Saturday Stairs: an iconic run in the heart of Hollywood
Sightseeing meets serious workout, scaling the steps at the Hollywood Bowl is not to be missed, and you can do it every Saturday morning.
Welcome to Running Sucks, a running blog where I talk to interesting people in the running world to find out how to make running suck less.
I began an article I recently wrote for Christie’s about why I love Los Angeles by highlighting the lack of true cultural landmarks in my adopted hometown. (I do love it here, honest.) There’s no Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty. There’s no Big Ben or Eiffel Tower.
To so many, Los Angeles is simply synonymous with Hollywood - film is what I wrote about - but while movie production is largely located in Burbank, and those grimy stars on the Walk of Fame lost their dazzle light-years ago, it’s the classic venues of L.A. that retain their allure. And I’m not talking about Disneyland.
The Hollywood Bowl is the stage on which popular musicians aspire to perform. With its 17,500 seats, it’s hosted artists like The Beatles and The Doors in their pomp, as well as the annual 4th of July fireworks extravaganza, and is home to the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra. The Bowl is truly one of Los Angeles’ iconic landmarks.
Purchasing a ticket and packing a picnic to take in with you is one thing, but how about having a little jog inside the Bowl on a weekend morning? As someone who long, long ago resolved to never stop being a tourist, wherever I am, that’s as enticing a proposition as you could put in front of me. And so I did it.
I talk to Saturday Stairs founder, Jeff Palkevich about the group, which meets in the Hollywood Bowl parking lot every Saturday at 8am.
How did Saturday Stairs begin?
“Well… I come from a very active family in New Jersey. My dad and brother would go run their own half marathons on a Saturday morning. However, I was born with a congenital heart blockage. I've had pacemakers since college, and in 2015 I was due for an upgrade and finally, they had reached the point where they would know if you were trying to be active or even if you were sick.”
“I remember, it was 5:30am, driving to the doctor, past the Hollywood Bowl, seeing all these cars pulling in, and I just remember being confused by it. Is there a show? What is going on? Cut to seven weeks later [post-surgery] and I just happened to be flipping through the L.A. Times and saw a picture of people running the stairs at the Hollywood Bowl. I was like, ‘What the hell is this? There's people running at the Bowl??’”
That was The November Project - a free weekday morning fitness program that started in Boston, MA, and can now be found in 57 locations across the world. They run up hills and other very intense things, but are otherwise welcoming and fun.
“The doctor was telling me I should go see what [my heart] can do, so I said, ‘Let's go to this thing once.’ And it turned into a weekly thing.” Jeff Palkevich of the mighty, mighty Saturday Stairs.
At some point, however, The November Project stopped running at the Bowl, relocating instead to the Griffith Observatory Trail.
“Then my partner and I just started going by ourselves. Then one friend said he wanted to come with us, and then a couple more, and then it got to the point where I was so sick of people texting me on Fridays asking, that I made an Instagram. One post a week. That's it. It slowly grew, and now it's at the point where it's 75 to 100 people every week.”
“It was funny because when I got the pacemaker and my doctor said, ‘See what you can do,’ they really meant walking around my neighborhood. When I told them I was running stairs every week, it was a bit shocking to them.”
Jeff, what do you do to make running suck less?
“If I'm just doing my own run, it's making a good playlist and getting out early. I really like running pre-dawn and getting the sunrise. I really feel the accomplishment of it being 7am, looking at the Fitbit and seeing I have 9,000 steps already.”
“I get in my own head because I think running is difficult - I can't keep up. But if you say run a short distance, do burpees, run that short distance again, do sit-ups… I don't have a problem with it.”
How does Saturday Stairs make running suck less?
“Instead of just a running club, we add exercises like that, and I really try to make the workout scalable. We have people like myself who have previously never worked out, and we have people that did Division 1 sports, who run 4-min miles. You can come and get a solid workout, no matter what level you're at.”
“Also, we probably have 15-20 different workouts. So if you come to a Saturday Stairs and do a workout, you're not gonna see that workout for another three or four months.”
And that’s it. Running is at the core of Saturday Stairs, but it’s ultimately a fitness club. Some of the workouts are “brutal,” by Jeff’s own admission, but doing them in the famous surrounds of the Hollywood Bowl means that every time you pause for breath, you can focus on the views instead of your burning lungs.
Despite workouts with deceivingly lovely names like CARDS and HOTLINE BLING and GIRL SCOUT WORKOUT leaving your legs like jelly and you needing a long, quiet sit-down (possibly with your new boxes of Girl Scout cookies), Saturday Stairs is one of the most welcoming workout spaces I’ve ever been to.
“Before the workout, I try and say hi, we try to get new people to say their name, and I encourage people that if you see a new person, when they're running, if you're passing them, say, ‘Way to go.’ Give them a high five. I like to do that. I just want everyone to have fun.”
It’s daunting for somebody to just show up and join a big group, and showing up is the most important thing. Jeff and Saturday Stairs make that bit easy every single week. That weekly commitment, and move from non-runner to runner, has had one huge effect on Jeff’s life in particular.
“Personally, as something I grew up seeing my dad and my brother doing on weekends together, and I was never able to participate, running is fun now. When we're home for holidays, we will go on runs together. It's pretty nice that we can finally do that.”
How’s that for running making your life suck less?
Saturday Stairs is at the Hollywood Bowl every Saturday morning at 8am. Follow along on Instagram for details on parking and the workout.
With this week’s coaching tip (I really need to take a photo of me with my USATF coaching certificate), we’re going to make running suck less with…
Your Running Shoes
We’ve come a long way in running shoe technology over the last 50 years of serious innovation, and now there are so many things to think about. It’s overwhelming. The worst part is that a shoe that’s been a revelation for your friend down at run club is very unlikely to be a perfect shoe for you, so here are my top things to consider.
Terrain - This is the easiest. Are you running roads, track or trails? Getting different shoes for each is the wisest move for grip, waterproofing, cushioning, steel plate protection, and more.
Cushioning - We’re in a dual era of ultra-cushioned shoes and barefoot trainers. What do you need, though? Road-running long distances regularly? Think about more cushioning to reduce the impact. Shorter workouts? In the gym, perhaps? A more reactive shoe with less cushioning might be more suitable.
Stability - Do you over-pronate? That’s when your feet and ankles collapse inwards due to flat feet or weak ankles. Why is this a problem? Your tibia and fibula - your shinbones - will be moving around too much, which can cause problems with your knees, your hips, your ankles, and your shins. Injuries! It’s worth getting a gait analysis from a running store to find out.
Weight - Are you racing? Get a lighter shoe. If you’re running for your health, I wouldn’t take much notice of a few grams/ounces.
Drop - A heel-striker might prefer a larger drop (10+ mm) that provides more cushioning on the heel. In a chicken-or-egg situation, however, a 0-3mm drop might help a heel-striker land more on their midfoot, which might help to increase your cadence, making you faster. You’ll know when you try it.
Stack - Zero stack/cushioning means you are pushing off more directly from the road, rather than through a half-inch of cushioning. This will allow you to run faster by saving energy, effort, and literal time spent pushing off. A taller shoe, however, can make your leg longer, increasing your stride, saving energy and time that way.
I’m sure that’s as clear as mud, now! Feel free to ask more questions or leave your own tips below. You can always ignore all this and just choose running shoes that look nice.
How Jeff built Saturday Stairs:
He started running in a really fun place and invited his friends
He shows up every week at the same time in the same place
Keep people on their toes with different workouts weekly
He makes sure that everyone feels welcome
He is living proof that you, too, can do it
Ways of making running suck less covered today:
Run in one of the most iconic venues in Los Angeles
Add cross-training exercises to your run
Get the correct shoes for your body
Be kind to your fellow runners
Run early to get your steps in
Mix up your workouts
Run with your family, blood or not
Did you know that the Hollywood Bowl is a public park, which is why we’re allowed to be in there when there’s no concert? Leave me some comments and questions below!
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