Vertical running is a relatively new sport that sees elite competitors sprinting up thousands of stairs in the world’s tallest skyscrapers in just over 10 minutes. The vertical circuit is truly global with races held throughout the year in busy capitals from Paris to Beijing. An Aussie expat living in Hong Kong, Cindy Reid has climbed, quite literally to the top of the country leaderboard; holding a record for running up all three of the city’s tallest buildings: ICC, IFC and Central Plaza. This week, she sprinted up the fourth; Jardine House in 6 minutes 51 seconds. But she’s not stopping there, with a focus on climbing to claim the world title.
How did you become both a corporate high flyer and a competitive Vertical Runner?
Since a young girl, I have always felt compelled to climb the corporate ladder because my desire to succeed was strong. I completed all the necessary academic qualifications and obtained professional experience to become a banker, a financier, an equities analyst, a portfolio manager, a chief investment officer, a portfolio strategist. Ironically, one day, that focus changed to climbing stairs – literally, and a whole lot of them!
How did you discover vertical running?
I was on my way to a meeting in the IFC (International Financial Center, the then tallest building in Hong Kong) when I noticed a sign recruiting runners up the building for charity. I have done quite a few 10km races up until that point, always ending up top five on the podium. It was time for a new challenge, so I signed up and started training at the back fire escape stairs in my building where people dumped their garbage. It was neither glamorous nor clean, but I really enjoyed the challenge! After winning third place in my first stair race, I set my eyes to be the fastest female stair climber in Hong Kong. I trained even harder than ever and ran up ICC (International Commercial Center, now the tallest building in Hong Kong) and won three years out of four, the only one year I didn’t win was when I tore my calf 1.5 hours before the race in 2013. In 2014, I received an exclusive invitation to become part of the Vertical World Circuit to run amazing and iconic buildings around the world. I have never looked back since and I now collect a postcard of all the skyscrapers that I climb up and put them on to my wall of fame collection!
Describe how you prepare for a race…
Always with butterflies in my stomach. The night before, I lay out my clothing, my number bib, my compression socks, and light-racing shoes. My playlist is ready and I know the sequence of the songs because that is my cue to timing and how well I am doing relative to how much distance I have remaining. I fuel properly the day before with carbohydrates and hydration, getting a good night sleep is key. Most importantly, on the morning of the race day, a ritual requires a wake-up caffeine kick (espresso), a light breakfast which is packed full of energy (30g of dry oats with a banana, for instance). 15 minutes pre-race requires a simple sugar, high-carb kick (my preference being a date or a spoon of honey), and stretches and warming up are all crucial to breaking a new PB. At the start line, I am strategic with my starting position. I know how to get ahead of the pack but not to go too hard, too fast at the beginning as you want to maintain your lead and not burn out.
What’s coming up on your running schedule?
I am going to run up a few more buildings later in the year including Sydney Tower in August, the Great Wall in May and Kerry Centre Manila in June…I have a lot of exciting (other) new buildings to tackle including Jumeirah Tower in Dubai, and quite possibly the New York World Trade Center.
What sparked your step into teaching in the fitness industry?
I was waiting outside the one and only spin studio at Fitness First in Sydney’s busy corporate hub on a crazy Monday lunchtime – this is when universally the world feels obliged to work out! I wasn’t fast enough to score a bike. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed. There was a light-bulb moment, an epiphany when I thought to myself that I should get an instructor’s license because that is when I will be guaranteed a spot in class. So I did, and the rest was history.
You now own your own gym. Who do you cater to?
Our gym is called The HIT Room, which stands for High-Intensity Training. My life has been a progressive journey, although I have had to deal with quite a few adversities along the way. When the financial crisis hit, I put my head down and kept working hard, through sheer determination and a little luck, I survived several rounds of cuts since 2008. A few months after we got married, I received a retrenchment notice. With that, I took my fitness career in my hands, obtained a lot of further qualifications, teaching at Fitness First, where it all began in Sydney, across Hong Kong. The opportunity to open a gym came up. It was to be at where we live in Discovery Bay on Lantau Island, where there was a captive market and an expatriate clientele. We have two studios back-to-back, where one room is dedicated to weight-lifting, functional training, classes and personal training, and the other, a dedicated spin studio with a few pieces of larger weight-lifting equipment.
It’s not just vertical running on your calendar, having competed in a number of different fitness disciplines recently: boxing, fitness modelling as well as vertical running. What motivated you to push your body through such distinctly different sports and what have you learnt from each?
Through all of these fitness disciplines and contrasting sports, I learn a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, my limitations and my potential. I know that if I apply myself, stay determined and work hard towards something, I would do reasonably well. My pain threshold exceeds most people’s tolerance level, and my desire to achieve goals is extremely strong. It’s almost as if I can’t live my life without motivation to be a better version of myself. Since becoming a personal trainer, a fitness instructor and a business owner, it has taught me to become more empathetic and more encouraging. It is not just about me all the time anymore. It is about my team, my clients and the community that we live in. Recently, I was invited to speak to junior high school students as a motivational speaker about my life as a banker, an international athlete and the owner/operator of a gym. These young kids look up to me as if I am their inspiration. For me, the opportunity to influence the next generation in the most positive way was a really priceless and humbling experience.
Do you have plans to try something new, this year?
Running up more iconic buildings globally are on the cards, and I want to pick up more boxing, martial arts and gymnastics skills. More bikini fitness competitions, now that I have done 5 and have come in top 5 in all of them, it’s time to continue to show improvements.
Your husband is a huge supporter and training partner. How big an impact does that have on motivating you to reach your goals?
Wesley is my rock. He is my business partner, my training partner and my life partner. We have a lot in common, we share so many goals and talk about everything from his flying career, my finance career and our fitness careers together. I needed someone who understands my ambitions and can feed off my crazy ideas. He is always supportive, he tries to be at my races where possible, and offers me advice, even though sometimes, the stubbornness in me puts up an argument with him. It is really comforting to know that he always has the best of intentions for me and we are always there for each other, sharing the same passion and goals in life. We have three jobs between the two of us, so that keeps us pretty busy and stressed out at the best of times. We take turns in getting up early, packing each other’s meals, we talk, we disagree, we agree. A strong relationship is as simple as that – respect, support and love.
You and Wesley have a unique Anniversary ritual, don’t you?
As an athlete, I like rituals. We always like to team-teach a class together on our anniversary, go for a hike where we talk about our plans for the next 12 months as individuals, as a couple and as business owners. We then open a bottle of champagne and go somewhere nice for dinner. I always wear a piece of something from the wedding, and we surprise each other with Wes taking me out on one of the days and me surprising him on the next day.
What does your typical weekly training schedule look like?
I train anywhere between 20-30 hours a week, that translates roughly to 3-5 hours per day. It is full-on but balanced. I always allow for time for weight-lifting, running, stair-sprinting, plyometrics, High-Intensity Interval Training, spinning, core-work and resistance-band training. Of course, I teach group-exercise classes including Bodypump, Grit Strength, Grit Plyo, Spinning, and TRX. I generally work out with my personal training clients as well and I aim to do some stretching at the end of each session, even if I only have two minutes.
How do you eat specifically for your sport?
I eat clean and train mean. Macro-nutrients are 40/40/20 – which is 40% protein, 40% carbs and 20% good fats. If I am training for a bikini fitness comp, that obviously changes closer to show time. It’s a great contrast to stairs-racing or 10km competitions as I need carbs – and the bad, sugary types for explosive, anaerobic exercises like stair-sprinting and high-intensity training. Actually, it is very easy for me to put on weight as I only stand at 150cm tall, and I have always been the curvy type. A lot of people can get away with eating desserts and greasy food, no way would I be able to get away with it despite how much exercise I do! Luckily for me, I don’t have any taste buds left for those kind of indulgences. I worked at McDonalds after school between the age of 14-16 and I am DONE with junk food. I can’t even smell it without feeling sick now.
Do you take any supplements?
Yes, religiously and daily. I take glucosamine for joint and cartilage health, calcium for strong bones and fish oil for overall cognitive health and support for brain functions. Pre-workout is BCAA and Glutamine for weight-lifting on off-season training, post-workout is half a scoop of Isoflex whey protein. Prior to bed is usually half a scoop of Casein protein, which is slow-digesting, perfect for muscle synthesis during sleep.
As a disciplined person with such a busy schedule, how do you relax?
Definitely! I actually find running relaxing, because I am not teaching nor racing I don’t have to worry about my ‘performance’. And since I don’t have to use my voice, I just put my music on, set a good cadence and enjoy the outdoors, especially when the sun is out. Weekly deep tissue massage is a must for us. Talking to my Dad and messaging my sister and mum. Hanging out with friends when we can fit that in, usually once a week.
How do you balance your working lives in the gym and the corporate world without burning out?
I am only human, and I DO burn out! However, it does come down to two things: discipline and determination. I am constantly planning my schedule ahead of time, I use an old-fashion little black book to put in all my races, my training, my appointments, my meetings, my clients’ bookings, my classes which I am teaching, what I am eating and note down our social and travel calendars. I meal-prep ahead of time, I plan my classes and training, I do the ground-work and homework before meetings, I drink 3-5 litres of water a day and I try to sleep 6-8 hours per night. I talk to my husband about my day – my concerns, my goals and aspirations. I try to do hot yoga when I can and stretch more, I try to fit in a nana-nap or meditate in a quiet corner even for a minute to recharge my batteries.
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller. She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health. As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Skye created The Fit Traveller as a beautiful online space and community where people feel inspired to escape the desk to move and explore more.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her insatiable appetite for adventure.