Suzy Walsham Earns Fifth Empire State Building Run-Up Title

Suzy Walsham of Australia and Thorbjørn Ludvigsen of Norway celebrate after winning the 37th Empire State Building Run-Up in New York City. Photo: Chris Lotsbom | Race Results Weekly

Norway’s Thorbjørn Ludvigsen won the men’s race in just over 10 minutes. 

(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. 

NEW YORK — International athletes swept the top spots at the 37th Empire State Building Run-Up on Wednesday night, as Australia’s Suzy Walsham earned her record-setting fifth title, while Norway’s Thorbjørn Ludvigsen captured his first. Climbing 1,576 stairs in 11:57 and 10:06, respectively, Walsham and Ludvigsen were overcome with joy.

“I’m so excited,” said Walsham, 40, who is a citizen of Australia and a permanent resident of Singapore, where she has lived for seven-and-a-half years. “That was a goal of mine coming here. No other female has won it more than four times so I wanted to be the first and I am really proud of that record.”

Lining up in the Empire State Building’s gleaming Art Decco lobby, Walsham was nervous yet focused on the task at hand: winning. Knowing she could become the most decorated stair-climber in race history, Walsham was ready to tackle the building’s 86 floors. After the starter’s horn sounded, she’d be the first to reach the narrow staircase.

By the 20th floor, Walsham was all alone. Reaching the 40th floor — not quite halfway — she couldn’t hear any of her fellow competitors.

“I was feeling good at that stage so I thought if I keep focusing on my race and stay strong, I should be fine,” she said.

She was indeed fine, reaching the 86th and final floor more than 50 seconds ahead of California’s Erika Aklufi.

Unlike her wins in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2013, Walsham had to break the finish tape indoors with 11:57 reading on the clock. Wet weather forced the New York Road Runners to move the traditional finish — typically outside on the iconic 86th floor observation deck, overlooking the entire city– inside. The change of scenery didn’t dampen Walsham’s win at all, though.

“Among the tower running community, this is the one everyone wants to win,” she said. Her winning time was the fastest of her five crowns (although the distance was slightly shorter), and the first time a woman has broken 12 minutes since Andrea Mayr set the course record of 11:23 in 2006. “I’m really proud of my effort.”

Does Walsham plan to return in 2015, aiming for what would be her sixth title in eight years?

“Oh gosh, I’m getting old,” she said with a hearty laugh. “But it’s nice to still be running pretty fast… I love coming to New York. It’s such an iconic building and the race has been going for 37 years. It’s a special one and a special one to me.”

Aklufi, 37, finished second in 12:48, while New Zealand’s Melissa Moon rounded out the top three in 13:25. Four-time champion Cindy Harris placed fifth in 13:46. New York Road Runners President and CEO Mary Wittenberg was an impressive eighth overall in the invitational division, timing 16:30.

In the men’s race, Ludvigsen’s title was extra special. A year ago, the Norwegian was not part of the men’s invitational race, yet managed to finish in 10:39 — the second-fastest time overall behind champion Mark Bourne. Tonight, Ludvigsen wouldn’t be denied.

Racing with Australia’s Darren Wilson through a majority of the race, Ludvigsen managed to pass the 39-year-old around the 71st floor.

“It’s tough to get passed because you have to [pick the] pace up,” he said. In the end, Ludvigsen’s move wound up being the deciding factor, going on to claim victory in 10:06. Wilson wound up second in 10:21, the same position he finished last year.

“It is really great. It’s been one of my goals this season [to win],” said Ludvigsen. “It was a good fight.”

Ludvigsen said he didn’t consider himself to be much of a stair racer, saying “it’s good to try different things.”

To celebrate his win, Ludvigsen plans to sight-see and do some shopping before departing the city on Monday. His next race will be Zegama, a sky-running mountain race in Spain.

“The season’s just started and I’m off to a great start,” he said, clutching the winner’s trophy.

Third overall was Slovakia’s Tomas Celko in 11:05, followed by Belgium’s Omar Bekkali (11:16). The top American, Tim Donahue, placed fifth in 11:17.

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