"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

West Side Stairs Challenge

Saint Paul is a city of hills and it used to be a city of stairwells, but these steps have been disappearing at a steady rate. The iconic Wabasha bluff steps ("Green stairs") disappeared in 2008:
This year, the Snake Hill steps were removed: [All Google maps deleted 5/19/2013 from post]
I decided to create a challenge to climb all the remaining public access steps on the West Side, which is becoming easier every year. And, of course, I had to make it a real challenge... trust me, it's harder than you expect, but not for the reasons you'd expect. Here's the rules:

1) You must climb the following seven sets of steps:
A) Raspberry Island to Wabasha Bridge steps.
There are multiple interconnected stairwells, but you need only do one. You also do not need to do the steps on the south end (though you can; running down the ramp and up the steps only adds a minute):
B) Terrace Park Steps
These go from the east end of Delos Street to Isabel Street.

C) Bancroft Steps
These go from the corner of Bancroft and Cesar Chavez to the corner of Prescott and Woodbury.

D) Baker Rec Center Steps
This short flight is on the line of Morton Street between Waseca and Bellows. There are two parallel flights, one of which is blocked at one end and in disrepair; you only have to do the new steps, on the south side of the park building.

E) Boys and Girls Club Steps
These very short wooden steps are on the east side of the field connecting the corner of Belvidere and Woodbury to the corner of Belvidere and Brown. These aren't technically public steps, but they make one of the following rules challenging, so they're a must.

F) Morton Steps
These are on the line of Morton Street between Robert and State. They have been rebuilt since this photo

G) Belvidere Steps
These  go between the corner of Belvidere and Waterloo to Belvidere near the highway bridge.2) You cannot traverse any section of your route twice. This means you cannot backtrack (and you cannot cheat by claiming running down the slope next to the steps you go up is a different route) and you cannot repeat any section of road/path/alley you use.

3) Once you start, you can use no navigational aides, such as maps, global positioning systems or written sets of directions. GPS is allowed to measure distance covered only; it cannot be used to locate or give directions.

4) You must start and end at the same place.

5) For fastest known time, total elapsed time from start to finish is used. My route was just over seven miles and took 63:02, with a long wait for a train.

A word of advice: plan to do it twice. Unless you plan very carefully, you will find it necessary to break one of the rules, so a "dry run" is a good idea.


arah said...

I'll have to try this! On the rare (1x each 2 weeks?) occasion that I want to do steps, I have a few buddies who do it damn near daily at the JJ Hill staircase, and I join them. Getting over there from the West Side adds a couple hills that aren't timed super great for a warmup/cooldown.

Colin Gardner-Springer said...

Genius, combining puzzles and running, I love it! Gotta give this one a try sometime.

Planning a possible route seemed easy at first, then for a while I was convinced it was impossible, before consulting better maps to find a key connecting trail which may make it work.

Not sure when I'll get out to try this, and without knowing the area I'm sure I'll use my GPS watch for navigation (at least for the dry run), but one of these days I'd like to give this a try!

SteveQ said...

Colin, I have to know what connecting trail you found! There may be (probably is) a better route than I took - and yes, I was stuck at one point thinking "this is impossible!"

SteveQ said...

I have to admit: I was inspired by Euler and the Koenigsberg Bridges topology problem.

Colin Gardner-Springer said...

Yes, the Koenigsberg Bridges problem did cross my mind, especially as I was beginning to think this might not be possible! Requiring stair climbs adds a nice directional aspect to the problem too.

The trails I needed were in Bluff Park; I imagine you know about them already but they aren't obvious on the Google street or satellite maps and I don't know the area. I didn't want to have to cross Highway 52 mid-interchange on foot!

My possible route maps out to around 7.4 miles so I doubt it's any better than yours; you likely know a shortcut or two that I missed. I'll be out of town most of next week, but hoping to give this a try the week after!

SteveQ said...

I now know exactly where you'll be forced to backtrack on try #1! The route I used was completely on roads - it IS possible, but just barely (and right now requires a rather daring run into blind traffic).

Anonymous said...

Great problem, Steve! Are you allowed to cross your path?

John K

SteveQ said...

John, it is more difficult, but still possible, to do it without crossing your path (excepting bridges, which I consider using two different paths, since they're separated vertically), but it's not required. The route I took didn't cross.

Anonymous said...

All right then! No crossing. My son Thomas and I are planning a scouting run on Thursday morning, starting about 8:00 with the Wabasha Bridge stairs. We'd welcome company.

John K.

Anonymous said...

1:17:31 and a voluntary DQ at the end when I went exploring. I took to the woods at Belvidere and caught a trail and then bike trail down from Baker. We came very near to our own footsteps at one point; first at State and King, and later at State and Oakdale.

Fun run, Steve! Your time is safe with me, but Thomas may run ahead on Sunday.

John K.

Anonymous said...

56:14 & 1:04:09 for the roughly 7.5 mile course this afternoon. We tried to stay off of streets where possible, using multiple pedestrian routes, including two bridges, a long bike path, and 2 descents on dirt. This was a fun run, and even a better problem. What's next Steve? Königsberg? Let us at it!

John K.