Three Times (!) Up the Aon Center

My training for Scale the Strat continues!

aon-center-los-angelesIn addition to regular sessions on the StairMaster at my gym, I’ve been hitting actual stairs as much as I can. I did some outdoor stairs after a hike the other weekend, climbed a brutal staircase 6 times at dawn on Sunday, and, a few days before that, climbed 36 floors while running 2.9 miles (a workout I never blogged about).

Despite all that, I haven’t done any training in an actual skyscraper stairwell. The Aon Center, a 63-story skyscraper that I’ve raced up twice (recaps here and here), offers practice time every week to train in their stairwell, so the other night, I headed downtown to work out in the second-tallest building in the state.

It wasn’t just a training session, though – it was also a lesson. I had asked my pal Jeff, a nationally-ranked tower runner, to give me some pointers, and he happily obliged. Now that I have a few of these races under my belt, I want to work on strategy and technique, so that I can really improve. I got a few pointers a few months ago from another tower running pro, my friend Madeleine, and it totally whetted my appetite!


The Aon Center is 63 stories from sidewalk to roof, but for the practice sessions, you access the stairwell on the 4th floor and can climb up to floor 55. After entering the stairwell, Jeff and I discussed tactics for a few minutes, and then started up the stairs so I could practice. The two big questions I had for Jeff were:

  1. How can I use the handrails most effectively and efficiently?
  2. How can I minimize time on the landings so I don’t lose momentum or waste time?

Jeff was a fantastic teacher, and gave me all sorts of ideas. I settled on a hand-over-hand technique with the handrail. Jeff got a shot of me in action (and I’m taking the stairs two at a time!):


Landings are tougher, because they vary a lot, even in the same stairwell or building. But I started getting comfortable with the idea that if I position myself so I land on the landing with my inside leg, then I can use the handrail to pull myself around while pivoting and end up with my outside leg on the next flight of stairs. Doing that cuts my time on the landing down to a second or two, and that adds up, because a 60-story building has 120 landings!

I practiced what I was learning, and Jeff and I moved up the stairs at a pretty nice pace. Before I knew it, we were on the 55th floor, which is a wide open, empty office space that’s waiting for a renter.


We headed down the elevator and decided to climb it again. Jeff suggested we go nonstop, at an aggressive but maintainable pace. “A steady march,” as he called it. So that’s what we did. Consistency is something I struggle with during races (I tend to go all-out from the beginning and wear myself out too quickly), but when I slow down a tad, focus on pace and rhythm, and use my new handrail and landing techniques, I find that I have much more endurance than I thought. During that second climb, I took the stairs two at a time a majority of the way, and I’ve never come close to doing that before.

I was pretty wiped out after the second climb (102 stories total), but I decided to go a third time. When in Rome, right?  Jeff went a third time too, but he wanted to attempt an all-out sprint, so I let him go first, because there was no way I’d be able to keep up. Here’s Jeff taking off for his third climb:


The third climb was extraordinarily difficult. I tried my best to stick to the techniques I had learned, but it was tough. I single-stepped for most of it, and took a couple short breaks to snap photos like this one, which I love:


By the time I reached the 55th floor, I was spent. I felt simultaneously like this:


…and like this:


Jeff and I climbed 153 stories, in a little over an hour. HELL YEAH!

Afterward, I headed to a convenience store across the street and bought a coconut water. Then, I headed back towards the train station. And that’s when I started feeling sore. It’s a good feeling, and, surprisingly enough, it went away by the next morning. A great sign that I’m getting stronger!

Scale the Strat is only 11 days away!


7 Responses to Three Times (!) Up the Aon Center

  1. All I can say is “WOW”!

  2. nathanalbert says:


  3. says:

    WOW! You rock

  4. Tommy Coleman says:

    Great that you’re training with Jeff.. he’s tops. Don’t focus on which leg arrives first on the landing; just make sure that when you start each ascent- your inside foot goes first- and only up one step. All steps that follow will be two at a time. The momentum I use for each flight is started with a long, outside arm swing that begins as my inside foot is taking the first step.

    Good work!

  5. Nina says:

    You are so very cool David. Love you!

  6. Nurse Karen says:

    All I can say is Remarkable! *thud*…so impressed!!!

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