Proceed to Warp 10!

Map of Upper Hill District in Pittsburgh, PA
Upper Hill District

This was a short, exhilarating, heart pounding run. But first, ever watch Star Trek? From its start in the 1960’s as a campy TV series to its glitzy big screen movies, such as 2016’s Beyond, Star Trek has moved words into the general lexicon that just weren’t there previously; just look at “Beam me up” and “warp-speed”.

With those random thoughts bouncing around my head, I set out to join the Steel City Road Runners for their Saturday run. I was jogging through the Upper Hill, trying to warm up. The Upper Hill is a part of the Hill District neighborhood. The Hill District stretches from Downtown to Oakland. The Upper Hill is a small round area on the crest of hill right above North Oakland, the University of Pittsburgh, and above the Bloomfield Bridge. The streets are mostly wide open affairs, going up and down the steep hillsides. It is an area with a bad reputation (perhaps deserved, perhaps racism) and I am somewhat vigilant as I run along. As with all of the Hill District, the housing stock varies. There are boarded up brown brick row houses. There are bright, well-kept brick homes. There are new townhouses rising three stories and freshly painted.

Running past one of these new townhouses, thinking “This looks nice”, I hear the muffled barking of a dog. No worries, inside dog. Nonetheless, I look around hoping to see the mutt in a window. Then, I hear the a garage door rattling open and see the beige door slowly rise. Now, the barking is louder and there it is! A big brown dog of uncertain breed is galloping at me, trailing a leash. Warp Speed 1 Sulu! I take off. Usually if I pass the dog’s territory, it’ll stop. But no, wolf-spawn is still chasing me. Warp Speed 10! I gave it my all. Then with Fido a few yards away, he gives up. He must have finally heard his Master’s voice calling him back. Whew! That was the fastest 100 yards I’ve run in a long time, a 5 min/mile pace.

Sometimes you just need motivation.

Run All The Streets 0010: Warp Speed

The Dead-Ends of Mary

Google map of the Southside Slopes neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA.
Southside Slopes Neighborhood

This run started on the flats, Southside Flats, that is. It flowed away from the busier streets into some long dead ends then went up stairs and streets. Eventually it just became a run to back to my car. But that’s the short version.

The long version. I started near Ascend again. Ascend is on Mary Street. In that phase of Mary, it is a small street tucked at the base of the mountain, parallel to elevated train tracks. Not thinking I’d see Mary again, I wound my way among the streets punching their way under the train trestle. Trying to stay on the flats for a bit, I didn’t go up to Josephine Street. This section of the Southside Flats has a mix of small industrial warehouses, retail shops, corner bars and coffee shops intermingled with narrow houses, twenty feet wide, and two and a half stories tall.

But then, I’m on Mary Street again! Ah, the continuation of streets and a curiosity. Mary Street becomes Mary Jane Street (I wonder who came up with THAT name), and finally transitions to the Jane Street. Jane Street rises to become level the train tracks and eventually rises above it. At the top, Jane Street turns the corner, only to dead end at some sort of power station, replete with no trespassing signs, danger messages, and cameras. Oddly enough a car had just driven down this road. Hmm…

Before the ending of Jane, Handler Street turns off. I’d say Handler is half the width of Jane Street. Handler is also a dead end, and there’s ALSO a car coming down the road, literally, for Handler is steep. Handler rises off of Jane Street for 750 feet along a heavily wooded ravine. Per my “dead-end rules” I need to run at least halfway. I actually run to the end, which becomes a private driveway for one last sprawling wooden house underneath a ring of houses on a ridge above. I gave it a 7 out of 10 on the creepy scale.

Coming off of Handler, I hit a dead-end section of Mary Street. Since I hope not to pass this way again, I run it. The houses were relatively well-kept and it’s not long to the dead-end. But then, there are stairs at the end. It’s still Mary Street, so up I go. 125 linear feet and maybe 50 vertical feet. So now, I’m on another section of Mary Street. This time, I’m playing tag with a brown UPS van which keeps storming up the small streets, stopping for deliveries. The small cracked sidewalks made that a delicate dance.

Finally having enough of this, I run up nearly 200 feet of the 30th Street stairs, popping out on Josephine Street as it winds up the mountain into Arlington. Long gradual hills, short steep hills and steps later, I find myself on South 18th Street as it plunges back to the Southside Flats. I go back where I began, on Mary Street.

Run All The Streets 0009: Southside Flats and Slopes

Fireflies in the Dark

Squirrel Hill North

Another Wednesday in January. Running well after sunset. Running in Squirrel Hill, away from the bright lights of the Murray Avenue shopping district. This hadn’t been a bad January yet, but tonight’s run featured patchy ice and snow on the sidewalks. I was in no hurry to fall, so I fell back to run with one of my favorite groups of runners; Amy, Kristen, Dayana, Denise, Haley, and Nicole. Honestly, I’m not sure if everyone made it that night. Did I mention it was dark? Somehow, when the weather is damp all lights seem weak. Blackness seemed to spill out of every crevice and crack. We ran away from Dunkin Donuts, away from all that fat, sugary deliciousness. We ran toward Homewood Cemetery. Great.

Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh's East End on a sunny Fall afternoon. Large trees overhang old graves and a young deer standing next to an American flag stops to look up.
Homewood Cemetery

Now, on a day like that in the picture, Homewood Cemetery is quite interesting. Deer, turkey, rabbits and other wildlife scamper along the endless paths bordered by full spreading trees. Visions of past lives rise from the ornate mausoleums, old headstones, and fresh graves. On the other hand, on a cold, wet January night, the half-mile, uphill, run along the blackened stone cemetery wall is dull drudgery. You try NOT to think about past lives rising up. In fact, you only try to keep the fireflies of light; the pulsing ankle lights of Dayana and the Tracer target of Kristen in sight as you scurry by.

And scurry by we did. No one fell, the warmth from running and friendship pushed back the darkness. We returned to the lights of Highland Avenue and back to the runners cove of goodies called Pro Bike and Run. It was a good night after all. Five miles in the books. Fireflies put away until the next dark run.

Run All The Streets 0008: Squirrel Hill North and Shadyside

Starting the Southside

Seal-shaped Southside Flats

The Southside Flats is busy, and so was I. I needed to run. I needed to go to the gym. I wanted to meet up with someone. Hmm, how to do all of this on a Monday night in January? The Southside was the perfect place! I could run some flat streets, go to Ascend and meet up there! Genius, if I say so myself.

I must say, it did work out well. Zipping along Harcum Way, Jane Street and Mary Street certainly fit the bill for flat running. It was a few blocks off of Carson Street, so I didn’t have to jocky for sidewalk space with young bar hoppers. I did start going up and down the numbered streets and came upon an amazing zig-zag set of stairs, the 15th Street Stairs. Up for the challenge, I ascended them, crossed over a set of railroads tracks and ascended more stairs. This brought me up to Clinton Street – a little hook off of Pius Street. (Looking at this, I thought someone had just misspelled “pious” – but no, it seems “Pius” is Latin for “pious” and is a masculine given name. How about that!) Anyway, with time for running running short, I descended the next set of stairs, 18th Street, and galloped to Ascend.

Run All The Streets 0007: Short run in Southside

Steel City Marathon Kickoff

Pittsburgh’s North Shore
Troy Hill Neighborhood

Steel City’s Marathon Kickoff is quite the event. It’s the start of their “official” training cycle for the Pittsburgh Marathon. Various vendors and sponsors set up tents and give out runner’s delights such as water bottles, buffs and gloves. Buffs are tubular stretchy fabrics about a yard long which are prized winter headgear. There’s the usual finish line food; bagels, bananas, coffee and hot chocolate. There are also about 400-500 runners who show up. This year must have been more because I missed out on the “First 500 Blanket Giveaway”. Damn it! Carpooling doesn’t seem to be too big in the Pittsburgh running community yet, so there are also more than 500 cars here, too. There are not 500 parking spaces.

So, I did my usual and got there at the last minute. The parking situation threw me off a little, but I was still there in time to find my peeps, chat with friends and go out with a pace group. Feeling frisky, I joined the 8:30 pace group for 8 miles. It was a lot of fun. Our group had 20-30 runners in it. Got to chat with Alisa, Jessica and Emily. Got to annoy Jon with the jingling of my keys. (Inspiring me to write a book I’m going to call “10 Benefits of Running With Your Keys”. It will revolutionize distance running!) Eventually, the group’s route was simply an out-and-back along a trail. At that point, I decided to get a few more streets under my belt and elevation under my feet. I took a left off of the River Avenue and went up Rialto Street. That captured most of the elevation on my run. It didn’t add too many miles and I landed back at the Steel City garage about the same time as everyone else.

So, in terms of neighborhoods, this run crossed at least four – North Shore, Central Business District, Allegheny Center, and Troy Hill. I was surprised how small these neighborhoods are. Thinking about it, they do, indeed, have their own personalities, so I suppose it makes sense. The North Shore could be called “The Stadiums” because it is the areas adjacent Heinz Field and PNC Park. Troy Hill is considerably more isolated than the others, perched atop a large hill overlooking the Allegheny River. It is also much more residential, with tall houses side by side lining the narrow streets.

Run All The Streets 0006: 2019 Pittsburgh Marathon Kickoff Run

No Mulberries This Way

Strip District is a land of wholesalers

This run actually started in Lower Lawrenceville, but most of it was in the Strip District. To visitors, the “Strip District” sounds like a red-light district full of lurid adult stores and “Gentlemen’s Clubs”. There might be one or two clubs here, but more than that, it is a strip of wholesale stores for produce, pasta, fish and meat. Recently there has been an influx of boutique coffee shops and upscale condos. There’s also a good share of trinket shops, full of sports gear. While beauty lurks everywhere, in the Strip District, you might have to look a little harder.

But, back to the run. This was a Steel City group run starting from 11th Hour Brewing. (Neat place, go check it out!) As it is STILL January, the run, again, started in the dark. It wasn’t too cold, though, and, with no ice or snow on the ground, it was ideal running conditions. The official route went down Butler Street and Penn Avenue to 21st Street, turned around, came back to 11th Hour and then ran a couple of miles in the other direction. However, I knew that I would be running up and down these streets ad naseum during marathon training, so I opted to run a different route, Mulberry Way.

Mulberries are plentiful in this region. They live on the border of pleasant and pest. Enterprising individuals can make jams and pies out of the berries. Here’s a blogger who found ten ways to use them. Less enterprising people just try to avoid the plentiful berries as they pile deep in the yard, or on your windshield. Oh yeah, birds love them, so there’s the bird residue, too. At any rate, Mulberry Way is a long alley that runs nearly two miles through the heart of the Strip District. It is a back alley. Back doors of restaurants and stores open onto it. Garbage bins line it. One thing you won’t find are mulberries. There are a few apartments whose front doors come out onto the alley. As I run along, I can’t help but think “Who would want to live there?!” During rush hour and Saturday mornings, drivers attempt to circumvent traffic by zooming down Mulberry Way. But not tonight. Tonight, it is just me running along the flat alley, peering into back kitchens and lighted doorways as I ghost along.

Run All The Streets 0005: Mulberry Way

Catching Up in Squirrel Hill

One of Pittsburgh’s larger neighborhoods – Squirrel Hill South
One of Pittsburgh most beautiful neighborhoods – Squirrel Hill North

Today’s run was another group run. This time with Pro Bike and Run. It is a friendly group with neighborhood runners mixing with graduate students and Pittsburgh running stalwarts. Squirrel Hill is a large area, with rolling hills and relatively big houses. Squirrel Hill North has magnificent houses with stained glass, large porches and nice yards. Squirrel Hill South houses are typically smaller, but still relatively large. There are also many three to five story block-wide apartment buildings in Squirrel Hill South. Then there are people, lots of people. Walking on Murray Avenue, you will likely see young Chinese students and large Jewish families while hearing Russian, Spanish, and other languages spoken. I love this neighborhood.

For this run in particular, I was a little late. The group had already done their run preview and taken their picture and gone out in pace groups from faster to slower. OK, perhaps I was very late. Nonetheless, I got a map and made sure my GPS was ready then took off. It was already dark, but I knew the route and felt safe. Down one hill, up Beechwood Blvd to Forward, I was pouring it on to catch up with some of the runners. Then, as I’m passing the side of Taylor Allderdice High School, I see some blinking lights ahead. (BTW, if you want people to see you, check out these Tracers .) I eventually approach a group of runners as they’re turning onto Wightman from Pocusset.

And I stop here to mention that even if you’re pretty quick, the difference between you and a slower runner isn’t that much in real time. If someone is running a average pace of, say 10 minute/mile, and you running a very quick 7 minute/mile pace, but happen to show up ten minutes late, it’ll be over three miles before you catch them. These are all hypothetical numbers, of course, but the real point is, don’t be a pace snob.

So, I did finally meet up with some of my friends. They were chatting and making sure a slower newbie felt welcome. I caught up with their news, the new job, the work woes, the latest ski trip. But then, the hills relented and my legs took me away. Something was on my mind, pushing me on. I passed a couple of other runners before making it back to the store, our starting spot. In the store, Kim, the leader, the indomitable Kim, laughingly said she never sees me at the beginning of a run, but always afterwards. I like to catch up.

Run All The Streets 0004: Squirrel Hill

Point Breeze on New Year’s Day

Outline of the Point Breeze Neighborhood in Pittsburgh
Point Breeze (click on map for more info)

So, this run actually started in Shadyside and ran through parts of Squirrel Hill North, but followed most of Point Breeze’s borders. This “Resolution Run” was a group run organized by the Steel City Road Runners Club. Luckily for everyone who put New Year’s Eve to good use, it started at 11 am in the morning!

I have run with Steel City for a number of years and the crowd was friendly and festive. I was able to catch up with several runners I had not seen in awhile; from the Cincinatti ex-pat who’s always up for a quick one to a 20x marathoner I haven’t talked to in a year. My running peeps were also there. Running can be a very solitary sport. Group runs combat this with encouragement and camaraderie. You get the endorphins from the run, a positive social setting and a little bit of competition – it’s really a wonderful thing.

Group runs often bring out the fast runner in me. This day was no exception. As a running route, it starts as a speed demon’s dream. Penn Avenue is flat – perhaps a 50 foot elevation change in the first two miles. Forbes, along Frick Park and Homewood Cemetery is a more challenging, a 200 ft change in about a mile. But then you get a nice downhill along Shady Avenue for a strong finish.

RunAllTheStreets 0003: Resolution Run

Greenfield: Land of Hills

Map outlining of the Greenfield neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Outline of Pittsburgh’s Greenfield Neighborhood
(Click on image for info about Greenfield.)

Today my running the streets of Pittsburgh takes a serious turn, Greenfield. On the map it looks innocent enough. Straight streets, not too many alleys. But, a naive non-Pittsburgher would be sorely mistaken. The streets are straight, but the topography is NOT! This means that most of those “straight” streets are going “straight uphill”! No, none are going downhill.

I started on the edge of Greenfield, on Saline Street. For the record, “Saline Street” is also the name of a street about a mile away at the bottom of the hill. Winding my way down Saline Street, I did a little up and down on Beechwood before going up, up, up on Bigelow Street. I am constantly amazed how, in Pittsburgh, street names are used over and over. There’s another “Bigelow” in Oakland. At any rate, this Bigelow Street forms the southern border to Greenfield. It steadily climbs to a crest from which you can see all of downtown spread out before you. Then it plunges down to Greenfield Avenue. Along the way you go from nice, manicured lawns and open spaces to Waldeck Street, a narrow, dangerous lane with a hairpin curve as it becomes idyllic Sylvan Ave. (Nothing idyllic about that street, except for the name.)

Sylvan Avenue is a cliffhanger which leads to the main drag of Greenfield Avenue. I slogged up Greenfield and then started winding up and down the hills. As the Strava data will attest, this was one big hill after another. One of my early favorites was Tunstall Street. A big yellow “No Outlet” sign adorns the exit onto Greenfield. Nonetheless, it goes straight up. Strava indicated a 23% grade, but I wasn’t so sure about that, so I checked around. Sure enough, it is one of the steeper streets around, even making this list of Pittsburgh steps. About halfway up the hill several tall, narrow, houses perch on the left side of the road (going up). I got to the top, noticed a muddy parking area and decided I had reached a private parking area. But did I??

I ran back to Greenfield Avenue and then up the next little street, Yoder. Yoder was another goat pathway perched on a hill. I’m happy no cars decided to come down at that moment. Yoder was longer, but more gradual, and rose above the houses on Tunstall. Sure enough, Yoder intersects Alvin “Street” – a stairway which led down to that muddy parking lot! That lot, on the map, is an official street! Ha! I’m sure this type of thing will happen again.

Then the run was a series of ups and downs and trying not to do the same street over and over. I’ve only scratched the surface of Greenfield. Greenfield, I will be back, hopefully with more synonyms for “up”.

Run All The Streets 0002: Greenfield Route from Strava