Stan’s Obligatory Blog


Another article about stair racing

Filed under: — stan @ 10:00 am

There was a reporter who came to the CFF stair climb here in L.A. last December. He said he was writing an article about stair racing for the New York Times. And the article came out this past Sunday. Here are the money quotes:

…running in an unventilated stairwell may be the least pleasant form of recreation ever conceived.

It is suffering distilled, and its practitioners embrace the agony with an almost religious ardor.

Yup. That about sums it up. Here’s the link to the full article:


And yet again, up the stairs…

Filed under: — stan @ 9:54 pm

Here we go again. Heading downtown for another evening of torture in the Aon Center stairwell.

It was raining today, so I had to take my car to work. And when I parked at the Metro station to go downtown, I saw a caterer’s car with a vanity license plate that said “GOT FOIE” I thought we couldn’t have that in California any more…

On the way downtown, I read as a tactic to avoid thinking about the fact that I was going there to climb stairs. I got the National Geographic app for my iPhone, so I was reading an article there about the Kyrgyz people who live in a little-known corner of Afghanistan, high up in the mountains. It was interesting, but at the same time, it read like if Monty Python were doing a sketch about the worst place in the world to live.

Much of it is above 14,000 feet. The wind is furious; crops are impossible to grow. The temperature can drop below freezing 340 days a year. Many Kyrgyz have never seen a tree.

Sounds wretched. But it gets worse.

I met one couple… who had 11 children. “Every year,” said Abdul, “one would die.” They died as infants, as toddlers, as little kids.

Even bits of everyday life sound wretched.

The basic unit of Kyrgyz currency is a sheep. A cell phone costs one sheep. A yak costs about 10 sheep. A high quality horse is 50. The going rate for a bride is 100. The wealthiest families own the ultimate Kyrgyz status symbol — a camel, the two-humped kind, called a Bactrian, that appears perpetually foul tempered.

And then for a final bit of wretchedness:

Er Ali Bai is the owner of the only chicken in Kyrgyz country. The chicken, a hen, has one leg. The other was lost to frostbite.

So with that as preparation, climbing 50+ flights of stairs didn’t sound so bad any more. I got to the building and got ready to head up the stairs.

This time, I managed to stick to my split times up to the six-minute mark at the 39th floor. But by eight, I was a few seconds behind. Still, I made it to the top in 9:04, which is right in the range of the other times I’ve done this building recently, and it consistent with my times from practice last year. So I can’t complain. At least I don’t have to try and figure out how to make change when buying things with sheep.

After a brief rest, I headed up a second time. My goal for the second time was just to do it non-stop. I didn’t much care how fast I did it. I just wanted to make it up to the top. It was grim, but I made it in 11:37, which is not bad for a second time.

There was a nice sunset going on when I got to the top of the building. I tried to take pictures of it, but the iPhone camera didn’t do a good job of capturing the low light. I did some looking, and I found that there are special camera apps for taking pictures at night, so I got one to try out next time.

And thus ended another session of mortification in the stairwell.


Next stop: 55th floor

Filed under: — stan @ 9:26 pm

It’s Tuesday, and it’s time for the latest installment of climbing stairs for fun and pain. Once again, I went downtown to the Aon building to do battle with stairway 6. And once again, I was dreading it all the way there on the train.

I got there a few minutes late today, so all the other regulars had already started up the staircase. I started my watch and headed up. I was a few seconds ahead of schedule at two minutes, but by four minutes, I was about 10 seconds behind. The gap grew a little bit more up to the 8-minute mark. Then I put on a good sprint for the last three floors. I’d been thinking about my old racing days at Kissena Velodrome in New York. Back then, my favorite racing strategy was to attack on the back stretch at 1 1/2 laps to go. We’d be riding into the setting sun there, so that gave me a little cover. And at least at first, nobody thought I’d be able to pull off a full-on sprint for 600 meters to the finish line. But I could, and I did. So back in those days, a 600-meter sprint took me about 45 seconds. So when I got to the 52nd floor, I just envisioned the back stretch at Kissena and just started running. I managed to maintain that up to 55, where I fell in a heap on the landing. After a few minutes of moaning and panting, I got up and had a look at my watch. I had 9:07, which is not great, but not bad. It’s slower than the 9:04 I posted last time I was here, but faster than the 9:10 I did a week ago.

I went back down and started up again. I wanted to just see if I could do a 12-second-per-floor ascent the second time. If I’m fresh, 12 seconds feels pretty slow. But on the second time up, it’s hard. In the end, I made it up the second time in 11:44, which works out to an average of 13.8 seconds per floor.

After the second time, I was done, so I changed and headed for home. It wasn’t a great outing, but it wasn’t bad, either. And it’s all good preparation for the race in April.


Keep watching the skies

Filed under: — stan @ 10:51 pm

Tonight was a close conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter. I had heard about this, but didn’t really pay attention until I saw a picture of it posted by Dave Palmer, who does some nice photography. So I went outside to see if I could get a picture of it. I’ve tried to photograph things in the sky before, and it’s always an interesting exercise.

I put the 300mm zoom lens on the camera, and I mounted it on a tripod with a remote shutter release. I set it on manual mode and started playing with the settings. I had to go back inside to consult the manual to find out how to change the f-stop. Since I was having to focus manually, I thought that stopping down the lens might help to make the focus a bit sharper, since there was plenty of light to work with. I tried a lot of different exposures to see what gave the nicest balance of gray shading on the Moon. I ended up with f16, 1/15 second exposure on 200 iso, and it came out pretty well for just experimenting on on the driveway.


Tour de Terminator

Filed under: — stan @ 5:09 pm

Today’s bike club ride was a sightseeing trip around Los Angeles to see four locations where scenes from the 1984 film, “The Terminator” were shot. I got the idea for this tour the other day when I found out that the restaurant where Sarah Connor worked in the movie was played by the Carrow’s in South Pasadena, and we’ve been by there a hundred times. So I looked up a few more locations, made a route, and here we are. I made a point of watching the movie again last night, just to be familiar with the locations and how they were shot. And now, almost 30 years later, the film really holds up quite well.

We started out from the park at 8:00. It was kind of chilly, and it didn’t help that the first 15 miles or so of the ride are downhill. We rode down into South Pasadena and stopped at Carrow’s. I leaned my bike up against the tree that Sarah Connor locked her scooter to in the film. It’s grown a bit over the last nearly-thirty-years.

Next, we rode down into downtown Los Angeles. Our first stop was on Hill St. We found the storefront that was turned into the Tech Noir nightclub in the film. The shutters were down, so it didn’t look like much. But even when they’re up, it’s just a jewelry store.

We found the alley off 7th St where Reese materialized after traveling through the time portal. It’s got a gate across it, which I guess is why the alley is so clean now.

Leaving downtown, we rode out to Larchmont to get bagels at Noah’s. By then, it had turned into a very nice day, and we had to wait a bit for a table outside. But we had our snacks and got ready for the ride home.

The route back dipped a bit south so we could get below Wilshire Blvd. This was so we could turn north on La Fayette Park Place. That was the location of the building that played Sarah and Ginger’s apartment. That particular location was only in the movie for a few seconds as an establishing shot showing the Terminator walking into the building.

All the sightseeing done, we cut over one block to Benton Way and headed for home. We rode back across Silver Lake and Eagle Rock, up the Colorado Hill, and home. It was a nice ride.

41 miles.


Actually, this isn’t that bad

Filed under: — stan @ 9:54 pm

It’s Thursday, and time to go torture myself on the Aon building staircase again. As always, I was dreading it and trying not to think about it all the way there on the train. And when I got there, I just suited up and headed up the stairs.

As has been usual lately, I was on target at the 2-minute mark, and about 10 seconds off pace at 4 minutes. I managed to stay 10 seconds off pace to the 6-minute mark, and I lost a few more seconds on the final 15 or so floors. I got to the top at 55 in 9:04. That’s faster than Tuesday’s time, but a bit slower than last Thursday’s. But when I was reviewing my write-ups from practices there last year, when I was doing the climb from 4 to 60 in about 9:50, several times I made mention that I was passing 54 right at the 9-minute mark. Which means that if I’m getting to 55 in 9:10, then I’m right on the same pace as my best practice times last year. So I don’t feel bad about doing a 9:04 tonight.

After a few minutes rest, I headed back down and started up again. The second time is always hard, and my only goal for it was to do it without stopping, and at a steady pace. I went pretty slow, at least by my standards. But I kept a steady pace, and I even passed one guy. Right at the end, one of the other regular climbers caught up to me, so we ran together up the last four or so floors. For a second time up, 10:50 isn’t too bad for me.

I knew that Lucinda wasn’t going to be home early tonight, so I knew I had time for one more round. The third time was just planning on walking it. I didn’t time it, and stopped to take pictures along the way. But it’s telling that even when I’m taking it easy and going slow, I still end up soaked in sweat. No matter how you slice it, stair climbing is hard. At times like these, I remember JFK:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”

Sure, climbing skyscrapers isn’t going to the moon. But when you’re climbing that many stairs, it really feels like it.

After that, I packed up and went home. It was a pretty good outing.


Once more up the stairs

Filed under: — stan @ 10:04 pm

It’s Tuesday, and that means it’s time to go to stair practice again. And again, all the way there on the train, I was wondering just why do I do this? It’s insane.

So I got to the building, got suited up, and headed up the stairs. I’ve found that it hurts the same whether I just go or if I sit around talking to everyone at the bottom. So I didn’t waste any time. Several people went up before me, but I only caught one of them by the time I got to the top. I used my same splits from last time, but I was only able to stay on schedule up to the 4-minute mark. By 6 minutes, I was about 15 seconds off the pace, and when I heaved up onto the 55th floor landing, I had 9:10, or about 20 seconds slower than I’d wanted to do.

A few minutes later, George came up and out of the stairs, and he proceeded to roll around on the floor in agony for a couple minutes. In this sport, that’s how you can tell that you’re doing it right.

After a few minutes rest, George and I went back down and got out some supplies. He’d brought a 25-foot tape measure, and I had a notepad and pens. We wanted to get some more accurate measurements to figure the step height in the staircase.

We walked down to ground level and started up from there. We took two measurements on the 80-step staircase that leads from ground up to 4. One was three flights, 17 steps, and the other was four flights, 24 steps. Based on those measurements, it appears that the first staircase up to 4 averages about 7.5 inches per step.

The rest of the way up, we took two measurements on each of the three major sections of the stairway. Each measurement was one floor, 22 steps. Based on those measurements, the steps on the staircase above 4 average about 7.36 inches. Doing some math:

80 x 7.5 = 50 feet to the 4th floor
1,313 x 7.36 = 805 feet from 4 to the roof
50 + 805 = 855 which agrees well with the published height of 858 for the building

After all that, I was done. And it was time to get changed to head over to the Central Library. Kathleen and I had reservations for the ALOUD program tonight. It was author Amy Wilentz talking about her new book about Haiti, Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti. And in one of those weird cosmic coincidences, I’d found out that her brother Tommy and I had been in the same third grade class back in 1967 in New Jersey. It’s kind of funny that I was able to remember that, since even though there were only 11 of us in that class, I can only remember names for maybe three of the kids who were there. But he was one of them. Anyway, it was an interesting talk, and we enjoyed it.

It was a fun evening, and now I can go correct my stair chart for the Aon building.


This is pretty remarkable for Los Angeles

Filed under: — stan @ 8:24 am

This is the coldest I’ve ever seen it get in 30 years here. Yesterday, the pan of water just had an ice crust on top of it. Today it’s actually frozen. I know it’s not all that cold compared to other places, but for here, it’s pretty cold. Especially since my house has only minimal insulation. That’s how they built all the old houses around here. Since, after all, it never gets all that cold here.


Slightly Chilly Today…

Filed under: — stan @ 4:07 pm

Today was cold. Certainly cold by California standards. And chilly by most standards outside of maybe Minnesota. When I got up it was 29F, or about -2C, which is the second-coldest temperature I’ve ever seen since I moved here to California in 1982. And it’s the second-coldest day I’ve gone bike riding on. The coldest was just a few years ago, and it was pretty cold. But it’s Sunday, and the bike club ride is only cancelled if it’s raining. So I got bundled up and headed out.

Kathleen had put a little pan of water outside last night just to see if it would freeze. I checked it, and it wasn’t frozen solid, but it had a crust of ice over it.

Today’s ride was a combination of two cultural landmark tours we’ve done before. One was Rubel’s Castle in Glendora. The second was visiting Sally Rand’s grave. I recently found out that there was a connection between the two, so that’s why we’re heading out there today.

First off, have a look at this. It’s a segment of “Videolog” from 1990 where Huell Howser visits the castle and talks to Michael Rubel:

A bit about the genesis of the castle is in the Wikipedia article:

Though Michael slept in one of the giant citrus refrigerators, the walls of thick cork were not sufficient sound insulation to allow him peace from his mother’s parties. In 1968 Michael fired up his cement mixer and, with a pile of discarded champagne bottles, began building himself a small get-away house in the center of his empty old 1,408,111 gallon concrete reservoir.[4] The high walls of the reservoir provided privacy and a noise barrier while he built his bottle house. Thus began a building spree that lasted twenty years, culminating in what is now called the Rubel Castle.

And the connection with Sally Rand:

Sally Rand, the silent screen actress and fan dancer, famous since the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, never missed Dorothy Rubel’s parties, which were so extravagant that the packing house became known as ‘The Tin Palace.’

So we rode out there and had a look at the castle. It’s really quite imposing from the outside. We looked at it a bit, heard the clock bell ring. Then we headed back down the hill into Glendora, where we stopped for hot drinks at Classic Coffee.

After that, we suited up again and started back. We stopped off at Oakdale Memorial Park. Even though it had been over a year since we were last there, I remembered the area and we found Sally pretty easily. And while we’re at it, here’s a short video of her doing her fan dance:

With that, our day was complete. We rode back by way of Santa Fe Dam and through Monrovia. It was a pleasant ride, aside from the chill.

44 miles.


Eternal Agony, or at least nine minutes of it

Filed under: — stan @ 8:52 pm

This evening was the second practice session at the Aon building in downtown Los Angeles. The practice climbs run from 4 up to 55. That’s 1,126 steps and about 705 feet, or 214.5 meters straight up.

I went there today with a goal in mind. I wanted to generate 300 watts of power on this climb. With that in mind, I figured that I’d have to get to the top in about 8:53. The Aon building stairwell is an odd beast. It has several fairly long hallways that divide the three main sections of the staircase. The hallways and fire doors eat up maybe 15-20 seconds of the total climb, so with that in mind, I worked out some split times. I figured that, starting at floor 4, at the 2, 4, 6, and 8 minute marks, I should be at floors 16, 27, 39, and 50. That’s about 12 floors for every two minutes, except for the two increments that included hallways and fire doors. This works out to about 10.2 seconds per floor, and I calculated that a setting of 71 on my metronome should do it.

At the bottom, I took a minute to get all my gear set up, and then I turned on the metronome and started up the stairs. I was able to stay on schedule almost up to the six-minute mark. I was having trouble keeping up with the metronome on the turns in the middle section of the staircase. The landings are wide there, and it makes for a difficult turn if you’re trying to just put one foot and the landing and pivot from one flight to the next.

When I got to 55, I had 9:01, which is a bit off my goal, but it’s not bad. Doing some math:

1,126 steps x 7.5 inches per step = 8,445 inches = 214.5 meters
214.5m x 76.5kg x 9.8 = 160,811 joules expended energy
160,811J / 541 seconds = 297 watts

It’s not quite my goal of 300, but it’s pretty close.

After a few minutes lying on the floor panting, I went back down. At 4, I met up with George and Jeff. George had found an error in my staircase chart for the building, so the three of us walked down from 4 to the ground-level doors and we counted off both staircases that lead up to 4. And yes, it turned out I’d miscounted two six-step flights as fives. So my whole count was off by two, and the total step count to the roof is really 1,393. Good to know. Also, knowing that the staircase we use for the race begins with a sequence of 9 six-step flights, that means I know a nice efficient stepping pattern for that.

The corrected stair chart is on my ‘Stairs’ page:

I went up the stairs a second time, but I was pretty wiped out from the first climb. So I went very slowly, and I played tourist along the way, taking some pictures of some of the odd features of the Aon building staircase. I took one picture looking straight up the stairway shaft in the middle section of the building. I’m standing on the 24th floor, and the ceiling off in the distance is at the top of the 43rd floor. That’s a lot of stairs. I didn’t bother to time the second climb, but I did make it to the top. I even perked up a bit when I got to 45, since I knew I was almost at the end.

Once more, it was a good outing.

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