While millions of people walk up stairs, a select few are compelled to race up them.
Bob Toews, assistant director of institutional research and academic database manager at Goshen College, races up flights of stairs competitively in a sport known as “tower running.”
According to Toews, his colleagues always say, “tower running is the hardest sport you’ve never heard of.” In tower running, racers are able to walk or run, often doing both to save energy throughout the race.
Some competitions have elite divisions, where the race’s fastest competitors are given the title of “elite” if they meet time requirements for that specific race. Like many running events, such as 5k’s and marathons, tower running competitions are often fundraisers and take place in large cities throughout the nation.
Many spectators aren’t able to watch the runners as they participate, but some competitions allow fans to wait at the finish line at the top of the stairs to watch their friends and family complete their races.
Toews began tower running when he was in his 20s and wanted to go hiking in Colorado. He and his son, Ben Toews, trained for their hike by running up flights of stairs, something Bob Toews did back in seventh grade when training with his basketball team.
He first heard about tower run competitions while talking to former GC professor of American Sign Language, Myron Yoder. Yoder told him that he was participating in a tower running competition at Chicago’s 875 North Michigan Avenue, formerly known as the John Hancock Center.
“I had always dreamed about racing up tall buildings,” Toews said, “but I never thought anyone would organize events like that.”
After training on flights of stairs for their hike in Colorado, Toews and his son began training for their first tower run.
All that stair climbing paid off when Toews and his son completed their first tower run together in 2006. The pair ran up 875 North Michigan Avenue, currently the eighth tallest building in the U.S. The race was a half climb—54 of the building’s 104 floors—in the “Hustle up the Hancock” competition. Toews finished the race with a time of 7:38, his son beating him by 8 seconds.
Since then, the father-son duo has raced in two full climbs at 875 North Michigan Avenue, totaling 1,632 steps each.
They have also raced together at Los Angeles’s Aon Center and U.S. Bank Building, as well as at the Bennington Battle Monument in Bennington, Vermont. Toews was able to beat his son in these races, although he mentioned that he also had more time to train.
For both father and son, a lot of their training was done on GC’s campus. Many students dread walking up the “never-ending” three flights of stairs to the top of the Administration Building. Fittingly, that’s where Toews and his son started their training. Toews also trains on a stepmill, which allows him to tailor his training sessions to his needs.
The pair’s tower running journey has allowed the father and son to develop a special bond. “Training is hard, and in doing it, we realize we can do hard things,” Toews said. “I have to keep on learning that, and I’m glad Ben had the opportunity to start learning that early.”
Reflecting on his 12 years of racing, Toews said it was hard to choose a favorite memory. “It allows me to stay fit. I get to see friends, and I get to travel to interesting places,” he said.
One of his favorite races, the Ketchum-Downtown YMCA competition in Los Angeles, welcomed him to the elite division.
For that race, runners were able to gain elite status by completing their race in under 14 minutes. Toews climbed the building in 13 minutes and 35 seconds, which was his best-ever climb performance.
“When I stepped out on the rooftop, I knew I could have gone faster,” Toews said. “I recovered very quickly that day. My new goal is to go under 12:30 in the building.”
His next climb is the first weekend of November, where he will be racing up 105 floors of the Willis Tower in Chicago. For any GC students, that’s 35 times up the Administration Building!