As the founder of Tower Running UK, I have climbed a few tall buildings in my time, including the Empire State Building, the Gherkin, BT Tower and the Heron Tower. Tower running is an unusual sport and extremely physically demanding, but an amazing challenge, not to mention the view from the top! Here are my top tips for tower running if you are taking on Mencap's Step Up challenge and climbing the Walkie Talkie this July.

What to wear

  • Keep clothing choices light, as you will heat up a lot quicker than during a run, plus stairwells can sometimes get a little stuffy. A t-shirt or vest with shorts is ideal.
  • Regular running shoes are perfectly fine for a stair race. As with clothing, the lighter the better. You want to be carrying as little weight as possible up all those steps.
  • Some elite stair climbers opt for wearing grippy cycling or weight lifting gloves to help them get a bit more purchase on the railing as they pull themselves up. This can certainly help at the top floors when palms are sweaty and arms are tired, but many of the world’s fastest stair climbers do without gloves.

Training

Stair climbing is one of the most demanding physical activities around. Even if you just decide to take it slow on the day, it will be a tough challenge so it’s important to do some fitness preparation.

  • The key areas to focus on are strengthening your thighs and glutes, developing a strong aerobic base, and improving your lactate threshold.
  • To strengthen the major muscles used during a stair climb you can do squats, step ups, lunges and leg presses. Multiple repetitions with a light weight will help replicate the exertion of climbing all those steps.
  • There is still time between now and race day to develop a solid aerobic base and you can pick from swimming, running, cycling, rowing or a wide array of other activities to give you the cardiovascular strength to take on the Step Up challenge.
  • High intensity workouts will be your best friend in preparing your body for climbing 20 Fenchurch Street, especially if you are hoping to clock a fast time. One way to achieve this is to apply the Tabata protocol to your chosen activity. That’s 20 seconds of all out exertion, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated for eight rounds. This can be done on a rower, inclined treadmill, stairs, or even with rounds of burpees or squats.
  • Where to find stairs: hotels, flats, offices, certain underground stations and Guy’s Hospital are all great places to find long sets of steps to help you prepare for the Step Up challenge. You can mix up your workouts on these steps with sets of long slow climbs, two steps at a time, pulling on the railing. If you want to push yourself and get one of the best workouts you’ve ever had then consider running intervals of 5 to 10 floors at a time at about 80% effort with two minutes rest in between sets.
  • If you are training on steps, avoid walking/running down them whenever you can. Stair climbing is a low impact activity as long as you are going up. You will put a lot of pressure on your knees as well as experience delayed onset muscle soreness if you walk down stairs. Take the lift wherever possible to get you back down to your starting point.

Stair climbing technique

  • If you want to be competitive in stair climbing you will have to take two steps at a time. In certain buildings, some climbers will even take three steps at a time. Of course it’s perfectly fine to take one step at a time and this technique you will keep your heart rate a little lower, making for a slightly more comfortable, albeit slower, climb.
  • Make use of the railing by pulling on it to help take some of the strain off your legs and spread some of the load to your back and arms. One tried and tested railing technique is to pull hand over hand like you would with a rope. Not only does this help get you up the steps quicker, it also saves energy by keeping you stable and moving in a straight line.
  • Take a tight turn on the landings. This can save you half a second on each turn, which over the course of the race will add up to a significant chunk off your finish time. So as you come to top of one flight think of taking only one step on the landing before you twist 180 degrees to set off up the next flight.
  • Set off slowly. Even the world’s fastest stair climbers are not running flat out up the stairs. It is more of a steady trot that they maintain for many floors. If you set off too fast, and we see it happen at every race, you will burn out after 10 or 15 floors and the rest of the climb will be a slow, painful march. Set off at a nice steady pace and hold that for as long as you can.
  • There is a huge mental aspect to stair climbing, especially at the competitive end. Whether you’re going fast or slow it is going to be tough, there is no sugar coating that. All your exertions will be worth it though when you reach the SkyGarden and take in a glorious view of London knowing you’ve raised vital funds for Mencap in support of all the great work they do.

On race day

  • We would advise not eating anything up to two hours before you set off up the stairs. Even then you will only want to have a light breakfast. Food in the stomach and stair climbing do not a happy couple make.
  • Arrive early to get your bag dropped and leave time for a warm up of light jogging and some dynamic stretches.

We hope these top tips help you with your Step Up challenge. Good luck and enjoy the view from the top!

Thanks to Patrick Gallagher, founder of Tower Running UK, for sharing his top training tips. Find out more about Tower Running UK here.

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