David Harris, Total Motion Towerrunners, May 2018
'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'
Ok, so the order of transport modes was different but all forms would be required to be able to compete in two races in two countries in just three days!
Vertical World Circuit, VertiGO, Paris:
Thursday evening saw the second Vertical World Circuit (VWC) event of the year in Paris at the 6th edition of the VertiGo race.
The venue for the event was the Tour First tower in the La Défense area of town...a veritable tower runner's paradise with a host of skyscrapers all around! The challenge ahead consisted of 954 steps over 48 floors. Course records stood at 4:42 and 5:43 for current VWC World Champions Piotr Łobodziński and Suzy Walsham respectively.
In addition to the Open and Corporate Relay competitors, there would be runners from Belgium, China, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy and Spain vying for top spots in the VWC elite race. With course record holder Łobodziński (POL) not competing, favourites for the men's race were 2016 race winner Emanuele Manzi (ITA) and Omar Bekkali (BEL). Bekkali had placed 4th at last year's event in 5:07 with Manzi's 2016 winning time just five seconds faster.
In the absence of Walsham and the Czech Republic's Lenka Svabikova, a three-time winner of the event, the hot favourite in the ladies' race was Valentina Belotti. Although primarily a mountain runner, albeit with a more than impressive record (she was World Champion at the 2009 World Mountain Running Championships), the Italian has a number of high profile towerrunning wins to her credit.
Total Motion Towerrunners had their largest representation at an overseas event with no less than eight athletes competing. Fresh from their wins at the Trekstock event at Broadgate earlier in the month, both Mark Howard and Sarah Frost were expected to perform well.
Total Motion Towerrunners on tour part one - Paris!
The Eurostar was the preferred method of transport from London for the TMT crew, and they all convened in Paris on a gloriously sunny Thursday afternoon; this was in stark contrast to last year's event where to say it was raining cats and dogs before, during and after the event would not be an understatement. At least you're dry when you're on the stairs!
The start at shortly after 20:00 hours Paris time was a razzmatazz affair with confetti and a fog horn accompanying the male departures whilst the ladies had the addition of a starting gun to set them on their way. Starting order was self-seeding, so Manzi would lead off the boys with Belotti first off for the girls. Manzi stopped the clock in 5:03 with Bekkali an agonising two seconds back in second place. Completing the podium in 5:14 was Ignacio Cardona (ESP) who had ran earlier in the day in order to fly back to Spain that day (yes, he would be racing in Benidorm too!)
Howard ran an impressive 5:31 to take 4th ahead of China's Liang Liang Le. Of the remaining TM Towerrunners, Will Obeney pipped David Harris to 7th place in a time of 6:20 (Harris was four seconds behind in 8th) and Neil Clark made it a fourth Total Motion top fifteen finish for the boys in 6:57.
As expected in the ladies' race, Belotti was in a class of her own just dipping under six minutes in 5:59 and within sixteen seconds of Walsham's course record. This was all the more impressive given she had surgery on her Achilles' tendon last September.
Frost was almost a minute behind in 6:54 but still took a superb second place (and her first international podium) just seconds ahead of Italy's Cristina Bonacina. Like Cardona, Bonacina had also competed earlier in the day before flying to Alicante for the Benidorm race. Total Motion's Sonja Shakespeare took 4th with a huge 74-second PB versus her showing at last year's race. Chiara Cristoni was 8th lady in 7:41 while Gretta Beckett made it top ten finishes all around for the TMT girls finishing in 10th place with a time of 8:19.
As the sun set over the La Grande Arche de la Défense, the award ceremony followed and it was a truly romantic sight to see husband and wife Emanuele Manzi and Valentina Belotti receive their VWC winner's trophies. In the city of love, this was also the first time they had both won the same race. Complimenti!
Total Motion Towerrunners with race winners Emanuele Manzi (front centre) and Valentina Belotti (wearing shades)
VertiGo results can be found here.
New York is the next stop on the Vertical World Circuit in the Tunnel to Towers Tower Climb at the iconic WTC1 tower in downtown Manhattan on June 3rd.
With Paris done and dusted, the jet-set quintet of Clark, Cristoni, Frost, Harris and Shakespeare headed back to their respective hotels prior to an early morning flight to Alicante.
As Friday dawned, the five Total Motion Towerrunners covened at Orly airport south of Paris for their flight to Alicante. Joining them were Towerrunning Mexico's Elisa Maria Lopez and Arturo Velaquez, both of whom had also competed in Paris. It has been a busy month for the Mexican pair, as in addition to the Towerrunning World Championships in Taipei at the start of May, they'd also squeezed in a race in Shenzhen, China only the previous weekend!
Towerrunning Mexico's Arturo Velaquez and Elisa Maria Lopez
On landing in Alicante in agreeably warm weather, some handy bartering meant that we were all able to take a single taxi into Benidorm on Spain's Costa Blanca. Arturo sat up front next to the Spanish cabbie (talk of Saturday night's Champions League final inevitably ensued) which was fortunate really given if Clark or Harris had been there conversation would have been somewhat restricted given their limited grasp of Español! We wound our way along the coastal road until the imposing Hotel Gran Bali came into view.
Total Motion Towerrunners on tour part two - Benidorm!
Once checked into the hotel and having caught up with Race Director Miquel Tortosa, relaxation was the order of the day so most of us took a leisurely walk along the sandy beach as the waves from the Med lapped the shore.
Come the evening, some other international athletes had arrived and as always it was great to catch up with friends new and old over dinner. Towerrunning Germany had strong representation from Towerrunning World Champion runner-up Christian Riedl and the Evergreen Görge Heimann who at 49 years of age is better than ever. Top ranked athletes from the Czech Republic, Italy, Morocco, Poland and Slovakia were also in attendance along with some very strong domestic competitors.
Towerrunning Germany's Riedl and Heimann discuss race tactics...possibly!
Total Motion's Chiara Cristoni joins (from left to right) Stefan Stefina and Kamila Chomanikova from Slovakia and Poland's Arek Karbowy in sporting this year's race t-shirt
In addition, a number of international firefighters from Germany and the Netherlands had travelled to compete in the 'Bomberos' category alongside their Spanish counterparts. For those unfamiliar with this towerrunning category, it involves the firefighters ascending the stairs in full gear weighing in at 25kg!
Haki Doku, a Paralympic athlete from Albania, was also in Benidorm to complete one of his amazing stair descents.
Haki Doku testing out the stairs prior to his descent
Saturday dawned which meant only one thing...race day! A few of us took the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the Gran Bali stairs or to check them out for the first time. Our challenge ahead consisted of 924 steps over 52 floors. The course was different to the norm of two even flights per floor, with a flat landing between each flight of stairs joined by two right-angled turns; ideal preparation should you ever be lucky enough to compete in the ESBRU (Empire State Building Run Up)!
Total Motion Towerrunners Chiara Cristoni and Sonja Shakespeare recce the Gran Bali stairs ahead of the race
The Gran Bali hotel lobby became transformed as final race preparations took place. Race bibs were collected mid-afternoon ahead of the evening race. The 15th edition of the Subida Gran Bali had a record number of entries with over 400 runners in total. The race was part of the Towerrunning World Association's (TWA) Towerrunning Tour and as such was a higher ranking points race attracting the aforementioned quality field of international athletes.
Once the Open and Firefighter categories had been and gone, it was time for the male and female Elite waves where the outright race winners would undoubtedly come from.
Last year's race winner, newly crowned Towerrunning World Champion Piotr Łobodziński, was absent from the race as was Colombia's Frank Carreño as his wife had just given birth to their second child. Given Carreño's late withdrawal, clear race favourite (and course record holder in 4:20) was Christian Riedl. On the ladies side, reigning champion Lenka Svabikova would no doubt feature but would face stiff competition in the shape of Morocco's course record holder (5:44) Wafiya Bengali.
At around 18:30 hours local time, it was ladies first off, release order determined by TWA rankings. With Total Motion runners Cristoni, Frost and Shakespeare having already hit the stairwell, course record holder Bengali was already nearing the top as reigning champion Svabikova took her position on the start line.
After a short break, it was the turn of the elite men. Total Motion's Clark and Harris had already departed as the final three top ranked men prepared for the off. Slovakia's Stefan Stefina was followed by the German pair of Heimann and Riedl. Minutes later it would all be over...
The top of the Gran Bali hotel afforded the athletes fantastic panoramic views to saviour but these would have to wait for a minute or two...the roof resembled a battlefield with runners' bodies strewn everywhere! Once heart rates had returned to relative normality and tired bodies had raised themselves to standing, recovery drinks were consumed and photo opportunities enjoyed.
We all headed back down to the hotel lobby for the prize giving presentation. Race Director Tortosa handed over the category results to the announcer for the much awaited podium awards.
Winner of the ladies' race, improving on her course record by one second in the process, was Bengali in a stunning time of 5:43. Svabikova had to settle for second this time stopping the clock in 5:58. Completing the female podium was local Maria Beltran Toledo with a time of 6:14.
The men's podium positions went with the rankings with Stefina in 3rd (4:37) with Heimann pipping him for 2nd in 4:34. Reidl maintained his excellent form of late, following up his Shenzhen win a week earlier with a convincing win in 4:23 just a few seconds off his own course record. With a World Championship runner up trophy at home, it's not been a bad month at all for Christian!
Unfortunately, there were no podium positions this time around for the Total Motion Towerrunners. In the women's race, Bonacina (6:31) turned the tables on Frost this time taking 4th place by a second; Frost in turn was narrowly ahead of Slovakia's Kamila Chomanikova, both making their first Benidorm appearances. Shakespeare was next up in 7th (6:51), again with a significant PB gain from last year's race. Cristoni finished 13th lady in 7:11 also with a new PB.
A special mention goes to Cristina Bonacina who received a commemorative award to celebrate competing in over 100 tower races!
On the men's side, Harris dipped under six minutes with a PB time of 5:56 to place 30th male overall, while Clark narrowly missed out on a top 50 placing finishing in 6:17 for 51st place.
Subida Gran Bali results can be found here
After the race, we joined some of the other runners for a cool down run along the sea front followed by a short hill climb - clearly we'd not done enough vertical ascent already. When I say cool down, it was more of a tempo run given the calibre of our fellow athletes!
Post-race 'cool down' run
With the racing over, a party was laid on for the runners after dinner which gave us all a chance to let our hair down.
On a final note, this has been without doubt one of the most memorable towerrunning race weekends I've had...it is genuinely such a pleasure to spend time with an amazing bunch of like minded people (many of whom are now friends) all doing something we love and enjoying every single minute of the whole experience.
It's a thumbs up from Race Director Miquel Tortosa
Many thanks to the following for permission to use their photos:
- Chiara Cristoni
- Dario Fracassi
- David Harris
- Emanuele Manzi
- Görge Heimann
If the charity stair climbers and Total Motion Towerrunners have inspired you to try stair climbing then join our online communities to find out more or sign up for our November Run Up event:
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The Broadgate Tower Run Up – 35 floors / 877 steps. And if you really want a challenge enter the ‘vertical mile’ consisting of 12 bottom to top climbs!