A Vertical Victory! Suzy Walsham wins the Race to ICC

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On Sunday December 6, more than 1,600 runners from 36 countries gathered at HK’s tallest building, the International Commerce Centre (ICC), to race up 2,120 steps (yes, that is a staggering 82 flights of stairs) to reach the Sky100 platform, as part of the fourth SHKP Vertical Run for Charity, which raises money for local children and youth services. 

Among the 22 elite runners competing for the championship title was reigning Vertical World Circuit champion Suzy Walsham, who won the race for the fourth year running, in a record time of 14 minutes and 14 seconds. Suzy is an international elite athlete, acclaiming many successes in marathons and competing in middle-distance track at the 2006 Commonwealth Games before venturing into the world of vertical running in 2006. With several international titles and victories as a track athlete, road racer, and tower runner, Suzy sits down to chat with us about the ICC race and life as a travelling athlete. 

Congratulations Suzy! You’d run up the ICC on Sunday morning before we’d managed to get out of our pajamas. So how did you get into vertical racing?
I was always a really good middle distance track runner, and when I moved to Singapore in 2006 for work, I read about this vertical race where the first prize was a trip to New York to compete in the Empire State Building run. The Empire State run up is the longest vertical circuit race, it has been going on for 37 or 38 years, and it is very widely known about. I had always thought that it would be kind of a really interesting thing to do. So later in that year I did my first ever stair race, which was the Swiss Hotel vertical marathon, and I won! I went to New York to race the Empire State building in 2007, and I won that (unexpectedly), and that really started things. In the first couple of years there definitely weren’t many races on the circuit, but now there are so many races all over the world – this is actually my 15th race of this year of running up stairs!
 
Be honest, how often do people call you insane when you tell them you do this?
All the time! People look at me and say, ‘really? There are actually competitions for that? Are you mental?’ But it’s really become such a big part of my life!

How does the vertical training compare to track training?
I was looking for new challenges when I started vertical racing, my body was getting too old for track training, and vertical racing is a little easier on the body. But there’s much less impact, and much less of a chance of injury. I train every day and it’s a bit of a mixture because I am still doing some 10km road races here in Singapore, but generally I do some road runs three or four times a week. I’m in the gym two or three times a week, and I’m in the stairs twice a week.
 

Only twice a week? So, you do take the lift sometimes?
Yes, all the time! When I’m not actually stair training, I take the lift. 
 
What does your diet consist of, and do you have a go-to cheat meal?
It’s important with the stairs not to be carrying too much extra weight, but you also need to be very powerful and strong, so my diet is very high in protein. I don’t eat a lot of carbs, I mainly get carbs from vegetables and cereal in the morning. I eat lots of snacks and nuts and seeds. Before a race, I do not eat too much because I don’t want to carry any extra weight up the stairs. I’ll have some toast with peanut butter, a sports bar, and then a shot of coffee before the race. My cheat meals after the races are some champagne and maybe a big piece of chocolate cake!
 
You have won four vertical races this year so far around the world. How do you maintain your training routine while travelling the globe?
When I’m travelling for a race I am tapering, so I’m generally just doing some road runs.  I’m not doing any stair sessions any sooner than five days before the race: I like to go in with fresh legs. The only difference is with cold climates, such as New York, I make sure the hotel has a gym to warm up in, since it’s hard going from 30 degrees in Singapore to -5 degrees in New York!
 
How do you fit everything in while still being a full time professional and a mother?
It is crazy. I actually work three days a week, which has helped, and my company is very supportive of my motherhood and my competitions, so since I had my son who is now five, I have been working three days a week. It’s still really difficult: I’ve travelled overseas 12 times this year for races, and I’m definitely feeling overextended, but it’s really fun. It’s a nice group of people.

You hold several titles and records from your races. Which do you consider to be your most significant athletic accomplishment?
For track, making the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 was a highlight for me. In stairs, it’s winning my sixth Empire State Building run-up title, which was a record for the number of wins by a female, so I was very proud of that. And winning four times in a row on the vertical circuit is also an achievement I am very proud of. 
 
 
What are your expectations for this year’s race at the ICC?
This is a really tough race, it’s one of the biggest on the circuit (next to Taipei). It’s longer than Taipei because we have to run around the buildings as we change stairwells. 
 
How do you plan to celebrate your anticipated win?
With a glass of champagne! Kaitlin McPhee
 
Find out more about the Race to Hong Kong ICC at shkpverticalrun.com.

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