Suzy Walsham is a well-known name in the sport of tower running and rightly so as 9 times Empire State Building Run Up winner and a former Commonwealth Games 1500m finalist. As tower running races and stair climbing become increasingly popular we want to discover some of the hidden secrets to success in this sport. And what better way to celebrate International Women’s Day, than talking to the world’s best!
What were your first experiences of tower running and how did you first get into it?
Suzy: My first race was the Swissotel Vertical Marathon in November 2006. I was keen for a new challenge and was enticed by the winner’s prize of a trip to New York to compete in the Empire State Building Run Up. The first race was even tougher than I expected, but I won, then went to New York 2 months later and won that! I have been hooked ever since.
Being #1 ranked in the world and going for your 9th win (very impressive) at The Empire State Building Run Up earlier this year comes with a certain amount of pressure… how does that compare to a commonwealth games final?
Suzy: I try not to think too much about other’s expectations and focus on my own race. I know from my years in track and field, that you can’t win every race, but I will definitely be giving my best in every race. Tower running is quite different to the track in that tactics don’t come into it as much – a stair race is such a tough event no matter what speed you are going, so it’s not really possible to ‘sit and kick’ like it is in a middle distance track race.... it is very hard to change pace in the stairs. Additionally, many stair races are time trials, so you have to just run your own race, try your best, and the outcome will be what it will be.
What is your pre-race routine / race strategy?
Suzy: I like to have fresh legs coming into a race so the last 2 days before a big race I will be resting up. I do a fairly standard warm up (almost the same as when I was a track athlete - I like routine and once I start my warm up my mind clicks into racing mode), but I do like to include some stairs (no more than 10 floors) as part of my warm up to get my legs firing. My race strategy is pretty much always the same – don’t go out too hard and try to get into a good rhythm.
In terms of nutrition I don’t do anything specific like say, carb loading, as the race is so short. For me, a race will take anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes so I don’t think it is necessary. I prefer to feel light, so I eat relatively lightly for the prior 24 hours leading into a race. I have a snack 2 hours before the race and I take a sports gel about 30mins before....and a shot or two of espresso!
Describe tower running in three words.
Suzy: Intense, challenging, & rewarding.
Who is your sporting hero and why?
Suzy: I wouldn’t say there is a specific person, but I admire any sportsperson who trains hard, competes fairly, and has persistence - being an athlete is hard work and injuries and setbacks invariably happen - I admire athletes who keep on trying and who don’t let setbacks stop them from trying to achieve their goals.
How does stair climbing improve your performance in other sports?
Suzy: I think stair climbing makes you very strong mentally - training and racing is so tough (both physically and mentally) that doing hard flat running sessions and races don’t seem quite as hard in comparison. I think stair climbing also builds strength in your quads, glutes and arms (from pulling on the handrail) and this helps with your running form.
What are your top tips for new stair climbers?
Suzy: Definitely do some stair running before attempting a race so you know what you are getting yourself into! That way, you can practice some different techniques and find one that suits you best. In the race, I always recommend to start out slower than you think you need to, do two stairs at a time if you can, and use the handrail for support.
What’s the must have piece of kit at a race?
Suzy: Very lightweight racing trainers and a pair of gloves - the handrail can get sweaty and slippery and gloves give added grip.
What does a typical week of training look like for you?
Suzy: A typical week would look something like this:
Stair training session x3Varied dependent on upcoming race however a common session I do is 5 times 44 floors in my office building (around 5000 steps in total)Cross training session x2 + weightsCycling and cross-trainerRunning session x4Long runs, recovery runs and speed sessions
Do you use a smart watch or heartrate device to track your training?
Suzy: I do wear a Fitbit but more for just getting a general overview of the training session. I don’t really assess/monitor my heart rate in training - I more focus on my times, form, technique, and how I am feeling.
You are a busy woman juggling being a mum, working AND an international stair climber! How do you fit it all in?
Suzy: It’s really hard actually - I have to be super organised, everything has to be planned (if it’s not planned then it doesn’t happen!!), there is unfortunately little downtime and I am permanently exhausted....but really no different from any other mum!
My big problem at the moment is that I am not getting enough sleep (5-6 hours a night is not cutting it) and I am finding more and more I am struggling with injuries and illness. It’s actually a goal of mine this year to try as much as possible to get 7 hours sleep a night as I think that will help me a lot. I haven’t been very successful with this so far but I will continue to try!
What are your hopes for the future of the sport?
Suzy: The sport has already grown so much in the last 12 years since I first started, with so many more races, more depth in the competition, world rankings and circuits. it’s been really exciting to see this happen and be a part of it.
It would be great to see the sport continue to grow (both in terms of races and competitors), some interest from sponsors to help develop the sport, and more structure and collaboration in place with the administration of the sport.
Looking for a Total Motion Stair Climb to compete in? Why not check out our upcoming events, non charity places are usually available too
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