Last March the food court at the bottom of the Columbia Center – the tallest skyscraper in Seattle – was packed with firefighters in full gear. Face masks, respirators, oxygen tanks and everything else they need to protect them as they battle raging fires. There wasn’t an emergency though, it was just firefighters from over 250 different departments from around the world gathering to participate in the annual Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, where firefighters in full gear race to be the first to the 73rd floor Columbia Center observation deck.
Another event similar to this one happens at the Columbia Center each year. Known as the Big Climb for the general public, participants have the choice of participating in a timed, competitive race, or an untimed walk up the 69 flights and 1,311 total steps. The proceeds from these events all go to charity benefiting the local chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. For many people, charity events such as these are their introduction to the extreme sports known as Tower Running and Stair Climbing.
History of Tower Running
Human beings, if anything, are both competitive and innovative so really, it was only a matter of time before the act of walking up a set of stairs turned into a competitive event much the same way marathons are ran. For all we know, extreme sports such as tower running have existed for as long as there have been stairs to race up, but in the modern era it is widely accepted that the first act of organized tower running began in 1978 with the first organized run up New York City’s Empire State Building as well as a run up the CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Since then, tower running has become one of many extreme sports to gain a very large and diverse following around the world, with an estimated over 200 tower running events held worldwide every year, with 160 of them factoring into the Tower Running World Cup rankings. The sport even has its own governing body now – further information about this can be found here.
It’s Not as Easy as You Might Think!
A lot of people take for granted how grueling it can be to walk up stairs. Stair climbing, as well as tower running demands that you use all over your body weight vertically, as opposed to moving it horizontally when you are running in a straight line. This is why 15 minutes of stair climbing is considered to have the same physical intensity of 30 minutes of running. More than a cardio workout, it also helps you build muscle mass in your legs as well as your arms as you use them to pull yourself up using the rails.
No Equipment Needed
Many tower running competitors are also active in a number of other extreme sports because tower running is such a great way to cross-train for other sports as well. Since tower running doesn’t require any expensive or specialized equipment, it can be done anywhere there are stairs. For example, Kory Burgess, the fireman that won the Columbia Center race in 2010, practiced in his hometown of Missoula, Montana by climbing up the 10 flights of stairs in the tallest building in Missoula 10 times. He made it to the 73rd floor in 11:01, 5.6 seconds shy of beating the record for the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb, which he set the year prior. When asked if he would take on the climb again next year, his reply was “I don’t know. Ask me again in a few months when I forget the pain again.”
Names to Watch Out For
As literally anyone can get involved in this extreme sport you could enter a race tomorrow and become a local hero instantly. That’s what Justin Stewart did! He won his first race in a fashion that no-one ever thought possible, beating one of the main leaders in the sport, Terry Purcell, to first place. With more wins behind him than he ever thought possible, Justin is definitely a name to watch out for in the future.
When asked what it feels like to participate in the sport Justin answered: “Have you ever run a 400 meter dash? Do you know what it feels like the last 100m of that 400, your legs start to tie up and you feel like you’re going fast but you’re just tying up and locking up. Well that’s how it feels basically the entire way up 103 floors.” Other names to watch out for include Thomas Dold and Kristen Frey who have both emerged as great athletes since the sport began.
When you give tower running a try, you will have one of the most extreme workouts of your life. It is a full body workout, and when you are finished, everything will hurt. But without the cost barrier that so many other extreme sports have, why not give it a try? You might love it.