Under my byline

Steps to success

Posted in Fitness by Rrishi on 27 July 2008

Sears Tower, Chicago, tallest building in the USAWhere there are skyscrapers there are staircases, and fanatics to run all the way up them

Mumbai has never been a city of stunted ambitions, but the release of mill lands to developers has made Mumbaikars look upwards as never before: at the monster skyscrapers in which those who can afford to will live and work. A new residential tower in Jogeshwari is going to hit 60 floors. Even in horizontal urbs like Delhi, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Kochi things are looking up.

A few people in cities around the world with an older tradition of building high realised years ago that fighting gravity, literally, could be good for them — skyscrapers offer a fitness opportunity and an athletic challenge. Think of those limitless staircases!

Predictably, the passion of a few has turned into the sport of many. It is now called tower running. There are professional tower runners and tower-running competitions are hosted annually at behemoths including Taipei 101, the Sears Tower, the Empire State Building, and plenty of others around the world.

It’s a sport with few rules, which is perhaps its most attractive feature. A runner starts at the bottom of the stairwell and ends at the top, unless he or she collapses in between. The shortest time wins. Aficionados, professional athletes as well as amateurs, agree that they all share one aspect of the experience: the spectacular pain. Tower running is said to be the most painful sport in the world.

Not only must you keep moving forward, you’re working against gravity all the time. Those who are serious about speed also use their arms to help haul themselves up using the banisters. This makes tower running an excellent full-body workout, unlike flat running. Reassuringly, sports doctors say that, if done right, there’s no risk to the knee and hip joints.

Kurt Hess is a world record holder in altitude climbed within 24 hours (up the stairs repeatedly). He did 30,000 m, over thrice the height of Mt Everest — and he’s in his mid-50s. A recent biomechanical study of tower runners used volunteers of all ages, from teenagers to near-centenarians. Clearly, almost anyone with access to a staircase can do it.

Soon, perhaps, builders will incorporate such enthusiasms in their designs, adding a cork running surface to the stairs, or making them wider and shallower. Mumbai may soon have sponsored tower running events. There’s certainly no shortage of training space.

For a more outdoorsy event, the 1,400-odd steps of Shivaji’s fort of Raigad (about as many as in a skyscraper), have potential. Locals still scamper up like goats, while the tourists puff and purple. With high-rise practice, soon even city-dwellers will be able to show a clean pair of heels on the way up.


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  1. Nancy Palo said, on 10 January 2009 at 2:26 am

    Tishman Speyer and Rockefeller Center have teamed up with the National MS Society to provide a unique experience for ONLY 1,000 people to participate in our inaugural Climb to the Top stair climb event on Sunday March 1, 2009.

    All participants are timed with personal timing chips, start at the concourse of the Rockefeller Center and then run up the stairwells 66 flights to the Top of the Rock where they will be greeted with magnificent views of New York City! After a trip around the observation deck and photograph, participants are treated to breakfast back downstairs on the concourse! There will be rest stops every 10 flights or so – for those of you that need it!

    Climb to the Top at Rockefeller Center is a fundraising event and open to the public (with elite and firefighter divisions). We are expecting it to become the premier Stair Climb event in the country and you can be a part of it from the very beginning!

    How can YOU be a part of it?
    Register today at http://www.climbMSnyc. org

    The event is limited to 1,000 participants and will close when we reach capacity! Registration is $35 until January 31, and $50 February 1 – 27. The fundraising minimum is $250 and must be fulfilled by February 28, 2009.

    We are in the process of adding an elite division. In honor of Rockefeller Center’s 75th anniversary we are reserving 75 spots for elite climbers. If you are an elite stair climber please contact Kelly Kerins at kkerins@msnyc.org or 212-453-3256.

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