1st Vertical Stair Race in Phnom Penh

I like to run up mountains. But without any mountains around Phnom Penh city, I decided to sell my soul back in January and race up a set of stairs.

Girls' heat waiting to start their run up Phnom Penh Tower.

Phnom Penh tower is one of the capital’s tallest buildings at 192 metres. And earlier this year, Child Helpline Cambodia managed to trick the tower’s executives in to letting 160 people run up its flight of stairs.

The Skyscrapers on the 2012 Vertical World Circuit. Courtesy of skyrunning.com

It was more of a fun event than a serious athletic endeavour. Corporate teams turned out in their branded t-shirts, enjoying the chance to do something fun together rather than just drudgingly work together. Some of them looked like they hadn’t moved from their desk in a while.

One of the knackered stair runners.

However, a race is a race. And there were big trophies to win. So, out of sheer bad habit, I pushed as hard as I could to see how painful it could really be.

Nervously watching the clock ticking down for the start of my heat.

We started out in groups of 5 from the road level. From there, we ran 4 flights down through the underground parking before beginning to climb the stairway. It was hard. It hurt. I wanted to take the lift. Finally after 26 flights, I reached the spacious gallery top and crossed the finish line.

Racing for the title at the Phnnom Penh Tower Vertical Stairs Race.

My watch told me I finished in around 6 minutes. And I was the first through in my group. Later I was told I had come last, taking over 10 minutes. And the winner was someone I had beaten in my heat. The timing system had gotten all screwed up before we had even begun. The marshall was carried away with all the excitement and had ignored the names on the starting list.

The view from the top of Phnom Penh Tower... a long way down.

But it was a fundraiser and something to do on a Sunday afternoon. They collected a total of $10,739.35 and put it towards helping Cambodia’s free phone service for children in need. And we got to see a rare panoramic view of Phnom Penh from the tower’s top. Definitely an event that should be repeated. Only next time they should invest in a proper stopwatch.

Photos courtesy of Blind Eye Productions.

Want to hear more running tales from weird and wonderful places? Check out my book, “Mud, Sweat and Tears” with running stories from Haiti, Congo, Laos, and Rwanda.

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One thought on “1st Vertical Stair Race in Phnom Penh

  1. Hey Moire

    Stair climbs are the hardest of the hard. I never felt as sick as I did after running the Corning Tower Climb-a-ton in Albany. 42 stories of up without a step of downhill for entertainment. Every 10 floors the stairwell changed direction, the first two transitions were grand, the third one had me staggering like a drunk. There’s no way to express how much pain can be compressed into such a short distance, it’s the only race I ever ran where the finish line was the beginning of the suffering. Never did my lungs & head feel so bad as in the hours that followed. A Cystic Fibrosis charity had organised the race, they wrote to all entrants afterwards. The opening line of the letter “Now you know what CF feels like…”

    Easily the most direct connection between effort and cause I’ve ever experienced. Made me see how lucky I’ve been.

    As for the stair climb, never ever again.

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