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Event review: Doha Torch Tower run
“How hard can it be?” Was the phrase to be heard amongst members of the Doha Bay Running Club, as news spread of the city’s first ever tower run.
In Qatar’s typical last-minute style preparations, the race was announced less than a month before it was due to be held, so there wasn’t going to be much anyone could do in preparation for their ascent of the 300m, 51-floor, Torch Tower.
Currently the tallest skyscraper in Doha, the iconic Olympic-torch shaped building was originally designed for the 2006 Asian Games, which were held in the city.
Yes, Doha may have plenty of Manhatten-esk skyscrapers, but who takes the stairs? It’s the elevator every time!
Preparation is key
Okay, okay I admit I may occasionally warm up for my visit to the gym in our home tower by whizzing down to the basement in the lift and then trotting up to the top of the building, some 34 staircases, to the top floor and the location of the gym.
I already knew the Torch run would be as much to do with cardio-vascular capabilities as leg power. The run would also require technique.
Limited to just 200 entrants and with a shortage of running type sporting events in the city, places sold out quickly. No one seemed frightened off by the disclaimer, to be signed on entering, which explained in no uncertain terms the potential risks involved. Fair enough, they didn’t want to be responsible for anyone’s demise!
Tap ‘tower run’ into your search engine and you’ll be bombarded with results of famous climbs scaling many of the world’s tallest buildings. There’s also no shortage of ‘how to’ information and videos concerned with stair-climbing technique. It was clear this was going to be no ordinary race!
Thankfully the organizers from Doha’s Aspire sports academy had arranged for a test run for participants to practise to the 19th floor, unluckily for me I was unable to attend.
A few days before the climb entrants were sent the run order. We would run alphabetically, so as a ‘W’ I’d be near the end. Good as I’d be able to see how the climb was going but bad as I’d have to wait around, would be later running so it would be hotter (fire stairs aren’t usually air-conditioned), it would be more slippery due to the earlier runners’ toils and dustier due to the number of feet which had already trundled up.
I arrived well before the start for the pre-climb briefing, where we were again reminded of the dangers of tower climbing and how the wrist chipping system would work – a bit different to an ankle chip; racers have to run their wrist over a sensitive pad to start and end their race and hence activate and de-activate their chip.
Water would be provided every second floor and first aid at ten-level intervals. Runners would race at 90 second gaps to avoid crowding. The protocol of overtaking was also explained with the onus of the individual being overtaken to get out to the way.
A big screen allowed spectators to enjoy the climb in action. The ‘live’ feed took a little time to come through but we cheered the finishers anyway, ironically forgetting that at 300m up they couldn’t actually hear us!
Romping through the field the early leaders were being beaten and times started to tumble. Runners famed for posting fast times on the flat failed. The first batch of finishers arrived back on the ground with tales of feeling faint, sick, trembling legs. Stories came down of climbers setting off too fast, different techniques, double stepping, single stepping, holding the rails and just plain free-styling.
Finally, the last ten numbers were called forward. I hadn’t even bothered to view the times posted. I merely wanted to finish. The guy in front of me sped away; a minute and a half later I’d be joining him. Following us last few racers would be two firefighters who had agreed to try the climb in full breathing gear!
Swiping my wrist chip I was racing, double stepping using the handrails I was up ten flights, but could already hear the women behind me coming. I pushed on to floor 20 catching the guy ahead of me. My breathing sounded worse than his but I trotted on past 30 floors; resorting to single stepping but still with hands wide dragging myself up.
My legs felt sound but my chest was getting heavy. I knew I had to keep my head up and breathe deeply.
Past 40 floors, it was quiet ahead, apart from the occasional first aider cheering me on, although I was conscious of clanking on the metal stair-rails from below. I was later to find out this was the firefighters on their way up.
It was getting tough now and despite the signs telling me which level I was on, I was confused as to where I was. Suddenly I was on the last flight, there was the wrist pad and I launched my arm across it. The climb was over and not one I wished to repeat in a hurry!
And the winner is…
Being one of the last to race I didn’t have to wait long for the results. Somehow my 10 minutes, 33 seconds had won! Sadly, for the lady in second place I’d beaten her by just a single second. The dive for the wrist pad on the finish line had paid off.
The presentation was no small affair and I was photographed and interviewed by the regional press.
In the grand scheme, I did not post a very fast time and I definitely won’t be qualifying as an elite tower climber, but it was great to be part of an inaugural event and as always was very well organised by the Aspire team. For now, however, please forgive me if I choose to take the elevator rather than the stairs.
- A different challenge
- Can be held in any weather
- Well organised
- Race is over quickly!
- Great view at the top
- You get access to a building usually out of bounds
- Very lonely
- Not a spectator sport
- Gets disorientating as you tire
- There’s no scenery to enjoy during the race
- Not easy to train for unless you have access to skyscraper!
Sarah Whittington, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine