Training Like An Olympian (Or, Is Apolo Ohno Trying To Kill Me?)

A few weeks ago, my friend Madeleine shared this new chocolate milk commercial featuring 8-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno training on some stairs.

That’s the Los Angeles skyline at the end, so I immediately put on my Nancy Drew hat and got to work figuring out where the commercial was shot. Using freeze frames from the video and satellite imagery on Google Maps, it took me 20 minutes to identify the location as the Baxter Stairway in Echo Park. Since that’s not too far from my house, guess what I did on Labor Day?


I trained like an Olympian!

The Baxter Stairway has 231 steps – pretty long! The start of it is pretty innocuous – you can’t see the enormous amount of steps that follows.


But then there’s all these…


…And these…


…And even more that I didn’t photograph. I climbed it once to warm up, and at the top, the view was incredible. Here’s looking west, with the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory in the distance…


And across the street was the view of downtown that’s featured at the end of the commercial:


Watch the commercial again and you’ll see that Apolo doesn’t just climb the stairs. He also races up them, double-stepping with a wide stance. Then, he does box jumps up them, taking the steps 3 at a time.

If Apolo can do all that, so can I. (At least I can try.)

My second ascent was the double-stepping wide-stanced climb, and that was pretty difficult. I was thankful for all the landings. On the third ascent, I did the 3-steps-at-a-time box jumps. All the way up. It was about 70 box jumps. It took forever. It was excruciating. I caught myself cursing Apolo under my breath a few times. About 2/3rds of the way up, I swore that Apolo was trying to murder me with this workout. But at the top, I felt awesome. I’ve never done so many box jumps in my life. In fact, I’ve never done a box jump ever before, so I shattered my personal non-existent box jump record.

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After that, I did a fourth climb: an all-out sprint. I started off strong, but nearly sputtered to a stop during the final 50 steps. Even so, I got to the top in 1:49. Here’s my post-sprint selfie:


There were a couple things about the Baxter Stairs that I really liked. Halfway up the climb, someone tagged a streetlight with some encouraging graffiti: “Keep on goin'”:


And someone used one of the flights of stairs as a way to deliver a romantic query:


It reads “Would you go on a date with…” but then it’s too faded to read. GO ON A DATE WITH WHO? I’m so curious how this panned out!

Those four climbs would have been a good workout by themselves – it took about 40 minutes. But it just turned out to be part one of my workout. For part two, I moved away from the stairs, and onto Baxter Street, which is where the stairs got their name.

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Baxter Street is famous in its own right, because it’s one of the steepest streets in the world. There seems to be some discrepancy on steep street rankings – I think it depends on how you define “street” (public versus private access, length, purpose, etc.). This source says it’s the 5th steepest in the country (and steeper than any street in San Francisco, which is known for steep roads). As you head west on Baxter from the base of the stairs, the street climbs a hill, plunges into a valley, rises up to the top of another hill, and plunges again.


That last plunge has a 32% grade. THIRTY TWO PERCENT.

For the sake of comparison, it’s now city law that no new street can be steeper than a 15% grade. Baxter is over twice that. I remember years ago, when I was first starting out walking on a treadmill, I thought 3% provided a good workout. Baxter Street is over ten times that.  Photographing a street’s steepness is pretty hard, but here’s a house on that block:


One street over, Cove, is even steeper, so when the neighborhood was plotted out in the late 1800s, they installed a stairway instead.


The Cove-Alvarado Stairway has 198 steps, and nearly every landing provides access to a house. Each house has a mailbox. That means that a letter carrier is climbing (or descending) these stairs every day. Keep it up, mailman!

RELATED CONTENT: Creating My Own Olympic Memories

Walking these steep inclines (and declines) was hard work. I got my heart rate above 160 just walking up these hills. I walked the length of Baxter and back again, and took a side detour to go over and climb up and down the Cove-Alvarado stairs. At one point, a lady driving a car stopped me, asked for directions, and when I pointed her to the top of one of the steepest hills, she said, “Am I gonna be safe driving up that hill in my car?” “You’ll be fine. I just walked it, and I’m okay.”

I also took a moment to smell some flowers.


When I got back to the base of the Baxter Stairs, I thought what the hell, and I climbed them a fifth time. My legs felt like jelly at this point, but that’s how you gotta work it if you wanna be like an Olympian!

All in all, my workout lasted 87 minutes. I climbed up a total of 1,353 steps, and climbed down the same amount. I covered a little over 2.2 miles.

Afterward, I refueled the same way Apolo did: chocolate milk!


Keep it up, David!


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4 Responses to Training Like An Olympian (Or, Is Apolo Ohno Trying To Kill Me?)

  1. what an awesome workout! You’re a beast!

  2. Rob @ Nautilus says:

    I watched the AO video and thought, “skating, box jumps?…that’s ridiculous, but David’s just going to walk or run them, right?!” Wrong. That’s one helluva workout. You are a stud! I better start training for NYC. 🙂

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