Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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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?


Are there stairs on Nantucket?

Filed under: — stan @ 10:20 pm

Today was the day for the YMCA “Stair Climb for Los Angeles“, formerly known as “Stair Climb to the Top”. This is the climb up the U.S. Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles. About 75 floors, 1,018 feet, and 1,500 steps to the top. This was my third time doing this event.

This morning, while I was getting ready for work, I stepped on the scale. It said 170, which is about normal for me these days. But when I was riding my bike to the office, I was thinking, “one hundred and seventy pounds”, and thinking that that phrase just might be the first line of a limerick. So by the the time I got to the office, I had this:

One hundred and seventy pounds
That shouldn’t be cause for a frown
Though the stairs are so long
My legs are still strong
And I’ll make lots of loud panting sounds

I left work a little bit early to go home and pick up my stair climbing gear. Then I went to the Gold Line and got on the train to go downtown. Along the way, Morgan, Jason, Chris, and Irving from my office at Caltech all got on. This was quite novel. We had a whole crew to go climb the stairs tonight.

After doing a fair number of these events, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people who are regulars at this. So this made for a fun time visiting before it was time to climb. But as our start time approached, the usual feeling of dread began to creep in. The first time I did one of these things, I went into it with an attitude of “How hard could it be?” And by the time I got to the 25th floor, I had realized that this is the hardest athletic thing I’ve ever done. So now I know what I’m getting into. And I know that I’ll hit the wall at about the 45th floor, and I’ll be thinking, “What the HELL was I thinking signing up for this again”. Or in limerick form, that looks like this:

Passing the forty-fifth floor
I don’t think I can climb any more
Cross-eyed in pain
This sport is insane!
“Yet I must go on,” I swore

Morgan’s friend Chris had started right behind me, and he shadowed me all the way up. He’s very strong, but this was his first race, so he’s still learning how to pace for the long run. I had a look at my watch at about the 25th floor, and it said something like 4:15, so I knew I was on target. At 55, it was just a little bit over 9 minutes, so I was still on track. But the last 20 floors were pure hell. They always are. It’s just the nature of the beast. By the time we got to 60, my lips were tingling, and I had tunnel vision. At least that helped me to not look at the floor numbers. The highest numbered floor is 73, and there there are about two more before the finish line on the roof. When we came out on the roof, I flopped down on the big steel window-washer crane track. It was a big steel girder, and it was nice and cool. I just laid on it panting for several minutes.

To the finish line we sustained
Endeavoring not to wane
Collapsed on the floor
Panting and sore
I can’t wait ’til I do this again

In the end, my time was 14:11. Once again, I fell short of my goal of going under 14 minutes. But on the other hand, I did improve my time by 23 seconds over what I did last year. But last year, I got a medal for 2nd place, and this time I was 8th. There were a lot more people doing it this year. So I finished 8th out of 111 in the men’s 50-59 category. Still, I did some math, and my time was in the 94th percentile among men, 97th overall, and 93rd percentile in my age group. Nothing not to like there. And working out my power production:

77kg * 310m * 9.8 = 233926J
233926J / 851sec = 275W
275W * 0.001341 = 0.37hp

While it’s not the 0.4hp I managed in practice, it’s still good, since this climb was longer than the practice climbs.

Overall, there’s nothing not to like about this. And I looked through the results, and even though there were over 2,000 people participating, there were only 6 guys my age or older who went faster. And at my age, that’s a Good Thing.

It was a fun time.


Well, I really can’t complain…

Filed under: — stan @ 8:30 pm

Today was another practice run up the Wells Fargo building in downtown Los Angeles. I’ve been doing well at this so far this season, setting a number of new personal records, so I was hoping to pull yet another rabbit out of my proverbial hat tonight. But sadly, it was not to be. I didn’t go faster than I did on Monday. On the other hand, I didn’t go slower,either, so I really can’t complain about that at all.

This time, it seemed like there were a lot more people there than before. There was a long line for the sign-in at the YMCA. When we got over to the building, there was a long line outside waiting for the stairs. Why is it that the single most painful athletic thing I’ve ever done draws such a crowd?

When they finally let us in, I stood at the bottom of the stairs for a few minutes. There were a lot of people in our group, and I wanted to give them enough time to spread out before I came up and tried to pass them. And that strategy worked. By the time I was passing people, they were all spread out, and it was pretty easy to get by. That’s my ideal situation, since passing people gets me motivated to go faster.

I had a look at my watch at 27, and it said 4 minutes and a few seconds. That was good. That meant I had a chance at going under 9 minutes again. And like Monday, when I got to 50, I was at 8 minutes. So I did the best I could to put on a burst of speed at the end. I managed to do a little bit, and I sprinted the last two floors up to 55. I got up there and immediately dropped to my knees on the landing, panting like a dog. But when I looked at my watch, it said 8:59. Not faster than Monday, but not slower, either.

And I really can’t complain at all about that.


Did I mention that this is great?

Filed under: — stan @ 10:53 pm

Today was another practice run up the Wells Fargo building in downtown Los Angeles. I set a new personal record last week when I climbed the 55 stories in 9:03. And today, I did 8:59. As I’ve been saying a lot lately, “This is great!”

I rode the train downtown, and it was a pleasant journey, as always. I walked over to the YMCA and got changed, and then went and got in line at the Wells Fargo building. When they let us in, I waited a couple minutes before starting out, since I wanted the group to spread out a bit before I had to pass them. It’s always easier to pass one or two people at a time, as compared to passing a big crowd all at once.

I tried hard to not look at the floor numbers, and that was helped a bit by the fact that It took me about 35 floors to pass everyone from the group that had started before me. When I got to 28, I looked at my watch. It said 4:24, and that was a good sign. I knew then that I had a chance at going under 9 minutes.

When I got to 50, I looked at my watch again, and it said 8 minutes. So I knew I had a chance. I kept going at my same pace until I saw 53, and then I did my best to put on a burst of speed. Which was a Tremendous Effort, but I suppose was not really all that fast. But that didn’t matter. I heaved myself up on to the landing at 55, and my watch said 8:59.

Did I remember to mention that this is great?

On the way home, I saw a cloud of what looked like some several hundred bats flying over 5th St in downtown L.A. That was odd, since I wasn’t aware of any bat colonies here, unlike the one we went to see when we were visiting Austin in July. According to Curbed L.A., they’re swallows.

When I went down into the subway station, I got there just in time to see the train leaving. The video monitor said there would be another train in 5 minutes. And 5 minutes came and went. 10 minutes came and went, and 15 minutes came and went. So I amused myself by taking some pictures of the neon art in the Pershing Square Metro station. But finally, the train came. And I got to go home.

It was a good evening. Did I mention that this is great?


Four tenths of a horse!

Filed under: — stan @ 11:28 pm

Today was another practice run up the 55-story Wells Fargo building in downtown Los Angeles. Last time, I set a new personal best with a time of 9:11. And today I beat that. This is great!

I went down there after work with Morgan from my office. She did the U.S. Bank climb last year, and she’s hoping to improve her time, too. We got changed and headed over. They let us in in groups of about 10, at intervals of one or two minutes. I don’t know why they do this, but this gives me a goal for each climb. I let my group go ahead, and then I want to catch and pass all of them. Once that’s done, I see how many I can catch from the group that started in front of us. It’s nice to have goals.

On the way up, I tried not to look at the floor numbers. The landings all look the same. The only thing that changes is the floor numbers, and they go up much, much too slowly. I took a quick look when my watch said I’d been going one minute. I figured I had to be at least on 8, and I was pleased to see I was on 9. So then I tried not to look until I got into the twenties. At 27, I took a look at my watch, and I was at four minutes and a few seconds. That was good, since that’s just about the halfway point. I was around 50 when the watch ticked over 8 minutes. I was hoping at that point that I might make it to 55 before 9 minutes, but the last two floors are bigger, so that added a few seconds, and I came up on the landing at 55 at 9:03. Still, that’s 8 seconds faster than last time, and 25 seconds faster than my best time last year. Nothing not to like there.

Morgan got to the top just a little after me, so I had my camera out to record the occasion. She looked pretty weary at that point, but that’s not surprising at all.

So I did some math:

700ft = 213m
170lb = 77kg
77 * 213 * 9.8 = 160730J
160730J / 543sec = 296W
296W * 0.001341 = 0.397Hp which rounds to 0.4Hp Yay!

Did I mention that this is great?


Fortunately, things improved significantly

Filed under: — stan @ 9:26 pm

Today was my first practice session at the Wells Fargo building in downtown Los Angeles. Things got off to a bad start when I was walking over from the subway station, and I got bombed by a bird. Yick.

Fortunately, after that, things improved. I walked over to the building and we all lined up. For some weird reason, they wanted to let us into the stairs in groups of 10, at something like 1-2 minute intervals. I’m not sure what that was supposed to accomplish, but I guess it doesn’t matter. When it was our group’s turn to go, they opened up the door, and we started up.

I waited about a minute or so before starting. I knew that the group in front was going to get spread out pretty fast, and that that would make for easier passing. And when I got going, I just concentrated on catching and passing everyone who had started in my group. It was kind of hard getting around some of them, but I only ended up taking the long way around on a landing once. So I was able to maintain an efficient course up the stairs.

I took a quick look at my watch at the halfway point. It said something like four minutes and a few seconds at that time. So that was good. I knew I was on track for a decent time. My best time for this last year was 9:28, and I was hoping to better that today.

By the time I got to about 35, I’d passed everyone who started in my group, and I was catching some of the stragglers from the group ahead of us. But the last 20 floors were kind of lonely. That made it hard to maintain the pace. But I looked at the time again, and that got me going, since I knew I had a decent chance to do a good time.

By the time I got to 50, I was really hurting. My lips were tingling. And I was getting that ‘tunnel vision’ thing I’ve heard other stair climbers talk about. But I managed to keep going up to the landing at 55. I stopped my watch, and I saw 9:11. That’s a good improvement over last year’s time, although to be fair, last year we were able to go up one more floor to the landing below the roof. This time, they had the last flight of stairs blocked off with caution tape. So that would have added about 10 seconds more, but even with that, I’m still going a good bit faster than last year.

Doing some math:

700ft = 213m
170lb = 77kg
77 * 213 * 9.8 = 160730J
160730J / 551sec = 292W
292W * 0.001341 = 0.39hp

That’s not a record, but it’s my second-highest recorded power output.

This is great!


Still going up

Filed under: — stan @ 9:29 pm

Today was the latest practice session at One California Plaza in downtown Los Angeles. So far this season, I’ve been doing well at these, doing way better times than last year, and improving my times nearly every time out. So far, my best effort was 7:21 last week on Monday.

Today was not a very promising start. My knee was hurting a little bit yesterday when I did the Millikan Library stairs. So I took some ibuprofen before getting on the train to go downtown.

All the usual crowd was there. Again, I let a big group go ahead, just for the sake of having people to pass. I figure it’s good practice, and it’s also a psychological boost. So when I started up, there was a fair amount of traffic. But that was all right. I got past all of them by about the 20th floor, and then it was kind of lonely the rest of the way up. I’m really not sure which I like better.

I took a quick look at my watch at about 37, and I saw I was on track to do a good time. That was nice, and it sort of perked me up for the last 5-6 floors. And when I got to the top, I saw that I’d made it up in 7:16. This is my best time to date, and it’s five seconds faster than my previous best. And perhaps best of all, this marks the first time I’ve generated 300 watts of usable power in a stair climb:

77kg*175m*9.8 = 132,055J
7:16 -> 436sec
132,055J/436sec = 303W

And this works out to be just a tiny bit over 0.4 horsepower. This is great!

The only downside of the whole adventure was that the Gold Line was having mechanical problems. There was a a problem with the overhead wire and a couple of dead trains blocking one of the tracks, so they had to run single-track, and that turned the trip home into an epic journey. But it was worth it.


Regression to the mean is not always a bad thing…

Filed under: — stan @ 9:43 pm

Today was another practice session at One Cal Plaza in downtown Los Angeles. Last week, I’d made my best effort to date, climbing the 42 stories in 7:21. I was hoping to better that today.

There was a big group there for the practice. When they started letting us into the stairs, I didn’t try to get in front. I wanted a lot of people to pass this time, since that always gives me a good psychological boost. So I waited a few minutes before starting out. And I passed a lot of people. There was only one time when the traffic got thick enough to slow me down a bit, and I managed to get through that pretty fast. I had a quick look at my watch at the halfway point and saw that I was on track for a decent time.

At 41, I managed to pull out a little extra energy, and I sprinted up the last two floors. At the top, I stopped my watch and saw that I’d done it in 7:25. A classic example of regression to the mean. So it wasn’t unexpected, and I’m not unhappy. 7:25 is still my second-best time yet on these stairs. I’m consistently going much faster than I was this time last year.

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