While the thought of climbing stairs in an office building, or anywhere else, makes most people cringe, it’s become one of the best all- around methods to develop a strong and fit physique, as many people use stair climbing as a method to their improve strength and endurance. However, as its popularity has taken “flight”, thousands of very fit and adventurous athletes have taken stair climbing to the next level: as the latest extreme sports trend, a new breed of extreme athletes has emerged, turning stair climbing into an international phenomena, racing up many of the most famous and prestigious buildings in the world!
So, what exactly is tower racing? Tower running is a sport, which involves running up tall manmade structures. Usually, races take place on the internal staircases of skyscrapers, but the term can cover any foot- race that involves a course that ascends a manmade structure. Over the past 10-20 years, an influx of competitive tower races has emerged throughout the United States, but also internationally. Many of these intense stair climbing races and endurance events are held in some of the world’s most prestigious skyscrapers. Notably, races have been held in the Empire State Building (New York), Willis Tower (Chicago), Tower 42 (London), US Bank Tower (Los Angeles), Columbia Tower (Seattle), Bank of America Plaza (Tampa), and newly added races held in the Taipei Tower & Las Vegas’ Stratosphere Tower. All of these buildings are considered iconic landmarks that are immense in size and have an abundant amount of stairs, making them ideal for an extreme race.
Arguably, one of the most famous stair-climbing races is the Empire State Building Run Up, which is held annually in New York City by the New York Road Runners (NYRR). This race, which receives extensive international media publicity, is held the first Tuesday of February and attracts some of the most diverse and well-trained athletes in the field. The event is by invitation only, and typically, only a couple hundred, out of thousands, are selected to participate in one of several waves. Every year, athletes flock from almost every state and close to 20 countries, creating a diverse field. The race, which offers an extremely intense and quick start that you don’t want to miss out on, also adds a dose of adrenaline by racing up the stairs of the most iconic building in NYC and finishing outside on the observation deck with panoramic views of the NYC skyline which is, literally, quite breathtaking. If you think you have what it takes, athlete registration opens shortly after the New York City Marathon and selected entrants are notified by mid-January. For more information, see NYRR.org
Stair climbing any major building is definitely a very impressive athletic feat, but nobody knows competitive tower racing better than Germany’s Thomas Dold. A numerous world record holder, Dold has won the Empire State Building Run Up five consecutive times (2005-Present), along with winning the Taipei 101 on June 15th 2008. Mexico’s Javier Santiago is also an all- star when it comes to international tower racing, with multiple top placements in prestigious races throughout the world, including ESBRU, Stratosphere Las Vegas, AON Center Los Angeles, and La Torre Mayor. Other internationally well- known champion tower climbers includes 3- time ESBRU Champion Suzy Walsham from Australia, and New Zealand’s Melissa Moon. The USA’s most accomplished tower racers in the World Cup have been Jesse Berg, Tim Van Orden, Oz John Osborn, Braden Renshaw, Master's star Mark Trevosky, who's the managing director of the West Coast Labels' Elite Tower Racing Team, newcomer Justin Stewart, and female sensations Kristen Frey, Cindy Harris and Kacie Fisher. Other notable athletes include USATF Mountain- running star, Rickey Gates, who finished 3rd in the 2009 ESBRU behind the Germans, and Kevin Crossman, who finished 10th in the 2010 Towerrunning World Cup standings. While competitive tower racing has been growing at an extremely fast pace, only select US races have substantial, if any, cash prize- purses, while many international races offer large sums of prize money. For instance, the Taipei Tower’s generous total prize amounts to NT$1,010,000 or over $31,000 USD. On the contrary, the Empire State Building Run Up does not currently offer any kind of cash prize structure, but is considered the most prestigious and competitive by others involved in the sport. Despite the lack of a prize-purse, NYRR flies the male and female champions back to NYC the upcoming year, and all athletes walk away with a well-earned medal and an experience they will never forget .
While not everyone who wants to venture into stair climbing is lucky enough to be selected to run the ESBRU, there are plenty of other options throughout the United States. Some better-known events include Seattle, LA, and Chicago. The Fight for Air Climb, a popular race series held throughout the United States, aims at fighting against the major causes of lung associated illness: asthma, second -hand smoke, lung cancer, emphysema, and COPD. The event held by The American Lung Association, attracts more than 20,000 participants and grossed $4.9 million dollars last year alone. This charitable event has multiple races in almost every state, and thrives through local participation and sponsors. Other charitable stair climbing races include: Climb to the Top (National Multiple Sclerosis Society), Climb for the Cure (Cystic Fibrosis Foundation), and Tackle the Tower (Ronald McDonald House). To find races, like these, and more, visit www.towerrunning.com.
For those who aren’t necessarily competitive athletes, but seeking alternate ways to exercise, stair climbing is extremely beneficial to one’s health. According to Trevor Folgering, the founder of the Canada StairClimbing Association and a fitness expert, stair climbing is a highly effective workout. Folgering explains that Stair climbing is more efficient then running or walking on a flat surface because climbing stairs is a vertical challenge. Because of this, the individual must push his own bodyweight vertically, which when looking at overall calorie burn and overall muscular endurance is more efficient then running. Folgering goes on to explain that stair climbing produces better results when looking at overall body compositional changes (Losing body fat and gaining muscle) because the calorie expenditure is greater than running on flat surfaces, which allows the body to change at a greater rate. Lastly, Folgering cites stair climbing as a safe workout due to the fact that it is a low impact exercise.
Additionally, Folgering gives some tips on how to successfully complete a stair climbing workout:
•Always warm-up. Some great exercises would be jogging on the spot, butt kicks, high knees, side shuffles, arm-circles, and squats. A warm up should be 5-10 minutes long.
•When starting a stair climbing workout always start off slow. The best part of climbing stairs is that you do not have to run up stairs or do long workouts to make great gains. 10 minutes for a rank beginner is amazing, and then increase from there.
•When starting make sure to always put the whole foot on the step, this will ensure that you will work the major muscles in the legs more efficiently and also protect the Achilles tendon.
•The best way to climb stairs is to actually push from your heel, this will help contract more muscles in the glutes (buttock muscle) and hamstrings
•For the first few workouts, so not overextend the body. The body will adapt quickly. The key is consistency to keep pushing beyond what the person did in the previous workout. For example if the person did 5 flights of stairs, they should try to do a minimal 3-5 flight more per workout or 5-10 more minutes. This will ensure the body will continue adapting. Unlike running, the body will adapt quickly to a stair climbing routine.
To learn more about Tower Racing or stair climbing for fitness, make sure to check out Towerrunning.com, Run2Sky-Europe, and the Canada StairClimbing Association. With tower racing becoming a very popular extreme sport among athletes looking for another challenge, look for many new business opportunities to emerge such as event sponsorship, travel and accommodations, and more. Business and organizations like West Coast Labels, MMF (Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation), McDonalds, Wawa, Corona Light, Canada Life, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Gold's Gym, John Hancock, Fleet Feet Sports, Hilton Suites, Competitor Magazine, and Puma have all sponsored major stair climbing events. Due to the high media exposure that many of the more prestigious tower races generate, stair climbing can become a great way to build brand awareness and recognition, especially in a niche market.