Sarah Frost, Total Motion Towerrunners; November 2018
The eagerly anticipated 3rd edition of the Broadgate Tower Run Up took place on Saturday 24th November, up the 35 floors and 877 steps of London's Broadgate Tower. This year the race was made even more exciting, as it was also selected to host the prestigious Vertical World Circuit (VWC), a series of 9 races occurring per year across the globe. This race series attracts some of the world's best towerrunners, who compete on an international level for individual race titles, with each race contributing to the global ranking tables.
Separate to the VWC elite race, the Broadgate Tower Run Up featured many race categories, from single climbs, to three, or even twelve climbs of the tower, to equate to a quarter, or full vertical mile respectively. These latter categories proved to be highly successful, and goes to show just how popular towerrunning is becoming for fitness enthusiasts or extreme-challenge seekers! In addition, there were also family climb categories, giving younger children an opportunity to ascend the tower. I think the stars of the day however (and I'm sure plenty will agree with me on this) were the firefighters, who competed in numerous categories in full firefighter gear, an absolutely incredible achievement. More on this below!
I am a London-based towerrunner and I am lucky enough to have access to Broadgate Tower for stair training once a week, with Total Motion Towerrunners. Before the race, I held the record for the fastest female ascent with 5.08 (I had reduced this from my previous record of 5.19, set at this very event last year). Being highly competitive both with myself and against others (I just can't help it!) I set myself a goal of breaking the 5 minute barrier. I was definitely feeling the pressure in the weeks approaching the race because I knew I was going to be up against some seriously strong international competition, so I tried to take the pressure off slightly by focusing solely on my own target, rather than thinking about my position in the race. I was genuinely convinced that I would place below the top 3, so as long as I improved on my own performance, I would be happy no matter where I placed. I was also constantly reminded and reassured by everyone that I spoke to leading up to the race that we as UK athletes had the 'home advantage' - that is, we know the stairwell of Broadgate Tower so well, and therefore will have the most efficient technique for ascending during the race. This is of course no doubt true, but it actually made me feel much worse rather than better - I saw it as an additional pressure and reason to 'do well'. Nevertheless I was so excited when the day finally arrived and it was time to race and try my best!
To start the day was the male elite wave at 9am. Plenty of Total Motion Towerrunners were participating, including London-based Mark Howard, who had his own agenda to climb the tower as close to 4 minutes as possible. In a high quality field there were several athletes vying for those top positions, however 3rdposition went to Takaaki Koyama in 4.14 who had flown in all the way from Japan, true commitment and an excellent time! Howard improved on his personal best to take 2ndplace with 4.07, whilst the overall winner claiming his first ever VWC title was Spaniard Ignacio Cardona Torres, in 4.02. Absolutely stellar performances, especially in the wintry conditions! Bravo to all!
UK-based newcomers to towerrunning included legendary marathon runner Adam Holland, who ran a speedy first ascent of 5.32 to place 17thbefore going on to complete 11 more climbs for a vertical mile! There were many other great notable debut towerrunning performances, such as from the long-distance runners Billy Starling with a time of 4.42, and Patrick Leese close behind in 4.44, placing 9thand 10threspectively. Hopefully we will be seeing more of these talented athletes in the future….
The female elite round followed straight after. We warmed up, then huddled in a gazebo hiding from the wind as we were called forwards one a time in 30-second intervals. I found the actual race extremely exhausting, which was to be expected! I know from experience of these types of races that if I don't collapse into a pile at the finish line, then I probably didn't try hard enough. My tried and tested technique for this race was to run the first few flights to floor 3, where the stairwell becomes a regular pattern, then settle into a consistent fast walk. To go into more detail, I always double step 6 times per flight with two steps per landing, also helping to propel myself round each landing by pulling on the inside handrail. It might sound a little dull and irrelevant but it is these little details that help to shave decent chunks of time, and also effort, from the climbs. By about floor 20-25 I was feeling the full body lactic burn, particularly in my arms as well as legs. After this point my technique began to suffer and I definitely slowed, incorporating more steps than I wanted per landing, just to keep myself upright. For the last 10 flights I had to rely on my upper body strength even more, pulling myself up as jelly legs had definitely taken over and I couldn't get much more use out of them. Towerunning is always just as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one, and although I suffered greatly at the time, I am so proud that I kept pushing until the very end (and indeed ended in a heap on the floor) because I finished just one second ahead of, Maria Beltran from Spain. I have said this before - one of the best (and worst) things about many tower races is you never know your position in the race until the very end! This means you can either enjoy it and focus on your own goals without worrying about other competitors around you, or you have to absolutely go for it if you are being competitive because you never know just how well everyone else has done before or after you!
I was absolutely stunned when my friend Teresa, volunteering at the finish line, came over and told me I was in first place with 5.04. I genuinely didn't think it would happen. The standard of the event was so high, and without causing disrespect to any of the other competitors at all, I just thought a fair few would have been faster than me. But to be fair to them all, it was their first time at Broadgate, travelling for racing is always very taxing, and the weather was very cold, so perhaps it was not quite optimal racing conditions. So ultimately, I didn't achieve my personal goal of breaking the 5-minute barrier, but I did win my first ever VWC race, so I am still pretty damn happy. Running sub-5 can be added to my to-do list for next year!
As mentioned above, just one second behind me in 5.05 was the Spaniard Maria Beltran, an elite mountain runner but not a stranger to stair races either. Only 4 seconds later, Japanese towerrunner Yuko Tateishi crossed the line in 5.09 to take 3rdposition. I am so impressed with these performances, especially considering these athletes had the additional stress of travelling and racing on an unknown stairwell, I still feel like they have put me to shame! Also worth mentioning is Birmingham-based athlete Susie Drinkwater, who ran with a super-fast time of 5.11 to take 4thplace, in only her second-ever tower race, after her winning debut at Vertical Rush in March this year. A simply incredible performance, and I hope we get to see her participating in more events! I really wish I could mention everyone else who participated in the elite category, as there were so many highly deserved performances. We were lucky to have such a diverse field of towerrunners travel all the way to London to compete against us!
Over 100 keen stair climbers completed a single ascent of Broadgate Tower throughout the rest of the day, and once again there were so many notable performances (too many to mention), but it was so great to see the hard work in weekly stair training sessions being put to good use and producing decent results for many of the competitors! Some of the happy climbers included stair training regulars Marvin Menou who smashed it in 4.53 (3rdplace) and Tony Pitt, who achieved his goal of breaking 7 minutes in 6.51. I had also managed to convince my friend Ami to participate in her first towerrunning experience. In true appreciation of the sport, her first words to me at the finish line (from the floor) were 'WHY do you do this?!' Hopefully she enjoyed the experience enough to come back, as she finished in a highly respectable 7.04 and 4th position in the women’s single climb category.
Also ongoing were the more ‘long distance’ categories, with crazy people challenging themselves to complete three, or twelve ascents of Broadgate Tower. I have completed a vertical mile myself at Broadgate so I know exactly what these poor competitors were going through! It is truly exhausting, and a true test of determination and grit, no matter your fitness background. These longer distance categories really are something to be proud of though; its not a common occurrence to say you have completed 105 or 420 flights of stairs in one go! As mentioned earlier, the stars of the show were the firefighters who took part in both of these categories in heavy gear whist raising money for the Firefighters Charity, which really impressed all of the other competitors and volunteers. Seriously well done to all of you!
In the quarter mile category with around 70 participants, 1st position went to Mickey Pourcelot with an incredible combined time of just 13.55 for 3 ascents – with climb times ranging between 4.15 and 4.49 – insanely fast and a well-deserved win! The fastest female quarter mile time of 17.29 was completed by Ilona Gradus, with all climbs consistently around 5.50, another super strong performance.
The full vertical mile proved highly popular and sold out with 40 competitors. Every single one of these competitors should be so proud of their achievement, as they all completed the mile, which is an incredible feat regardless of time. I will mention Total Motion Towerrunner Kevin Valaydon, who turned up on the day not feeling great, then subsequently ran a PB for a single climb in 5.31. Following this, he decided he wasn’t done and entered the vertical mile on the spot and completed 11 more ascents! The overall win was taken by Martin Pederson, with a combined 12 climb time of 1.06.48. A brilliant performance, but just over 3 minutes shy of the vertical mile record set by Mark Howard earlier this year. Close behind in 2ndposition was the Italian Dario Fracassi with an equally worthy performance of 1.07.46. Once again a huge well done to all!
The Broadgate Tower Run Up 2018 proved to be highly successful, and I hope it shows that towerrunning is a sport that is accessible for all, regardless of fitness level or racing experience. Many thanks are owed to Matt Hudson at Total Motion Events for all of the organisational efforts, the race sponsors and of course to the VWC for selecting us to host an elite race as part of their international circuit. Huge thanks also to the volunteers that kept the stair climbing waves running smoothly all day, and our paramedic support at the finish line, to make sure we were all safe! Biggest thanks of all though go to all of the entrants who made the event so special!
I am sorry if there were other notable mentions that have not been included here, but it is a fact that absolutely everyone who participated did amazingly well, and everyone should be very proud of themselves! Towerrunning is definitely not for the faint-hearted and it takes a lot of mental resilience to haul yourself up a stairwell (particularly more than once, or in heavy kit!) From my volunteering at the finish line, I saw a lot of tense, exhausted (and sweaty) faces, that all turned into big happy smiles once participants completed all of their climbs. I hope that the Broadgate Tower Run Up was just as enjoyable, memorable and inspiring for others as it was for me.
Sarah Frost Instagram @SarahChaneyFrost
Thank you to Ben Lumley for the images.
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