LVM Skyrun – Catch me if you can!!

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Sarah Frost, Total Motion Towerrunners; October 2018

No less than 6 Total Motion Towerrunners attended the 5thedition of LVM-Skyrun in Münster, Germany, a great UK turnout to this international event! Two of the team, David and Sonja were racing at the tower for the second time looking to improve on their previous achievements, whilst the rest of us were participating in the race for the first time. What an experience it was! Thank you so much to Stefan Spiekermann for organising such a great race.                                                                          

The tower itself is very short, with only 18 floors and 360 steps. This may still sound like a lot, but in terms of towerrunning this counts as more of a sprint race than long distance. In addition, the staircase was visible to onlookers outside through glass panelling, making for great race spectating! The organiser Stefan had also setup cameras within the stairwell which displayed the races as they occurred on a large screen outside – it was a truly remarkable experience to be able to watch all of the tower races in real time!

What made the race most exciting however, was the format. For each category of men, women, and firefighters (yes really, in all their gear and everything!) there was an initial round of individual climbs where we were set off in 30 second intervals, with the aim of completing the climb in the fastest time we possibly could. This decided the opponents for future rounds in 1 to 1 format. The competitor with the fastest time was coupled against the competitor with the slowest time, and so on. Therefore from the second round onwards, the number of participants was halved each round as there could only be one winner per race. So in other words, the better you are placed in round 1 the less effort you need to put in in subsequent rounds as you are placed against other competitors at the slower end of the rankings.

It was all about the strategy…

Ultimately there would be quarter, semi-finals, the actual final, and a race for 3rdplace between opponents who each lost their semi-final. All individual races were conducted between the paired participants by starting the opponent with the slower time (let’s call this person the ‘mouse’) from the first round a whole 3 seconds ahead of their competitor (the ‘cat’). This meant that all the cat had to do to win the round was catch up with the mouse and hang onto them, because it was not about who crossed the finish line first, rather it was based on individual climb times. To make it clearer: the mouse knows that the only way they can proceed to the next round is to be at least 3 seconds faster than the cat chasing them!

Qualification Round 1: ‘This is harder than I expected’

            It was possible to practice in the stairs before the race started, which was extremely helpful, because every staircase is different and therefore the technique you use to ascend each staircase may vary between races. Following this I conducted my typical warm-up routine of gentle running, drills, dynamic stretches and strides, I felt weak and slightly sick with anticipation, but I am gradually learning to accept this feeling as normal before a race starts. It was time to go!

I found the actual ascent pretty tough, owing to the design of the stairwell – we are all used to having a handrail on the inside to help pull us upwards, and swing round the corner on each landing, however this time there was nothing on the inside – simply a wall! I muddled up my technique slightly but still managed a full run the whole way to the top. From round 1 I was placed 5thin a time of 1.53.90 with teammate Sonja Shakespeare just behind me in 1.54.36. Zuzana Krchova led the way in a super quick 1.44.53.

In the men’s initial round, there were some blisteringly fast times with Mateusz Marunowski leading the pack in 1.22.99! Briton David Harris led the Total Motion team in 14thposition with a super fast 1.35.16.

For the firemen David Robles (Broadgate Tower record holder in 3:58) led the pack in a highly respectable 2.05.79 considering they had to complete in full gear, including oxygen tanks! Incredible stuff.

Round 2 – settling into more of a rhythm….

We all had a few hours to recover before the next round. As was expected, this round was considerably easier than the initial seeding round, owing to being positioned against competitors from the slower end of the field. If I’m being honest, I felt a little guilty at strolling up the tower leisurely behind my competitor, not exerting myself but making sure I stayed right behind her. The aim of the game was to preserve as much energy as possible for later rounds, so I guess I did what I had to do! I treated this effort as a warm-up for following rounds, as now each round was taking place every half hour.

Similarly to me, all fellow Total Motion Towerrunners completed round 2 in faster times than their competitors – the unfortunate exception being Sarah Mo who was pitted against her own teammate Chiara Cristoni, who took the win. And so the competition halved!

Round 3 – ‘she almost knocked me out!’

For my third round I was acting as the cat again – this time against a much younger competitor, and kudos to her – she gave me a fair challenge! I had opted for the same strategy as with the round before; don’t go for the overtake if it isn’t necessary, just hang on right behind her. My competitor gave it a great shot at trying to outsmart me by gradually slowing down, then putting on an incredibly speedy sprint with 3 floors to go. I managed to hang on – but had to put in more effort than I would have liked!

TMT runner Sonja also sailed through – but Chiara was overtaken by the German no. 1 Monica Carl. Bravo to Chiara for completing three ascents of the tower despite feeling very unwell and only planning to complete one ascent initially! She still finished 13thoverall with a time of 2.21.21.

On the men’s side it was sadly goodbye to TMT runner Will Obeney, who put in a valiant attempt in 1.37.21 but lost to the record holder Miro Burian in 1.34.43. Will finished in 21stplace overall – a great effort! David Harris successfully beat his opponent by a second in 1.35.08.

Round 4 – ‘this is it, the big one’

I now found myself up against the same opponent as Chiara; Monica Carl. Except this time, I was the mouse. If I couldn’t keep her at least 3 seconds behind me, I was out. I felt like this was going to be my final race, so I planned to give it my absolute everything. New strategy: go hard for the first few floors, and see how long I could keep the lead for before I tired and she caught me up. Initially, I could see her just turning the corner below me at every turn on the landing. Gradually, I managed to widen the gap. I couldn’t believe it when I realised that with a few floors to go, I had widened the gap even more, and I could take the win for this round. I finished with a time of 1.45.84, over 5 seconds ahead of Monica.

It was a different story for Sonja, who had been pitted against the formidable sprint athlete Kamila Chovanicova, who won the round in 1.46.17. However Sonja’s speedy time of 1.49.14 was faster than Monica’s in the same round against me, therefore Sonja left the competition in 5thplace, improving on her performance last year by 10 seconds. Congratulations Sonja Shakespeare!

Round 4 for the men saw the competition hotting up also. With more male participants than females, they had an additional round to run. Our final TMT man standing, David Harris, was eliminated by his opponent Christof Großegger by 1.35.18 to 1.37.50. Congratulations also to David who improved on his time from last year by 10 seconds, and finished a highly respectful 14thplace overall in such a stacked athletic field!

Round 5 – ‘I’m going to tactically play it slow’

            For women, round 5 was the semi-finals, with only four of us left. I was pitted against the mountain runner Zuzana Krchova as a mouse, leaving Lenka and Kamila to battle it out for the other final position. I tried to play this round as tactfully as possible. We were all tiring by this point, and I knew that I really was no match for Zuzana, particularly with her having the advantage of chasing me.

I decided to take this round easy and deliberately lose, therefore I may have had a slightly better chance of winning the next round in the battle for 3rdplace overall. I was also banking on both Lenka and Kamila pushing round 5 to their limits to try and secure a spot in the final. In theory, this would make them more tired than I was in round 6, improving my chances a little. A bit too sneaky a tactic? Maybe. Oh well. I had guaranteed myself 4thplace, and thought it sensible to go for 3rdinstead of 2nd

I made an effort to run up the first few flights, then slowed down. Zuzana caught me up in no time at all. “What are you doing?! Why are you going so slow? Are you trying to trick me, so you overtake me later?”She managed to say all this as I let her pass. I laughed and promised her I was not – but by this point she was already gone!

In the other semi-final Kamila got the better hand of Lenka with an incredible time of 1.44.33. This was a great effort from Kamila, as Lenka Svabikova is the record holder and 4 x winner of LVM-Skyrun.

This round was also the quarter-final for the men, which saw four athletes advance forward, with the fastest time ran by Mateusz Marunowski in 1.20.60, amazing performances!

Round 6 – ‘this is REALLY it now!’

            For my final race against Lenka, I’ll admit I had lost a bit of my desire to win. Honestly I was just so happy to have got that far, being in a 1-on-1 race with one of my towerrunning idols (cringe) meant a lot to me in itself. Of course I physically gave it everything I could, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to repeat a time similar to my round 4, and that Lenka definitely could.

As I expected, I had nothing left to give in my legs, but somehow threw myself up the stairs. I managed to hold Lenka off for the first half of the race, but she proved her towerrunning experience and skill and timed it perfectly to take the win in 1.44.54, whilst I only managed 1.50.46. A huge well done to Lenka for coming 3rd! 

In the women’s final, Kamila had tired herself out so much from the previous round that she couldn’t hold off Zuzana, who took the win in 1.49, with Kamila crossing the line in 2.07. Still a brilliant effort from Kamila to obtain 2ndposition overall, and massive congratulations to Zuzana for her first win here in Münster!

In the men’s semi-final, Mateusz went even faster than before, clocking 1.20.37 to take the win from Tomas Celko, whilst Martin Tomica also beat his opponent Christof Großegger in 1.22.60. I found myself wondering whether it was physically possible for the men to run up the stairs any faster than they were if there was no fatigue involved, so speedy were their efforts.

Round 7 – finally I could sit back and relax..

            The men’s final and race for 3rdplace were certainly exciting races to watch from the ground. Ultimately, Tomas Celko took 3rdposition from Christof Großegger, whilst Mateusz Marunowski kept up his winning streak by taking the overall title, leaving 2ndposition to Martin Tomica.

Round 8 – ‘they’re still going?!’

            For the poor firefighters, they had an additional round to run, owing to their larger volume of participants to start with. We all had so much respect for these incredible people, 4 of whom had to run up 18-floors eight times with full firefighter gear, in the warm stairwell lit up by the sun. Absolutely amazing! 1stplace was awarded to Joachim Krißmer in an impressive 2.13.44, over his opponent Oliver Moj who took 2ndin 2.17. David Robles took 3rdposition over Martin Brieden in an incredible 2.01.57 to 2.17.26. Huge congratulations to all participants!

Another incredible competitor

Haki Doku, a Paralympic athlete from Albania also deserves a mention. Haki travels to tower races and is an expert at descending down the stairs in his wheelchair – an incredible and skilled feat. He completed the descent of LVM-Skyrun in 10.25, congratulations and best wishes to Haki!

Race reflections

The race has definitely left me thinking about what it is possible to achieve when we are chasing personal best times and improving our performances in towerrunning. I have never previously experienced a race format such as LVM-skyrun, where the winner of each round was decided by whether the faster athlete could catch up with the slower athlete, so it was not necessarily dependent on who could run the fastest time overall per round. In the majority of tower races I have experienced (I am mostly UK based) the race formats consist of letting contestants into the stairwell one at a time, with results determined at the end, based purely on who has the fastest single ascent. Therefore, you have no idea how well you are doing compared to others until the very end when it is all over.

As I discovered in Munster, being chased by another athlete up the stairwell gave me such an increased rush of adrenaline as I tried so hard to stay ahead of her that I improved on my initial ascent time by 8.1 seconds, which is equivalent to a 7.1% decrease in overall race time. I find this quite a significant value when considering that in my initial ascent I felt like it was already seriously hard work and I thought I would struggle to improve on that time. This may seem obvious that having a race opponent chasing you encourages you to run faster, and I am sure it is also true for many of the other competitors. When running track races, for example, athletes are constantly aware of their position in the race and who is ahead or behind them, so they can gauge how much intense effort is required. I suppose I am trying to say that typically, it is different in towerrunning as you don’t know the speed of the other competitors so there is less of a drive to push yourself just that fraction harder*. I wonder how much our times in typical tower races (such as those in the UK) would improve by if we were being chased by our direct competitors the whole way up! Perhaps this race has taught me that it is indeed possible to access even more energy reserve for that final push than you think!

*Some of the larger international races, such as those in Asia have a different format where the elite athletes all race up the tower together from the same start time. I have not been lucky enough to experience this type of race yet but I am sure this is an entirely different racing experience and more representative of a typical running race!

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