It was a Thursday night, with a spot of rain and solidly in the taper zone. No five miler tonight, I was concentrating on getting some rest and recovery.
Nonetheless, I ended up going out with the 10ish group and running with Tom. Tom is a superb runner who has racked up hundreds, maybe thousands, of RACE miles. A couple of years ago, I did the Boulder Beast, a tough 25+/- mile race through technical terrain, up boulder fields and through streams. Tom did it as well. That race was on a Saturday. The next day was Pittsburgh’s Great Race 10k and 5k. My son was racing the 5k, so I did the 4 hour ride back to Pittsburgh and felt very proud to be getting up so early after the Boulder Beast to take him to the start line. The start line where I saw Tom, with his pacing sign, all ready to run. Damn, so much for martyrdom! I was inspired to run the 10k, myself, that day.
At any rate, Tom and I trotted along chatting about running, races and upcoming events. On Liberty Avenue with its big uphill, we had to hold it in check to stay close to the “advertised” group pace . Then the group started to break up. Running partners shifted and I ended up running with my friend, Brittany, for the next couple of miles. She is a lot younger than I am, but has conquered a 50 miler already and has some interesting runs coming up.
One of the draws for this Thursday run a free drink at the end. Apparently my internal, route taking skills unconsciously aligned with that promise, as seen below, in a slightly twisted version of the route.
Three weeks and a day until the Pittsburgh Marathon. Over three months since the Steel City Kickoff run and now I was finishing this training cycle with a nice group of friends. This year, I got in a 17 miler, a 19 miler and a 21 miler. This day was destined for 20 miles. There were some down times, too, like falling in February, which set me back for a few weeks.
But today’s run was a big deal. Hundreds of runners had signed up to run with Pro Bike. More were running with Steel City, just down the block. I parked on the Northshore and trotted over to our start location. I had to circle the block a couple of times to actually find the entrance, but managed to just squeak into the group picture. Off I went with the 10:30 group.
Much of a big-city marathon is navigating your way and pace through the thousands of starters. Today was similar, restricted to sidewalks. We wove through the downtown sidewalks, potholes, and people waiting for buses. We flowed among the Steel City runners, who had gotten a late start. Their faster runners sometimes flowed around us. We made our way across the 16th Street Bridge and across Allegheny Center, Central Northside and across the West End Bridge. Since the roads were not closed off, we used the various sidewalk ramps on the approach to the West End Bridge. Those ramps bounce. With dozens of people crossing at the same time, the ramps seem to buckle and wave like a bucking bronco. No one got thrown off this time, thank God.
The actual marathon goes into the West End, but the preview run stuck to Carson Street. Just over three miles later, we paused at our water stop near the Birmingham Bridge, where swirling masses of runners vied for water and a snack. But, onward and upward. After crossing the bridge, half-marathoners went left and we went right. That’s always a sobering time on the course, when all those folks you were running with just…leave! Appropriately enough, a car zipped by with a “Kitty is Mad Because You Suck” sticker on it! Down to a half-dozen, we marched up the hill. The way through Oakland and Shadyside was uneventful, just miles zipping along as we chatted.
Penn Avenue, Baum Boulevard, Liberty Avenue and finally another water stop. I was grateful to Kim for stationing herself at the stops and staying until everyone came through. This one was suspiciously close to Smokin Brews, with its $2 Jello-shots! Getting started again after stopping was tough. Perhaps I should have had a shot.
Now, just the two mile stretch to the end. But wait, we had to do two laps around the building!! Finally all done. A doughnut to celebrate. Some chatting and back to reality. This one was tough for me. But it was a good preview run. Taper time!
Today’s run was very directed, for me at least. I knew I wanted to run Loretta Street in Greenfield. Why? Well, the run needed to be short for schedule reasons, a hill would be good and I knew Loretta was one of those streets I had never completely run. It also passes right by a Giant Eagle in case I got hungry. 🙂
So, with these kinds of thoughts in my mind, I set out for Loretta Street. I cut from Beechwood to Shady on Caton Street, a cute brick street in Squirrel Hill. It has modest homes, probably built in the 1950’s or 60’s, well cared-for lawns and friendly people. Caton led me to the end of Shady, where its rolling hills get out of hand and end in Lilac Street. Lilac Street, while not the steepest street in Pittsburgh, has an 11% grade for a short spell near Minadeo Elementary School.
Whew! I kept upright going down Lilac and waited patiently at the light. Beechwood Blvd was very busy and I was taking no risk of crossing without it. After an eternal wait, the little white man signified I could go and I lit out for Loretta. Above the noise of slow traffic I heard, “You went the wrong way on that hill!”. Turning, I saw Astrid and Michael driving by. They are long time friends, running buddies and world class hecklers.
By then I had reached the foot of Loretta and turned off, safe from further heckles. It was flat for a couple of blocks and then rose. This was harder than I expected. Looking at the elevation profile later, I realized that not only was I going uphill, but the hill kept getting steeper. No wonder I was panting with every step. This was a typical Greenfield neighborhood, with one and two story split level houses and crazy driveways. People were out, a stroller, a few dog walkers. Finally, I reach Loretta’s dead-end and, surprise! There are steps at the end! This short flight led to McCaslin Drive. From there I caught Hazelwood Avenue and then Frank Street as it crosses Greenfield. Frank Street is no slouch either, with a short section having a 15% grade.
Overall a nice run! A couple of new streets and a stair bonus! And the ever present Pittsburgh run community, cheering me on at every step.
On a separate note, Runs 0044 and 0045 will be in the April catch-up.
Today’s run is brought to you by underground running. Running on off-beat trails. Being self-sufficient, yet social. If you have ever sat in a car looking up at some green hillside, covered in trees, tangles of wild grape and bushes, and wondered, “What’s up there?”, this type of running is for you. The common perception of Pittsburgh is that it is very hilly. While that is not wrong, it is more that water has cut its way through the geologically historic plateau. As if Pittsburgh were a giant cake and the rivers and streams have cut slices out. For more info check out this publication about Pittsburgh’s geologic history from Pennsylvania’s Department of Natural Resources (DCNR). There’s been some man-made renovations as well. I’m talking about the slag from steel factories which was piled into mountains along Pittsburgh’s waterways. But I digress. Suffice it to say, the slopes of the hillsides are very steep, while the tops of the hills are nearly flat.
Trails are all over these hillsides, imperceptible to most casual observers. Some are really deer paths, but many are carved out by the busy beavers of the outdoor community, mountain bikers. Relics of human endeavors are scattered on the hillsides; stairs, pipes, and random foundations in the least likely places. These trails have gradually been discovered by trail runners and, where two or more runners gather, a race breaks out.
These runs were part of the Mother Fricker, a FatAss event – no entry fees, no medals, no support. You’re on your own fat ass to make sure you can do it and have what you need. This sounds harsh, but in reality, the runners look after each other and serious problems are rare. The entire Mother Fricker was twenty miles distributed among four loops; an eight miler, a six miler, a four miler and a two miler. The course is roughly marked out with white flour. That whole-wheat stuff doesn’t stand out too well in the woods.
As per my SOP, I got there just as the runners were heading out on the first, eight mile loop. I stashed my recovery backpack and set off. In about a mile, I caught up with some of the walkers. We crossed a beautiful little bridge high over Nine Mile Run. Instead of directly up the normal hill, we turned right and ascend the switchbacks below Summerset. In “Lost in your Hazel Highs“, I described running through Summerset. On this run, we were on the slope below that nice Summerset brick wall pictured in the blog post. Coming down again, the route took us back across Nine Mile Run again and jumped into the slag heaps. Back and forth, the winding trails ascended and then went high above the Monongahela. Across the river, the Waterfront shops were so close, you could almost see the tags on shoppers’ purchases. OK, that was an exaggeration, maybe with a telescope. Rugged roller-coaster trails took a toll on the legs. Up and down, up and down, around small waterfalls, across narrow steep paths we ran. I was feeling strong and ran hard, trying to flow over the boulders and hillocks. Periodically, a shout of “Bikers!” would cascade and echo along the trails. We all scrambled for viable spots off trail as groups of mountain bikers rolled through.
Eventually we got to “Mountain of the Moon”, the nearly barren slag heap tops. The trails changed from mud to hardened gravel, very rough. My shoes were loose and bits of gravel quickly found their way inside. Some people stopped, enjoyed the view and explored the area. Others, like me, kept running along the undulating trail perched atop the slag. Coming off the moonscape, we crossed back over Commercial Avenue and returned to the start. The course was a little short of the advertised 8, so I jogged around Lower Frick to make it up.
The format of the Mother Fricker called for the six mile loop to start at 10am. Finishing the 8 miles relatively quickly gave me time to recover and remove the gravel and debris from my shoes. More people showed up, wise souls skipping the first loop. The six mile loop started with a bang and went up Iron Gate Trail. Iron Gate Trail climbs a large hill whose summit overlooks the Parkway East. After cresting, we dropped past Blue Slide Park, the sledding slope and onto Bradema Trail. Bradema is a fun trail, but at the end I lost track of the white flour and ended up at the start. Usually being the first one back is good, but this time, it meant I just lost my way. With 11 miles in, blisters on my toes and gravel in my shoes, I called it a day.
This was the longest trail run I had done in awhile. Wow! I forgot how tough trails are. Eleven miles on the trail felt as hard as twenty on the road. But it was good practice. I have a trail race coming up. I probably won’t be blogging about it here, since its not in Pittsburgh, but its a tough 25k race with ultra-steep hills and water crossings. I bailed after eleven miles, but many people did the entire 20 miles. Very impressive. Later, after reaching out to the non-running world for a bit, I found myself sipping beers and chatting with other trail runners, hearing stories of lost ways and past runs, and hatching plans for future exploits.
The Highland Park Running Club, shockingly known as HPRC, is the new kid on the block when it comes to Pittsburgh area running clubs. But the members are NOT new to running and have generally been involved with the other running groups in Pittsburgh for years. They bring a lot of running expertise and speed with them. Their signature weekly event is the “Coffee Passport Run”, a run from different, local coffee shop. This run started from Delanie’s Coffee shop in the Southside.
This was a bright Saturday morning. By consensus, we stayed on the flats. The going was quick for me, but we all stuck together as we started toward Station Square. The all star line-up included Corbin, the organizer; Jaye, who would be heading to Boston in a few weeks; Aaron, super speedy at all distances from 1 mile to 100; Josh who has just gotten faster and faster and Emily, who also coaches soccer and keeps up with all these fast folks. Sean, the car guy, and I tried our best to keep up. But it wasn’t a killer pace and everyone was in a good mood, so I was happy.
Then, as it happens so often in Pittsburgh, I saw another little group I know, Bob and Mira! They had started earlier from the Steel City garage and were doing big miles, albeit at a slower pace. Bob, the slow and steady, who, in spite of getting injured last year, managed to pull out a 100k race in October. Mira, who almost never follows a traditional training plan for marathons, but year after year, pops out one marathon after another between her martial arts bouts. These two are both close friends and I stopped for a few minutes to chat with them, letting the group sail away. A hug and a fist bump later, I was off to catch those speedy HPRC folks.
And catch them, I did. Running happy allows me to run fast. The run was uneventful, winding up West Carson Street ramp onto the Fort Pitt Bridge, running round and round Point State Park and bolting up the Jail Trail to the Hot Metal Bridge. Once on the Southside, I soon showed 8 miles on the Garmin and slowed to a walk for the rest of the way.
As good as the run was, the post-run coffee and socializing was even better. Delanie’s was delightful, with an upstairs loft in which to spread out. Very enjoyable, HPRC! I’ll be back for another cup soon!
This was a wandering run, just a few miles to warm up before doing stairs at the Cathedral of Learning. To avoid the parking nightmare that is Pitt, I parked about a mile away in Schenley Park. I explored a bit of CMU, completing Frew Street even to the hilltop, where the street becomes cobblestone and disappears into a trail. I then descended all the way to the bottom of the hill, where The Children’s School is tucked away. Time for stairs, so I ran to the Cathedral then round and round till I hit 4 miles. The route that got mapped out looks like a stick figure with short legs doing a boat pose, Navasana. With that…Namaste
PBR Evening 5 Miler
This was a fun run with Pro Bike. Several people who ran the LA Marathon the Sunday before came out and regaled us with stories of the trip and race. Makes me want to do it next year.
PBR Wednesday run
Another fun run with Pro Bike. As usual at the last run of the month, there were goodies awaiting us at the store!
Thus ends March. I’ve been doing this project for a little over 3 months and I’m finding the writing about the runs harder than the runs themselves. The goal of having a presentable map for the 50th run is still on target. The city is amazing in the views and crazy streets and cool little neighborhoods. I’ve grand schemes for including other data as well, but that will take more time.
I hope you’re enjoying this project! Thanks for reading along.
This was a Second Chance Sunday SCRRC run. The second chance at getting a long run in that weekend. I had missed the Saturday run, with all its glorious weather. Now the weather was cool and cloudy. Nonetheless, there I was. When I first parked, a couple of other runners were waiting in cars, blasting heat. Finally, we all crept out and went into the garage. Three people, then five, then twelve. Did I know anyone? Ah, not so far, not so far, then YES! Saw Brittany! She had gained some notoriety by doing the Hell Hath No Hurry 50 miler almost from nothing. She also had done the entire Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in pieces. I figured I would run with her for awhile. Usually, there’s a GREAT GATHERING OF PACES and the SCRRC Leader barks out the pace groups to start.
Get out of here 8:30’s!”
And groups of 10, 15, 30 people would bolt out at their respective paces.
Today, not so much. Everyone looked at each other, sizing up the people known and unknown and self coalesced into small groups. I went out with Brittany and a woman I didn’t know, Maddie. The three of us were all different. Maddie was youngest, an athletic blonde training for her first full marathon. Brittany, just a bit older, training for the Great Wall Marathon. Me, in my mid-50’s, training for my 24th marathon. (Or is it 25th? I can’t keep it straight.)
We were a congenial and compatible group. Keeping a relaxed 10:30 pace, we chatted the normal runner small talk. Brittany’s entry into the Great Wall Marathon definitely spiced up the conversation. The “long” route this day was 14 miles plus a few miles out and bring it to 16. I was not inspired with this route. I must say, I have a an issue with the whole idea of advertising a longer route (such as 16 miles), while the “real” route is shorter, say 14, with the proviso that you should just do an out and back to take you to the advertised mileage. Why do that? You can ALWAYS add on an out and back to any run to run as far as you want! Grumble, grumble…. Across the Roberto Clemente Bridge, through Market Square, across the Smithfield Street Bridge to the Southside, up Carson, across the Hot Metal Bridge, blah, blah, blah. But the company was pleasant and kept me from thinking too much about the miles or how thirsty I was.
Crossing the Hot Metal Bridge lead us to the Jail Trail, an asphalt rail-to-trails bike path between Second Avenue and the Parkway East. Usually I don’t mind it, but today it seemed to go on forever. The roar of cars on either side suppressed conversation. The sky was a featureless gray cover. Eventually we made it to Grant Street then traversed up Liberty Avenue toward the 40th Street Bridge. That bridge, with it’s Coats of Arms every 20 yards or so, actually leads you out of the city into Millvale.
Coming off the 4oth Street Bridge, we hit an asphalt trail again. This time at least it was quieter with the Allegheny River on one side and the deserted River Road on the other. Maddie and I slowly drew ahead of Brittany. I took a pit stop at the garage, while Maddie was done. She gave me an extra GU she had been carrying and I sorely needed. After the bathroom break, some water and the GU, I felt replenished. Unfortunately I missed Brittany. She must have gone on for her out-and-back without stopping. I went out to do an out and back of 2.5-3 miles.
Solo now, I wandered through the North Side and into the far side of Manchester. It is a rather flat neighborhood. In the last decade or so, there has been a resurgence in the Mexican War Streets and nearby areas. However, where Manchester squeezes between highway 65 and a widening set of railroad tracks, the area is rather run-down. There are row houses, some nicely kept up, some not. There large boarded-up buildings. But people still live and work there. Gospel music spilled from the red-brick Church of God, which otherwise sat alone surrounded by flat vacant lots.
Strangely enough, I once again, ran into other runner acquaintances, even in this area. I saw another Amy, as well as Alicia trotting through on some route of their own. Perhaps they were running Fleet Feet routes. It seems I’m never really alone running in Pittsburgh,
Now hitting my 17.5 miles, I picked my way back toward the SCRRC garage. I took the Columbus Avenue bridge across the tracks and found myself in the California-Kirkbride section of the city. Looking up, I saw a cemetery at the top of the dominating hill. Several flights of yellow-railed stairs lacerated the brown hillside. and drab houses. Below was the large USPS building. My pace slowing considerably, I slugged my way back to the garage having gone way past the 16 of the official run and the 20 I was hoping for.
But I made it to California Avenue, the long way.
Allegheny West, Allegheny Center, Manchester, Downtown, Central Northside, Southside Flats, South Oakland, Uptown, Strip District, Lower Lawrenceville, Troy Hill, California-Kirkbride
In my earlier blog post “The Dead-Ends of Mary” , I chronicled a run which took me on the Eastern curve of Josephine Street in the Southside Slopes and culminated in me running down 18th Street past Mission Street. So, for a few months, I’ve been thinking about returning to that area and just running the length of Mission Street. Mis-Steps recently wrote about her visit to nearby stairs on Stella Street, so I feel almost like I had been there.
Of course, an idea has to lay fallow then slowly germinate before blooming into reality. On this morning, the germination was still slow to come. I parked in the Southside’s Giant Eagle lot and wandered around new developments in Southside Flats before charging up 18th Street to find the end of Mission Street. It starts at an odd intersection and immediately becomes a steel-grate bridge crossing a deep ravine. Crossing that bridge, I was lured off to a no name side-street leading to the Bandi Schaum Community Garden. While the no-name street didn’t officially continue, there was a dirt-road which accessed Greely Street. Greely Street tries its best to make it up the hill, but the hill is REALLY steep and that little street doesn’t have much energy, so it just stops about 3/4 the way up. I ran up the dead-end and then sailed down the street, about 50 feet UNDER Mission Street. Crap!
Now I had to find my way back. It wasn’t hard – just took the left on Josephine Street, took another left into 21st Street, ending in a park-like green way. I found myself under Mission Street, again. Luckily there is a cool set of stairs which climb right up the belly of the arch and pop out where I had started, on Mission and 18th Street. Once again I traversed the steel-grate bridge and, this time, wasn’t lured by those damn no-name streets.
Mission Street is crowded with typical Southside Slope houses. Narrow, two and three story houses with a basement or two (whatever it takes to get to the ground). Mission narrows as it ascends one last hill then peters out in front of a well kept, yellowish brick house. I was hoping that there would be a trail or pathway leading to the other side of Mission, but, alas, there was not. So, I had to backtrack a little and wander a little, trying to get down to Arlington Avenue or Josephine Street. I had not mapped out the particulars of this end of Mission Street, and almost thought I wasn’t going to complete it. Luckily, still in an exploring mood going down Josephine, I took a random left. That left went uphill (of course), and I found myself back near where I had just been. Sure enough, I stumbled across Mission again! Looking across the street, there was no indication that this part had anything to do with the other part. In retrospect, I see that Monongahela Park, a small wooded park with a ball field, is the only thing keep both ends of Mission apart.
Long runs are back! With the Pittsburgh Marathon quickly approaching, I had to get some miles in. Going into the run, I wasn’t sure how long to run. The course was laid out to be flexible. I could easily drop after 7 miles. At 10, I could take a short-cut back to the start and finish with 11. I think the longest official distance was 16 miles. So many opportunities to rationalize that I was done, so many opportunities to listen to aching knees or tight IT-bands and stop. I’m very happy to say that not only did I ignore all those “opportunities”, but I had the temerity to add more miles, topping out at 19.5 miles! How did that happen?
Luckily, I had Pro Bike to lean on. I actually arrived early enough at Coffee Tree Roasters to get a map and get the Garmin synced with a satellite. I went with Kristen, Sasha, and Cathy as part of the 10-10:30 pace group. I deftly ignored Dennis’ suggestion that I was in the wrong pace group, when the pace groups coalesced briefly at an early light.
Then the run was pleasant, not too fast. Once I woke enough to engage socially, small talk kept my thoughts away from distance. Do you have a race coming up? Are you running Pittsburgh? How’s your training going? What distance are you doing? Runner ice-breakers.
Weaving through streets as part of a large groups always makes me think of flowing water. In particular, I imagine the runners as bubbles flowing along a river. A fire hydrant, pedestrians, narrow sidewalks, all cause disturbances in the flow, but without slowing down, the group envelope morphs around the obstacle.
After the first seven miles, the large group had become spread out. Sasha, Cathy, Kristen and I were in the forefront and the others, just a bit slower, were starting to get left behind. The next part of the run extended into areas less trodden. We went up Penn, took North Braddock to Frankstown Road and made the left to head back toward Highland Park. That’s a long stretch. The neighborhoods are relatively poor, the streets are relatively dirty. In the actual Pittsburgh Marathon, it is in the 16-18 mile area, I believe. On race day, that’s a tough part of the race. You’ve already come far, but still have far to go.
It was here that good company made the run. It is hard to describe and I’m sure there has been research done on the topic. But my experience is that you’ve silently joined a tentative pact, wherein there is caring (“Watch out for the pothole!”), sharing (“My left groin is REALLY tight, how’s yours?”) along with the positive feelings from exercise endorphins and joint sense of accomplishments. (We did 15 MILES!!) It’s not many places where this happens.
As the route took us up Highland Avenue, Sasha and I crossed over to the silent water station while Kristen and Cathy continued on and made their way back to CTR. This was getting into the high mileage. Sasha planned to go up Highland to Bryant and then run home. She ran a bit farther, perhaps all the way to Liberty Avenue. Then, with a turn and wave, she was gone and I was on my own.
Or WAS I? Jon, Josh, Alisa and about ten other Steel City runners had passed us a few blocks before. But, as I trundled up Liberty Avenue, there they were! Lolly-gagging around a water stop! Race cars do have pit stops, after all. Since they were standing still, I was able to pass them all! Yay! Two minutes later, though, they caught up with invitations to join them. That would have taken me to the Northside, a bit out of the way, so I declined. Maybe next time.
Then it was time to do a little exploring and go off the written map. The official route had me going to Main Street, then Penn then Friendship and on back to CTR. I started on Main, but continued on Cabinet Way, one of the small alleyways angling off of Main. It is a prototypical alley. Big enough for one and a half cars, garages in varying states of decay opening onto it. Over a half mile later, I ended up on Denny Street, another small street. I drifted to Butler Street and eventually got back on course, finishing at CTR. I was happy to see that Kelly was still hanging out, making sure the runners all made it back. Too often, going long and slow means that all “official” run leaders are long gone. A nice chat and hot chocolate later, I crept back to the car, exhausted but exhilarated.
Parts of East Liberty, Shadyside, Point Breeze, Homewood, Brushton, East Liberty, Larimar, Highland Park, Friendship, Bloomfield, Lower Lawrenceville, Lawrenceville, Oakland, parts North and West