The annual race up the 16,242 stairs at Melbourne’s tallest building, the Eureka Climb, presented by OsteoEze, rewards participants with a fantastic view of the city from the finish line at Skydeck88 – the highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere.
With two stairwells, one for those racing the clock and one for walkers, Eureka Climb attracts thousands of stair climbing enthusiasts of all fitness levels. The event is a fundraiser for two charities, Whitelion and Interplast Australia and New Zealand.
Mark Bourne is Australia’s best stairclimber and is the five time in a row defending champion of the Eureka Climb. He has arced up the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building and finished second in the World Towerrunning Championships last year.
Alice McNamara is Australia’s best female stairclimber and is the five time in a row defending champion of the Eureka Climb. She has won races up tall building around the world like the Empire State Building, Willis Tower Chicago and KL Tower Malaysia. In her spare time Alice is a rower and has represented Australia at World Championships as well as being in the Olympic Squad for London 2012.
We caught up with Alice recently, and here’s what she had to say about her beloved sport of stair climbing.
What attracted you to this sport in the first place?
Other than occasionally seeing some of the big races on the news as a kid, my first exposure to “stair climbing” or “tower running”, was when I was entered in a team of athletes from the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) in the 2010 Eureka Climb. My original sport is Rowing and I have trained at the VIS and been a member of the Australian Rowing Team for 11 years. A team of rowers were signed up, as it’s fair to say that stair climbing is a fairly insane sport, and rowers generally train to a fairly insane level, so it was assumed we were up for the challenge!
To be honest, the intensity of my first race was a familiar fatigue! It took me just over 9mins, the lactic acid was through the roof, and my legs and lungs were burning from about 30secs into the race. This is what a 2km rowing race feels like!
I was enthralled by it. It’s an “urban challenge” that offers the chance to scale tall, iconic buildings in great cities! I love the comradery of the elite climbers, as once the race has been run, there is great mutual respect for anyone who chooses to put themselves through the challenge! Although it’s a race, there comes a point where you are really only racing yourself in the stairwell. You know whether you’ve given it your all on the day.
Is there specific training required to be stairclimb-fit?
Yes, and people prepare in all different ways. I think anyone could make it from the bottom to the top, but you want to feel like you can climb confidently, and feel strong from ground to skydeck. That usually means you have to have visited “the pain cave” in training before!
Stair climbing is mainly a leg activity, so good training involves not only running but stairs, cycling, rowing, or even incline running. The challenge is to do enough work where your heart rate is well above threshold (ie about 15-20 bpm under your max heart rate at least). If you can set up 2-3 sessions per week that you target some work at a high heart rate you’ll not only prepare yourself physically, but mentally.
You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable, so we say!
I work with my rowing coach Bill Tait and physiologist Rod Siegel at the VIS, who play around with some different training blocks to see what may work for a sport like this. I’m enjoying the innovation at the moment! We’re mixing running, stairs, some “heat training” and interval ergometers.
It’s important to do some general lower intensity aerobic work too, as its vital to be aerobically efficient over an 8-20min. Most of the training will depend on your previous level of fitness and preferred type of training.
What sort of athlete does this sport typically attract?
It tends to attract two types, both the fast and furious who love a “race”, and those who love a personal challenge; a quantifiable summit to climb!
You have to love the satisfaction of a hard effort. I wouldn’t say “enjoy pain”, but enjoy the adrenalin, then the rush of the achievement is usually a draw card.
It is cool – I love looking at a city skyline and knowing I’ve climbed this building and that one. And, I love hearing about great races internationally, “bucket-list” races, that are “must-do’s” for tower runners, ie the Empire State Building Run Up and Taipei 101, both of which I’ve won! The Eureka tower is one of those bucket list races, and it is one of the TowerRunning World Association’s main races, attracting climbers from around the world. It’s a fairly random sport, but I think that’s why the devotees love it so much.
Can anyone do stair climbing? What advice do you have for beginners, to get them ready?
Yes, and that’s one of the best things. I think if you can ride a stationary bike, you can climb a building. Ensure you’ve done some good months (or at least a few weeks!) of exercise to get ready. That will vary from person to person but you want to give yourself a good chance to enjoy the climb. My best advice would be to take it steady to start off with. Find a pace that is “your rhythm” and ensure you allow yourself to be strong for the entire race. You’re racing yourself. I advise not to look at the floor levels too early… It can be very disheartening in the first few minutes when it’s still so early but the legs and lungs are really burning! Keep your head down, focus on what you’re doing, not on how you are feeling. It gets hard, and then just stays hard, and you’ll be ok! Just keep pushing up. The view will be worth it!
For more information about the Eureka Climb, presented by OsteoEze event click here.