It is not often that a national champion walks away from their chosen sport to pursue a new challenge. That was the decision that tower-runing world champion Suzy Walsham made in 2006.

Having represented Australia as their national champion in the 1500m at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, Walsham turned her attention to tower-running after moving to Singapore. Walsham, who will arrive in Doha this week to compete in the Torch Staircase Run on 29 March 2014, said:

I was looking for new challenges and running up a building is certainly a big challenge.’

Since taking up the sport, Walsham has risen through the ranks and won back-to-back Towerrunning world cups in 2012/2013 and has won the prestigious Empire State Building Run Up in New York five times. An accountant by trade, Walsham said the challenge of towerrunning is the test it presents to your mental and physical capabilities.

Walsham, who’s father represented the Australian rugby national team during the 1960s, said:

The real competition is between yourself and the building – can you conquer the building? As soon as your legs start getting tired, the race becomes very hard.  Sometimes this can happen early in the race so that makes it tough.  I think the last 10 floors are the hardest – you know you are nearly there but the fact you probably still have a minute or so until you reach the top and you have to keep pushing.’

One of Walsham’s main rivals in the race will be Lenka Svabikova from Czech Republic. After competing in athletics since the age of 16 years, Svabikova switched to towerrunning after becoming frustrated with her sport. Svabikova said:

It’s probably weird, but because I was not winning in Athletics I wanted to try something else to find new motivation and lost confidence so I could enjoy racing again. The stairs have given me even more than that.’

After 15 years as a sprinter, in which races took less than a minute to complete, Svabikova has had to adjust to the more demanding sport of tower-runing. He said:

I had to prepare myself for a new race time, which is eight or 10 times longer than before. It’s not easy because sometimes I can’t even feel my legs.’

Preparing for physically demanding events is something that another Torch Staircase Run competitor Chritsain Riedl from Germany is used to. A former ultra cyclist, Riedl won the ultracycling world cup for his age category following a nonstop 43 hour/1,000km ride. While most athletes trying out towerrunning would choose an easy event for their time, Riedl went to the other extreme. Riedl said:

My first stair run was a stair double-marathon over 16 hours called ‘Mount Everest Stairrun’. It is 84.4km and 9,000m in height. One year later, I switched to much shorter distances and started to take part in conventional tower runs since I realized that I am able to keep with the best all over the world. The attraction of tower-runing to me lies in the fact that there is no other sport in which you can get that fast to your physical limits and therefore feel your body in such an extremely intense way. Since already after a few floors you encounter your physical limit, the art of tower-running consists of constantly pushing yourself such that you keep pace until reaching the finish line.’

Five of the world’s top tower-runners will be competing against 320 Qatar residents in Saturday’s sold-out Torch Staircase Run.

Organised by Aspire Logistics, the event is the first ever Tower Running Association Grand Prix event to come to the Middle East and consists of 1,304 steps to reach the top of The Torch-Doha Hotel.