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C12 Tuesday, November 26, 2013

FITNESS & WELL-BEING

Flight club

WE RUN HK: WEEK 4

With so many tall buildings in Asia, the sport of stair running has a big future in the region, writes Rachel Jacqueline

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veryone knows the fitness cliché, “Take the stairs, not the lift.” But some dedicated athletes are taking it to an entirely new level. They’re running – not walking – the world’s tallest buildings, and they are reaping untold health benefits along the way. Stair running – also called vertical running, tower running or sky running – is a growing sport with lofty aspirations. With their own international association and international circuit, runners can scale the 91 floors and 2,046 steps of Taiwan’s Taipei 101, or the 86 floors and 1,576 steps of the legendary Empire State Building in New York. Hong Kong is the most recent – and tallest – addition to the Vertical World Circuit, established in 2009. This weekend more than 1,000 Hongkongers are set to tackle the International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon in the Race to ICC-100 Vertical Run for the Chest. Participants won’t run up the entire 118-storey building, however, just 2,120 steps and 82 floors – but that is more than sufficient to leave even the fittest athletes gasping for breath. Local trail runner Clement Dumont, who came third in the Beijing race at the 82-storey China World Summit Wing hotel in August, will be among them. Dumont, 36, entered his first sky race five years ago in Taiwan. “You are basically out of breath from the start and you can barely walk once you cross the finish line, your legs are so weak,” says the Hong Kong-based Frenchman. “The last few floors are mentally really tough because your legs just do not respond any more.” Reigning Vertical World Circuit champion Suzy Walsham, an Australian who resides in Singapore, also relishes the mental and physical challenges of stair running. “It is so intense … the real race is between you and the building – can you conquer it?”

Stair running has been proven to improve one’s health and fitness: as little as 30 minutes a week has shown to produce benefits. A study published in 2005 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine put sedentary young women through an eight-week stair-climbing programme involving training at a 199-step high public staircase five days a week. The subjects made one ascent a day in week one, and increased progressively to five ascents a day in the final two weeks. Compared to a control group, at the end of the programme, the stair climbers showed a 17.1 per cent increase in maximal oxygen uptake and 7.7 per cent reduced low density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol. Another study in 2007 published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine put a group of employees through an eightweek stair-running programme at an eight-storey office block of 145 steps, building up to three climbs a day. The participants showed a 9.4 per cent improvement in maximal

If I am injured from normal flat running, I am still able to do stair sessions SUZY WALSHAM

International stair runner Suzy Walsham. Photo: Sun Hung Kai Properties

oxygen uptake after the training period compared to a control group. However, no significant changes in blood pressure, blood lipid concentrations or body composition were noted. “It’s an excellent cardio workout and it’s low impact,” says Stephane Laporte, head trainer for the Vertical World Circuit in Asia. He adds that it places less stress on the body than traditional running. Walsham, who was sixth at the 2006 Commonwealth Games’ 1,500 metre track event, agrees. She has suffered 14 stress fractures throughout her running career, but hasn’t had any since taking up stair running in 2006. “Even if I am injured from normal flat running, I am still able to do stair sessions, so it really is the perfect sport for an injuryprone athlete like me,” she says. For time-poor city dwellers, it’s also a quick workout, unaffected by inclement weather. “Even a 15minute workout can give you huge cardio benefits, and there’s no excuse for rainy, cold or hazy weather,” says Walsham. Depending on your body type, running stairs for an hour burns up to 500 calories and walking up 180 steps can burn 19.7 calories. Stair running has a big future in Asia with so many tall buildings, say its participants. “It’s a sport that people can relate to,” says Walsham.

Reach for the stairs: a champ’s tips World No 1 stair runner Suzy Walsham shares five things you need to know: 1 Practice some stair workouts before you attempt a race. 2 Pace yourself. “If you start out too fast, you will blow up. Slow and steady is definitely the way to go.” 3 Use the handrails for some added pull and support. 4 If you are fit and strong enough, go two stairs at a time. 5 Take time at the end to enjoy the view and be proud of your achievement.

Although the sport seems simple, bear in mind these tips before you battle the stairwell: • The most common error made by stair-running rookies is bad pacing. “It’s important not to start too fast, otherwise you will be completely out of breath rapidly, and it will become very painful,” says Dumont. Like a ballroom dancer, Walsham keeps count in her head to help her keep on rhythm and pace. • Using the handrails helps, but be sure to do it the right way, says Laporte. “Lean forward, pull with one hand and push off with the other. If you’re just pulling yourself up, you’re working against yourself – that’s a beginner’s mistake.” • If you’re fit enough, taking two stairs at a time will be

faster. But Laporte cautions that how many steps you take is personal, and it’s all about balancing your abilities. “If you take three steps at a time, for example, your cadence, or leg speed, is much slower, there’s no point; you’ll just tire yourself out.” • Laporte recommends using other aids in the stairwells to increase speed, such as pushing off the walls. You can also save the most time on the turns going round the stairwell. “Instead of going around the corner and wasting energy, hang on to the rails around the corner, then pull yourself around. That way, you might be able to jump four or five stairs at a time at that corner, instead of two-by-two.” life@scmp.com

WARM UP “Rotate every joint five times each side, starting with the ankles, then knees, working your way up the body.” Next, he recommends some quick stepping motions on the stairs to warm up the lower joints. “Stand in front of the first step, one foot on the floor and the other on the first step, with your weight on the back foot. Switch both feet as fast as possible – like stationary stair-climbing – for 30 seconds.” WORKOUT 1: Build Endurance Pick a building with at least 20 flights of stairs. Keeping a steady pace (about 60 per cent of your maximum effort), climb the

stairs one at a time without stopping or using the rails. Climbing step-by-step allows for a higher frequency of movement, which better engages the cardiovascular system. Repeat three times. WORKOUT 2: Build Speed Pick a building with at least eight flights of stairs. Using the rails on each side, or just on one side like a rope, climb steps two by two. Keep intensity at 80 per cent of your maximum. Repeat five times, increasing up to 10 times as you progress. WORKOUT 3: Lose Fat You’ll need at least two flights of stairs. Rather than ascending the stairs as usual, try hopping on the steps two feet at a time, climbing up facing sideways or mixing it up: alternating sprinting, hopping and sideways movements every two floors. Variety gives the best results for fat loss. Repeat for 30 minutes.

................................................ Rachel Jacqueline life@scmp.com The Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, which started in 1997 with a humble 1,000 runners, has grown into a running festival for the city, with 73,000 racers expected to take part next year. To celebrate the city’s passion for the sport, we’ll be featuring one inspirational local runner each week until the race on February 16. Adam Crawford has competed in many multi-day desert runs, mountain ultramarathons and a couple of road marathons. But the 47-year-old banker doesn’t consider himself a runner. When your passions span a long list, including cycling, paddling and slack-lining, such labels, he thinks, are unnecessary. Across all of his adventures, the motivations remain the same. For Crawford, it’s not about the finish line, but the deep friendships forged along the way. He recently took part in the Melbourne Marathon, where he supported his sister’s fundraising efforts for pancreatic cancer research. He says it’s probably his last road marathon – but he said the same the last time. My first memory of running was cross-country in the woods while at school in England. There were notorious marshy sections that could suck a leg in thigh-deep and often claim a running shoe if one wasn’t careful. The distances were not long but there was a definite sense of freedom in being able to go off by myself or with my friends.

A new world of workouts Stephane Laporte, head trainer for the Vertical World Circuit in Asia, suggests three 30-minute stair-climbing workout ideas for different goals. Always take the lift down, if possible, to avoid pressure on your knees.

Adam Crawford trains on Bowen Road. Photo: Nora Tam

I stopped running for a while and took up cycling. You can cover more distance each day while still retaining a connection with the country. You get rained on. Bees bounce off your forehead. The view at the top of a mountain pass in the Alps means more because you worked hard to get there. The shower at the end of each day is a little slice of nirvana. I have met some wonderful people and had some amazing times on my bike tours.

Stephane Laporte at the International Commerce Centre. Photo: Edward Wong

I got back into running when I signed up for the 2011 Gobi March, a multi-day race through the Gobi Desert. What attracted me was the reduction of my life to a 9kg backpack and 250 kilometres of running in a week

across a part of China I would not normally see. The race opened the door to distance running and I discovered that it is much easier to start running than it is to stop. Two and a half years later, I look back on one seven-day ultramarathon; a three-day 100 kilometre race in Lijiang, China; two 100 kilometre runs; a bunch of 50 kilometre races; and two road marathons. My greatest running lesson occurred during day four of the Gobi March. The crunch came after checkpoint two, 20 kilometres into that day’s 40kilometre stage. The cloud cover dispersed, the temperature skyrocketed and I regretted not [carrying] more water. I began to overheat massively. It was a very tough period psychologically. I faced the immediate challenge of getting to the next checkpoint without getting heatstroke, together with the daunting prospect of a further 80 kilometres of racing the next day. It was an utter low point mentally of the race. How I dealt with the situation taught me a lot about myself. The lessons I learned that day have stayed with me since. I run because I enjoy the feeling of getting fitter, going faster and recovering more quickly. But fundamentally I run because I enjoy being outside, on the trails, doing something physical and being with my like-minded friends. It’s living in the now and feeling alive. The best running advice I’ve ever received is that “ultra running is 80 per cent mental and the rest is in your head” [he says as a joke]. I think it is a great experience to decide to run a marathon, set a target time and do the work to achieve that goal. There is a journey of self-discovery that happens and the lessons learned in training can be used in the broader context of your life. It becomes evident how damaging self-limiting beliefs can be. Achieving your goal is a vindication of your methods, commitment and belief. My favourite run is any run around Tai Tam Reservoir and Mount Butler on Hong Kong Island. There is a variety of mixed terrain, the hills are challenging and the views on occasion are spectacular. It’s also very close to where I live. If I didn’t run, I would go paddling instead.

HEALTH BITES ................................................ endometrial cancer is Jeanette Wang jeanette.wang@scmp.com

Sugary drinks raise cancer risk Post-menopausal women who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages, such as fruit drinks and carbonated soda, were more likely to develop type 1 endometrial cancer compared with women who didn’t. The risk increased with consumption, with study participants reporting the highest intakes (60.5 servings a week) having a 78 per cent increased risk, according to the report published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. Type I

oestrogen-dependent: the consumption of sugarsweetened drinks has been linked to obesity, and obese women tend to have higher levels of oestrogen and insulin than women of normal weight. The study used data from more than 23,000 menopausal women who reported their dietary intake, demographic information and medical history in 1986 – before the cancer diagnosis – under the Iowa Women’s Health Study, a decades-long investigation into the effect of multivitamins or supplements. Solid boost for your baby Introducing solid food with breast milk 17 weeks after birth could reduce food allergies in babies, according to research from the University of Southampton in Britain. “Introducing solid foods alongside breastfeeding can benefit the immune system,” says Dr Kate Grimshaw, a dietitian and senior research fellow at the university. “It appears that the immune system becomes educated when there is an overlap of solids and breast milk because the milk promotes tolerogenic [or tolerance-producing] mechanisms against the solids.” Grimshaw adds: “Our findings suggest that 17 weeks

is a crucial time point, with solid food introduction before this time appearing to promote allergic disease, whereas solid food introduction after that time point seems to promote tolerance.” The study, funded by Britain’s Food Standards Agency and published in Paediatrics, tracked 1,140 infants from birth. Stay healthy with TV breaks Children who spend a lot of time in front of the television, playing video games or just sitting, should be encouraged to get up more often – as a recent study reinforces the idea this helps promote better health. Canadian researchers looked at risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in more than 500 children in Quebec with a family history of obesity and

who were between the ages of eight and 11. Using an accelerometer to gather data, the researchers studied all breaks in sedentary behaviour for these children for one week. Global health risk indicators were measured, including waist circumference, body mass index, fasting insulin, fasting glucose, triglycerides, HDL-cholesterol and Creactive proteins. The results suggest that frequent interruptions – or the number of times children got up – in sedentary time can have a positive impact on their health.

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