Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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This is getting a little creepy…

Filed under: — stan @ 11:47 pm

This is so consistent that it’s getting a little creepy. We’re three weeks into stair practice at the Aon building for this year’s stair climb. And every week, the same two things happen:

  • On Tuesday, I beat my previous best time by an average of seven seconds;
  • On Thursday, I go two seconds slower than I did on Tuesday.

This has happened three weeks in a row now, and I find it remarkable that it’s so consistent. On the other hand, I find it very hard to visualize taking seven seconds off my time every week from now until the end of March. That would have me doing the practice in 8:50 on the Tuesday before the race. And that would put me at a pace that’s just not something I think is possible. So my streak is going to end. But let’s see if I can keep it going for a couple more weeks. That would be really great.

Once again, I spent the whole train ride downtown dreading what I was about to do. But I had a useful mental diversion this time. I’d worked out a way to switch leading legs on the first and third major portions of the stairs. This is the part where there is about 16 stories in a row of 22 steps per floor, divided into two 11-step flights. This works out to five double steps and one single on each flight, and 12 footfalls per floor. This means that the left and right leg are working in a 6:5 ratio, and that unevenness builds up after a few floors. So I’ve been doing a little skip-step every few floors to switch which leg starts off, so as to even out the load. But today, I wanted to try a new scheme that I thought might be a bit smoother and not break my rhythm. The plan for today was to switch legs on every even-numbered floor. I figured that would be easy to remember. Normally, my rule is that if I do a single step onto the landing, then I pivot and start the next flight with a double. And if I do a double onto the landing, I start the next flight with a single. The difference this time is that I was going to reverse that on every even-numbered floor. On those floors, if I did a single onto the landing, I turned and started off with a single. And if I did a double, I did a little reach and started the next flight with a double. This had the effect of switching which leg was doing the two singles per floor. I got confused a couple of times on the way up, but I think with a little practice, I can probably do this without having to think too hard. And I did notice that it helped a lot to even out the load on each leg.

I also paid attention to the mechanical floors again. This time, I only counted two that had more than the standard 22 steps. Just from 22 to 23 and 42 to 43 were 24 step each. The others were all 22.

All this thinking about stepping patterns and such really helped to keep my mind off the usual “What-the-HELL-was-I-thinking-doing-this-again”. This was a good thing. when I got to 57, I looked at my watch and saw 9:40, and I knew I was on track for a good time. So I managed to put on a little burst of speed to make it to 60 and do my usual face-plant on the floor. But when I looked at my watch, it said 10:01.72, which is only 0.02 seconds off being exactly two seconds slower than on Tuesday.

Remarkable. But I’m not complaining one bit. This is great!


What I said last week…

Filed under: — stan @ 11:03 pm

It’s practice time at the Aon building in downtown Los Angeles, and like I’ve been saying a lot lately, “this is great!”

I was really not looking forward to this today. But I didn’t want to miss the chance to practice on the actual stairs where we will be racing in March. So I figured that I’d use this chance to pay attention some more to the layout of the stairs, and practice switching leads on the first and third sections of the stairway to balance the loading on each leg.

I paid close attention this time, and I realized that in the practice climb from 4 to 60, there are only three floors that are larger than the standard of 22 steps per floor. They are from 21 to 22 and from 41 to 43. Those three are 24 steps, where all the others are 22. It’s interesting how I’d noticed that the mechanical floors were larger than the standard, but at the same time, they seemed like they were a lot bigger. Two extra steps per floor really isn’t all that much. I think the illusion comes from the fact that from 20 to 24 and 40 to 44 the steps change and go from counter-clockwise to clockwise. So each of those interludes feels like one big floor, even though its actually several individual floors.

This also allows me to compute the number of steps in the practice climb:

56 x 22 = 1,232
1,232 + 6 = 1,238 steps
1,238 x 7.5 = 9285
9285 / 12 = 774 feet of climbing

Knowing the layout of the stairs has helped me to sort of mentally break up the climb into smaller chunks, which makes it easier to deal with.

So today, I was just going up the stairs, not really trying to set a blazing pace. I noticed that on the first section that it only took about four or five floors before I noticed that one leg was working much harder than the other. So I remembered to do a little stutter-step about every four floors to switch which leg was leading. That was also a useful mental diversion.

When I got to 50, I had a quick look at my watch and saw that I was on track for a good time. So I kept going, and managed to put on a little burst of speed from 57 to 60. I stumbled out of the stairs and flopped on the floor. When I looked at my watch, it said 9:59.74. This is the first time I’ve been under 10 minutes for this climb, although by the rules I’ve established, I really have to round that to an even 10 minutes. Still, this is 10 seconds faster than my previous best that I did last week. Nothing not to like there.

Working out my power production gives:

9285 x 2.54 = 236 meters
236 x 77 x 9.8 = 178,086 joules
178,086 / 600 = 297 watts
297 watts = 0.398 horsepower

Not too bad.

On the train home, I worked out another possible way to switch leading legs between floors. One that will not require any fancy footwork. I’m going to try that out on Thursday.

This is great!


More fun on the stairs

Filed under: — stan @ 7:02 pm

Since I had to take Lucinda to art class after work today, I went downtown at lunchtime to do the Aon building practice climb. On Tuesday, I’d done my best time yet, as well as made some useful observations about the stairs and how to climb them more efficiently. So today I wanted to try implementing those ideas and see what happened.

At the beginning, I experimented with doing a quick stutter-step on each main floor landing to switch which leg was leading off on each floor. But this quickly turned out to be too much trouble. So I fell back to switching sides about every five floors. That’s long enough to start to notice that one leg is working harder than the other, so it’s a good time to switch.

The stairs change at floor 20, but it turns out that it’s still 22 steps to get to 21. The mechanical floor starts just above 21, so from 21 to 24, it’s 24 steps between floors. There’s also a short hallway, and several fire doors. Those will be propped open on race day, so they don’t cause much trouble.

On the middle section with the wide landings from 24 to 41, I deliberately took an extra quick step on most of the landings to switch which leg led off on every floor. I figured this wasn’t a problem, since I had to cross the big landing anyway, and I can do it with one long step or two short quick steps, and the time is about the same.

When I got to 50, I took a look at my watch, and it said something like 8:30, so I knew I was pretty much on the same pace as on Tuesday. I was hoping to beat my time today, and I managed to pull out a little sprint from 57 to 60. But after I finished gasping for air and looked at my watch, I saw that I’d gone two seconds slower. Still, that’s not terribly significant here. I’m pretty consistently doing times that seemed impossible last year.

As I find myself saying a lot these days, “there’s nothing not to like about that.”


I think it’s time to say again, “This is great!”

Filed under: — stan @ 10:28 pm

It’s Tuesday, and that means stair practice at the Aon building in downtown L.A. As always, I rode the train there, and as always, I was dreading it all the way there.

I got to the building and signed in. Then I went to the stair entrance on the 4th floor to get ready. I had decided that I was going to try to be more conscious of the steps today, and try to see how much larger the mechanical floor are, as compared to regular office floors. I figured that would give me something else to think about besides, “What the HELL was I thinking coming here and doing this again.

This building was built in the early ’70s, and the steps are 7.5 inches each. Regular office floors have 22 steps between them. For most of the building, these are in the form of two 11-step stairways with a landing and 180-degree turn between them. I’ve worked out how to do the ‘one foot on the landing’ turns, so each 11-step flight is basically six footfalls, twelve for one floor. And I noticed that that means that if I start off with my right foot, the fact that it’s an even number of footfalls per floor means that I’ll always be starting off on my right foot. But because it’s two flights, each with an odd number of steps, there’s double steps, with one single at the end of each flight. And it worked out that the single step was always on the same leg. In practical terms, that means that of the 22 steps I have to lift my body for each floor, one leg is doing 12 of them, and the other leg is doing 10. And that difference adds up after 10 or 20 floors. So I figured out to do a little stutter-step about every five floors, so that I’d switch which leg was leading and having to do more work. This may have helped even out the load on each leg. In any event, it kept my mind occupied and thinking about something other than how much all this stair climbing hurts.

I also noticed one other thing about this. The middle portion of the building, from 24 to 41 is a bit different. There are still 22 steps per floor, but they are divided up with 10 steps, a landing with a 90-degree left turn, three steps, another landing, and then 9 steps up to the next floor. So the landings on the floors are big, and there’s no way to do a pivot turn. You pretty much have to take an extra step. But because it’s easy to do double steps with 90-degree turns, it ends up being the same 12 footfalls for each floor. But one of those footfalls is a non-climbing one on the big landing. And so you end up with 11 climbing steps per floor, six on one leg, and five on the other. And if you don’t do a stutter-step every few floors, one leg is doing significantly more work than the other. And that’s bad for business.

The other thing I wanted to pay attention to was the mechanical floors. These are where they keep the elevator motors, air conditioning blowers, and other such things. I’ve always had a sense that these floors are a little taller than regular floors. So I counted steps when I got to the first one at 20. And it turned out that from 20 to 24, the floors were 24 steps apart. That’s not a huge difference, but it is a little bit more. And the mechanical floors from 41 to 45 were also 24 steps each.

The top of the practice climb is at 60, and I stumbled out of the stairwell and flopped down on the floor. I was very pleased to see that my time was 10:10, which is a full 8 seconds faster than my previous best time.

After recovering for a bit, I walked up the stairs the rest of the way to the roof door, just to see how many steps there were. It was 24 steps to 61, and 28 to 62. Then there were 10 steps more to the roof door. After that, there’s just the last flight up to the roof, and I didn’t open the door to count them, since the guards at the building have been very nice to us, and I don’t want to cause trouble. But that last flight is probably something like 12 or 16 steps.

And that’s my report from the stairwell. Back to you in the studio…


Why do I keep doing this?

Filed under: — stan @ 8:11 pm

Today was the second practice at the Aon building in downtown Los Angeles. On Tuesday, I’d set a new personal best for the practice climb from 4 to 60. But, since practice is a good thing, I’m back again.

As always, I was dreading it all the way downtown on the train. I was dreading all the way up to the moment I pushed the button on my watch and started up the stairs. After that, I was in too much pain to be thinking about dreading it.

For some reason, there haven’t been many people coming out to the practices yet. So all the way up, I only saw one other person. It’s hard climbing like that, all alone. I like having people to pass.

At 60, I stumbled out of the stairs and took a couple of pictures. My time was 10:20, which is two seconds slower than on Tuesday, but still faster than any of my practice times last year. So there’s nothing not to like there.

I also did some actual measurements on the stairs. The steps at Aon are 7.5 inches tall. They say the full climb is 1,377 steps, and doing the math gives:

1377 * 7.5 = 10328 inches
10328 / 12 = 860 feet

This agrees well with the published height of the building as 858 feet. Based on this measurement, it seems that the standard stamped-steel staircases at Wilshire-Figueroa, Wells Fargo, and One California Plaza are all 7 inches per step. I’m told that this is the current building code value, and the Aon steps are only steeper because it was built back in the early ’70s, and the code was slightly different then. So all this time, it’s not been our imagination that the stair climb up the Aon building is harder than the others. Good to know.

Well, that’s it for this week. Back at it again next Tuesday.


First stair practice of 2012

Filed under: — stan @ 9:27 pm

They’re starting stair practice early this year. Today was the first session in preparation for the Aon Tower stair climb on March 31. It was the usual course, from the 4th floor to the 60th at the Aon building in downtown Los Angeles.

I’ve done this particular stair climb many, many times now, since I did all the practice sessions last year and the year before. But somehow, it never gets any easier. On the train to downtown this evening, I was thinking that I really didn’t want to do this. So I decided that I’d just do it at a comfortable pace, not trying to break any records. Still, I’m going faster now than before. Today’s time was 10:18, which is a good three seconds faster than my best practice time last year. So I really can’t complain.

At the top, I took a few minutes to catch my breath and take a picture, then I took the elevator back down. It was fun. At least as much as the most painful thing I’ve ever done can be called ‘fun’.


Did I ever mention that this sport is insane?

Filed under: — stan @ 7:38 pm

It’s December, and time for the second edition of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Climb for Life. This is yet another charity skyscraper stair climb. And of course, I had to be there, along with Kathleen, Lucinda, and all our stair climbing friends.

The venue was the Wilshire-Figueroa building in downtown Los Angeles. It’s only a 53-story building, which is rather modest by our standards, but it’s still hard enough to climb. So far this year, I’d been going slightly faster in practice runs than last year, so I was going in to this with (relatively) high hopes.

At last year’s event, They didn’t have a photographer in the stairwell to capture the pain and suffering, so I’d talked to Chanda from CFF about this, and she said I could arrange for something. I put out a call on the Light Chasers photography mailing list, asking if there was anyone who wanted to try their hand at this. In the end, three guys showed up. One took pictures around the start and in the lobby of the building, one was on the 21st floor landing, and one was on the big landing at 49, right below the finish line on 51. I figured that that would make for good pictures.

When it was time to go, I made sure to go to the back of the line of the ‘elite’ climbers. I wanted some people to pass, since that helps me to get motivated. Usually, when I finish a climb like this, I have no memory of the people taking pictures, but this time I was actually aware of them, since I’d arranged for them to be there, and I knew where they would be. At 21, I remember Norman leaning in to take a picture as I went by, and I remember thinking it was odd that he was shooting with just the dim ambient light in the stairwell. At 49, I saw the flash of Luther’s camera, but I don’t recall seeing him as I went by.

I managed to put on something of a final sprint from 49 to 51, and I stumbled out of the stairs with a time of 8:33. This was all right. It was a full 9 seconds faster than my race time last year, and it was essentially equivalent to my best practice time this year. I waited on 51 until Lucinda came out, and then I waited a bit more until Kathleen got there.

When we got back down, they were posting the results. They updated them several times as more people finished, and in the end it was time for the awards. My 8:33 was good for 11th overall out of 180 runners, and I was 3rd in the 50-59 age group. Lucinda’s time of 15:14 was good for 3rd in the 19 and under group.

After everything wrapped up, we joined the whole West Coast Labels stair climbing group for lunch at Bottega Louie.

It was a fun time.

The pictures from the 21st floor are here:
The photos on the 49th floor are here:

And the full race results are here


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.


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.


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.

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