Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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The Coughing Game

Filed under: — stan @ 10:42 pm

This year’s Scale the Strat stair climb was a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I took almost 40 seconds off my best time for the tower. But on the other hand, I blew out my throat and lungs breathing the extra-dry desert air, and I ended up coughing so much that I couldn’t race on in the finals on Sunday. And on the third hand, Saturday was Lucinda’s 13th birthday, so she got to have a fun weekend in Las Vegas with Trinh. So overall, it was a good weekend, even if I didn’t get to do my best performance on the stairs.

We headed out there on Friday morning. The idea was to get there before dark. We stopped at Alien Fresh Jerky in Baker, since the girls all like their jerky. I don’t really get the appeal of jerky, but the place is amusing. When we got to Las Vegas, we got checked in to the hotel, and the girls went off on their own. Kathleen and I went up the tower to scout it out. I’ve been on a mission to get a fully-detailed layout of the stairs there, and I wanted to have a peek into the stairwell at the top to count the steps on the last two flights. I figured they’re be the same for all eight levels of the pod at the top of the tower.

After the scouting mission, we all headed over to Circus Circus for dinner. I got the obligatory prime rib that I always look for in Las Vegas. And after dinner, the girls all got some faux-ice-cream thing that I tasted and thought was horrible.

Saturday morning came, and I’d made up my preliminary map of the stairs. And based on that, I figured out split times that I’d need to make for the three major landmarks on the climb. The first was the first rest area, 1/3 of the way up the tower shaft. The second was the other rest area, which is about 2/3 of the way up the shaft, and the final landmark was the first fire refuge level at the bottom of the pod, right at the top of the tower shaft. I made up split times, aiming to be at the top in 11 minutes. Then I wrote them on a little card and safety-pinned it to the back of my glove, so I could see it at the same time when I looked at my watch.

I made the first landmark about 10 seconds ahead of schedule. The second and third landmarks were right on schedule. I managed to put on a burst of speed at the end, and I stumbled out of the stairs in 10:43, which is 37 seconds faster than my previous best time for this climb.

After the climb, Kathleen was signed up to do the Sky Jump off the tower. So we got cleaned up and headed down there. They got her suited up, and I had a seat on one of the lounge chairs they have set up by the landing area next to the tower. When they announced that it was her turn, I turned my big zoom lens up and shot a bunch of pictures as she came down. It was over pretty quickly, but she said it was fun, that is, it was fun after she got over having to take that first step off the edge.

Saturday evening, we went to the Peppermill for dinner with the whole West Coast Labels/X-Gym stair climbing team. All afternoon, I’d had a bad case of the Climber’s Cough, brought on by breathing the dry desert air in the stairwell. But by dinnertime, it seemed to be getting better.

After dinner, we headed downtown so that the girls could do the zipline on Fremont St again. But when we got there, my cough came back, worse than before. I’ve coughed a lot after stair climbs, but never before so hard that I thought I was in serious danger of barfing. When I nearly lost my dinner on Fremont St, I knew I had to pack it in. So Kathleen and I gave the girls enough money for cab fare back to the Stratosphere, and we headed back to our room.

By this time, I was starting to have serious doubts about running in the finals on Sunday morning. But I figured I’d just go to sleep and see how I felt in the morning.

Sunday morning came, and I felt slightly better. But my throat was pretty raw, and all my chest muscles were sore from all the coughing. That was when I came up with a plan to salvage the situation. I knew that running all-out was out of the question. But on the other hand, I’d wanted to do a scouting trip up the stairs to get an accurate map and step count. And since I’d qualified for the finals, I had my ticket into the stairs. So I wore my shorts that have pockets, and I brought along a pen and a notepad. When it was time to start, I started out like normal, but as soon as I was up the first couple of flights, and out of sight of the starting line, I pulled out the notepad and started writing notes. I counted the steps on every flight, which was pretty easy, since the majority of the climb is just 20-step flights, with a landing and a 180-degree left turn. At the second rest area, I even took a minute to look over the side of the stairs and contemplate the 250 or so feet of empty space below my feet. That was impressive. I shan’t be looking at that again, I think. At the end, I walked up the last flight and strolled out of the stairwell, notes in hand. It was a bit of an odd way to end the race, but at least I got some useful information out of it.

After the climb was over, I went over my notes, and I quickly determined several things that we’d all been wondering about:

  • How many steps are there?
  • How high is the climb itself?
  • How many floors are there in the pod?

And the end product as a complete chart of the stairs. The observation deck level of the tower is 855 feet above street level. It turns out that the 3rd floor, where they start the climb, is 47 feet above street level. So the climb is 808 feet, and 1,372 steps. This is, as I’ve been saying, about the equivalent of a normal 60-story building. So even though they said it’s “108 stories”, they’re exaggerating. And the published step count of 1,455 is wrong. And finally, there are 8 levels in the pod. So this will be an aid to planning and computing split times for future climbs.

The last thing we did on Sunday afternoon was to go to New York New York to ride the roller coaster there. Kathleen and I rode it last year when we were here for the stair climb, but we couldn’t ride it when we were there in May, owing to the wind being too strong that day. So we finally all got to ride it. It’s a pretty good ride, even if the 200-foot lift hill at the beginning gives me the willies.

Overall, it was a nice weekend. And we didn’t even get stuck in much traffic on the way home.


Last practice before Las Vegas and the Stratosphere

Filed under: — stan @ 10:36 pm

Tonight was my last big practice session before going to Las Vegas this weekend to climb the Stratosphere Tower stairs. I had read Kristen’s account of climbing the Hancock building in Chicago, and I liked her idea of setting milestones and time goals along the way as a method of knowing whether or not one is ‘on pace’. So I thought I’d try that this evening.

I took a guess, and figured that the few short hallways along the way up the Aon building probably add up to about 30 seconds or so of non-climbing time. Using my best time of 9:48 as a guideline, I figured on about 9:15 of actual climbing time for the 56 floors. That gave me 9.9 seconds per floor on average. So I made up a little chart with milestones and time goals. The floor milestones represent the places where the stairway changes, except for 32, which is just the halfway point of the practice climb. And this is what I got:

Floor Time goal
20 2:38
24 3:33
32 4:52
42 6:31
44 7:05
60 9:45

I wrote this up on a little piece of paper, and I put some packing tape on it to protect it from sweat. Then I rubber-banded it to my arm.

As it turned out, I was pretty close. At 20, I was at 2:35. At 24, I had 3:32, and at 32, the watch said 4:55. All this was good. In retrospect, I think I could have cut the time points down to just 20, 32, and 44. There really wasn’t much point in having two time points separated by just a few floors. And I’m pretty sure that looking at the watch that many times cost me a couple seconds. I also found out after the fact that I’d whacked my arm against something, possibly the fire hose pipe that runs up the landings from 24 to 42. It’s really sore and bruised now, but I have no memory of hitting it on anything. But in the end, I came out at 60, and after doing the traditional face-plant on the floor, I saw that I had 9:51. That’s only three seconds off my best time, and very close to my goal time. So that was a Good Thing all around.

I spent a few minutes on 60 looking at the sunset. It wasn’t quite as nice as the one from last week, but it was still nice to look at. Then I took the elevator back down and got dressed to go home.

It was a good outing, and I feel pretty much ready to attack the Stratosphere stairs.


They can’t all be gems

Filed under: — stan @ 7:12 pm

I went downtown at lunchtime today to do the stair practice at the Aon building. So far this year, I’ve been going pretty well at this, turning in times that are about 30 seconds faster than I was doing last year at this time.

As always, I was dreading it all the way down there on the train. When I got there, I got changed and I didn’t wait around before starting up. There were a few people who started before me, but I caught and passed them within the first ten floors. And then I was alone the rest of the way. I took a look at my watch at 32, and it said something like 5:10. So I knew this was not going to be a record-setting climb. But amazingly enough, I was able to pick up the pace a bit, and I did the second half of the climb faster than the first half. I looked at my watch again at 54, and it was right around 9 minutes. So I knew I had a fighting chance to come in right around 10 minutes, and I managed to pick up the pace some more for the last four floors. And after taking a couple minutes to catch my breath, I looked at the watch again, and I saw that I’d done 10:03. It’s a measure of how much faster I’m going this year compared with last year that I look at that time, and I think, “Meh, that’s only so-so.” But last year, I was struggling to get under 10:30. So there’s really nothing to complain about here.

I took a couple of minutes to look at the view. I took a picture of the same view from last time, but it’s really not the same without the spectacular sunset colors.

On the way back, I had a few minutes to wait at the 7th St/Metro Center station, so I had a look at one of the new Expo Line trains parked in the station. We’d seen a test train running on the new line last Sunday. So I guess they’re getting close to opening it.

All in all, it was a pretty good outing, even if I didn’t get a new best time.


Bright city lights and endless staircases

Filed under: — stan @ 10:03 pm

It’s Tuesday, and time for another practice run up the Aon Center stairs in downtown Los Angeles. Last week, I’d done my best time yet at 9:48, so I wanted to see if I could beat that.

I’d washed my gloves over the weekend to restore their stickiness, and wow, did it ever. They really gripped the railing, and the little rubber-squeaky noises were louder than ever. I made a point of not trying to think about going fast, but rather just to concentrate on doing the proper footwork for the least steps. That makes climbing more efficient, and it’s also a useful distraction from the thinking, “OMG!!! What the HELL was I thinking signing up for this again!

After all these practice runs, I’m getting pretty good at the stepping pattern. I only got confused once, around the 54th floor. And I’m usually pretty cross-eyed and confused by that point anyway. I had a quick look at my watch at the halfway point at 32, and it said something like 4:50, so I was on track. I passed 9 minutes at about 54, and I managed to put on a little kick at the end, from 56 to 60. I came out of the stairs and did the traditional face-plant on the floor. And when I looked at the watch, it said 9:50. Not the fastest, but the second-fastest, and not bad at all for just showing up to do the climb without really trying to set any records.

After a few minutes, I went to look out the windows for a bit. And it turned out that tonight had a very nice sunset. So I found a dark corner of the 60th floor and braced the camera on the window sill to take some pictures. I also went to the other side to get some pictures of the other skyscrapers on Bunker Hill, since we’ll be racing up the U.S. Bank Tower in the fall, as well as practicing at Wells Fargo and One California Plaza.

All told, I’m having a really good practice season right now. Not really trying for speed, but still consistently doing times that I could only dream about last year. There’s nothing not to like there.

Working out my power production:

1236 x 7.5 = 9270 inches = 772.5 feet
9270 x 2.54 / 100 = 235.5 meters
235.5m x 77kg x 9.8 = 177677 joules
177677 joules / 590 sec = 301 watts
301 watts = 0.4 horsepower

Yup. Nothing not to like here.


Like I said, this is a little creepy…

Filed under: — stan @ 10:57 pm

It’s Thursday, and I was able to go downtown at lunchtime to do stair practice at the Aon building. That’s the usual practice climb from 4 up to 60. Today was my second time climbing with the sticky football gloves. I decided that when I’m using them, I sound like a dog playing with a toy. Lots of panting and little rubber squeaky noises. But they work really well for getting a good grip on the railing to help pull me up the stairs. So that’s a good thing.

When I got there, Theo was there. He is very fast, but he likes to walk down to the ground-level door to start. So when we got to the 4th floor, he went to walk down, and I headed up. My goal was to make it to 60 before he caught me.

I’m getting pretty good at the footwork to change leads so that I equalize the loads on each leg. Since most of the flights are 11 steps, that means that one leg will work harder than the other when you do double steps. So I’ve worked out a way to switch which leg leads off so that I even out the load. And I can feel the difference. It’s getting close to being automatic, which is a good thing. And it’s also good in that I switch leads every even-numbered floor. So that’s a useful mental distraction. When I get to 6, I think about having to switch leads, and that I don’t have to switch again until 8. I don’t think about having 54 more floors to go. So that distraction is a Very Good Thing.

I had a look at my watch at the halfway point at 32, and I was just under 5 minutes. So that meant I was on track to do a time just under 10 minutes. And when I got to 54, I had another look, and it was just under 9 minutes, so I knew I had to hit it to have a chance to beat my time from Tuesday. Also, I was concerned that Theo was going to catch me. So I managed to put on a burst of speed for the last few floors before coming out on 60 and doing the traditional face-plant on the floor. When I looked at my watch, I had 9:50, which is 2 seconds slower than on Tuesday. And like I said before, this is a bit creepy.

But no matter. This year, I’m doing times that I thought would be impossible last year. So there’s really nothing to complain about here.


This is great, and for more than one reason this time…

Filed under: — stan @ 10:40 pm

Tonight was yet another stair practice at the Aon building in downtown Los Angeles. And as always, I was dreading it all the way there on the train. I got a bit of a late start, due to some computer problems with My Pet Project today, but I finally managed to get out the door. Kathleen was coming downtown, too. I told her I was planning on doing one run up the building for time, and then I’d walk up it again with her.

There was some sort of problem on the Metro Red Line tonight. I rode the train to the 7th St station, and that was fine. But when I got off, there was an announcement on the PA. I missed the first part of it, and all I heard was “delays – Metro apologizes for any inconvenience.” They also had the announcement as a text crawl on the monitors in the station, but it seemed that no matter which monitor I looked at, all I ever saw was, “Metro apologizes…” So I figured I was there, so I might as well hit the stairs and get it over with. The last I’d heard from Kathleen was that she was getting on the train at 5:26, so she would be there about 6:00, plus whatever the delay was.

I headed up to the building and got ready to go. I’d gotten a pair of the rubber-palm football gloves that Mark recommends, and I was going to try them out tonight. So I started my watch and headed up. The gloves made little rubber-squeaky noises on the railing all the way up. I was just sort of cruising, but when I got to 56, I had a look at my watch and realized that I had a chance to do a good time if I really hit it for the last four floors. So I made some faster rubber squeaky noises and ran up the last four flights. I stumbled out of the stairwell and flopped on the floor. And when I looked at my watch, I saw 9:48, which is yet another best time for me. Can’t complain about that at all.

I rested for a few minutes and then went back to the lobby to wait for Kathleen. As it turned out, she was caught in the train delay, and she didn’t get there until 6:40. She asked me if I’d noticed anything different on the 52nd floor, but in my stair-climbing fog, I hadn’t. So we headed up the stairs again. Since I was going slower, I figured I’d see whatever it was this time.

When we got to about 40, the guards made the announcement that practice time was almost over. So I went ahead a bit and stopped at the intercom at 49 to call them and see if we could have an extra five minutes to finish. The guys said it was all right, so I continued on up to 52. That’s where I saw my Valentine on the wall, next to the fire hose valves and the floor number sign. It was the sweetest thing ever, and even better, because it meant that she’d had to climb the building before to install it. She said later that she’d come to practice late last Thursday to put it up, so that it would be there for me today.

So we climbed the rest of the way up to 60. We came out and then rode the elevator back down. And then we got changed and headed out for a nice dinner at Engine Company 28, just around the corner on Figueroa St. All told, it was a very nice Valentine’s Day.


Like I said…

Filed under: — stan @ 11:46 pm

I went downtown for stair practice at the Aon building tonight. As always, I was dreading it the whole way there on the train. But when I got there, I just decided to start up the stairs and see what happened. And I did another personal best for the practice climb from 4 to 60. On the way up, I was mostly focusing on doing the footwork to even out the load on each leg, while maintaining the most efficient way to climb the stairs. But when I got to 56, I looked at my watch and saw 9:25, so I knew I had a chance to beat my previous best time of 9:56. So I somehow managed to pull out some extra energy to make a run up the last few flights before coming out at 60 and doing the traditional face-plant on the concrete floor. But it was worth it.

After a couple minutes rest, I went back down and started up again. This time, I walked down to ground level and then walked back up. I’d brought some paper and a pen, and I made notes all the way up. I noted the number of steps on each flight, the direction of the turn at the end of the flight, whether it was a 90-degree or 180-degree turn, and the length of the few flat sections. So now I have the information to make a complete map of the stairs from the ground floor up to the door to the roof. Presumably, this will even allow me to calculate the total number of steps I’ll have to take to get to the top. What can I say? I’m a nerd. I like to analyze the world in this way.


I seem to be saying this a lot lately

Filed under: — stan @ 10:02 pm

This is great!

On Thursday evening’s stair practice, I did yet another personal best. I climbed the practice course from 4 up to 60 in 9:56. This is four seconds faster than my previous best, and about 30 seconds faster than the practice times I was turning in last year

I’m getting better at the stepping patterns I worked out to even out the load on each leg, and that seems to be helping. It’s also good from a mental standpoint, since it gives me something to focus on as a distraction from how much it hurts. So all around, it’s a Good Thing.


Dress rehearsal

Filed under: — stan @ 10:36 pm

Tonight was the “Kickoff Party” at the Aon building in downtown Los Angeles. This was an event to try and drum up interest for the stair climb at the end of March. And for the occasion, they opened the stairwell door on the ground outside the building, so we could practice doing almost the entire climb. The normal practice sessions rn from 4 to 60, but tonight we could go from ground level up to 60. They were also keeping the stairs open an hour longer than normal tonight.

I rode the train downtown after work. My plan was to do the climb once for speed, to practice my footwork for changing which leg was leading every other floor to even out the loads on them. After that, I planned on going up a couple more times to take pictures, kibitz and just play tourist.

My first time up was a pretty good run. My time was 10:49. I had a look at my watch when I was passing the place where we start the normal practice runs, and it was at 42 seconds at that point, so this was about the equivalent of doing the regular practice course in 10:07. Not my fastest time, but still a good solid pace.

After a few minutes recovery, i went back down. The second time I just walked up to the 4th floor to check the count of steps there. This time, I came out with 80. So I walked back down and counted it again. It was 80 every time, so that means I must have made a mistake when I counted them the other day. It also means that the full count is 1,378 steps from the ground up to the landing at the door to the roof. So I think this is where the published count of 1,377 came from. They probably sent somebody up to count the steps, and when he got to the door that said “ROOF” he figured that was the end of it and stopped, without counting the last flight up on the outside of the door.

I started up the stairs for the second time. I walked up with Mary, and I took some pictures along the way. I particularly wanted to get some pictures from the top of the middle section of the stairs, which is about floor 42. The stairway shaft is wider in that section, and it’s possible to look up and down about 260 vertical feet in the shaft. I thought this might make for some dramatic pictures. I got one dramatic shot of Mary by bracing the camera on the railing and using a long exposure. I’d heard that they might get Norman to come take pictures, so I think that the landing around 42 would be a good place for him to set up. His pictures at the CFF climb last December were great.

Near the top, I heard a loud panting sound coming up behind me. I know I’m pretty loud when I’m going full speed, and Jeff is pretty loud, too. But this time it was Madeline. She was really going, and she told me later that she’d set a new personal best tonight.

I went back down again. I was waiting for Kathleen to get there, since I’d told her I’d walk up with her once. But it was cold just standing around, so I decided to go up again just to keep warm. This time, I got to 42 and I could hear someone coming up. This time it was Veronica, and she was on her third of five times up the stairs. But she was still moving very fast. And both of those pictures looking down the stairway shaft give a sense of just how endless the stairs seem when we’re climbing them.

When I got back down, I was still waiting for Kathleen. I thought she was stuck in traffic somewhere. But then I saw her coming down the escalator. She had gotten there while I was walking up the third time, and she just started up the stairs. She said that she didn’t think I’d have my phone with me, so she didn’t try to call to tell me she was there. Oh well. We still got to visit with everyone, and afterward we went to have a little dinner at McCormick and Schmick’s, which is inside the U.S. Bank Tower, just a couple blocks away.

It was a fun evening. And climbing the tower three times wasn’t hard at all. The trick was to just take it easy and just play tourist the second and third times. I was climbing it in something like 20 minutes, even with stopping to make notes and take pictures. And it was good practice, since I was still able to practice my footwork and turns.


More stairwell math

Filed under: — stan @ 8:17 pm

Today was another practice at the Aon building in downtown Los Angeles. I wanted to practice my footwork for changing which leg was the lead on the first and third major portions of the stairway. I also wanted to do some more counting, since I want to know the actual count of steps.

As always, I rode the train there. When I got there, I did one thing differently this time. Before starting up, I followed Theodore down the stairway to the ground floor. He started his run from there, but I just walked it and counted steps. It’s 82 steps from the ground up to the 4th floor where the main stairway begins.

At the mechanical floors where the stairs reverse direction, I paid attention again, and there are exactly two floors that are different from the standard 22 steps per floor. Those are on 22 and 42, and they are both 24 steps. Aside from that, it’s 22 steps per floor all the way up to 60.

If you look at the picture of the building on the Glass Steel and Stone web site, you can see two dark floors. Those are the mechanical floors at 22 and 42. I counted the windows to be sure that those are the right numbers.

When I got to 56, I looked at my watch, and it said 9:30. So I knew I wasn’t going to break any records today, but I was on track for a good time anyway. I managed to put on a little sprint from 57 to 60 before doing the traditional face-plant in the hallway. After a few minutes, I had a look at my watch, and it said 10:05. Five seconds slower than my best time so far. Not bad.

On the train home, I did some math, since I now have accurate step counts from the ground all the way to the roof door above 62. And here’s the story:

82 steps from BL to 4
22 x 56 = 1,232 steps from 4 to 60
4 extra because the mechanical floors at 22 and 42 have 24 steps
24 from 60 to 61
28 from 61 to 62
10 up to the roof door

Right off, this means that the published count of 1,377 steps for the whole climb is wrong. It’s close, but not quite right. I think the actual count will be just shy of 1,400. I wrote to Vanessa at the Lung Association, and she’s going to try and find out how long that last flight after the roof door is.

This started me wondering if the step counts on other climbs are also inaccurate. The U.S. Bank Tower climb is said to be 1,500 steps. But that building was built in 1989, and since about 1980, the building code has specified that steps are 7 inches. Doing some math:

1500 x 7 = 10500 inches
10500 / 12 = 875 feet

The U.S. Bank Tower is 1,018 feet tall. We climb to within about 8 or 10 feet of that level, since the finish line is just below the helipad on the roof. So clearly it has to be substantially more than 1500 steps.

So that’s my stair-geek story for the day. And on the way home, I saw a funny electrician’s truck. “Shock-a-Doodle Doo! Don’t let this happen to you!”

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