Again, I headed to the hills of Beechview on a warm Sunday morning. Again, I parked at the little playground on Westfield Street. This time, I followed Andick Way as it changed from a modest street to a set of stairs. They were broad and shallow stairs, several feet of flat concrete before rising to the next step. Hitting Rockland Avenue, I took a right and ran past Beechwood Elementary School. At the end of the parking area, presumably where vans, buses and cars drop off hundreds of kids in the morning, there was a large swale surrounded by ten foot chain link fences. It was dry this morning and a brown rabbit with the signature cotton tail happily bounced across this protected area. This is one of the highest points around and I was surprised to see such a massive drainage installation there.
At any rate, Rockland drop precipitously from the school, going all the way to a T-stop. My run plan originally had me doing this last, but I did it first. It meant that I had to run back up Rockland, ugh. Getting back to Andick, it morphed again into a street and then back to a sidewalk. Finally I broke out onto Dagmar, near the top.
From this vantage point, if you look toward Downtown, you can see the Trimont Building on Mount Washington. Looking down the other way, Dagmar flows down the hill like a roller-coaster. You might be able to pick out a bridge carrying the T far below.
At this point, I just crossed Dagmar and followed Bayonne to the end. The area was pretty nice. People were out mowing lawns, tending flowers and walking dogs. Bayonne is relatively flat, but starts to descend quickly near its dead-end. The cross street, Alverado Ave has some houses off of it nearly a block further downhill, accessible only by a long driveway. At any rate, I wandered up to Crane, then up another section of Dagmar until it, too, ended in a driveway. Then it was the long roller coaster down Dagmar. Nearly under the overpass, I veered off onto Cape May, hit the steep Milo Street Stairs and plodded up Alton, eventually reaching my car just as a rain shower broke.
This late morning run is brought to you by hills and hills and hills. Yes, this is Beechview, for all you arm-chair runners. I had previously called Greenfield the “Land of Hills”. This must be the “Motherland of Hills”. Beechview is a little bit out of my way, though I have actually run here before, doing the Hell on Hills 5K a few years ago. Check out the race! It was fun, though grueling.
I started on Westfield St, right above a cute little playground and ball field. Looking out over the fences I could see the top of the UPMC Building, in downtown Pittsburgh several miles away.
I ran down Westfield, which goes all the way to a T-stop, then wound my way up and down hilly dead-ends. Princess, Brookside, Platt, Traymore were all lined with neat houses clinging to the steep streets. There were many “No Outlet” signs warning of dead-ends. Mostly they were accurate. Eventually I came to the eastern terminus of Hampshire Ave.
Hampshire runs roughshod over the massive hills in this area, taking no contours and no easy ways. Of course, it, too, ends in a dead-end. Actually three, count ’em, three “No Outlet” signs graced the corner of Hampshire and Napoleon! This is just before Hampshire ends at Canton Ave (“steepest street in America“). Now, I had hopes of getting down to Banksville Road and running UP Canton, so I was delighted to see a public stair off to the right as I ran past the “No Outlet” signs. The stairs looked promising, but, alas, just became more and more overgrown.
Sometimes, that’s what happens when you ignore signs. You get stuck at the bottom of a dead-end, with no where to go but to retrace your steps and get out of there. Continuing on, I made it down to Banksville Road via Canton and Coast. I took a break and got my bearings again. There were so many hot, hilly streets to run on! However, I was beat and just followed Fallowfield, to Sebring Ave, then to Westfield, where I had parked my car. It was a good start, though, in this neighborhood of crazy steep streets called Beechview.
PS Fallowfield was no walk on the beach either.
Whoops! Forgot to post the Strava map! Here it is:
This run started from a curious corner of Spring Hill. Mis.steps was exploring some stairs and I went with her. The exploration took us to the corner of Waco Way and Valetta Street, as the newish looking street sign attests. But it was all grown over and blocked off. That Google maps screenshot is accurate, we were just really off the beaten path. I’ll leave you to read the mis.steps account of them, since I’m concentrating on running. Nonetheless, I started on Radner Street (I’ve never seen Schillinger St, it doesn’t exist now) and immediately made the right onto a very steep Rostock Street. I jogged down again to Brahm Street and plodded up that very steep hill. There are stairs at the top of Brahm as well. I explored a dead-end which dropped off to the left. The houses at the end were surprisingly well-kept. Retracing my steps out of that rutted dead-end, I went on to Rhine all the way to Itin. A part of the day’s excitement was seeing a firetruck try to make the turn onto Yetta Street. Yikes!
From Itin Street, I bounded up the Lappe Lane Stairs. Whew! Talk about heart pounding! I’m not sure how many steps there are, but it takes you three blocks straight up the hill from Itin Avenue to Yetta Street. Once you get up there, the streets are lined with nicely kept houses and people walking their dogs.
Since I was up here, I decided to run a few more dead-ends in the neighborhood. Sophia Street was a cul-de-sac with a 1950’s suburban feel. Tank Street, appropriately named because it is an access road to a water tank, was being used for neighborhood parking. Frontier Street doesn’t exist anymore. It is just a grassy driveway below a house.
I ended my run on Lappe Lane, right before it goes into an old hilly cemetery. This is not a large area, but it is a neighborhood full of crazy slopes, great views and missing streets.
Alyssa is a planner, a runner, and, ugh, a morning person. She delights in running different routes throughout the city, finding cool public art and seeing the sunrise. She also organizes runs, often two or three a week. This is pretty impressive because it requires her to figure out a place, time, a rough route and invite people who are likely to come, and who are likely to get along and have fun. At any rate, Alyssa often invites me to come along. Most of the time, it’s too early for me, or too far away. But this time, it was a special run, several regular runners were going to be traveling for awhile, Rich was going to have surgery in a few days, and it was Rich’s birthday. So, I dragged myself out of bed and drove in the murky pre-dawn light to Duquesne University. Street parking was free till 8 am, yay! We gathered in a parking lot, nine of us. Everyone was a pretty good runner, often doing trail ultras. Many had run the Pittsburgh Marathon the previous Sunday. Kim and Rich got birthday hats and a personal photo op with Alyssa. Then, whoosh, we started! There’s no slow start with these guys. We cruised along Forbes up into Oakland, then down steep Bates Hill and across Hot Metal Bridge. As the run group morphed and changed around me, I had a chance to talk to most everybody. Rich was tired, having been celebrating his birthday until late the previous night. John had had a great Pittsburgh Marathon and was looking forward to upcoming marathons. Tim was talking about running while away. Sarah, Tony, Alyssa, and Kim were talking about Glacier Ridge and Thunderbunny, two upcoming ultras. Just as I started wondering where we were going, we paused at a “Just Good Donuts”, which is co-located with “The Pub Chip Shop”. Alyssa got us all doughnuts with a 1,000 calorie minimum. We did a photo shoot and then ran down Carson Street, all carrying little white bags full of deliciousness. It was quite comical, something you might see on Monty Python. Crossing the Smithfield Street Bridge, we came back to our starting point, salty but sweet.
Hurdles. Yes, hurdles is what I ran today. The headline may say “Pittsburgh Marathon 2019”, but it really was hurdles. Oh, maybe not the high-hurdles that Chari Hawkins flies over, but hurdles nonetheless. Luckily, even with a race as long as the 26.2 of a marathon, there are only a few hurdles you have to overcome.
Training. Hurdle 1 is an “optional” hurdle for some and an insurmountable hurdle for others. If you do this Hurdle correctly, life is easier on race day. On the spectrum of training from none to extreme, I find more of the low-trained runners finishing than those following soul-crushing rigorous training. They are slower, but usually as happy at the end. The main problems facing the ultra-trained are burnout and injury.
That being said, moderately hard training works best for me. Twelve weeks of gradual increases in mileage and intensity. This means going out for a ten mile run after doing a fifteen miler the day before. This means going to track, doing the prescribed track warm-ups and workouts. This means getting to group runs, where the camaraderie and peer-pressure encourage me to continue.
This training cycle got off to a great start. I had a good base from doing the Detroit Marathon in the Fall. I was becoming more regular at the Steel City Saturday runs. In late January, over three months from race day, I did a 17 miler. I was on the verge of getting a half dozen 20+ milers in. I was easily going out with the 8:30 and 9:00 minute pace groups. Then, I had a fall in February. A fall on a dry, flat sidewalk. It sucked. My knee hurt. My hands hurt. My wrist hurt. Looking back at that time, it was pretty depressing. Ten days later, I managed a little over three miles at a blazing 12:13 min/mile pace. So roughly, my old pace could run three miles in the time it took my new pace to run two.
But then, I started to ease back into it. I focused more on running with friends rather than trying to bolt out of the gate all the time. Kristen was monumental in getting me to the runs, she always knew when and where the runs were. Everything started to heal. I could also go a little faster. By the end of the training cycle, I had completed three 20ish miles. Track was working out and occasionally I would keep up with faster folks. This year, I cleared the training hurdle by a mile.
Hurdle 2 Taper madness and race hoopla
Taper Madness – that period when you need to ease up on the mileage but keep up intensity is quite a mental game. You’re not getting the endorphins and release from the long runs anymore and might have a LOT of extra energy. The message threads buzzed this week. What will be race day weather? How hard should I do track? Are you doing five miles or three miles? I think I weathered the Madness pretty well, in part by taking the “oh, this is nothing special” tact and intentionally tampering my excitement. Being busy with blogs, work and a non-runner S.O. helped as well. Apparently a significant percentage of the general population didn’t even know a race was happening! Unbelievable!
Race hoopla, all the Marathon events and personal events leading up to the actual race day, are a big part of the race. The Marathon Race Expo, bib pickup, carb loading, race day travel logistics are also part of this hurdle. It can be fun, but it can also be a distraction. My Pro Bike group had an early carb-loading dinner, on Thursday at DiAnoia‘s in the Strip District. My epic thread group had a dinner on Saturday at Szechuan Spice, in Shadyside. Both were delicious and, more importantly, gave me a chance to hang out and catch-up with friends. Last minute stories came in. Maria might be coming back to the area! Luke and Rich decided to run the marathon in the last few days of training and were likely going drinking the night before!! (Jaw drop) Mason was going to be a hill runner! Finally, the dinner bills were paid, plans laid and we all headed home. I got everything ready and set out the before going to sleep Saturday, thankfully.
Hurdle 3 Get the hell there
Ugh, 5:15. I was supposed to pick up Mira at 5:15. My alarm was set for 4:45. I woke up to the alarm and slept another 15 minutes! However, with the previous night’s preparations, I wasn’t too late, getting her by 5:25. Then there was the trip downtown to my super-special parking garage and the dazed ride on the T. We almost rode the T all the way to Gateway Center – oops. Two sleepy-heads on a train isn’t a good thing. Then a walk in the eerie early morning light to the Westin, where Steel City had a breakfast.
Now, it was exciting! Like bees going into a hive, runners buzzed all around the Westin. Upstairs, the gilded conference room overflowed with runners and shoes, bibs, hoodies, light jackets of all colors, black garbage bag coveralls, pacer signs. People eating last minute meals of bananas and bagels. I grabbed a little OJ and coffee. Found Bob and Nancy and Chris. Chris and I we set off to catch up with the Pro Bike group, at the Starbucks a few blocks away. At this point in the Pittsburgh Marathon, there is a slight panic for many runners as they need to enter the corrals (A, B, C, D) before they close. Getting into a corral is a bottleneck, since race security checks each person’s bib, all 20,000 of them, to insure they are allowed to be in the corral. It’s a bit of a hectic pre-race sprint. The group eventually coalesced and headed into the corral for an anxious wait and opportunities for selfies.
Hurdle 4 start and early miles
We had a good start, getting moving about 7:26:33 AM, not sure about the milliseconds. The first few miles were pretty crowded. Even at our unassuming pace, we kept passing walkers and many others. About two miles in, I started to run faster, actually trying to keep abreast of Sasha, who was motoring along. We would periodically intersect, chat a bit and move apart again. This was also the part of the race to do a self-check, keeping an eye out for short port-a-john lines, fixing shoes becoming untied, belts coming loose and other annoyances. The race was a blur for most of these miles. Lots of people, trying to set a good pace, nothing too difficult. Finally, on Carson Street, after a needed pit stop, I was ready to run harder.
Hurdle 5 Middle miles
I broadly think of miles 7-19 or so, as middle miles. I was warmed up and ready to go. As it happens, the race course is pretty flat here with hundreds of people lining the walks, cheering. Wearing an old orange, Miami Marathon shirt, I got plenty of “go Orange!” The split with the half-marathoners at the Birmingham Bridge is always a bit disheartening since 75% of the runners go back toward the finish, yet my race course wasn’t even halfway done. I pushed on crossing the Birmingham Bridge at a good clip, passing Tom who was pacing the 4:30 group. Also saw Lisa, Jenny and Amy on the bridge. Going up the hill into Oakland, I felt strong. Mason gave me a big hug and ran with me the last 1/4 mile of the hill into Oakland.
I cruised here, mostly sub 9 minutes per mile. Saw Monica and Mike at the turn off of Penn Avenue around mile 16. The misty rain was starting to get more serious now. Past 18 miles, just getting a slightly tight hamstring and wondering how long I could keep it up. Most aid stations I had the Nuun drink and I consumed a few gels along the way.
Hurdle 6 High miles with no end in sight
Miles 19-25. So close yet so far. These are my most hated miles of a marathon. If you’ve messed up your nutrition or training or shoes or attitude, it will show here. Your nutritional balances are getting out of whack. Emotions run high. Everything hurts. You want to smack the next person who says “You’re almost done!”
I had planned to message my girlfriend at mile 20 so she could make it to the race course when I passed a few miles on, say mile 22. I figured I would just message her now, at mile 19, since I was slowing down. With the rain, I couldn’t unlock the phone and keep running, so I walked for a bit and sent her a message. It was very hard to get moving again. For the next few miles, I alternated running and walking. The rain started coming down harder. I kept looking for her, but realized that the agreed upon place was closer to mile 23! Between me slowing down and the miles being further apart, it seemed like forever. But eventually, Laura popped out from the bus shelter, gave me a hug and kiss and cheered me on. The little shelter community of onlookers also shouted out a few cheers too!
Just past mile 23, there was a little downhill. I grabbed a tiny beer from the Hash Harriers tent and tried to pick up some speed. At the end of it, a few runners were jogging backwards, looking for a friend. That looked fun, so I trotted backwards too. And who should I see but Gates, Mason’s sister! I ran with her for a hundred yards or so, then moved on.
Hurdle 7 The last push
If you have a kick, now is the time. You try to lay it all on the line. Sometimes, you’re just limping and cursing because it hurts so bad, but you’re determined to finish. Sometimes, there are friends and family on the course, scared of how you look and worried, but cheering you on nonetheless. But this year, I had some energy left. I was able to speed up again. Mile 24, so, so close. Mile 25, the Steel City Cheer Zone! Perhaps 25 people, but sounded like 100. Saw Sanchez, Betsy, the guy with all the tattoos, Suzanne, all cheering, clapping and playing RATM. One mile to go, pumped up. It always feels like forever. Past the Grayhound Station, down Liberty Avenue, left onto Stanwix, run, run, don’t stop. Some people are crossing the street. Argh! Final turn onto Boulevard of the Allies, a little uphill to the finish. Letting out a primal grunt and raising my arms, I finished.
Hurdle 8 the immediate aftermath
Thank the volunteer who puts the medal over your head. Walk a few steps, grab some food, drink something. That last salt tablet I had taken left me a little nauseous, so I almost threw up. Sit down, get off those feet. Pretty spacey here. Got a magical garment, the space blanket. These keep your body warmth in, which I needed since my fingers were turning blue. I sat down on some overturned tables. I thought I would wait for my friends. Eventually, Tom, the pacer, finished and sat next to me. We chatted a bit. Not having any idea where everyone else was I got up and left the finish area. I stumbled across a muddy, grassy area to the Steel City Tent. This year, it was nice, lots of good food. I put warmer clothes on, and every now and then, I would venture out to see who was done. Rich and Luke finished. Nancy was around. Mainly I sat, ate and talked to the other runners as they came in. Eventually Hayley came in, then Bob and Mira.
Now the reverse trip to the car. Got to the Gateway T, but had to wait awhile before the next train. We were falling asleep standing up, leaning on each other. No worries, just a few more steps to the car. A few miles to drive. Finally got home, took a hot shower and crashed for awhile.
Hurdle 9 The rush
Hell Yeah! We did it! Nothing is IMPOSSIBLE! I have all the Infinity Stones!!
“Excuse me? Did you say ‘trolls’? Uh, what bridge and exactly what were they doing?”
“Under the Birmingham Bridge, you know, Southside Riverfront Park! Maybe not trolls, but, well, they were all sweaty and salty, breathing heavy and wearing ridiculous outfits. I daresay they were drinking as well.”
“Oh, THAT. Let me check my calendar…Yep, two weeks before the Pittsburgh Marathon. This happens every year, sir. Tapering runners, not trolls. “
But before the taper, there was one more run. The last long run of the Pittsburgh Marathon training cycle! Eight quick miles through through the Southside with PBR. We literally started underneath the Birmingham Bridge, which is so wide at that point, it’s like being in an open air warehouse. All the sign-in forms were blowing away. True to form, I got there on the later side and played catch up. The route took us up the Southside River Trail which winds along the Monongahela River. The trees were covered in that bright early-spring greenery. As we wound through the trail, I passed several groups, trying to give a friendly “Good Morning” to everyone. Not sure how much that was appreciated. At any rate, I caught up with my normal Wednesday night crew and kept pushing on. Eventually, caught up with Sasha and stayed with her for the rest of the run, as we dodged the construction sandbags and maneuvered along Carson Street, back to the start, up to Hot Metal Street and back once more.
At the end of the run, it was time to celebrate! Within a couple of minutes, everyone else finished. Huddling between the cars, we broke out chips, salty potatoes, luscious cupcakes, sausage rolls and muffins. Someone broke out the champagne and the classiest among us pulled out crystal champagne glasses! When those were finished, Dragon YumYums popped out. We periodically shuffled our chairs into a new, sunnier spots. Under the bridge, eating and drinking, several people approached us to find out what the fun was. Taper time had officially begun!