To take an elevator to the top of China’s Shanghai Tower, 128 stories high, takes approximately 40 seconds—a technological marvel noted in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest elevator in the world. But Suzy Walsham of Australia would rather take the stairs—all 3,398 of them. It’s not that much slower, after all—running the Shanghai Tower took Walsham only 20 minutes and 44 seconds, a performance that contributes to her top standing in the Tower Running World Association.
Walsham, who entered (and won) her first “vertical marathon” in 2006, has dominated most of the 90 stair races she’s entered in the past 11 years. The sport, which requires lung-busting sprints up the stairwells of the world’s tallest towers, has helped Waltham become more fit in other forms of racing as well.
“I did 17:05 for 5K and 36:39 for 10K races last year,” says the 44 year-old Walsham. “Tower running has improved the strength and power in my legs, and I think mentally I am stronger, too, because tower running events are so tough.” And, she adds with a smile, running on flat surfaces feels comparatively easier after scaling buildings.
Stair workouts are easy to incorporate into any training routine, especially for those who are short on time. “A decent stair session can take 30 minutes or less,” says Waltham. It’s also a great option when the weather is bad, as most stairwells are temperature-controlled and protected from the elements. Stair training may also provide a workaround for injured runners—Walsham has stair-trained through muscle strains and Achilles injuries that were exacerbated by the road.
For those looking to take the stairs, it’s important to ease into the workout. “If you go out too hard, you’ll blow up. It’s quite different from running on the road, so understand that things get very tough, very quickly, as a lot of lactic acid builds up,” warns Walsham, who suggests introducing your body to stair workouts by jogging up 10 floors, taking a short rest, then doing 10 more. “As you get fitter, you can either reduce the rest time or increase the number of floors between rests.”
To add a strength component to a cardio-heavy stair workout, Walsham recommends taking the stairs two at a time, which requires more power, and using the handrail to pull up for a complete body workout.
Endurance Stair Session
This stair climbing workout is a staple of Walsham’s training for tower running competition, but also serves as a fitness test for upcoming road and trail races, especially ones that are hilly. “This session takes around 30 minutes, half of which I am running up stairs,” says Walsham. “If I can do this session I know I am in good shape.”
Warm-Up: 10 minutes easy running on flat elevation
Main Set: 10 x 30 floors with 3-4 minutes recovery (Walsham takes the elevator down to the first floor)
Cool-Down: After final repetition, walk down stairs.