Throughout the UAE we are surrounded by high-rises and stunning skyscrapers, but it’s a very rare occurrence for most of us to take a flight of stairs rather than a speedy lift to our final destination.
But, as we know, that’s not the case in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
‘Don’t go too fast at the start, don’t burn all your energy straight away.’ If you’re competing in the Climb to Abu Dhabi, you’d be wise to take on board the wise words of three-time world champion and event ambassador, Piotr Lobodzinski.
The beaming Pole is well versed when it comes to stair climbing and after picking up his third consecutive world series title in Hong Kong in December last year, the man, who has been combining training and competing with part-time museum work in Warsaw, is a master of his art.
For Lobodzinski, who has always been a naturally fit and keen endurance go-getter, vertical marathon climbing is the perfect fit.
Since his first race in the Polish capital back in 2011 and his first victory in Prague in the same calendar year, the 31-year-old has dominated the nine-race Vertical World Circuit Tour.
Although he’ll be cheering participants on from the sidelines in the UAE capital in his supportive role with the event, if Lobodzinski did compete in the elite category – he would scale Tower 2 of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers (82 floors/1,617 steps) in around eight to nine minutes.
His speed, is in fact scary. He’s won about 70 per cent of the races he’s competed in and is the best there is at the moment.
“I started to travel around the world competing five years ago and I am now very experienced, and know the sport inside out,” he told Sport360 ahead of his return to UAE soil for the event, held under the initiative of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
“It is brilliant to have this event in Abu Dhabi and to help grow the sport in the Middle East. I’m excited to see a new generation of stair runners on show.”
Staying at the top isn’t easy and Lobodzinski’s training regime is strict – and it needs to be – if he is going to continue reaching the heaviest of heights.
“I run between 80-120km per week on flat roads and I train up to 20 hours a week, including the stair climbing exercises, with core work, gym and recovery factored in, in-between.
“My diet is normal and I’m not crazy about it, but I try to stay clear of fast food and fizzy drinks.”
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And for the day of the race itself, what does Piotr recommend you eat before competing?
“You should eat a light breakfast, two to three hours before, and keep everything normal – like you would for any other running event. Don’t do anything differently.”
While long-distance running can wear and tear your body down to the ground, climbing flights of stairs is different and has many health benefits, according to the world No1.
“My sport is quite specific and it is hard, you feel exhausted at the finish line. But I think it’s a very healthy sport to compete in and you don’t tend to pick up many injuries. Because of the up and down nature of stair climbing, it is actually healthy for your knees and ankles.”
And when it comes down to the race in the heart of the UAE capital this weekend, Lobodzinski very much reinstates his message that controlling your speed is very important.
“For anybody who is running for the first time, the first five to 10 floors goes quickly and your mind thinks it’s easy, a piece of cake.
“But, after that, you start to slow down and suffer. That’s why it’s important to conserve energy and start at your own pace, because otherwise the rest of tower running races can be horrible.
“It’s important that you try and control the adrenaline rush and not get too distracted by what other runners are doing on the staircase.
“You want to try and keep your legs as fresh for as long as possible, avoiding the build up of lactic acid and finish strong.”
In terms of technique, Lobodzinski advises runners to use the hand-rails at every opportunity and reach forward, giving every stride more leverage.
“This can really help your movement, control your speed and take some of the workload off of your legs – like sprinters do – using your arms wisely is a very crucial part of the sport.”
Lobodzinski is excited to see his sport traverse new cities and markets, giving more people the chance to learn about what is still, it would be fair to say, a niche sport.
And with growing prize money, glamourous race settings around the world and the support of major sponsors, the vertical circuit is very much on the way up.
If you are competing on Friday, you do have time for some last minute training.
Lobodzinski recommends that you try tackling the stairs at your apartment or work building.
“If you have time, don’t use the elevator, try the stairs. Get the feeling of running up them and see how your body reacts, what it feels like,” the runner said.