Matt Hudson / Sonja Shakespeare / David Harris; Total Motion Towerrunners; November 2017
Paris plays host to some fantastic stair climb events staging one of only two European events on The Vertical World Circuit; VeritGO at Tour First, as well as the spectacular La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel. The Eiffel Tower stair climb is preparing for its 4th Edition in March next year, and the annual scramble for one of the hottest tickets in the stair climb calendar has begun. Places are limited in number; corresponding to the age of the imposing landmark - in 2018 there will be 129 places allocated to top ranking elites, wildcards and some fortunate ballot entrants. The only alternative is to compete in Les Battles De Montmartre – a head to head knockout race up the stairs of Montmartre to Basilique du Sacré Cœur to find one male and one female to claim one of the coveted starting bibs for March’s prestigious, televised Eiffel Tower race.
Last week two of our very own Total Motion Towerrunners, Sonja Shakespeare and David Harris set out to do just that. Sonja is relatively new to towerrunning, but has had something of a breakthrough year with results getting better and better as 2017 has progressed culminating in a scintillating victory at the NSPCC’s Gherkin Challenge setting a new record at the venue by over 30 seconds! David is one of the most experienced of all UK towerrunners, a former winner at The Gherkin and many podium finishes in races across the UK, as well as further afield, travelling frequently to the Middle East and Asia to compete alongside the world’s best
Here are their stories of Les Battles De Montmartre.
Well, that was most definitely the hardest race so far. I’m sure I always say this but tonight the competition was high and although the stairs were steep the races were fast!
With a gentle walk up the steps just to get a feel for the course we counted 222 steps. I start to panic as my training has been on 164 steps. Am I even going to make it to the top? At least they were not too wet which was our concern.
The starting list was available in the pop up tent so we knew who our contestants were and roughly when we were running
The rules were simple
1: start line was the bottom of the steps
2: no using the hand rail as it was only available on one side
3: count down from 5 then ‘go’
The first race was quick!!!! The lady I was against was fast and strong. The stairs were quite dark too so everything was a blur as I ran. It’s difficult to tell you brain to trust your feet...!
Fortunately I managed to keep her pace and with two flights to go I managed to push harder to take the win.
The second race was different. We had been informed that as there would be three ladies in the final, this race would be timed and the two fastest ladies would be in the final. So again I went for an all out sprint and hung on until the end with everything I had left rather than save anything for a final I may not get into. Thank goodness there is only one race left, although after watching all of the previous races I know these ladies are strong and fast.
Somewhere things had changed and the organisers were unable to time the second race.
What felt like only 5 minutes after the second race, the organisers call us for the women’s final and they begin discussing a change to the race. Will it be two more rounds of two ladies or one final race? Alarm bells are ringing in my ears..... two more races...!!?!?!
The result of the discussion is all three of us will run together.
So they cleared the path and moved the start line back. Three strong runners, two jelly legs from hell and only one prize ......!
So they count down 5, 4, 3... I don’t feel ready and I lose focus on the start line...... I go, hesitate, then stop and all I hear is people shouting behind me ‘GOOOO.......!!!’.
I’m behind so I ran for my life thinking only of the top!!
I managed to catch one lady but Amandine was too strong. The lactic acid hits 2 flights from the top, 50 steps to go and it’s like running through treacle with lead weights on. I just didn’t have enough to catch her so it’s 2nd place.......!
The fatigue hits and I need to lie down. I don’t care that it’s cold, it’s over.....
There are discussions going on around me but I’m too tired to take it in. Then all of a sudden I’m approached ‘Amandine already has a place in la tour Eiffel. As runner up you win the bib, congratulations...!’.
I am completely overwhelmed and just can’t believe it..... I’m coming back to Paris in March!
Fantastic evening in Paris on Wednesday for Les Battles de Montmartre. At stake was a bib for entry into the 2018 edition of La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel for both the male and female winners of "Les Battles". The challenge: knockout rounds of races up the 222 steps on Rue Foyatier...possibly where the first ever stair race took place in 1903 (credit: Tower Running UK)
No timing systems in place, just a simple countdown to start each race and someone at the top to record the winner's name for progress to the next round!
The draw for round one was random and unfortunately (for me) I was paired with some hot competition...game over! Sonja also had some stiff competition in the first round but powered up the last two flights as her challenger faded. Her semi-final (1 of 3 due to the number of competitors) was tough though as the organisers had stated these would be hand-timed to determine the two fastest semi-final winners who would battle it out in the final. Although winning relatively easily she had to still push hard for a quick time.
And so to the final...the organisers changed tack (no times were recorded for the semi-finals) and so 3 ladies lined up with a short sprint to the first steps before racing to the top. On your marks, get set, go... (well, in French obviously!) A hesitant start...go, stop, GO!!! meant Sonja was already a couple of metres behind her competitors as they approached the first of the 222 steps to the finish line. Although closing on the eventual winner (Amandine Bertrand), Sonja finished runner up...despair, frustration...an opportunity for a coveted La Verticale bib gone...
Moments later a feeling of deflation became elation...Amandine had already won a place for La Verticale by winning a race in Lille last December. So tonight's bib went to Sonja! Happy to say the least.
Thanks to Ecotrail for putting on such a fun and well organised event!
A swift change of attire back at our hotel was followed by a celebratory meal in Montmartre (fortunately the French do cuisine and wine better than most!) We then took a walk to the Sacre Coeur and re-created a scene from the short film Rendezvous* (but regrettably without the breathtaking 8 minute drive through Paris to precede it so it was two feet rather than four wheels!) when the car races through the back streets of Montmartre, pulls up in front of the Sacre Coeur and steps out of the car as the woman runs up the steps in front of the Basilica and they embrace.
We then walked up the hill to enjoy a view of the La Tour Eiffel; the clocks had just turned midnight so the tower was sparkling...a fitting end to a fantastic evening.
*Rendezvous (or C'était un Rendezvous to give it its full title) can be found on YouTube and was also used in the music video for Snow Patrol's Open Your Eyes song...don't try this at home!