The charm of tower-running is catching on in Doha
The new-age sport, which sees people race up hundreds of steps inside skyscrapers, is slowly gaining in popularity in the city.
Tower-running, unlike most other competitive sports, is a strange beast.
While other games have a human element to it, pitting one player against another, the only sights staircase runners are likely to see are their own shoe-clad feet and never-ending concrete steps extending upwards.
Yet, the sport has caught on in a big way in recent times, thanks to the Tower-running World Association (TWA) and hundreds of skyscrapers that pepper important cities across the world.
The TWA hosts around 160 major races each year, with the results being counted towards the Tower-running World Cup.
In 2015, the Doha Torch Hotel conducted TWA’s inaugural World Championships and hosted it for two more years.
Last Friday, more than 200 runners took part in the eighth edition of a comparatively smaller event – The Doha Torch Staircase Run.
Competitors ran up the 300M tower, covering 51 floors and 1,300 steps on the way, one by one. A majority of them finished what they started, some bounding past the finish line and others dragging themselves forward, a few centimetres at a time.
So what is it that attracts people to such challenges?
A knee injury opened German Heiko Letzing’s eyes to the vast possibilities of tower-running.
“I’m a long-distance runner, and I suffered a tear to my anterior cruciate ligament a few years ago. I couldn’t run distances longer than 5km anymore. In 2015, I watched tower-runners in action in Doha and it inspired me,” said Letzing, who was fifth in the Masters’ category on Friday.
“I found that tower-running, though quite demanding on your leg muscles and heart, was easy on joints. It instantly attracted me to the sport,” he added.
He then introduced his wife Virna Aranez to the sport, and it has been a family affair ever since. The Filipino national, who finished fifth in the women’s open category, said she was a passionate follower.
“My baby Sarah is only a few months old, but that didn’t stop me from competing in Doha. I was four months pregnant during the last race, but I competed at a pace that wouldn’t harm the baby. Tower-running has become a part of our lives,” Aranez said.
“We’ve now registered for the Paris race, up the iconic Eiffel Tower, and are hoping to get accepted,” she added. “It would see runners climb 1,665 stairs in an open setting on March 11, 2020”.
For Egyptian Mohamed Sayed, a student at Doha’s Edison International Academy, the thrill of doing something different on his birthday proved to be the clincher.
“It was my18th birthday on Friday and I wanted to do something different to celebrate the milestone. After all, how many children can say they ran up 1,300 stairs without stopping once on the day they entered adulthood? The race pushed me to my limits, but I enjoyed it,” said Sayed, who finished the challenge in 14min 13sec.
At the other end of the age spectrum, 64-year-old Adnan Steitieh conquered the tower in 16:13, sans any stops. The Palestinian-Canadian, who works as an advisor to multiple major businesses in Qatar, said the race made him feel alive.
“For me, the race was a fight against my age and diseases. It’s my fourth appearance in Doha, and it’s gotten progressively difficult each year. But I’ll never give up and will go on for as long as I can. Tower-running makes me feel alive, and that’s the biggest attraction,” said Steitieh.
Despite having so many fans, tower-running is still in its nascent form in Qatar. Letzing said more needed to be done to popularise the sport.
“Tower-running is a perfect way to remain healthy. People can practise at home or office, in a comfortable, climate-controlled setting, and for free. Having so many signature towers in Doha, I’m surprised more isn’t being done to promote the discipline,” he said.
“The American Lung Association hosts a series of races under the banner ‘Fight for Air Climb,’ to raise funds. China has woken up to the possibilities of tower-running tourism and hosts important races, including the world’s tallest race in Shanghai Towers (3,398 steps). It’s a golden opportunity for high-rises in the West Bay to come up with a series of their own,” added Letzing, who works with Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health.