There were many changes to the format of 35th Empire State Building Run-Up (ESBRU) put on by The New York Road Runners Association. Two details that remained the same however were that Thomas Dold won for them men, an impressive 7th in a row, and the event proved to have more media coverage than any other stair race in the US. This is essentially where the similarities end. The 2012 race broke tradition and saw changes to event date, time of day, starting format and there was even a minor course modification at the 64th floor stairwell transition.
Most notable of the changes was the starting format, where traditionally there was one mass start for the ladies and five minutes later there would be one or two mass starts for the men. This starting format albeit extremely picture worthy is a disaster waiting to happen not only for runner safety but in terms runners being able to run at or near their ability given the bottle neck that is created by having so many bodies enter the stairwell at once. Anyway, the mass start this year was much less massive in that it was limited to less than 20 elites for both the men and the ladies heats, there was then a “Broker Challenge” mass start and then the remainder (majority) of the participants started via a 5 second staggered time trial. Although, I enjoyed the luxury of starting in a small group of elites at the front of the pack having multiple starting formats is a problem (a point I will touch on later).
Going into the event I knew my time would be better than my 2011 performance solely due to the fact that I would start so much closer to the front of the pack. I blindly assumed that I would run at least a minute better but hoped of course that I would run much faster than that. In terms of strategy I really had none other than not to go too fast at the start and just to run a strong race. Other races I generally have a goal time in mind which allows me to have some semblance of pace but given my experience with the building and the number of irregular floors this technique for pacing is not effective. Not that it would have mattered anyway because I forgot my watch, which I regret as it can be a motivator for me if I find myself alone in the stairwell.
An interesting thing happened while rounding the corner from floor 84 to 85. I saw another runner ahead of me, it was about time! The runner was Ahment Arslan and I immediately told myself that I had to catch him. Although he is an amazing mountain runner this was his debut stair race, he went out hard and was obviously struggling. It only took a split second for me to recognize this and it was like a light switch was turned on in my body and I immediately went from survival mode to attack mode knowing that there was no time to spare. Entering the last flight I could see that he had not reached the top and ignoring the rail I ran the last flight and could see he had just entered the observation deck. I ran as hard as I could taking the inside track on the final corner and narrowly edged him at the line all while stopping in time to avoid a collision with about a dozen photographers. Sweet.
Reflecting on my performance, although pleased that my time of 11:42 was over a minute faster than my 2011 effort I could not help but think about the strength that I had at the finish. It is concerning in a way. I was really hurting in the last 10 floors and I was spent after crossing the line but out of nowhere I was able to finish the last floor and the observation deck faster than I thought possible. This leads me to believe that there is room for improvement in my mental game. I have many races in the coming months to work on this.
After the race the elites were scurried down to the 80th floor where there was an awards ceremony, initial results were handed out and there was time to socialize with the other runners. It was really great spending time with old stair race friends, making new ones and picking their brains about training and future events. On the ladies side Melissa Moon took the win followed by Suzy Walsham and Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington. Thomas Dold won for the men but was followed closely by Christian Reidl who put up an extremely strong performance. Third place is where things get interesting, while awards were being handed out to the invitational runners the time trial participants were still running. After leaving the event I assumed I had taken home a 7th place finish but upon reviewing results the next morning I learned this was not the case.
I had been beaten by 3 time trial runners. In fact the 3 and 4 spots were taken by Aussies Mark Bourne and Darren Wilson who both broke the 11 minute mark and 9th position was taken by Norwegian Eirik Haugsnes. Does this mean Omar Bekkali has to give back his 3rd place prize that was awarded to him? Given their strong histories in mountain running and stair climbs I cannot understand how these athletes were not included in the elite heat of this race, unless they failed to fill out their elite application. From what I have heard the time trial runners had to deal with a very crowded stairwell and perhaps if they were in the invitational heat they would have fared far better. Either way handing out awards before each participant has run is a blunder not to mention the fact that these times are not apples to apples given the differing race formats. I have a couple of ideas about how to make this event more successful, which I will be writing about in a future post.
Cheers to Mark Bourne, Darren Wilson and Eirik Haugsnes on your great performances coming out of the time trial. I would like hear more about it if you are reading this please contact me here.
It is always a privilege to visit New York and I feel even more privileged to have spent time there with a bunch of my “step” brothers and sisters. Besides the race some of the highlights include:
- Navigating the NYC subway and visiting the 9-11 memorial with Norbert Lechner and Justin Stewart
- Talking race strategy amongst other things with Tim VanOrden. He exudes positive energy and is simply inspiring to be around
- Grabbing a post race dinner with Tim, Norbert, Justin, Ann and Kristin Frey
- Touring the city and grabbing a nice lunch friends Kacie, Suzie & Adam
- Going to a cool bar on the Lower East Side with my friend Grace
- Learning to walk, not run across the street as not to look like a tourist (as if the camera and backpack do not give it away)