On Top of the Pile

In the race to top the Empire State Building, Thomas Dold stands alone

By Barbara Huebner—When you think of the Empire State Building, the romantic final scene of Sleepless in Seattle might come to mind. Or Cary Grant. Or King Kong. Possibly the panoramic views from its observation deck. Probably not Thomas Dold.

It’s not for lack of hard work, because the 28-year-old from Stuttgart, Germany, is indeed part of the landmark’s history: He has won the Empire State Building Run-Up Powered by the MMRF (which is happening this coming Wednesday, Feb. 6) a record seven consecutive times, going all the way back to 2006.

“To be the most successful runner and defending champion makes it easy for all the other runners to find their goal: Just to beat me,” said the dominant champion, whose average margin of victory is almost 30 seconds.

Dold will return on February 6 in quest of his eighth consecutive victory. Seeking to tie the women’s record of four wins will be Suzy Walsham, 39, of Singapore, who won three straight times from 2007 to 2009.

The first Empire State Building Run-Up, in 1978, was won by 1970 New York City Marathon winner Gary Muhrcke in 12:33 and Marcy Schwam in 16:04. The course records are held by Paul Crake of Australia (9:33, 2003) and Andrea Mayr of Austria (11:23, 2006). During the grueling race, runners race up 86 floors in tight quarters and climb 1,576 steps, often two at a time, while hauling themselves up via the handrails of the iconic building.

As the runners near the top, Tim Van Orden told the New York Times last year, “Your legs aren’t functioning, your throat is screaming, you can barely put your arms on the railing, and you want to throw up—and you’ve got 10 to 15 floors to go.” Van Orden, from Vermont, has competed in the event five times and finished fourth in 2011.

The Run-Up consists of several races in addition to the divisions for the invited men and women, including a Brokers’ Challenge and a time trial in which competitors take off every 10 seconds. Last year, more than 670 runners, the most in the event’s history, took to the stairs.

Despite Dold’s long supremacy, and his position atop the Towerrunning circuit’s 2012 World Cup rankings, his rivals might be seeing a glimmer of hope: Dold’s 2012 winning time of 10:28 was the slowest since he began his streak, and his margin of victory—eight seconds—tied for the smallest. Christian Riedl, 32, of Germany, last year’s runner-up, and Rickey Gates, 31, of San Francisco, who finished just eight seconds back in 2008, are both expected to be on the starting line. Will Dold rise to the occasion once again?

In the women’s race, Walsham will be challenged by Cindy Harris, 44, of Indianapolis, who currently holds the record of four victories. Last year’s winner, New Zealand’s Melissa Moon, is not returning to defend her title.