September 2020 Catch-Up

Summary

September 2020 was a pretty busy month with 124.8 miles run and 12,500 feet of elevation gain, the most since May. I ran often, 23 days with 17 of these covering new streets. I crossed over the 300 run threshold. With any luck, I’ll be done before I hit 400 runs, but that remains to be seen. I can see a flicker of light at the end of this project tunnel!

Unfortunately, my blogging hasn’t kept up with my running, so this catch-up blog will be a veritable book. Oh well, here goes!

RATS #00292

https://www.strava.com/activities/4012388510
RATS #00292 in Squirrel Hill

This was a short run to cover a few errant streets in Squirrel Hill and Schenley Park. I cut through Frick Park, using Iron Gate Trail to vault me over the big hill separating Swisshelm Park and Squirrel Hill. By the time I came back, it was too dark to gallop through the park without a flashlight.

RATS #00293

https://www.strava.com/activities/4016390122
RATS #00293 in Perry Hilltop

This was roughly a 10K to Perry Hilltop from West Park. It got started off with a sparkling sculpture, a yellow-eyed cat and a colorful backyard.

Then, I explored Irwin Avenue, which rises out of Central Northside. Surprisingly, it is blocked off for a few hundred yards and then jumps up to the top of Perry Hilltop on steps.

I zigged-zagged up here a bit, eventually finding my way to North Charles Street. Just before crossing the Swindell Bridge, I cut off to the left on Hazelton, to clear up that dead-end. Further along, up on the hilltop, I got a good view of the Swindell Bridge over I-279 and then wandered down into Fineview. That’s not something you hear much… “DOWN” into Fineview. Everything is steep over here. On one side, you have the ravine down to I-279, on the other the streets fall steeply towards Perrysville Avenue. Tall houses stare down from their perches like vultures.

RATS #00295

https://www.strava.com/activities/4025090610

This was a run cut short by tired knees and mistaken maps. Nonetheless, I made some progress on a few Shadyside alleys and small streets near Ellis School. By the time I got to East Liberty, though, I was done.

RATS #00297

https://www.strava.com/activities/4071163546
RATS #00297 West Liberty and Brookline

This was a gut check run. It was late and I didn’t go far, but I got out there. I did finish off Flatbush Avenue in Brookline, but it was too dark to do much exploring and I didn’t stop long enough to take crisp pictures.

RATS #00298

https://www.strava.com/activities/4075550982
RATS #00298 – Brookline

Another evening run in Brookline. This time, I made a beeline for streets on the left of Whited Street, as you go towards Saw Mill Run Boulevard. I really wasn’t sure what I would find, but found very residential, suburban streets perched on a plateau. There were tweens goofing off in the street, a couple walking their golden retriever and a mom walking up and down the street with a stroller and a chatty three year old; “Mom, why is he running THAT way?”

Coming back along Whited Street is NOT something I would recommend, especially in the darkness. At least, I could see headlights in time to huddle off the road.

RATS #00299

https://www.strava.com/activities/4079580634
RATS #00299

This was a short run in the South Side Flats. Like a vampire, this neighborhood keeps coming back with some little street or alley I’ve missed. I’m really trying to drive a stake through the heart and get this area done. In spite of the short run, there was lots to see. Perhaps my favorite were the pierogie signs around Saint John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church. Downtown Pittsburgh is just across the Monongahela River and the skyscrapers caught the evening sun nicely.

RATS #00301

https://www.strava.com/activities/4094305425
RATS #00301

This was quite an adventure. I checked out one of the lesser known neighborhoods, New Homestead. It is west of West Homestead/Munhall, east of the Glenwood Bridge interchange and south of Sandcastle yet north of Mifflin Road. Looking at the map below, you might notice that there are three disconnected areas of New Homestead. I ran most of the northeast section.

New Homestead

Also looking at the map, you might notice a lack of streets. Okay, a lack of anything. Your observations would be pretty much correct. There’s just a number of long streets dotted with houses and large areas of woods. Deer were everywhere and seemed offended by me disturbing them. I actually parked in West Homestead, above a baseball diamond.

RATS #00302

https://www.strava.com/activities/4103987670
RATS #00302 – Carrick & Overbrook

Run number 302 saw me back in Carrick and Overbrook. Unlike New Homestead, this area is dense with houses and people. Hills, steps, alleys, this run had it all. I don’t remember seeing many deer, though. I was amused by the war memorial in front of Carrick High School. Most memorials of this age have howitzers or bronze soldiers. This one had a bronzed shell. Many lawns were covered in political signs; often with neighbors cheering opposite sides. Just think how fun that block party would be! That cat, however, wasn’t the least ruffled as I run past it, huffing and puffing up the hill.

The Englert Street steps conveniently took me from Saw Mill Run Boulevard up the hill again, while the Dartmore Steps were just a convenience. Unfortunately, the Antenor Way Steps were blocked off, even though they didn’t look too bad.

RATS #00303

https://www.strava.com/activities/4108586048
RATS #00303 – Lawrenceville

Speaking of neighborhoods which keep coming back with uncovered alleys and streets, Lawrenceville takes the cake. This five mile run just went round and round dim back alleys. Interestingly enough, it was busy enough, between restaurants and residents that I felt more comfortable here than in New Homestead.

RATS #00304

https://www.strava.com/activities/4115676785
RATS #00304

This was a nine mile run (not to be confused with the stream of the same name) through Manchester. With this run, I’ve covered all the streets between the railroad and Chateau Street. This is a large, flat area. Mexican War Streets, with their 1890’s row houses gradually transform into sprawling mixed housing, newer three bedroom split levels interspersed with magnificent mansions. Some of the ‘mansions’ have seen better days.

Alleys are where you see the underside of a neighborhood. These show the old warehouse nature of the area. There’s also a major railroad line, below grade, which dominates the eastern fringe of this area.

But there’s a lot going on here. New construction isn’t too surprising given the great location and flat land. People have gardens and little libraries and seem to generally be active. I didn’t expect to see that huge rooster mural or a booming market along Juniata Street, but there it is.

RATS #00306

https://www.strava.com/activities/4125952429
RATS #00306

Once again, I returned to Carrick and Overbrook in the evening. At this point in the month, I was really trying to complete a Strava Challenge (200km), so after doing Yale Street, I just went exploring.

Yale Street is in the same are as RATS #00302. One section has extensive steps leading up into Phillips Park, then it drops precipitously to Dartmore Street. Clawing my way back to Brownsville Road, I needed a couple more miles, so trotted along Carrick Avenue. It was fully dark and I wasn’t 100% sure where I was going. Nontheless, I ‘just needed to bear right’ a couple of times to take me back to Brownsville Road and into Pittsburgh again.

RATS #00307

RATS #00307 – Banksville

Must say, I’m proud of this run. I planned it pretty well and stuck to the plan. It was a little over seven miles in Banksville where it borders Greentree and Mount Lebanon. It is a nice area with long winding streets. However, there weren’t many distinctive things to see. At the start, I did pass a soccer field off of Hillsdale Avenue, where a girl’s soccer game was in progress under the lights. They have a powerful PA system, and for the rest of the run, I could hear the announcers.

That’s All Folks!

So, there you have it. September 2020 in the books. I think this is the longest “Catch-Up” blog I’ve had and I might change things up a bit to avoid this in the future. Maybe a weekly blog?

At any rate, I want to run a bit farther in October and continue to efficiently cover streets. I’ll try to get into Lincoln Place, another outlying neighborhood, as well as continue to finish out the Hill District, Marshall-Shadeland and Carrick.

Homewood-Brushton

https://www.strava.com/activities/2962849575
RATS #00160 Route Through Homewood-Brushton

This was a solo Saturday morning run on a cool, cloudy day in December. For once, I roughly mapped it out before I parked in North Point Breeze, near the bowling greens. The bowling green is an interesting feature of Pittsburgh. Maintained by the Frick Park Lawn Bowling Club, the greens look like something out of a 19th century country club. Many houses in the area also look the part.

Once I cross Penn Avenue, the houses and the streets become more modest. Railroad lines and the Port Authority’s East Busway cut through the neighborhood like a large moat. There are only a handful of streets which connect the neighborhoods, over or under the moat. One of them is Homewood Avenue.

I traversed a number of small streets which are nestled up against the busway, eventually going through the vibrantly painted Homewood-Brushton viaduct. I made an immediate right, running down Finance Street. I always chuckle at the irony of “Finance St” sign among the weeds and litter. It’s actually sad to see the neighborhood filled with broken buildings, but there are some signs of redevelopment, too.

At the end of Finance, I made a left onto Brushton Avenue, and followed that as it made a slow ascent into a hill. I topped out on Stranahan Street. Finding stairs here too, I did a small loop and took the opportunity of a quiet Saturday morning to venture down a long, brick paved alley. Eventually I retraced my steps back to Homewood Avenue and my car, waiting to bowl at the greens.

July Catch-Up

RATS 00079

This was a relaxed morning run including the short length of English Lane.

RATS 00080

Ah, Greenfield again. This time with more purpose and time constraints. The main goals here were completing Flemington and Deely, which I did. Yay! I won’t EVEN start talking about hills!

RATS 00081

This was a run with 3ROC in Regent Square. Mainly trails, but a little in Regent Square as well. That is a nice, tree-lined area.

RATS 00083

This was a pretty adventurous run, exploring Garfield and Friendship. It was the first time I had ever gone into Garfield from that direction. It was also, as I recall, hot as hell that day, AND the hills were significant, culminating at one of those blue water towers you see around Pittsburgh.

RATS 00084

Not to weaponize everything, but doesn’t this look like an ancient ritual dagger from a lost civilization? But its just Greenfield again. The view from the dagger point, Exeter St is surprisingly good.

Strava map showing route
RATS 00085, pre-track warmup

A pre-track warm-up along the tree-lined, yet heavily trafficked Greenfield Rd.

https://www.strava.com/activities/2519347513
RATS 00086 Frick and Regent Square

This was another 3ROC run, with more of Regent Square thrown in.

Strava map showing route
RATS 00087, just one new street

A Wednesday night PBR run. Can you tell the extra street?

Map showing route through Greenfield
RATS 00088

This run was all about covering Winterburn Ave and close-by cul-de-sacs.

https://www.strava.com/activities/2528543377
Pre HPRC RATS 00089

For some reason, I felt the need to run BEFORE an HPRC run. Since it was Upper Lawrenceville, it made for some nice grids. The “Ways” in Lawrenceville are small narrow streets. Unlike areas such as Greenfield, where garages and back yards line alleys, there are often front doors to narrow houses along the alleys.

https://www.strava.com/activities/2536445188
RATS 00092

This run was simply to cover more streets in Squirrel Hill. It is quite the mental challenge to remember a map, then go run it. It doesn’t help that often maps are slightly wrong, such as showing a street as going through when it doesn’t actually. Here’s to you, Colma St!

OpenStreetMap has Colma Way connecting to Irma Way, when in fact it doesn’t.
https://www.strava.com/activities/2538624915
RATS 00093

Some interesting streets solidly in Squirrel Hill North, an area characterized by immense houses with well manicured lawns and driveways to garages in the back. I think about five Lawrenceville row houses could fit in the space of one of these houses.

https://www.strava.com/activities/2544149093
RATS 00094

Just in Point Breeze, catching some streets which keep trying to poke into Homewood Cemetery.

https://www.strava.com/activities/2560757305
RATS 00095

Ah, the little Edgerton Square makes this PBR run qualify to be a RATS run. (BTW, a “qualifying run” is one in which I run on a street I’ve not done before. )

https://www.strava.com/activities/2567292437
RATS 00096

This was a long, quick run with Pro Bike and Run. I tossed in Broad St to add a few miles. Nice running group with auto voice directions (as other runners would shout out the turns as we approached.)

https://www.strava.com/activities/2574213560
RATS 00098

Wendover St was a bit disappointing. It is nestled between Beacon and Hobart, but was lined with large, old apartment buildings in poor repair, instead of cute houses. There could be over 1,000 people living on that street, given the number and size of the buildings. However, I did find a nice little cut-through connecting both sides of Murdoch St as I ran to track.

Long flat streets and alleys in Regent Square: RATS 00099

I almost made it to 3ROC, but instead ran up and down small flat streets in Regent Square, straddling the Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg border. This little 5 mile run took me into three municipalities; Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg, and Swissvale.

That’s a wrap

That’s all for July. I was much more focused on covering new streets. I also ran a lot, slightly more than in June (134 miles), with less elevation (only 11,117 ft). Soon, I’ll be publishing maps showing cumulative progress as of the 100th run. Looking ahead, in August, I’d like to cover more of the southern neighborhoods, but run about the same amount of miles.

PBR & 100th RATS Run!

100th RATS run. Nice route, Kim!

As July drew to a close, two running threads converged. One is that July 31st fell on the last Wednesday of the month, meaning that the Brooks shoe rep would be at Pro Bike, AND there would be beer after the run. That’s always a good time. Another one was that this would be the 100th RATS run, if only I could get the mapmaker to include some new streets. So I messaged the running mapmaker, Kim, and asked if she could include Gettysburg St on the route. We’ve run many parallel streets in Squirrel Hill often, so it wouldn’t be too crazy of a change from normal routes. She agreed and put together the route.

At the beginning of each jaunt, Kim makes announcements and welcomes new runners. She also explains the route, going over the differences between the three and five mile routes, for example, and any gotchas with the map. Tonight, she took the occasion to point out that I had requested the route and asked me to tell the group the significance of it. I gave my short canned messaged: “It’s a personal project to run all the streets of Pittsburgh”., then tossed in the part about it being the 100th, too.

The run itself was a nice mix of a social run and pure run. It took us down the venerable Beechwood Blvd, then up Gettysburg. That was a short, steep hill which most people had never done. This was still Squirrel Hill, so the houses are huge, the yards beautifully maintained and the streets wide. Things became more interesting as we traversed Penn Ave all the way to Trenton Ave, in Wilkinsburg. By the time we got there, the various 9ish groups were strung out for a couple of blocks. Most people in the group had never run in this area and there was some trepidation about running in Wilkinsburg. It was no problem, actually. Much like Homewood, it has large brick houses, flat, dusty streets and small yards. Pittsburgh’s signature bright blue street signs helped us figure out when we had crossed out of the city, as Wilkinsburg’s street signs were faded green. We had a bit of confusion at the end of Forbes Ave, where it forks for a half block. But when we went up Forbes everyone knew where they were.

Forbes Ave is a long gradual uphill, which gets steeper as you approach Squirrel Hill. We spread out a little there. I ended up talking to John, who is almost done training for the Erie Marathon. He has been putting in boatloads of miles, over 200/month. Back at Pro Bike’s Squirrel Hill store we feasted on ice cream and brown ale. It was an unlikely combo, but I didn’t hear any complaints, except about that hill on Gettysburg.

Living the Dream – Swisshelm Park on July 4th

Map of Swisshelm Park, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh
Swisshelm Park

Swisshelm Park is a border neighborhood in Pittsburgh. The naive pedestrian or driver could go down a road such as Nevada St or Whipple St and never know they had passed the boundary between Swissvale and Pittsburgh. There IS one tell-tale sign: the line in the street showing where one municipality’s road maintenance ends and the other one begins. If you tried to walk that line, you’d find yourself in the middle of backyards, front yards, sheds, kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms! Don’t walk that line.

Running all of Swisshelm Park: RATS 00082

So, on a hot Fourth of July I decided to run all the streets of Swisshelm Park in one blow. My rough calculation was that it would be about ten miles, and I was close. At any rate, I started by climbing Commercial Street, from beneath the Parkway East Bridge, where Frick Park spills toward Duck Hollow.

Once on the hilltop, the streets were pretty much level. The houses are modest two and three bedroom affairs; a few ranches, a few split levels, some larger houses. Most of the yards were a decent size with grassy lawns and maybe a tree or two. Home mechanics worked on their cars out of small garages lining the alleys. I could see tomato plants and zucchini bushes in gardens and the occasional backyard pool. Diligent homeowners were hosing down their sidewalks and watering their gardens.

Now, this is a convenient place. You can get downtown quickly as long as Commercial Street isn’t closed and you can get out to the eastern suburbs quickly as well. While too far to carry groceries, there are convenient stores along South Braddock Ave. You can attend Pittsburgh city schools, getting school bus transportation. Of all the streets I ran on, I don’t remember seeing any derelict houses, even at the end of the long dead-ends. In fact, some of the bigger yards and nicer houses were at the end of the dead-ends. With all these amenities, you’d expect a high-priced area, but its NOT.

My conclusion: These residents are living the American Dream. Life is never perfect, but this is a great neighborhood.

But, be forewarned, things may change. The owners of the land surrounding Duck Hollow, the same folks who built Summerset, have their eyes on developing housing along the woods and trails along Nine Mile Run. That would undoubtedly change the character of this neighborhood.

Also, I didn’t realize that Duck Hollow is considered to be part of Swisshelm Park. I thought that was its own neighborhood. Thus, I have a few more streets to run before REALLY completing Swisshelm Park.

Mother Fricker! Trails Are Tough!

Mother Fricker Loop 1: Run All The Streets (and trails): 0042
Mother Fricker 1/2 Loop 2: Run All The Streets: 0043

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.

Jaunt Through The Park

Run All The Streets 0033

To park or not to park? One of the gray areas of this “running all the streets” effort is what to do about trails in city parks. Pittsburgh has numerous parks from the dual East End green behemoths, Schenley and Frick, to the high hilly Riverview Park in the North. There are a variety of trails, from wide paths paved with crushed limestone to winding deer trails. What to do? What to do?

For this run, I entered Frick Park through its Blue Slide gateway. Blue Slide Park is a local curiosity. If you Google it, the first wiki-pedia link is likely for Mac Miller’s album of the same name. Incidentally, upon Mac Miller’s untimely demise, thousands gathered there for a memorial (see CBS story ) . I was not following Mac Miller at the time, but on that night run ended up mingling with this crowd of mourners. Here is a link to some pictures I’ve taken of the Blue Slide.

Anyway, I chose big easy paths to run on, passed dog walkers, and groups of parents with strollers. Passing the OLEA (Off Leash Exercise Area), I went down the ravine onto Falls Ravine Trail. Its a nice, quick downhill that takes you to Lower Frick. Frick is one of the wilder parks in the area. Most of it is heavily wooded. The wide paths are roughly along watercourses and going off of them on the smaller trails leads to massive hills. At any rate, I popped out of Frick Park on Lancaster Ave, in the heart of Regent Square. This is a picturesque area with large houses, brick streets, nice yards and towering trees.

Regent Square Neighborhood

I ran a little bit out off the map into Edgewood. Eventually turning around, I came back through Frick Park by its Allenby Avenue entrance, which quickly becomes Braddock Trail. Braddock Trail follows Nine Mile Run until you hit Commercial Avenue. I veered off a little earlier, skirting the soccer field and going up Irongate Trail. That doesn’t even make it onto Google Maps, but is a biker trail which ascends in big rolls up above the Irish Center. If you take the right side-trail, you can drop into the Walnut Towers parking lot, high above Commercial.

So, with this run, I’m CONSIDERING including wide park trails as part of Run All The Streets. BTW, I’m trying to get an overall map ready for the 50th run of Run All The Streets.