Friday, January 27, 2012

Power up a Tower: Part I

After reading my friend Stan's excellent blog for some time, I've decided to do a bit of number crunching, too. My end goal is to be able to predict performance and benchmark other athletes depending on the height of a climb. I won’t be able to do it all in one post, so I expect this will be one of many.

Like Stan, I believe an important measurement is power. To get a good understanding of power, here is a brief explanation on the difference between work and its close relative, power.

Work, is defined as force (e.g. weight) multiplied by distance. The standard SI unit of measurement of work is called a joule (J). It takes 9.8 joules of work to lift 1 kilogram (kg) of mass one meter (m) straight up in earth’s gravity field [written as 9.8 J = (1 kg x m2)/s2]. The 9.8 factor comes from earth’s gravity field acting on a mass (i.e force = mass x acceleration). Basically, a mass will drop (accelerate) at a rate of 9.8 meters per second each second (9.8 m/s2).

Power is closely related to work. It is defined as the amount of work done per a given time period. The standard SI unit of measurement of power is called a watt. For example, it would take 9.8 watts of power to lift 1 kilogram (kg) of mass one meter (m) straight up in exactly one second [written as 9.8 watts = (1 kg x m2)/s3]. Likewise it would take 4.9 watts of power to lift up the same 1 kg mass if the work is spread out across two seconds. In essence, you’ve done the same amount of work at half the power output, but it has taken twice as long to do so.
Power and work are very import in stair climbing because you are primarily acting against gravity when you climb up a stair case. This is unlike other sports like running or cycling that primarily act against friction and drag (unless you are climbing uphill).

Here is an illustrative example. If a 100 kg climber (about 220 lbs) races up a 100 meter stair case (roughly 30 stories) in 300 seconds (5 minutes) then that climber has done:
100 kg x 9.8 m/s2 x 100m = 98,000 joules of work
98,000 joules / 300s = 326.67 watts (on average during those 5 minutes)

So how would your climbing ability compare with this person? It is hard to tell just by looking at a person’s power output. After all, a lighter climber (say someone who only weighs 110 lbs (about 50 kg) only needs to do 49,000 joules of work to climb this stair case. Similarly, the lighter climber would only need to exert a paltry 164 watts to climb up this staircase!
A good measure of relative performance would be to compare the power to mass ratio of these two climbers. In the case above, each climber has an equal 3.27 watts/kg power to mass ratio.

Interestingly enough, to calculate this ratio you don’t even need to know how much someone weighs! Since mass is used to calculate power, you effectively eliminate mass from the equation since you divide by mass when you calculate the power to mass ratio. This simplifies things greatly:
Power to mass ratio (watts/kg) = [Height of climb (meters) x 9.8 m/s2] / Climbing time (seconds)

This ratio gives a good performance indicator when climbing up given height. But how do you compare performance between climbs of different heights? The answer is somewhat tricky. After all, athletes can only maintain a difficult pace (i.e. a high power output) for a relatively short amount of time. The length of the race really determines what pace you are able to maintain. Here is an illustrative example: Runners can’t sprint an entire marathon. Conversely, runners can’t competitively jog a 100 meter dash.

To better make this point, here are the power outputs and power to mass ratios of the last two races I participated in. I also included data for Sproule Love and a couple other fellow Tower Masters so you can see some relative data points. Weights are approximate except for my weight and Sproule’s. I specifically asked him how much he weighs after our race up One Penn Plaza :-)
*note* I think One Penn Plaza climb is actually about 10 meters taller than my estimate above. Does anybody have a tape measure I could borrow?

As you can see, since the Trump Parc is only 100 meters tall, the climbers were able to put out around 20% more power than in One Penn Plaza which about twice as tall.

Also note that although I had a larger power output than Sproule, he climbed much faster because he weighs a good 25 lbs less than I do. He has a superior Power to Mass ratio.

Finally, can you tell who use to be an elite marathon runner? As you can see from the two data points above, Steve has a very good power to mass ratio on tall climbs. I have a feeling he’ll kick my butt at the ESBRU, which is nearly 100 meters taller than One Penn Plaza (^_^).

So now that I’ve written about work, power, and the power to mass ratio, I hope to show how power output will vary depending on the height of a climb. It will probably be a while before my next post since it will take a bit of time to collect the data I’m going to need. Until then, I’m going to be busy climbing stairs. I hope to improve my power to mass ratio in time for the ESBRU!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Schooled by Sproule

The results of One Penn Plaza are in! See the results here. The Tower Masters came in 2nd, 3rd, & 4th behind stair racing legend Sproule Love.

The night before the race, I took the bus from Albany to NYC, stopped by One Penn Plaza (near Madison Square Garden) had a light meal in Korea Town. I then took the subway to my friend Michael’s apartment to stay overnight. Michael, having been a tower far longer than I have, has built up an impressive set of trophies and awards. He also has a collection of miniature buildings representing some of major towers and skyscraper he has climbed. Very cool!

The next morning I ate a light breakfast consisting of 6 ounces of blueberry Greek yogurt, an apple, and a raisin English muffin and then took the subway to midtown. Although it was snowing, the subway system was running smoothly and we arrived at One Penn Plaza with plenty of time to spare.

After checking in, downing a bottle of 5 Hour Energy*, and hitting the rest room, I started my pre-race warm-up: Active stretching, jumping jacks, burpees, and power pushups. I even did a few dance moves with SuzieQ, a local celebrity fitness trainer who was guest starring at the event. Check Suzie out at her website.
 *Note to self: 5 Hour Energy is pretty nasty… next time drink coffee.

Midway through the warm-up, Michael pointed out Sproule Love in the crowd.  At that point we knew the Tower Masters weren’t going to sweep the event. I had hopes for a 1st place finish, but with Sproule Love in the lineup, all thoughts of a win were dashed. On the other hand, there was one benefit with Sproule in the race: I’d have a good data point for benchmarking my progress.

Minutes before the race, I introduced myself to Sproule (after all, I know so much about his athletic achievements) and chatted for a few minutes. At the start line, several folks had already entered the stairwell. I guess I chatted a bit too long with Sproule J. The other elite racers let Sproule get to the front of the line and as soon as he left the gate, I checked my stop watch and set my clip-on metronome to 90 beats per minute. Fifteen seconds later I was off!

Right out of the gate, I tried to step to the beat of my metronome for the first few steps, but 90/60 seemed much too slow. Instead, I raced up the first 9 flights. Right around floor 10, I realized that my current pace was much too fast to maintain and I finally slowed down to my metronome’s pace. I passed several other folks on my way up including some of my team mates (who gave precious encouragement). Somewhere near the middle of the race, it began to get more difficult to keep up with the metronome’s pace. Through sheer will, I continued onward although I know I was losing half a step around some of the turns. Finally, around floor 47 or so, I picked up the pace getting faster and faster with each flight. Before I knew it, I had finished! My stopwatch indicated I beat 7 minutes (my goal time) although I knew I didn’t meet my stretch goal of 6:40. Although I was winded, I wasn’t on the ground like I should have been. Next time, I need to start my last kick with 10 flights to go J

At that point, I asked Sproule his time and I was completely shocked when he said he finished in just over 6 minutes. I was expecting a 20 or 30 second gap… not 50 seconds! No wonder he owns the record at the Sears Tower!

While waiting for the other climbers to finish, I chatted with Sproule for a bit and received a couple tips about stair climbing. When he set the record at Sears he had even splits between the first and second halves of the race, so pacing is critical. He didn’t think a metronome was necessary, but he did advocate checking the stopwatch at set intervals in order to adjust the pace accordingly. The final bit of advice was to suffer a bit during training J

Although he didn’t tell me anything new, it certainly helps to hear it again, especially from a living legend.

Interview with the Tower Masters
After the race, Michael, Steve, and I did an interview with SuzieQ for her website. We talked a bit about nutrition and fitness and during the interview and then she asked us to show off our stair climbing “attributes”. By popular opinion Steve had the best abs (he is ripped!) and I had the best legs.

Alex & SuzieQ
Sproule & Alex
Last but not least, the team went over to the post-race bar to eat, drink, chat, and pick up our awards. Sproule didn’t stay for the awards ceremony, but I managed to take my picture with him after the race.

1st Place Female, 5th Place Male, & a Future Tower Climber!
All the Tower Masters!
During the rest of my stay in NYC I did a little sight-seeing. Can you figure out where I went based on the photos I took?
Hint: I'll be here on February 8th!

Hint: The Knicks play nearby
Hint: A Popular TV Show is based here
Another view of the same building
Hint #1: Taken at a Museum.
Hint #2: The artist cut off his own ear

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Racing Season is Coming!

Racing season starts in just one week and I have very mixed emotions regarding my progress. In the negative category, I managed to gain 2 or 3 lbs since the Christmas holiday. In the positive category, I’ve set a few PRs for the following exercises: practice staircase intervals, step machine, & tabata leg presses. Additionally, my pull-up & push-up counts continue to increase and I’m getting faster at the 4000 meter row (Concept2 erg rower). I know I’m in the best shape of my life, but I can’t help think that the extra weight is going to slow me down in the longer races.

My first race will be at One Penn Plaza in NYC on January 21st. The race will cover 55 flights (in a 57 story building) so the race itself will cover a little bit less than 229 meters (the height of the building). Based on that information, I’m guessing my time will be anywhere between 6:30 to 7:30. I’m hoping for a first place finish, but since the race will be held in NYC, the race could potentially have hundreds of competitors and attract some fierce competition.

To get ready for racing season, I’ve added the Concept2 indoor rowing machine to my exercise plan. Paul Teti, the record holder at the John Hancock Tower in Boston is a former Olympic rower, so I figured that rowing would be a good exercise to add to my repertoire. At first I thought the machine was pretty easy. After rowing for about 15 minutes at a reasonable pace, my butt would be sore (from sitting) but I’d otherwise feel pretty good. Since then, I’ve been consistently increasing my pace from week to week. Right now, my workout consists of a 4000 meters done at a just under 15 minutes (excluding time spent warming-up). In my opinion, the rowing machine is a great cross-training workout since it builds up cardio endurance and is relatively easy on the joints. I find it a perfect exercise for the day leading up to a heavy stair climbing workout since rowing won’t kill the legs (compared to heavy cycling or lifting weights).

In other news, I received a tiny clip-on metronome for Christmas and I’m dying to try it out at a race. I’m planning to set it to my expected pace to prevent going out too quickly. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to use it until the Empire State Building Run-up since I haven’t a clue how many stairs are at One Penn Plaza!