x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Long way to the top of Dubai

A record number of people take part in an unusual race in Dubai's Jumeirah Emirates Tower, raising money for charity.

A participant in the Vertical Marathon begins the climb up the stairs of Emirates Towers in Dubai on May 29, 2009.
A participant in the Vertical Marathon begins the climb up the stairs of Emirates Towers in Dubai on May 29, 2009.

A record number of people took part in the last marathon of the season, taking the chance to burn off calories and raise money for charity one more time before the summer heat consigns everyone to a summer hibernation. For experienced runners the 265 metre course may not have seemed a daunting prospect, particularly not for those who have run 26 miles earlier in the season. However, the scenes of breathless exhaustion at the finishing line showed that only those at the peak of their fitness could make the distance. For this was a marathon run vertically, not horizontally. At the Jumeirah Emirates Tower early on Friday morning 185 people chose to forego the lifts and take the stairs, 1334 of them to be precise, in a race to the 52nd floor. The fastest achieved the feat within 10 minutes while others hauled themselves up by the bannisters in a more leisurely half an hour. Mattias Jahn, 26, a professional stair-climber from Germany completed his run in just under eight minutes - the fastest time. "I am very keen to do the Burj Dubai next year," he said. "It's 160 storeys which I could do in 25 minutes." Mr Jahn had been invited to the UAE by the race organisers to promote the event. "Tower running is very popular in Germany and is spreading across the world. I train 10 times a week and have run up many of the most iconic buildings. "One of the reasons why the sport is attracting more competitors and events is that at the finish line you always get a wonderful view. The winner of the 101 storey Taipai race wins US$5000 (Dh18,362) so there is the incentive for people to train professionally." he said. But at the Dubai race the emphasis was on sponsorship rather than speed and in total Dh136,374 was raised for local charity Red Crescent and Médecins Sans Frontières, an international emergency medicine charity. Gijs Velema, 28, a hospitality professional from the Netherlands, said the challenge was completely mad, but therein lay the appeal. "Over a hundred people gathering to run up a building makes for an unusual race. But the camaraderie was excellent and we all took part to raise money for charity. It is actually a really difficult challenge. Some people started too quickly as their adrenaline drove them on but they were really suffering after ten storeys." Chris Strong, 39, from the US, was one of many competitors taking part in a corporate team and said it was an unusual but effective team building exercise. "It's for a great cause and it was a great way to see work colleagues in a new light. I admit to walking some of it but some guys just flew past us." The race, that had the tagline 'taking charity to new heights', began at 8am and small groups left at three minute intervals to huge cheers from family and friends. Half of the runners were in the elite group, including Rachel Andrews, 33, from England, who thought it was imaginative way of staging a race that is shaded from the oppressive heat outside. "I run in Safa Park at 5am every morning because later on it gets too hot. So its fun to have a bit of a lie in and take part in a quirky race this far into summer. Although, in truth it was still quite hot because they hadn't turned the air conditioning on." Although the focus was squarely on camaraderie and charity rather than competition and course records tower running has turned from a fun run into a recognised athletic discipline in its own right. Alan Christmas, 44, from England, said that it was an exhausting race but could see an even greater challenge on the horizon in years to come. "It's a great way of extending the running schedule for the year and because it is over within 20 minutes it doesn't take up the whole day. I think next year they should run it up the Burj [Dubai]. Now that really would be a challenge."

tbrooks@thenational.ae