‘Mind over matter’ is how world number one ranked stair climber Suzy Walsham describes her ability to overcome pain. Scaling the world’s tallest skyscrapers is not for the faint-hearted.
The 43-year-old working mum will be in a race against the clock up Singapore’s tallest hotel this weekend 18 November 2017, as she chases victory in the grueling Swissotel Vertical Marathon.
“A stair race is incredibly demanding physically and mentally… very quickly the lactic acid starts building up, your legs start to feel like jelly, you start feeling exhausted and you wonder how on earth you are going to make it to the top,” Suzy says, describing a typical race.
What exactly goes through this champion athlete’s mind when the going gets tough? “I focus on my technique, how I am using the handrail, how I turn the corners to start a new floor, keeping a consistent rhythm… and I try not to keep glancing at the floor numbers!”
That’s easier said than done. The Singapore race covers 1,336 steps over a punishing 73 storeys. It’s just one of 17 tower climbs Suzy will race this year as she chases her sixth consecutive victory on the world circuit. “Most people think I’m crazy,” the former Commonwealth games runner says with a smile.
Racing inside the confined space of a high rise stairwell is certainly not everybody’s cup of tea but it’s become Suzy’s favourite pastime since she stumbled across the sport moving to Singapore 11 years ago.
“My first stair race was the Swissotel Vertical Marathon in 2006. I was looking for new challenges and was enticed by the first prize, a trip to NY to compete in the Empire State Building Run Up,” the former Sydney sider says.
Suzy has gone on to win the famous Empire State Building race a record breaking eight times. To date, she’s competed in 92 international stair races, won 81, and enjoyed 90 podium finishes. Suzy also holds the course record at more than 20 stair races around the world. An average year of racing and training has Suzy climbing more than 200,000 stairs – the vertical distance of four Mount Everests from sea level to the top.
The East Coast mum also cemented her record as Singapore’s fastest 5km/10km runner on the weekend with victory in the “closed” or “local” category of the Great Eastern Women’s 10 kilometer race (she finished third overall behind two Kenyan runners).
To be the best and stay the best in her sport for so long is no easy feat, especially when it involves juggling motherhood and work – which means a daily 5.30am alarm. The accountant’s number one fans are her seven year old son and husband who will be there cheering her on this weekend.
“My son is proud, but it’s pretty funny how he seems to expect a winning outcome all the time,” Suzy says with a laugh. “I placed third in a 10 kilometer race here last year behind two Kenyans and he said ‘congratulations’ and then followed up with ‘What happened mummy? Why didn’t you win? Next time you must try harder.’ I had to explain to him that you can’t win every race but that I had done my absolute best and I was very happy with my result.’
In a sport that is so physically and mentally demanding, and with only minimal prize money, how does this mum stay so focused?
“I love stair climbing because it keeps you super fit, you get to see views from vantage points not normally open to the public, you meet lots of interesting people, and I basically get to travel the world for free, through race benefits, sponsored travel and prize money.”
Suzy will aim to finish 2017 unbeaten on the stairs, which will she says will be ‘tough but not impossible’. There’s just three races standing in the way, including this weekend’s event.
One thing’s for sure, this super mum won’t be leaving anything to chance.
Follow Suzy’s progress on Instagram: @suzywalsham
Lead image courtesy of Mike Allen. Stairwell race image courtesy of Sporting Republic