Thursday, December 29, 2011

Running the Rocky Steps

This weekend I was in Philadelphia for the first time since I was a small child, visiting Cara's family. The house was only a mile from the Philadelphia Art Museum, and that got me very excited. Sure, we went to the museum (or rather the Perelman Building extension: a fascinating exhibition of Zaha Hadid's architecture), which was nice, but arguably far more famous than the museum itself is the steps leading to the front door of the main building, for these were the steps Rocky Balboa used to prove his fitness in Rocky, the Best Picture Acadamy Award winner of 1976. Here's a link to a YouTube version of the inspirational scene. You know you like it!

As I began the short run to the museum, I readied myself for the ridicule of bystanders. Here would be an adult living out a scene of a 35-year-old film: Heh! Look at that bozo! "Go Rocky!" Heh.

First, the statue. I had to take a photo. There's a long story on the statue, which was commissioned for Rocky III for the top of the steps. Some objected this was inappropriate for a museum, and it was moved away. But popular demand brought it back to the museum, to the side of the bottom of the steps: less intrusive. However, it still attracts a steady stream of tourists taking photos: I was just one of many during my time there. I never saw anyone taking pictures, or even looking at, any of the several other statues on the museum grounds.

Rocky statue

It was time to run the stairs! I felt strangely nervous. What if I couldn't make it? What if I doubled over, out of breath, like the "before" version of Rocky in the film? The horror... And then there was the mockery I was sure to suffer from surrounding tourists. I readied myself to ignore it.

But as I walked over the the center of the bottom of the steps, I was amused to find that several others were already on the steps, all running. And not just running: it was pro-forma upon arriving to the top to raise fists in the air, jumping up and down.

I had no plans for that, so felt safe. And up I went: taking the stairs two at a time, the biggest challenge to me was to not become disoriented and miss-step. This happens to me on stairs: I'm fine at first, but as I proceed, I feel increasingly out-of-phase with the stairs, until I'm fighting just to keep running without tripping.

I hadn't reviewed the video before running, and so had been mistaken that Rocky runs all the way to the museum doors. After the first steps, there's a broad mezzanine around a fountain, then a final short flight of steps to the front doors. This made a better interval for me than to just do the initial set. Yet others around me stopped upon arriving at the mezzanine. But better safe than sorry: I ran the whole way.

After reaching the top, I had a nice view of the city.

view from the museum doors

Once simply wasn't enough! I had to do it again. I decided three would be a good number of reps, then continue with my run. But after three, I reset my goal to five... then eight... then finally ten. After my tenth repetition, which I did single-step instead of double as an experiment, I decided I'd had enough, decended, and then began running along Kelly Drive of Cycling Classic fame. During the entire time I was on the stairs I was never the only one running there: there were a constant stream of runners, most slower, one faster, running the steps. It was incredible.

full step times
Strava times up full steps. It's unclear from data whether slow time on last iteration is due to running steps one at a time or due to fatigue.

I was convinced that surely I'd outrun Rocky. To check, I uploaded my data to Strava for segment timing. To my shock nobody had defined a segment, so I defined two: one to where Rocky stopped, another to the museum door.

So then I timed the videos. I already linked to the original film. I timed him there at close to 13 seconds. I was crushed: my best time via the Strava segment, which starts and finishes on the steps to provide some room for error, is 18 seconds (note only a few of my attempts match the segment, since the stairs are wide relative to the stair length, and I started from various positions). But then there's a sequel where Rocky comes back, now a star, fitter and faster than ever. Here's a link to that sequence. His time there: 10 seconds by my timing. I wasn't even close.

The key is while I took the stairs two at a time, Rocky takes them 4 at a time. Impressive! Obviously I have my work cut out for me if I want to challenge Apollo Creed myself.

1 comment:

EricD said...

Fun post. But you should have raised your fist at the top!