wasn’t too pleasant either for the Australian. ‘I pushed my way through. There was one girl who was holding both sides and I said “I want to get past, hold one side”‘.

2007 Walsham celebrates

walsham celebrates

Dold goes for two in a row

With his dominance at several stair races throughout 2006, Thomas Dold was expected to defend his ESBRU title.

Alongside him in the lobby were plenty of experienced ESBRU athletes, including Rudi Reitberger, Jaroslaw Lazarowicz, Tomasz Klisz and Dold’s German team mate Matthias Jahn.

Among the others in the lobby that day were several men that will be familiar to many readers: Jesse Berg, Ralf Hascher, Tim Van Orden, David Tromp and a 17-year old Shaun Stephens-Whale.

Ultra-runner and adventurer Rickey Gates was also in the lobby ready to make his ESBRU debut. Well known now for his endurance feats, which include his TransAmericana project in 2017, he was one of the hottest new prospects in US mountain running back in 2007. Later in the year he would go on to be named USA Track and Field Mountain Runner of the Year, after winning both the U.S. Mountain Running Championship and U.S. Trail Championship in back-to-back weeks. Unfortunately for him, he was placed pretty far back in the pack at the Empire State Building. He certainly had the caliber to be in contention for a podium spot, but given his position in the pack it was going to take some serious work to catch up with the front runners.

Matthias Jahn got a good start and seemed to open up a gap for Dold to come through. Perhaps they had a plan for Jahn to tail the stronger Dold who would pull him onto the podium.

You can see Dold in the yellow vest in the picture below, looking like he’s about to be passed by a bunch of guys.

2007 mens start 0

2007 mens start

But the reigning champion quickly powered through and by the time they reached the door he was in first place, with Jahn right behind him.

2007 mens start 05

2007 mens start 2

2007 mens start 1

The Empire State Building Run-Up is renowned for its mass start, and in the days before it streamlined the elite race it was often derided as being ridiculous and unnecessarily dangerous. There had been stumbles before in the men’s elite race, and there had been falls at the back of the women’s elite starts before, but never had there been a significant pile up at the front of the men’s race. This time, unfortunately, was different.

Jose Mateo Martinez went down hard just before the door (you can see him falling in some of the images above) and the surrounding runners ran over him. Most managed to stay on their feet but Tomasz Klisz went down – you can see his journey to the floor in the two images below.

2007 mens start 3

2007 mens start 4

The whole sequence was recorded and later uploaded by Tim Van Orden. You can watch it in the video below (some of his annotations are incorrect, Klisz is Polish not Austrian).

Out in front, Dold and Jahn maintained their positions. The faster Dold began to pull away in the later stages of the race and as Jahn began to tire, the climbers below him started to close in.

2007 Dold solo

Thomas Dold builds his lead

At 0:24-0:30 in the men’s race video below you can see Rudi Reitberger (#2), Rickey Gates (#51) and Tommy Coleman (#27) battling for a podium spot around the 65th floor. Up ahead and out of shot is Pedro Ribeiro.

Dold crossed the line in 10:25, aggressively ripping the tape from the grasp of the two men holding it at the finish line and throwing it on the floor. In the race videos below you can hear someone saying what sounds like, ‘shit…SHIT!’ as Dold crosses the line to win for the second time. The young German was already building a fan base.

2007 Dold approaches finish

Thomas Dold turns the corner on the observation deck heading for the finish

2007 Dold wins

Dold reaches out to tear down the finish line

Matthias Jahn managed to hold on to second place, crossing the line in 10:56. Dold ran back along the observation deck to check if his countryman was coming behind him and when Jahn emerged the pair yelled and hollered across the line before embracing.

2007 Jahn and Dold

Matthias Jahn jumps for joy as Thomas Dold cheers him on

You can see it in the video below (and hear the comical ‘shit, SHIT’ a bit clearer, too). Their impassioned antics are reminiscent of the beach scene in Rocky 3 when Balboa and Creed embrace in the surf after an intense sprint session.

Rickey Gates managed to win the battle for third and crossed the line in 11:02, ahead of Pedro Ribeiro in 11:10 and Rudi Reitberger in 11:12.

‘I might have done a little better if I didn’t have to start 30 feet back,’ said Gates.

‘It’s just a mob mentality. Off the start, it goes from about 30 feet wide down to 3 feet wide in about five seconds…It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like it. It’s certainly a new experience trying to cram 50 runners into a little 3-foot-wide stairwell.’

‘My time was fast. Certainly a lot of Americans have run faster than me in previous years, but it was cool to be the top American finisher. I knew I was going to do well – I was just not sure how well’.

He even spoke of one runner intentionally reaching back and trying to slap him in the face as he attempted to pass on the stairs. But he was unperturbed and determined to return in 2008 where he would be given a better place on the start line.

2007 Dold Jahn hands

Dold and Jahn celebrate on the observation deck

2007 podium in lift

Men’s podium in the lift: Matthias Jahn, Rickey Gates and Thomas Dold (l-r)

2007 Dold winner

2007 winners

Thomas Dold and Suzy Walsham – ESBRU winners 2007

2007 Empire State Building results

Read the next installment in the series – the 2008 Empire State Building Run-Up.

Thomas Dold towerrunning

Would you fancy your chances of beating a top tower runner if you could run up an escalator while they took the stairs?

A few years back, brave commuters at the Stadtmitte S-Bahn station in downtown Stuttgart got the chance to go up seven-time winner of the Empire State Building Run-Up, Thomas Dold.

The tower running superstar took the stairs, while members of the public, kitted out in full on safety gear, ran up the escalator beside him to see if they could beat him to the top.

Watch the video below to see how they all got on. This would make a great stunt in a London station ahead of one of the big charity climbs!

 

You might also be interested in:

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

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-1997199819992000200120022003, 2004 or 2005 instead.

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

Making history

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

European Mountain Running Championships 2005

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

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

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

Andrea Mayr EC 2005

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

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

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MAYR EC3

World Athletic Championships 2005

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

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

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

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

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

Donauturm Treppenlauf 2005

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

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

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

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

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

Mayr Markus 2005 DT

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

Taipei 101 Run-Up 2005

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

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

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

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

Andrea Mayr taipei 101

Andrea Mayr set the course record at Taipei 101 in 2005

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

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

Poltegor Centre race

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

Poltegor Centre Wroclaw

The now demolished Poltegor Centre in Wrocław

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

Poltegor Mayr

Andrea Mayr running the Poltegor Centre in 2005

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

Empire State Building Run-Up 2006

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

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

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

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

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

2006 womens start

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

2006 Mayr midrace

Andrea Mayr at the 65th floor

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

2006 Mayr wins

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

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

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

2006 Cindy tracked colour

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

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

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

Prophecy fulfilled?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2006 thomas dold

Thomas Dold running solo at the 65th floor

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

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

2006 finish

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

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

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

2006 winners

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

 

2006 Empire State Building Run-Up results

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

 

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

If you missed the first installment of this series on the history of the Empire State Building Run-Up covering 1978-1980, you can read it here. Or jump back to 1981-19831984-19871988-19901991-19931994-1997199819992000200120022003 or 2004 instead.

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

A legend begins

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

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

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

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

World Mountain Running Championships 2004

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

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

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

2005 andrea mayr wmra 2004

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

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

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

World record breaker

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

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

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

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

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

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Hochhaus Uptown München

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

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

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

Donauturm Treppenlauf 2004

Danube Tower

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

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

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

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

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

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

The opposition

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

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

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

Svetlana Bahmend

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

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

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

Empire State Building Run-Up 2005

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

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

2005 womens start

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

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

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

2005Mayr

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

2005 Mayr wins1

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

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

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

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

As close as it gets

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

2005 mens start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2005 Rudi wins1

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

2005 Rudi wins 2

2005 finish line

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

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

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

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

andrea and rudi

2005 ESBRU winners, Andrea Mayr and Rudi Reitberger

israelis 2005

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

 

2005 Empire State Building Run-Up results

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

The tower running World Championship 2018 is almost here. On Saturday 5th May, the world’s best tower runners will do battle on the stairs of Taipei 101 to decide who will be crowned world champion.

We take a look at the venue, the course records, previous winners and the World Championship race format to keep you in the know ahead of Saturday’s big event.

The venue

f15f7b57ab31c217f471c6712a2654e0-taipei-101

Formerly the world’s tallest building, Taipei 101 stands just over 509m tall. With the completion of the Burj Khalifa in 2010 it was knocked to second tallest building in the world, and in the years since then it has been eclipsed by eight other super towers. It’s worth having a read of the Wikipedia entry for Taipei 101, as it’s a very interesting building from an architectural and engineering standpoint and has also been internationally recognised for its ‘green’ credentials and sustainability efforts over the years. It’s a really prestigious venue for the World Championship.

The race stairwell is right-turning and has 2,046 steps, spread over 91 floors (of the building’s eponymous 101). The bulk of the steps at the building are notoriously tall. Somewhat uniquely, the landings include two additional steps between flights; so you reach the top of one flight, pivot 90°, take a step up, pivot again 90° and go up the next flight. That unfamiliar step layout is sure to throw a few racers out of their rhythm on race day and previous race experience in the tower will likely be a factor in the final standings.

Australia’s Alice McNamara won the Taipei 101 Run Up in 2016 and spoke about her experience there:

‘Taipei 101 has the challenge of a very steep, continuous staircase…there are no landings, just a 10-2-7-2 stair configuration all the way up. It is almost like climbing a steep spiral staircase on the 2 stair “landings” so it was very important to use the handrail on my right hand side to partially pull myself up.’

American stair climb legend, Kristin Renshaw (nee Frey), detailed her experience of the race in 2012 where she finished third, and the stairs sound pretty imposing when you read her description:

‘When I hit the monster steps, I knew it! They were exponentially larger than the ones we started climbing [on the lower floors of Taipei 101]; these steps were taller than any I’d ever encountered. I thought the steps in my training building were of decent size, especially the last two floors where they get taller and steeper, and Sears is known for having some giant steps, but those paled in comparison to the steps in the 101 tower.’

Course records

Taipei 101 got straight onto stair climb events when it opened, hosting its first race on Sunday 20th November 2005, less than a year after officially opening to the public.

The current men’s and women’s course records were set that day in 2005 and no one has come particularly close to beating them in the intervening years.

Former competitive cyclist Paul Crake (AUS) set the men’s record of 10.29. There’s an excellent interview with him on YouTube, which we highly recommend, where he talks about his life before and after the accident that left him paralysed.

Paul Crake 2005

Australian Paul Crake setting the course record in 2005 at the inaugural Taipei 101 Run Up

It’s important to put Crake’s record time at Taipei 101 into context for those perhaps unfamiliar with his tower running accomplishments. In 2015 world number one Piotr Lobodzinski won at Taipei in 11.08 and in 2016, current world number two, Frank Carreno won the race in 11.47.

Australia’s Mark Bourne (current world number five and last year’s winner) has come closest to Crake, taking victory in 2013 in a time of 10.52 and in 2014 in 10.54. Former world number one, and seven time ESBRU winner, Thomas Dold (GER) managed to finish in 10.58 at the 2008 event, while Piotr Lobodzinski also managed a sub-11 time of 10.58 in 2014, when finishing second behind Bourne.

Impressive as they are, those sub-11 times are still quite some way off the incredible record set by Crake.

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Course record holder Paul Crake (left) received a lifetime achievement award at the Taipei 101 Run Up 2017

Reigning world champion Andrea Mayr, who sadly is out of this year’s event, set the women’s record of 12.38. In a similar way to Crake, Mayr’s time has remained largely unrivalled since 2005, and she is one of only two women to have gone under 13 minutes in the event’s history.

Mayr also clocked 12.54 in 2007, while Italian Valentina Belotti managed 12.54 on her way to winning in 2013.

Andrea Mayr

Andrea Mayr sets the women’s course record of 12.38 in 2005.

Taipei 101 Run Up winners: 2005-2017
  • 2005  Paul Crake (AUS) 10.29 and Andrea Mayr (AUT) 12.38
  • 2006 – Paul Crake (AUS) 10.31 and Andrea Mayr (AUT) 13.28
  • 2007  Marco De Gasperi (ITA) 11.39 and Andrea Mayr (AUT) 12.54
  • 2008  Thomas Dold (GER) 10.53 and Jenny Hsiao-yu Li (TWN) 14.53
  • 2009 – Thomas Dold (GER) 11.05 and Suzy Walsham (AUS) 14.20
  • 2010 – Marco De Gasperi (ITA) 11.09 and Melissa Moon (NZL) 14.16
  • 2011 – Thomas Dold (GER) 11.19 and Valentina Belotti (ITA) 13.51
  • 2012 – Mark Bourne (AUS) 11.26 and Valentina Belotti (ITA) 13.21
  • 2013 – Mark Bourne (AUS) 10.52 and Valentina Belotti (ITA) 12.54
  • 2014 – Mark Bourne (AUS) 10.54 and Valentina Belotti (ITA) 13.22
  • 2015 – Piotr Lobodzinski (POL) 11.08 and Suzy Walsham (AUS) 13.16
  • 2016 – Frank Carreño (COL) 11.47 and Alice McNamara (AUS) 14.23
  • 2017 – Mark Bourne (AUS) 11.24 and Suzy Walsham (AUS) 13.36
Race format

The World Championship event will be played out over two races, with the climber scoring the most points from the two races combined becoming the 2018 world champion.

The first heat will be a shorter race up to the 35th floor (824 steps). That will start at 7.30am local time (12.30am UK time), with runners being set off every 30 seconds. All TWA registered stair climbers in attendance will take part. Points will be assigned to the top 50 finishers in the male and female categories.

The final will start at 8.30am local time, and will be a full run up 2,046 steps to the the top of the tower. Again, runners will be set off at 30-second intervals and points will be assigned to the top 50 finishers in the male and female categories.

This new race format is a marked shift from the 2015 World Championship. At that event in Doha, Qatar the final was limited to the top 30 finishers in the male and female divisions in the first heat, which unlike this event was open to all. What’s more, finishing positions in the second heat that year determined start positions on an F1-style grid format in the final the following day.

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Piotr Lobodzinski takes off from pole position on the grid at the 2015 tower running World Championship in Doha, Qatar

The grid was set 150m back from the tower entrance and athletes had to run in to the stairwell. This allowed for a few position changes before the athletes even hit the stairs, which didn’t sit well with some.

Obviously, logistics mean that the event at Taipei 101 needs to be done and dusted on the Saturday, but the very limited recovery period (90 minutes) between the first round and final seems unduly harsh on the competitors. The short recovery period is certainly going to unstick some of them, and make their second climb unpleasant. It would be fairer to have the final at the very end of the day’s events, after all the non-elite and corporate teams have finished.

The removal of a pre-run into the tower is welcomed, though. As purists, we think all races should start as close to the stairs as possible.

We won’t get into a full discussion of what we consider all the pros and cons of the differing race formats, but we do think there should be a move towards uniformity at future championships, where possible. But of course the World Championship is very much in its infancy and some experimentation with the format is to be expected at this stage.

The World Championship was initially scheduled for 2017 in China, with the plan for the tower running World Championship to follow the biennial pattern of its track and field cousin. Last year’s very late cancellation was a bitter disappointment for fans, but the Taipei 101 race is sure to be an excellent one and we are super hyped for this exciting event.

Will Showtime Lobodzinski retain his world title or can Mark Bourne take victory for a record fifth time at Taipei 101? With reigning world champion Andrea Mayr out of the event, is there anyone left to pose a significant challenge to the almost invincible Suzy Walsham?

Keep an eye out later this week for our guide to the top athletes taking part in the 2018 tower running World Championship.

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