Stan’s Obligatory Blog


Last call for stair practice

Filed under: — stan @ 9:59 pm

Today was the last day for stair practice before the race this Saturday. I’m over being sick last week, so this was my last chance to improve on my time.

I rode the train downtown as always. When I got there, there was a good crowd there for the climb. I decided to try an experiment and go a little faster from the start. This worked out pretty well. It didn’t hurt appreciably more, and when I got to 25, I took a look at my watch and saw that I was making good time.

When I got to the ‘petting zoo’ on 49, I looked at my watch and then did my best to put on a burst of speed for the last two floors. I ran up and over the finish line, and then flopped down on the floor. Ow. But I made it. My time was 8:32, which is 10 seconds faster than my race time from last year, and 9 seconds faster than my previous best practice time.

This is good.

After this, a few of us went up again, not trying for speed. We walked up, and Mark showed us his technique for turning on the landings, and how to avoid wasted steps. The second time up, it took us about 12 minutes, including stopping to watch Mark do the turns.

All in all, it was a good practice session, and I think I’m ready to race.



Filed under: — stan @ 6:50 pm

It’s the last Sunday of the month, so it’s time for our ‘longer’ Sunday ride. This time, I didn’t have any particular inspiration for weird sightseeing, so we just rode out to Claremont. It was a nice day for riding, aside from a slight headwind all the way there.

When we got there, we went to Le Pain Quotidien for our snack stop. While we were there, I had a look at the bronze sculptures in the fountains outside.

Fortunately, the wind didn’t die out, so it kept going to give us a nice tail wind on the way back. That combined with the 1% downgrade on Gladstone St to make for a fun trip back.

Silvio got a flat on the way back. His tire just failed, and it did it in a way that made a noise that I’ve never heard a bicycle tire make in all my years of riding. Fortunately, Carla had some tire boots, so we were able to piece it back together enough to make it back to Pasadena.

When I got home, I had 56 1/2 miles, so I rode around the block once just to get to 57. It was a nice ride.

57 miles


I wasn’t sure this was a good idea…

Filed under: — stan @ 11:04 am

I spent a good deal of the last three days sick. And there was a practice climb today at the Wilshire-Figueroa building. These things are fairly rare, so I didn’t want to miss it. But at the same time, all the way downtown on the train, I was haunted by the thought that doing this right on the heels of being sick was a bad idea. So in the end, I decided I’d just approach it as another opportunity to get acquainted with the staircase there.

I wasn’t planning on trying to go particularly fast. I figured I’d just pick a pace that felt sustainable, and just climb to the top and see what happened. I got there on time this time, and there was a good group of people there to do it. I let them all go ahead of me. I like having people to pass. It’s a good distraction from the fact that stair climbing is the single hardest and most painful thing I’ve ever done. Passing people helps me forget that. I figure, no matter how much it hurts, if I just passed someone, it must hurt even more for them, because they just got passed.

I realize that not everyone approaches this with the same competitive attitude I have, but it’s a useful fiction to help me go faster.

So I ground my way up the stairs. I passed most of the people who started ahead of me. And when I got to the big landing with the sort of ‘petting zoo’ on 49, I looked at my watch, and it said 8:11. I was pleasantly surprised by this, and I put on a burst of speed for the last two floors, since I knew I had a shot at beating my previous best time.

In the end, my time was 8:41, which was equal to my previous best. I was doing this on the tail end of being sick, so just going that fast is really pretty good. I really can’t complain about this at all. And there’s one more practice run before the race. Next Tuesday, I have one more chance to beat my time.


A weird Saturday morning bike ride

Filed under: — stan @ 1:08 pm

I had a few hours free this morning, so I went for a short bike ride. I wasn’t planning on going to see anything in particular. Just wanted to tool about a bit. But it turned out to be a weird little morning.

I rode out to Arcadia, and smack into a traffic jam in the detour around a parade route. It was a strange parade, consisting entirely of marching bands. And there were essentially no spectators. Just people who were with the bands. And one of the bands was marching and playing, and chanting, “We want fried chicken!” It was weird.

Heading back to Pasadena, I found out there was a UCLA game at the Rose Bowl, and the street I wanted to ride on was closed. OK, so a game at the Rose Bowl isn’t all that unusual, but I thought the girls on top of the Winnebago with the giant inflatable CU buffalo were funny.

After getting past the Rose Bowl, I headed up into Altadena for the trip home. And I rode right into a crime scene. The L.A. County Sherriff had a block of Christmas Tree Lane closed off with cars and deputies at both ends, and a helicopter circling overhead. The told me they were chasing someone on foot, so I thought it was probably best to just get out of their way.

And finally, I went by the house where the wallabies live, but they weren’t out today.

All told, it was a weird morning’s ride.

28 miles.


Still more practice

Filed under: — stan @ 9:59 pm

This evening was yet another practice session at the Wilshire-Figueroa building in downtown Los Angeles. As usual, I rode the train there, since I hate driving my car downtown.

I got there a few minutes late, and Chanda said that most of the people had already started up the stairs. I got changed and when I got to the start, Veronica was there. She had already done it once and was getting ready to go a second time. She said she was planning on going slower, so I thought I’d try and see if I could keep up with her when she’s going ’slow’.

Last week, I did 8:42 in practice, and I was hoping to improve on that. I stayed with Veronica most of the way up, but then I passed her near the end. I got to the top maybe 10 seconds ahead of her, and I made it in 8:41. I guess that’s improvement, but I’d been hoping for something more significant.

Normally, when I do these things, I do it once and call it a day. But Veronica persuaded me to go again. She said we’d just walk up and ‘take it easy’. That was a different experience. I’d never walked up a big building without trying to race for the best time. Instead, we just walked up and chatted. She told me about how she started stair climbing and running, and how that led to her qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which is no mean feat. We went easy until about 35 or so, and then she picked up the pace and dropped me. Oh well. I made it to the top in 10:12, which I don’t think is too bad for basically just meandering up.

On the way up the second time, I had a look at my watch when we passed 42. That’s the height of One California Plaza. My watch said 8:06, which is exactly what my time was the first time I climbed that building. I think that’s pretty good, since this time we were just walking slow and talking, and we still went as fast as I could go last year when I was really trying. So that’s progress.


The Great Wall of Los Angeles

Filed under: — stan @ 6:51 pm

This Sunday’s bike club outing was a ride to North Hollywood to see the Great Wall of Los Angeles. This is a long mural painted on the side of a flood-control channel that depicts events in Los Angeles history. It starts with giant slots and saber-tooth cats at one end, and goes up to the 1984 Olympics at the other end.

It was a good day for riding, and we had a good group. We headed out across Eagle Rock. In Burbank, we took the Chandler Bikeway for a while, which was where we saw perhaps the fattest chihuahua I’ve ever seen anywhere. It looked like a bratwurst with four toothpicks for legs.

Oxnard St took us the rest of the way to the park that runs alongside the mural. We came in at the modern-day end, and we worked our way back through time to the mammoths at the start. Then we turned on Chandler for the ride back. Our snack stop was at the Panera Bread at Chandler and Lankershim in NoHo. Then a bit more on the Chandler Bikeway across Burbank, and then back home via Yosemite Dr in Eagle Rock.

When we came back into Pasadena, we saw the first bleachers going up for the Rose Parade. Like the first robin of spring, that’s a sure sign of the changing seasons around here.

It was a nice ride.

45 miles.


The rest of the trip

Filed under: — stan @ 5:18 pm

Here’s the story of the rest of our trip to Chicago for the Sears Willis Tower stair climb.

We flew out from Long Beach on Jet Blue, just like last year. I’m still very happy with the service we get with them. We arrived on time in the late afternoon, we got our subway passes for the weekend, and then headed over to our hotel and checked in.

For dinner on Friday, we rode the train down to Wicker Park. In one of those cosmic coincidences, the train car we were on was number 2249, which just happens to have been my time climbing the tower last year. When we got there, we had dinner at the Blue Line Lounge. I’d found it through Yelp, and it sounded pretty good. I got a chicken pot pie, which looked impossibly huge when it came, but I manged to eat it all, and it was very good.

On Saturday morning, we rode the train downtown to go pick up my race packet in the Willis Tower lobby. My old high school friend Stu came over and met us there, and we all walked over to Greek Town for lunch. That was fun, since this was the first time I’d seen Stu since he came to my wedding in 1988.

After lunch, we took the bus to the Museum of Science and Industry. I’ve only been there twice before. Once when I was a kid in 1967, and once in 1978 when the USCF Cycling Nationals were in Milwaukee, and I’d qualified to race in the 25-mile time trial. So it had been a long time since I’d seen the museum. It looked totally different, since they built an entire new building where the old parking lot used to be. Sadly, by the time we got there, the U-505 submarine tour was sold out, and the line for the coal mine tour was as long as for Space Mountain at Disneyland. So those things were off our list, but we still had a nice time there.

For dinner, we went back downtown to the Elephant and Castle to meet up with Mark and the rest of the stair climbers for our pre-race dinner. We had a good turnout, and it was a fun time.

Sunday morning was the stair climb, and since I already wrote about it, I don’t need to tell the story here. After the climb, we went back to our hotel, got cleaned up and checked out, and then rode the train back downtown for lunch before walking over the Union Station to ride the Metra train to Libertyville to visit with Kathleen’s aunt and uncle.

On Monday, we all went to the Chicago Botanic Garden. I’d not have thought of going somewhere like that in late autumn, but there was still a lot to see, even though it was late in the season. We spent a few hours there before we had to go to O’Hare for our flight home.

When we got to the front of the security line, I saw that they had a backscatter X-ray machine there. Having studied physics in college, the idea of X-rays on my skin doesn’t sit well with me. It may well be that it’s not harmful, but it’s a pretty new technology, and I don’t really want to be one of the guinea pigs. So I told them that I didn’t want to go through it. And they sent me to the Group W bench, or something like it. The place they reserve for troublemakers. So Kathleen and I both got the full-body TSA grope. But we finally made it through. The rest of the trip home was pretty uneventful.

It was a fun weekend.

Normally, for something like this, I post pictures, but I usually don’t like to have more than nine pictures for a single post. And I had well over that for this one, so I put them in a separate photo album:

Willis Tower


Here we go again

Filed under: — stan @ 7:39 pm

Time for another practice run up the Wilshire-Figueroa building in Los Angeles. The race is coming up in just about three weeks, so it’s time to get down and practice. I did this last week and turned in a time of 8:52. That was faster than my practice time from last year, but slower than my race time of 8:42. So today was my second chance.

There was a very small group there today for the climb. I followed my ’start last’ strategy again. I let Jeff go ahead of me, since I knew he was the one most likely to pass me. That way, I had lots of other people to pass. Jeff took off at what looked like an impossible pace, and I started out at my regular speed.

I caught and passed most of the other people who had started before me. I could hear them up above before I could see them. This was good, since it gave me a sense of how far ahead they were, and that was my motivation to go faster.

At the little ‘petting zoo’ area on the 49th floor, I started my final push to the top. I don’t know how much extra speed I managed to pull out, but it sure hurt like I was going faster. At the top, I flopped down on the floor and just sat for a few minutes to catch my breath. Jeff was already there, and he took the requisite souvenir pictures.

In the end, I did 8:42, which equals my race time from last year. And now I have a goal for next week’s practice.


Tower Highest

Filed under: — stan @ 12:52 pm

Sunday, November 6, 2011. It was the big day. Time to face the stairs at the Sears Willis Tower.


When I did this last year, it was a bit of a shock. I’d never climbed so many stairs before, and I really didn’t know what I was getting in to. It was sort of like my first stair climb all over again. But this time I was more ready. I had an idea of the torture I was in for, and I was mostly ready for it.

On Saturday, we’d gone to the Museum of Science and Industry, and they had a huge HO-scale model railroad, complete with a piece of downtown Chicago. Even in 1/87 scale, the tower is big.

They’d assigned me to start in the first group, between 7:00 and 7:30. But I decided that I wanted to go later. Partly so I could have some breakfast, since our not-very-expensive-but-kinda-swanky hotel room came with breakfast. But also because I didn’t want to be climbing at the back end of a line of guys who are all faster than me. That was how it was last year, and I ended up being alone the whole way, aside from two guys who passed me. That was hard. So this time I wanted to start in the middle of a bunch of regular people. It helps me psychologically if I have people to pass. It was that way back when I was a bicycle racer. I was a pretty good time trial rider, as long as I had people who started ahead of me to catch and pass. I just can’t get motivated to push hard unless I have some sort of metaphorical rabbit to chase.

We got to the tower at about 8:15, and I got in line. There was a mix of people around me, so I knew I’d have lots to pass. I saw Oz in line ahead of me. He’d already gone earlier and turned in some stupendously fast time, but he was back to do it again. This time, he was going to walk up alongside his son, who was doing it for the first time.

When I got to the front of the line, I remembered to start my watch when they said to go. It’s good to have an idea of how much time has passed while climbing. It helps me to know if I’m on schedule.

At the dinner last night, everyone had said that the steps here are steeper than normal skyscraper steps. I’d noticed that last year, but I thought it was just my imagination. So this time, as I went up the first flight, I slapped my right hand against the front of one of the steps to do a quick measurement. And sure enough, it was just about 1/4 inch taller than a standard step. I did that rough measurement a few more times on the way up, and it seems that the stairs in the lower part of the building are indeed about 8 inches per step, compared to about 7.7 in a standard building.

This time, I really wanted to avoid burning out too fast, so I started off deliberately going slower. But I’ve learned how to do the turns on the landings more efficiently, and when I looked at my watch at 10, it said 1:46, which meant I was on schedule.

I passed Oz and his son at about 35. They stepped to the side so I could go by, and Oz said something encouraging. I was already getting to be kind of out of it by then, but I kept going. I managed to maintain a pretty steady pace the whole way. I was using the railing more this time, which not only helped go a bit faster, but it was also something to lean on. So I managed to avoid going on all fours like I did for a time at about the 85th floor last year.

Near the top, I was running out of energy to put on the bursts of speed to pass people, and I got stuck behind someone for a couple of floors in the 90s. But when I saw 99, I knew we were near the end, and I managed to muscle past her, and I somehow found the strength to put on a final sprint of sorts from 101 to 103. At the top, I stumbled out of the stairwell and flopped on the floor. It was a few seconds before I realized to stop my watch. I just laid there panting for a few minutes and then managed to move off and find a wall to sit against until my breathing returned to normal. When I looked at my watch, it said 21:36. This was good, since I didn’t stop it right at the top. So I knew my time was certainly faster than that, and that time was over a minute faster than last year. This was good.

I spent a few minutes looking around at the view before getting in the long line waiting for the elevator back down to the lobby. When I got there, we went to the results table and got my time. It was 21:17, which was still short of my goal of 20 minutes, but still was a full minute and 32 seconds faster than last year. That’s almost a second per floor for the whole climb, and I really can’t complain about that.

On the way out, we saw that there were a couple of ambulances parked in front of the tower. I wonder why they were there…

Overall, it was a good outing.


Always good to practice more

Filed under: — stan @ 6:42 pm

So today is my birthday. It’s also a palindrome:


And it’s also the first practice climb for the Cystic Fibrosis Climb for Life in December. I did this event last year, and I’m already signed up to do it again. This time, Kathleen even agreed to come and do the practice.

The climb itself is pretty simple. It’s a single metal stairway, and nearly all clockwise turns. There is one short hallway at 21, and there is one left turn at around 49. Otherwise, it looks the same all the way up. Also, I paid attention, and they didn’t skip the 13th floor, so it’s an honest floor count.

I started out last, partly because I like passing people, and partly because I wanted Kathleen to get a good head start, since we both expected that she would probably be substantially slower than my time.

When I started out, I caught and passed Kathleen very early. She was making a steady pace. Not terribly fast, but steady. I just focused on catching and passing everyone I could. At the finish line on 52, I stopped my watch and saw my time was 8:52. I was a bit disappointed in this, since I did in 8:42 in the race last year, and I’ve been generally going faster this year. But they will be having practices every week until the race, so I’ll get another crack at it next week.

After I cooled off a bit, I walked back down to about 48 to wait for Kathleen. Looking down the stairway shaft, I could see her hand on the railing below. When she came up, I took a quick picture and then followed her up. I pointed out the odd fenced-off area on 49 that looks like a petting zoo. They should keep a couple of goats in there. Or maybe some wallabies. I took another picture of Kathleen when she passed 50. She had a good look of grim determination in that one. But in the end, she made it up, traveling non-stop and at a steady pace.

After a few minutes rest at the top, we caught the elevator back down to go change and go to my birthday party. After all, isn’t racing up a 50-story building how most normal people warm up on their birthday?

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