Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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At long last

Filed under: — stan @ 10:35 pm

For the last 2 1/2 years, I’ve had a goal of doing the U.S. Bank Tower stair climb in under 14 minutes. I first decided this in April, 2010. And it’s taken until now to actually do it.

Today was an odd day. Kathleen was scheduled for surgery in the morning. Not an emergency, but something that had been in the planning for some time, and today was just the day that was available on the schedule. So I spent the first part of the day with her at the hospital in Woodland Hills before heading downtown for the race.

When I got there, I got changed and ready to go. Morgan, Jason, Irving and Chris came in from Pasadena, and we all got in line together. In the starting-line picture, you can see that Chris was starting right behind me, and Irving was right behind him. The two of them ran up and got on my tail as soon as they started.

They were sending us off at close intervals, so there were a lot of people in the stairwell. Traffic was pretty heavy at times, and I had to push through groups of people several times. On the other hand, a lot of the people I knew from the practice climbs were there, and a couple of them gave me a little push as I went by them. I’d made up a split times card and pinned it on my glove. My goals for 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 minutes into the climb were floors 10, 23, 34, 45, 57, and 68. At 10, I was about five seconds fast, so I slowed down slightly. I was right on schedule at 23, 34, and 45. Chris stayed on my tail until about 40 or so before dropping off. And Irving stayed with me all the way to the top. I was a couple seconds behind at 68, but that was all right. I ran the last two floors from 73 to the roof. I remember seeing the flash from the photographer on the landing by the roof door. This was the first time I can recall even being aware that there was someone there. I thought that was odd, but I paid no attention to it. A lot of people stop and pose for the photographer, but I never do. And as a result, my finish line pictures at this event are always bad.

Stumbling out of the stairs, I went over to the big steel girder that the window washing crane rides on, and I laid down on it and put my face against the cool steel. That felt good. I was there for a short time when I realized I hadn’t stopped my watch. I pushed the button, and it stopped at 14:13. Since my time last year was 14:11, I knew that I had gone faster, but by an unknown amount. And after a few minutes, I was able to stand up again and walk down to 71, where they had water and apples for us.

Back down on the ground, they had a little party going on the street by the building. A lot of people had downloaded the smart-phone app from Hallucination Sports and were trying to look up their times. And when I finally got it to work, they listed my time as 13:54. So I finally made my goal. Sadly, there were 150 guys in the 50-59 age group, and I was only good for 8th place. I really can’t complain too much, though. Even though I was nowhere near a medal, I’m still faster than the Average Bear. Also, I got to spend the rest of the evening visiting with my stair climbing friends, and handing out samples of my award-winning cookies.

Now, I’m turning my sights to Chicago for the Sears Willis Tower climb in November. I’ve had a goal of doing that one in less than 20 minutes, and that may be within reach now.

So overall, it was a good evening.

Full results are here:


Another best time

Filed under: — stan @ 9:30 pm

Tonight’s practice at the Wells Fargo building was another best time for me. I didn’t exactly shatter my old record, but no matter what, going faster is nothing to complain about.

I rode the train downtown with Morgan, Chris and Jason, and when we got there, we got in line at the building. After a suitable wait, they let us in, and we started up. Chris shadowed me for quite a while. I don’t recall which floor he dropped off at, but I do remember seeing him staggering on the stairs when he fell off the pace. At least he didn’t go down like a sack of potatoes on the landing like he did one time at the 777 Tower.

I used my same split times card from last week, and this time, I managed to stay on schedule up to the six-minute mark at the 39th floor. At the eight-minute mark, I wanted to be at 51, but I got there at 8:08. Still, that’s not bad. I ran the last two floors, and flopped on the 55th floor landing at 8:49. This is one second faster than my time from last Monday. Can’t complain about that.

After a little rest, we headed up a second time, just for grins. Or perhaps grimaces. Anyway, the second time, I noticed that someone had put a series of Post-It notes on the mural above the 46th floor. The notes said:


That made a nice counter to the “DO NOT GO UP” sign on the 3rd floor. So I had to stop for a picture. I wasn’t running for time the second time up, so I wasn’t worried about stopping for a couple minutes.

It was a good outing, and I’m just about ready for the race now.



Filed under: — stan @ 9:01 pm

Tonight was yet another practice at the Wells Fargo building downtown. It’s coming down to the wire, since the race is next week, so lots more people are showing up now. That made for a very long line this evening.

I went downtown with Morgan and Chris. We got there earlier today, but then again, so did everyone else. So we ended up waiting in line for close to half and hour before we got into the stairs. When they let our group in, the people around us all said I should go first, since they figured I’d end up passing all of them. So I had a clear stairway up to about 30 or so before I started catching up with the group that started before us. The YMCA has been good about encouraging people who are not going for time to stay to the outside, and to let faster people pass on the inside. But apparently, some people just haven’t gotten the memo. There was a guy I caught up to who flat-out refused to get out of my way. I came up behind him, and I somehow managed to speak and ask him to move over. He didn’t. I said it again. And then I reached forward and pushed him gently to the side, thinking that maybe he was listening to loud music and hadn’t heard me. But he still refused to move over. So I had to run past him and immediately cut in front of him to make the turn on the next landing. Chris was following me, and he said that the guy looked really unhappy about that. But really, what good does it do him to hold us up? It doesn’t make him go faster, and it doesn’t cost him anything to step to the side on the stairs and let us go by.

The same thing happened around 40. This time it was a woman who refused to get out of the way. I had to run the long way around the landing to get by her. So those things cost me probably close to 10 seconds.

Around 45, Johnny passed me. He was the only person who passed me, and I feel no shame about that. He came up behind me, and I stepped sideways on one flight to let him by. It’s a simple courtesy, and as long as I don’t end up taking the long way around the outside of a landing, it doesn’t cost me any time.

At the top, I flopped down on the landing and looked at my watch. It said 8:58. Still better than last year, but 8 seconds slower than on Monday. I’d tried a new method for setting split times tonight. I had a small note pinned to my glove just giving the floor numbers where I thought I should be at the 2, 4, 6, and 8 minute marks. I’d been on schedule up to the 4 minute mark at 28, but then I fell behind. I’m sure that the L.A. traffic I encountered in the stairwell didn’t help.

After a short rest, Morgan and I headed up a second time. We both took it easy. I made it up in 10:31, which was not bad for loafing along, and I still passed bunches of people.

It was an ‘OK’ outing. Not great, but still valuable experience.


I seem to be saying ‘this is great’ a lot these days…

Filed under: — stan @ 9:50 pm

Today was yet another practice climb at the Wells Fargo building in downtown Los Angeles. I went downtown with Morgan from my office. With less than two weeks to go until the race, we want to get in as much practice as we can.

Like last week, I still think I should be able to make it up to 55 in 8:40. This time, I adjusted my projected split times to account for the fact that I tend to slow down on the upper floors. I adjusted the lower times downward in an effort to take the first half of the building a little bit faster in hopes that I could then make it to the top on schedule.

My first time point was at 12, and I was five seconds ahead of schedule. This was good. The second was at 25, and I was just a couple seconds ahead. By 35, I was on schedule. I lost a few seconds around 38 when there was a guy who wouldn’t get out of the way, and he forced me to pass him on the outside, taking the long way around. That threw my stride off, and I ended up on the wrong foot for the next landing. So I had to take an extra step to get back on the pattern.

At 45, I was about ten seconds behind schedule, but I was hoping to make that up in the final sprint. At 51, I started going a bit faster, and at 53 I broke into a run for the last two floors. I heaved myself up on the landing at 55, and I saw 8:50 on my watch. So I didn’t make up any time those last 15 floors, but I didn’t lose any more either. And it’s still a new best time for me on this staircase, so I really can’t complain, even if it is only by one second.

After a little rest, we headed down to the lobby for a second time up. I always take the second time slower. Along the way, I tried to explain my theory of using an efficient stepping pattern to minimize wasted steps, and also to always hit the turn on the landings on the outside foot. I ran my watch the second time, but I wasn’t really trying to go fast. I got to the top in 11:35, which I guess isn’t bad for just loafing along up the stairs.

It was a good outing.


E.T. is 30 years old now

Filed under: — stan @ 5:52 pm

I was recently reminded that this summer marks the 30th anniversary of the movie, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial“. So, in honor of that occasion, and because it’s a ridiculous hill-climbing-fest, we took a ride up to Tujunga to see Elliott’s house from the movie. It’s been hot all week, and promised to still be hot today.

The house itself is at the top of a very steep hill in Tujunga, but just to make it more interesting, we went there by way of La Crescenta, riding all the way up Rosemont to the base of Pine Cone Road, which figured as the backdrop to the story told in John McPhee’s book, The Control of Nature. There is a short excerpt from the book on the USGS web site, telling the story of the night in 1978 when the Genofile’s house at the bottom of Pine Cone Road was buried by a debris flow.

Go read it. I’ll wait.


There’s a picture of the house the next day at the Crescenta Valley Historical Society.

So after grinding all the way up the long hill on Rosemont, we got to see ‘The Fort’, the Shields Canyon drainage channel, and Pine Cone Road. In the aftermath of the debris flow, they rebuilt the house, and McPhee notes:

From the local chamber of commerce the family later received the Beautification Award for Best Home. Two of the criteria by which houses are selected for this honor are “good maintenance” and “a sense of drama.”

Continuing on, we passed the Green House on Markridge. We’d been up to see that before. Then we headed up into Tujunga, and it was time to climb the hill to Elliott’s house. They filmed a few outdoor scenes there, but the neighborhood where they filmed the kids riding the bikes around was in Northridge. The Tujunga neighborhood is far too steep a hill for kids on BMX bikes.

From there, it was all downhill back to Montrose, where we stopped for snacks and drinks. At that point, a few people decided to cut the route short and head home, since it was pretty hot. The rest of us continued on with the route, which involved a completely gratuitous ride down into Glendale and then back up over the Chevy Chase hill to La Cañada. It was a two or three mile hill that was absolutely unnecessary, but it fit the theme of the day, which was to ride up a lot of hills.

At the top, we stopped for a few minutes, and that’s where we saw a rather fat mouse just standing on the pavement a few feet from us, seemingly unconcerned about anything. That was odd.

After that last big hill, it was all downhill back to Pasadena. It was a nice ride. Jeff said that it totaled something like 3.700 feet of climbing. Good times.

41 miles.


County Fair Time

Filed under: — stan @ 10:03 pm

It’s the end of summer, and time for the Los Angeles County Fair. And this year, for the first time, I’m a blue-ribbon-winner in the baking contest. So today was our day to go see my cookies on display. And of course, we went there first.

As always, it was hot. 103 in Pomona, according the Weather Service. Still, we made the best of it. There are a lot of things there that are indoors, including the displays of wines. Who knew that there are wineries in New Jersey? We also got some Dr Bob’s ice cream there.

Later in the afternoon, we went to see the pig races. That was fun, and at the end, they gave us a coupon for a pound of bacon. Hmm.

All this time, Lucinda and London were out and about. The rode some rides, and they played a lot of games. So when we found them later on, they were carrying some big stuffed animals.

I saw one place that was selling hamburgers with a banner of a decidedly unhappy-looking cow on it. I’m not sure that that’s quite the message they were going for there.

In the end, the girls played a few more games. They had to get a big bag to carry all the stuffed animals. So I guess that made it a good day.


Do Not Go Up

Filed under: — stan @ 10:01 pm

Tonight was the second practice at the Wells Fargo building in downtown Los Angeles. Last week, I’d climbed it once for speed and once to make a chart, and now, armed with the chart, I had made up precise split times and I was ready to tackle it for real.

The actual climb from the lobby up to 55 is 1,126 steps and about 690 feet. That’s just 26 feet more than the climb up the 777 Tower. Being that 26 feet is about two floors, and I was averaging 10 seconds per floor there, I figured I should be able to do this in about 20 seconds more than my best time at 777. Since I did that in 8:19, I thought 8:40 seemed like a good goal. So I made up some split times to aim for that. I also figured out how to do the steps at the beginning and the end to get the most efficient pattern. The method I worked out has one triple step on the flight just coming up to 3. And there is one sacrificial non-climbing step on the big landing at 53. By doing that, I can hit every single landing on my left foot, which is perfect for doing the right turns. There are 107 landings where there is a right turn. So saving even a fraction of a second on each of them is worth it.

Chris came along this time, and we started up the stairs together. That worked out well, since I go faster when he’s tailing me. I was on schedule all the way up to my time checkpoint at 34, but that was about where Chris dropped off the pace. I kept going as best I could, but I was about five seconds off pace at the checkpoint at 45. When I got to 53, I remembered to take the one extra step to switch sides, and then I ran up the last eight short flights up to 55. I did the traditional face-plant on the landing at 55, and when I looked at my watch, it said I’d done it in 8:51. While that’s not quite as fast as I’d hoped for, it was still a full 8 seconds faster than my best time last year. So there’s nothing not to like about that.

We rode the elevator back down to the lobby and got ready to go up again. My friend Mary had told me that there was a big sign on one of the landings that said “DO NOT GO UP”. I presume that’s intended for people using the stairs to evacuate in an emergency. I’d never noticed it before, so I wanted to look for it and get a picture. I also wanted to get a picture of the old lady on the park bench mural on the landing between 43 and 44. I’d started my watch at the bottom, but when I got to the top, I forgot to stop it. And since I’d stopped for photos on the way up, I figured my time didn’t really mean much anyway.

It was a good evening. Pretty much any practice that involves a new best time is a good one.


Top of the World

Filed under: — stan @ 4:35 pm

Today’s bike club ride was another sightseeing trip to Downey. We’ve gone there before to see history from The Carpenters, but this time, we were going to see a bit of the history of the space program there. Our destination was the Columbia Memorial Space Center, which was built at the site of the former North American Aviation, and later Rockwell plant where both the Apollo Command and Service Modules were built, as well as the Space Shuttle.

The trip there was very straightforward. Literally. We just rode down through San Gabriel and got on Rosemead southbound. And then we went straight for something like 10 miles. We had one brief stop to look at he oldest operating McDonald’s at the corner of Lakewood and Florence. We could also see that we were getting close to our destination. The shopping center next to it was “Apollo Center”. Building the space ship to go to the moon had to have been a source of civic pride in Downey.

The space center isn’t open on Sundays, so we didn’t get to go inside. We were mostly there to see the Command Module boilerplate test model outside. We also noticed that they had the nine concrete spheres along the front walkway painted like the nine planets. Hmm. I think Mike Brown would take issue with that.

Leaving the space museum, we rode back through Downey to 3rd St Coffee. We found tables in the shade and had some snacks. We took a short side trip to see the two apartment buildings that the Carpenters bought with the money from their first two hit singles. Then we rode over to pick up the Rio Hondo bike path for the trip home. By then it was pretty hot, but it was still a nice day and a pleasant ride.

42 miles.


No asterisk this time

Filed under: — stan @ 10:33 pm

Tonight we went back to Hollywood Forever to another Cinespia movie screening. And I didn’t have to put an asterisk on it when I say it was a fun time. We’d gone to two movies there last summer, and the experience was a bit of an ordeal. But this time, we knew how to deal with it, and it was fine.

We made up a little picnic to bring along. Our Tommy Bahama chairs are good because they have pockets to pack stuff in, and straps so they can be worn like backpacks. So we were able to carry lots of stuff pretty easily. We went over there, and we just parked in the first parking lot we saw. It was the car wash at Gower and Santa Monica, and they wanted $10 to park there. That worked for us, so we parked and walked over to the entrance. We got there about 30 minutes early, and we were able to get a spot in the shade. We set up our chars, and it was really quite comfortable. Then, when they opened the gates, we got inside pretty fast, and just walked back to the area and set up camp. Last year, when we waited in the car line to get in, by the time we got there, we had a really crappy, far-away spot on the lawn. But this time, we got a good spot. So the lesson is, don’t try and park inside the cemetery.

While we were having our dinner, two women set up camp behind us. They put out a tremendous spread of stuff. All kinds of things. So we talked with them, and I gave them some of my hummus and homemade pita bread to sample. And they gave us some exotic cheeses, roasted hazelnuts, and what they called ‘lawyer bread’ that was made by someone they know. It was all quite good. And I was regretting that I hadn’t had time to make a batch of my award-winning cookies to bring along tonight.

The movie was Woody Allen’s “Manhattan“, which neither of us had seen in decades. It’s interesting how our perspective changes with age. We enjoyed it, but we both got something completely different out of it this time, as compared to when we saw it 30-something years ago.

All told, it was a fun evening.


First time up Wells Fargo

Filed under: — stan @ 9:22 pm

Today was the first practice session at the Wells Fargo building in downtown Los Angeles. This is the traditional final training staircase before the U.S. Bank stair climb at the end of September. Last month, we were practicing at the 777 Tower, which was a nice building. But because we’d never climbed it before, I couldn’t compare my times from last year.

Tonight, I had tow main goals. First was to do a run for speed up the building, just to get to know the stairs again. And second, I was going to walk up slowly, taking measurements and counting steps so I could make a chart.

When I started up, I quickly found that the staircase is very consistent. It’s a 10/11 configuration with right turns all the way up. The only variation was at the beginning and the end. So I was able to adapt my stepping pattern from the Columbia Center climb. Then the only challenge was paying attention enough to remember to change which leg was leading every five floors. I’d made up a split time card, aiming to be at the top in 9 minutes, but by the time I got to 30, I was a little behind schedule. In the end, I heaved up onto the landing on 55 in 9:28. Not terrible, but not especially good. I think I was distracted.

The second time up, I brought my tape measure and notepad. I’d seen another guy taking notes on the way up the first time, so I guess the idea is taking root. The steps average 7 3/8 inches tall, and there are 1,126 of them to get to the 55th floor. The chart is here:

Now I can work out precise split times for next week. I can also work out how to do the last two floors and not get caught on the wrong foot for the turns. And now I know exactly where the three murals are on the between-floor landings near the top.

It was a good outing.

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