As a runner and adventure racer, I am always looking for the next challenge.
If I’m holidaying near a beach, then Ill find a way to get some dune running in. If I’m biking to work, then I will always try to go at a pace that raises my heart beat. But when I was posted to a soulless city for a week’s work, my heart sank.
The hotel was near the airport. There were no nearby parks, no streets to run down, just a four-lane highway and a tiny gym, if you could call it that. This was going to be a long seven days.
Then inspiration struck me.
So many of us are stuck inside for many reasons. How many people do you know who work in office buildings all day long, but they have access to many flights of stairs? Ah-ha, STAIRS!
At this hotel, was on the 14th floor and there were stairs, a lot of stairs. So for a whole week, I became a tower-runner.
Every morning would find me puffing my way up the stairs, or bounding, at a break-neck speed, up and down them.
If anyone asked me why, I would explain with a new disciple’s zeal that ‘every time you take the lift or escalator you are wasting an opportunity to increase your heart rate, burn some calories, improve your fitness and boost your energy levels.’
Research backs me up. Dr Lewis Halsey at Roehampton University has found that climbing 100 steps, five x’s a day will burn more than 300 calories – more than jogging or cycling and as much as vigorous swimming.
And I had no idea that tower-running, as it is known, is actually a real sport. There are a number of tower-running races taking place across some of the world’s major cities. The Gherkin Challenge in London involves 1,037 steps; the Sears Tower in Chicago puts competitors through 2,109 agonizing steps and Taiwan has the Tapei 101 with 2,046 steps.
These are no strolls up a tower with pauses to admire the view; this is high-octane, high energy racing at its best. There is even a World Cup in tower racing taking in 150 events across 25 countries. These events are serious and can attract thousands of athletes. At the last count 65,000 athletes worldwide had participated in a tower run.
Tower running is the urban version of mountain running or fell-running. It is tough on the calves and hamstrings going up, it is torture on the quadriceps coming down. And it is not for the easily bored. Training takes place in stairwells, never the most picturesque of environments and is not conducive to group running.
But, it is the complete training package. Hearts, lungs, bones, muscles and flexibility all get a workout and, as you spring up the stairs with confidence, it does mean you will never have to squeeze into an over-crowded lift again.
So how do you get started tower-running?
Here are 4 Steps to Start Tower-Running:
1. Find Steps – Find any building that has a set of steps – the flight of stairs at work, the local sports stadium, the pedestrian stairway in a multi-story car park, the fire exit in the shopping mall – and then just do it.
2. Start Slowly – As with any exercise start slowly and build up. You can set yourself targets and build these up over weeks. For complete beginners I would suggest the following: Start with three times up and down a set of stairs with a minute break between each set (no more than 30 steps in each set)
3. Increase Time – Week 2 – Increase to five times up and down a set of stairs with a minute break between reps. Week 3 – Increase to two times up and down a set of stairs with no break, then a minute rest, and repeat this sequence two more times. As your lungs and muscles get used to the exercise, you can increase the intensity and decrease the rest period.
4. Down is as Important as Up –Remember, it is as beneficial to your leg muscles going downstairs as it is going up, so don’t take it easy on the descent.
Tower running is tough on your legs, so it is important that you take a few precautions before you start any session. Ensure your footwear is up to the job. A good pair of running shoes is best, with the laces carefully tied up.
Stretch your muscles. Do a gentle warm up and stretch before you start, and stretch those muscles again when you finish. Concentrate on the calves, hamstrings and quadriceps, but also work the hips and buttock area, as they will all feel the ‘burn’.
The beauty of tower running is that you can do it just about any time you want to. If you arrive at work early, then you can do a few sets before you sit behind your desk; if the weather is too wet for you to go for your lunchtime run in the park, then do some tower running in the dry.
Sarah Juggins is a freelance journalist, magazine editor and writer. She writes for a variety of sports publications, including the newly-launched Women in Sport magazine, and a number of sports websites. Summer 2012 was spent leading the hockey reporting team at the London Olympics, an experience she says she will never forget.
Prior to her career as a writer, Sarah was in education where she taught physical education. She was a director of sport and also coached and played field hockey for a national league team in the UK. Now she is a keen adventure racer, cyclist and an elite-level road runner. She is also a fitness coach, working with people who have had a long break from physical activity.