Stair climbing – also known as tower running or vertical running – is the sport of racing (not necessarily running) up stairs, often in the stairwells of skyscrapers, but more generally up any staircase indoors or out.
Stair Climbing Events
Stair races are held across the world, but particularly in the US and Asia, where there is an abundance of tall buildings. There are some incredible races to be found. The Empire State Building Run Up (ESBRU), which has been continually run for over 40 years, is perhaps the best known globally. ‘La Verticale de la Tour Eiffel’, has now been held for the past 5 years after a 110-year hiatus. This is the one that really captures the imagination being one that attracts a real audience with participants climbing the outdoor staircase of the Eiffel Tower. This event has even been televised on ESPN in the past, such is the scale and popularity of the race.
There are other outdoor events, but these tend to be held in less accessible areas. The Niesen Treppen Lauf (Niesen Stair Run), which takes place at the mountain railway of the same name in Switzerland, climbs the world’s longest stairway at 11,674 steps. It is 3.5km long with 1,669m of vertical elevation, making this stair climb the toughest of them all. The annual event attracts 500 competitors, with the leaders taking around an hour to complete the race, however most people take much (much) longer. A real test of endurance!
International Stair Climbing
In any discipline, there are always a number of competitors who excel and take the sport to new levels and tower running is no different. Athletes from all sporting backgrounds now train specifically to compete on stairs, but generally it is the rowers, cyclists and mountain runners who do well thanks to their huge VO2 max scores. The cash prizes and associated benefits have been growing year on year, so for those elite athletes it can be financially rewarding and a great way of seeing the world.
There are hundreds of races globally created by local organisers and often charities, but all events award Towerrunning World Association (TWA) ranking points which is what the elites strive for. Some of these events form part of the ‘TWA Tour’ and offer even more points, often these are the ones with the cash prizes, and thus become very attractive to the world’s best athletes. Additional to the TWA Tour is the rival ‘Vertical World Circuit’ (VWC), a more cohesive series of events which takes place across Asia, Europe, North America and The Middle East. Similarly, there are VWC points on offer as well as travel packages and cash to be won for race victories as well for the overall series champion.
Stair Climbing in the UK
Stair Climbing in the UK has a generally lower profile than in the US and in Asia but has experienced growth over recent years. There were ad hoc events in existence back in the late 80s, but it is Shelter’s Vertical Rush that has seen the most success. This event held annually in March at Tower 42 in London has now been a regular fixture for over a decade, and regularly attracts 1,000+ participants. The NSPCC aren’t far behind with their annual Gherkin Challenge, albeit attracting about half as many participants. Both events require a fundraising minimum, making them an extremely lucrative source of charity revenue.
The Broadgate Tower Run Up is newer to the party but is unique in allowing participants opportunities to compete without any form of sponsorship, although charities are welcome to register participants. This event has also pioneered new categories in the UK, seeing challengers taking on multiple climbs, including the ‘Vertical Mile’ of 12 ascents (420 floors!) in addition to hosting the UK leg of The Vertical World Circuit, attracting elite athletes from around the world to London.
A community of stair climbers has become established around this growing popularity in the UK. The Total Motion Towerrunners (TMT) are centred in London but have members all over the world, with a second hub in Singapore. Not unlike other running communities, TMT was formed by people who share a common love of a sport and an ethos. Although TMT are active on the socials, members are found competing (and often filling podiums) at all UK events and quite a few of the international races too, but also meet each week in The City of London to train together, sharing ideas, tips and stories. Although TMT boasts some very strong internationally competitive athletes, most people are there for the camaraderie, general fitness, or as ideal, low impact cross training for other sports. It’s a really supportive and inclusive group.
Health and Fitness Benefits of Stair Climbing
It is fair to say that most people who train on stairs are not doing it to hone their stair race technique but are very definitely there for the extensive ‘side-effects’. Training (or racing) on the vertical allows for a much wider range of benefits in a shorter space of time than horizontal running. Anybody who has climbed stairs for exercise or sport will certainly tell you how tough it is, and even the very fittest will soon be left gasping if they try to run too hard too soon, so you know it must be doing you some good! So, it’s perhaps not surprising that stair climbing burns more calories than jogging, but it is also kinder to your joints and muscles and even improves bone density. What is less obvious is that stair climbing has also been shown to improve brain function and the vigorous nature of the activity really boosts those endorphin levels, which gives that high, and also relieving tension.
The mysterious sport of stair climbing may just be entering your consciousness, but it is something that warrants closer inspection. There is a rising number of opportunities to get involved at events and weekly training sessions. If you’re looking to take you first ‘steps’, Total Motion Towerrunners are always on hand to offer advice and guidance.
About the author: Matt Hudson is the founder of Total Motion Events.