I had a pretty good December this year. So good, in fact, that I’m STILL blogging about it, a week into the new year! I had many significant runs towards the end of the month, so that whole “catch-up” thing will have to wait. My running tends to be done when the opportunity arrives, while my writing is more of a record than an instantaneous news feed.
It was a dark and stormy night…
Actually, it wasn’t stormy, just cold. I’m pretty comfortable running through the alleys of the Strip District and Lawrenceville at night. While they look creepy, they are typically deserted. Darkness and narrow streets are harmless without people. OK, upon recent news (fork-lift getting caught in a sinkhole), I guess I should be more worried about sinkholes. Those would, indeed, be a problem in the dark.
This run covered some alleys and streets I had missed in my previous jaunts. Outside of the quickly gentrifying areas marked by condos and bars, old Lawrenceville still exists. It’s an area of warehouses filled with products that people need. Above is a picture of A.R. Chambers, a construction supply company. There are tire stores, wholesale food warehouses and many more. The wide streets and flat land are rare in Pittsburgh and are perfect for these businesses.
RATS #00342 – With South Park Trail Runners:
Filthy Five Plus One Minus One
The South Park Trail Runners is a local, down to earth, trail running group in Pittsburgh. Friendly and energetic, they run all over the area. For this day, they, meaning Suzanne, organized a run on the “Filthy Five” course – five of the steepest and toughest hills in Pittsburgh. Actually one of them was in Wilkinsburg, but it was really, really close to being in Pittsburgh.
At any rate, I joined this lively group of runners as we made our way from Frick Park to the East Hills, where most of these hills were.
Most of these roads I had already done, but taking a detour on Cassina Way made it a RATS run. Narcissus used to have a better place, I think; more like that Point Breeze mansion.
As is often the case on group runs, I got separated from the pack. I had raced several runners up the wrong hill and then completed the street. By the time I got back, the other runners were off on their merry way, voices echoing across the empty, snowy East Hills landscape. Luckily one of the residents told me “those marathoners went down the hill”. I pulled out the phone, found the maps and navigated to Ferndale Street, Dornbush Street and then to Hill Street, now in Wilkinsburg.
At this point I had finished Hill Four, and made my way back my car in Frick Park. I had forgotten all about the Fifth Hill, in the park itself. Oh well, counting the wrong hill, I ended up with five hills after all.
RATS #00343 – Arlington
The day after the Filthy Five Plus One Minus One, I embarked on an efficient RATS run in Arlington. I had carefully mapped out the route and was pretty happy how it turned out. I saw the Cathedral of Learning from the high hills, as well as Santa nestled between two cattywampus houses. Were they wishing for a level lot?
Arlington is on the “back-side” of the South Side Slopes. It undulates wildly, with streets dead-ending at a steep ravine. It has it’s share of steps. The Dengler Steps are set back from the street and, it was only after seeing the boat that I thought, “there MUST be steps nearby”!
Speaking of dead-ends, I’m always disappointed when they are blocked off. However, I can read and don’t really want to see any dogs up close.
So that’s it for these three runs. I still have more of December 2020 to write about, but it’s almost done.
Snow livens up Pittsburgh in Winter. Without snow, Pittsburgh looks a little dreary and drab. Snow is like a fresh coat of paint. Here are two runs, a week apart in mid-December. They are in similar, rather suburban, parts of Pittsburgh. Before the snow, the streets are drab and faded, while afterwards, every hilly subdivision looks like a ski resort.
RATS #00340 – Brookline
My 340th run for this project was on a chilly Sunday in Brookline. I started at Brookline Memorial Park and headed north to clear up a couple of alleys. Then I scooted across Fitch Way to Edgebrook Avenue on my way to a large block of streets off of Glenbury. In more social times, I’d expect the Boulevard Lounge to be hopping on a Steeler Sunday. As it was, it was empty and quiet. I only caught a block of Edgebrook Avenue, but it included steps. I was very good when I passed Santa Street. No use getting on the naughty list now. Very impressive weather station, I must say. It must have come in handy later in the week when the winter storm rolled in.
RATS #00341 – Westwood
Then a week later, I started a run from the Shop ‘N Save in Westwood. During the week, we had had an impressive snowstorm which plopped nine inches of snow throughout the area. The plow teams were efficient and the temps weren’t too cold, so the roads got cleared pretty quickly. The sidewalks, on the other hand, required some dedicated staff.
This section of Westwood has a a mix of suburban style subdivisions sprinkled with older homes. The snow blended everything into a ski-chalet look. Kearns Avenue was a key point to this run. On several maps, it is shown to be closed off for a section. That’s a pity, because it would be an alternate route for Greentree Road as it comes out of the West End. Anyway, I was curious as to just how “closed” it was, so intended to see how far I could go before it got dark.
Well, Kearns has been closed so long that grasping bushes are beginning to take it over. Passing the Jersey barriers, no foot falls crushed the snow before me, no tracks of dogs or strollers, no ski lanes; just deer tracks and rabbit paws. A little rivulet trickled down the hill with me. Tromping for two tenths of a mile, I finally came to the other side. Here, a pair of tire tracks slithered to the last house on the street. I followed the tire tracks, as they descended another two tenths of a mile.
Here, the single houses gave way to industrial buildings. Quality Concrete has a fleet of trucks parked beyond their barbed-wire fence. Kearns ends at McCartney Street. I took the left and ran about a quarter mile towards its dead-end. McCartney sits at the bottom of a ravine. Noblestown Road, aka Route 60, is high above on the right. The hills of Westwood were on the left. I would imagine the area is ripe for flooding. Where’s there’s flooding, there are boats. Where there’s boats, there are stairs. No exception here.
McCartney Street intersects Greentree Road in the West End, formerly known as Temperanceville. Boy, that’s a mouthful. There’s a concrete plant there, a glass studio and a couple of other businesses.
I took Greentree Road back up the hill, running in the street when it was clear and jumping into the slush when it wasn’t. The hill wasn’t a picnic either, rising 445 feet in a mile.
But before too long, I was back in Westwood climbing into my car. Cool run!
This November, I kept up my streak of 100 mile months and 10k+ elevation gains. I did hit some road blocks. While totally predictable, early darkness wreaked havoc on my running habits. Not so predictable was a week of quarantining due to Covid-19 exposure. Either way, I had sixteen runs in November, of which thirteen of them covered new streets. I am closing in on completing 70% of Pittsburgh’s streets. I wasn’t too good at blogging, though.
This was a short run starting at Brookline Memorial Park covering Oakridge and Freedom Streets. The brilliant sunset gave way to just the slightest sliver of the moon. I caught the hippo in dusk, but the flag was still up when I returned in the dark. Aren’t flags supposed to be taken down or lit at night?
This four mile run also embraced the dark. I started with a few Shadyside streets and then ventured into East Liberty and Larimer. Missing my turn, I went up Lincoln Avenue instead of Lowell Street, seriously disrupting my planned route. Yet, with only 88 feet of elevation, I enjoyed this, the flattest run I had done in awhile. Eventually though, beyond the stores and street lights of East Liberty, the poorly lit streets and unfamiliar area got to me and I skedaddled back to my car, using the steps down to Ellsworth Avenue as a shortcut. It turns out, even those steps are “official” city steps.
Ah, the West End. The overlook has my favorite view of downtown. It also has a little parking lot, so it’s a great place to start. Balloons and candles remained for “KMB”, whomever that is.
I had visited this area several times already, but had missed some streets. The West End is unrelenting in its hills. Streets going toward the river are extremely steep, but even the cross streets bounce up and down. I ran up to St. Martin Cemetery crisscrossing the neighborhood on little streets and alleys. These unofficial steps on Navajo Way were a lucky break. Otherwise I would have had to run around those blocks again.
I headed downhill and ventured out Chartiers Avenue a bit; going up Litchfield Street. This “street” consists of several impressive flights of stairs. The streets are less impressive, generally winding up hills to arrive in someone’s garage. None of those streets are thruways.
A portrait of alleys in Highland Park. I amazed that it took nine miles to wander up and down all those alleys. Some were brick, some were asphalt. Mostly they were straight, while a few zigzagged.
Along the alleys were some immense houses and a few apartment buildings.
And, of course, I can’t resist a Little Library.
This was a Thanksgiving Day run. I started in Swisshelm Park and went up Braddock Avenue to find its northern terminus, passing one of my favorite stores, 3 Rivers Outdoors. It is a small business specializing in outdoor gear. They also sponsor a trail running group and fun community activities. Going south, Braddock Avenue goes to Braddock, of course. ( Actually it veers east, trails past steel mills and winds up in Turtle Creek, if you must know.) On the northern end, it just stops unceremoniously in Homewood at a playground.
My previous run in Highland Park was mainly in alleys. Homewood has its alleys too, a bunch of “f”ing alleys; Formosa Way, Fleury Way, Finance Way, Forrest Way, Fuschia Way, and Fielding Way to name a few. I did a couple of these alleys, then climbed Calway Street. Calway Street struggles up a steep hill for a few houses and then is blocked off as it wanders into the woods. Turning around, I got a neat view of Homewood, its bowl filled with homes as downtown buildings peeked over the ridge. Returning down toward Braddock Avenue, I came across another Little Library, this one in purple. By the time I returned to Swisshelm Park through Frick Park, I had run ten miles.
This run was something of a continuation of the previous run. I pushed further into North Homewood and Belmar. Right off the bat, I roused two deer from their Homewood bed under a stairwell. There’s a confusing mix of streets here, where Pittsburgh collides with Wilkinsburg. The older warehouses and buildings are mainly deserted. After crossing off a number of small streets and alleys off my list, I headed up Brushton Avenue and Stranahan Street.
After crossing several streets and alleys off my list, I headed up Brushton Avenue and Stranahan Street to a small subdivision. Water authority construction workers were busy digging and putting down pipe. Their store of fire hydrants looked like an arsenal of rockets. It was a rather chilly day and no one was playing hoops when I passed by.
Completing the loop around Tilden, I went up Oberlin Street. At the end, a ragged set of steps took me up to Somerset Street. Somerset Street was high and wide, but I was ready to find my way home again so I found the Toga Way steps. Toga Way took me down steps littered with monkey balls. What are monkey balls? Check this Incline article for the full story, but they are the fruit of “Maclura pomifera”, commonly known as the Osage orange tree.
In another confirmation of boat theory, I saw several, nestled in the woods near the steps.
My friend, Rich, came with me on this adventure. Once again, I explored North Homewood and Belmar neighborhoods. We covered lots of ground and Rich made the miles go by easily. Here’s Rich, out standing in his field. He has a good eye for photography and takes nice pics.
A surprisingly sunny day, we made our way to the entrance of the VA Hospital grounds. Unfortunately, it was blocked off with vigorous “No Trespassing Signs”. With that route blocked, though, we found our way to a rusty water tower high above the Allegheny. I convinced Rich to NOT climb it.
From the top there, you could see way up the Allegheny River Valley. There was another water tower, but with its light blue paint and the sunny skies, it was actually hard to see.
In planning this route, I was using Google Street view to verify that streets went through. I was shocked when the street view took me from a rather derelict Ferdinand Alley to a sweeping country vista. Whoops! A glitch in the Matrix.
This is not the only street in North Homewood that does this.
Nonetheless, we ran by the quickly deteriorating Negro Opera House, took in the Laporte Street Steps and just meandered. Rich is pretty friendly and by the time we were done, he had waved to the black ladies going to church, some guys fixing their cars and just about anyone who showed their face.
It was nice to run with company to end this month.
February was a busy month for running all the streets of Pittsburgh. Of the twenty runs I recorded to Strava, fifteen of them covered new territory. I was also pretty good about posting, so there are only five runs in this wrap-up. Overall, I feel I’m making good progress, with an increasing number of runs in new areas, such as Homewood and Larimar in the East; Brighton Heights and Marshall-Shadeland in the North, as well another foray in Beechview. By the end of February I had completed 191 “Run All The Streets” runs, so that 200th one is coming up soon!
It’s also been an exciting month planning an event, “Take the Stairs FatAss” – a 50K and 25k fatass (unsupported run) around the city, using many of the Pittsburgh city steps along the way.
Run #00179 was a group run with PBR, from Cinderlands, a bar-restaurant. Towards the end of the run, I caught a few new blocks in Lawrenceville.
RATS run #00181 was a Saturday group run organized by PBR. It also featured a pierogie and pie fundraiser for Team NDSS, organized by Gina. I ambled along the snowy streets of the Strip District, taking pics and trying to stay upright in those slippery conditions.
It ran past 31st Street Studios Stage doors and under Iron City Brewing’s tall smokestack. I ran past old four-story warehouses and gleaming new condos.
Some of the shortest stairs on the 50K route are here, as well as the 28th Street Bridge and a forlorn hopper, towering over silent tracks.
RATS Run #00186
Again, this was a PBR run, onto which I tacked on a couple of streets in Bloomfield, Garnet Way in particular.
RATS Run #00187 – so Dark!
A run through the tiny streets of Park Place. Very nice houses crowded together in dark alleys, camouflaging many speed bumps, one of which tripped me up. Torn tights and a bruised hand were the result, but nothing serious.
RATS Run #00191
This was a short run in the West End Overlook area with stunning views and merciless hills. Like some runs beforehand, a planned route with RunGo was interrupted by the reality that not all alleys on paper survive IRL.
The West End neighborhood wraps around the hillside and spits you out on dirt roads ending on a cliff. Usually there’s a “No Outlet” sign, but not here.
With Spring almost upon us, the threat of cold weather is nearly gone and I’m looking forward to many miles in March.
This was my favorite type of run – start with friends and then grab some new streets on the way back. Actually, my FAVORITE run would have been to have all these folks come with me, but a 300′ hill is a hard sell.
It was a cool, humid and cloudy morning. Temps held steady in the low 40’s with intermittent drizzle. We started at Ascend, nestled as it is between old multi-story brick buildings. We made our way to the Liberty Bridge, accessing the sidewalk via a muddy walk-way under the bridge and a short set of stairs to the deck. Once on the deck, the downtown skyline spread out before us.
Once in downtown, we zigged and zagged toward a water stop near the Wyndham. This was three miles in. The planned route took the group in a cloverleaf around downtown, coming back to this water stop several times. I decided to branch out on my own. I had various choices – explore more of Brighton Heights; criss-cross my way through Manchester; climb Greenleaf onto Mount Washington. Eventually, I decided on Greenleaf, in part because it was going to be closed for construction soon. After some tearful goodbyes (just kidding, a couple of people waved bye), I started out.
Now getting to Greenleaf is not straightforward. It is a small residential street which falls off of Mt. Washington into the West End Circle. To get to the West End Circle, I had to cross the West End Bridge and find my way to the other side of the Circle. The West End Bridge has approach ramps and stairs for pedestrians. The pedestrian ramps are notoriously flexible and you can feel it bucking up and down when a group runs across.
After crossing the bridge, I was able to cut across the circle, passing the end of Sawmill Run (notorious for flooding). Finally, I got to the base of Greenleaf Street.
From here it was up. On one hand there’s no sidewalks, on the other hand, there’s not much traffic. Even though you’re supposed to run facing traffic, on hills like this, I find running on the uphill side better. Cars aren’t going to be zipping by. Pretty quickly, Greenleaf climbed high enough to start showing off views.
At the top, Greenleaf wraps around into the modest residential neighborhood of Duquesne Heights. George and Guy Trail hugs the cliff below Skookum Field, where a baseball hit 190′ would tumble far down the cliff.
The views are spectacular and several snazzy houses vie for space along the cliff with the WBZZ radio tower. Small lanes between the newer houses had the best security. I felt watched.
Greenleaf Street continued through Duquesne Heights. This is an interesting area. Tall narrow houses are literally under large view-hogging condos. Street stairs and connecting stairs abounded. Greenleaf Street transformed into a stairway before transforming again into an alley. Sioux Way was part-stair, part brick.
Finally, I made my way to Grandview Avenue, that popular promenade overlooking Pittsburgh. At the eastern end of Grandview, Vinecliff Street, a weathered set of stairs and asphalt, struggles down the hill. I took that en route to finishing back at Ascend.
This was an evening run in the Southside Slopes, focusing on Sterling Avenue. Starting in the flats along Mary St, I crossed under the railroad trestle and made my way up. Very quickly Sterling Street acquires a “stair sidewalk” – that is, stairs alongside the street, interspersed with flat, sidewalk, landings. Many of the public stairs in Pittsburgh are of this variety. This is as opposed to the street-free stairs which zip up a hillside, where no street has been laid. There’s also the “alley stairs”, like Caesar Way, a disappointing little flight which ended in a grassy goat path.
Finally getting out of these dizzying streets, I explored the streets below Spring Street, then took Spring Street all the way through Arlington Heights. At this point, the scenery became surreal. Tall chain link fences protected acres and acres of flat, empty land. I dubbed it the “Arlington Heights Serengeti” as the stark trees and grassy flat land looked like a nature preserve.
I made my back via Josephine Street. The cool thing about running up here is that you’re always treated to great city views.
This run was specifically to cover some streets such as parts of Aylesboro and Northumberland near Homewood Cemetery which I had previously missed. This area is tree-lined with nice, but not palacial homes. There were lots of people out and about, playing with kids or walking dogs.
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HPRC had an early morning run from the Cathedral of Learning. It was a fun run with a lot of familiar faces, but, oh, so early!!
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Another run just to cover some streets and get some miles. The area near the end of Hobart had a surprising number of small alleyways that led to cool houses.
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Three Rivers Outdoor Company (3ROC) is an outfitter store on South Braddock Avenue, at the end of the Regent Square business district. While they have cool stuff in their store, they also are big into community fitness events, such as their weekly trail run. This run covered a few new trails and maybe a bit of some streets. It was fun!
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A run up to Pro Bike before their Wednesday night run. I got some little streets in which had otherwise escaped by attention!
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Another run to cover some streets. Gotta catch them all!
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A double-rarity – a Friday run and an early morning run! As with many of these catch-up runs, this was specifically to cover some streets. I’ve done between 50% and 75% of the streets in Greenfield now.
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Down the wide open streets of the Hill District. It was relatively early and quiet, with the UPMC Building looming over me the entire run.
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A final run for June. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, but wanted to end in Oakland and go to the library afterwards, so I started near Phipps, ran down into Schenley Park. One route would have taken me over to the South Side, but I choose to go through Hazelwood and cut through Greenfield, so the mileage and time wasn’t too crazy. Thanks to some stairs which connect the two neighborhoods I was successful.
There were parts of the route which were a little stressful, such as running down Irvine Street in Hazelwood. It had the feel of a street which really wanted to be an interstate but never quite made it. Irvine Street was busy and dirty, with narrow, overgrown sidewalks. Going up into the hills of Hazelwood is always a bit surreal. The hills and steps are steep and the greenery is suffocating (oh, maybe that was the heat). There are parts of Hazelwood where the houses are kept up nicely, but on the streets I ran, mostly the houses were falling apart and often empty. Lastly running along Frasier Street and Swinburne Street was pretty scary. There is not a lot of room to drive, much less run, and the streets are curvy and hilly. Nonetheless, I persisted and found my way back to the car.
Whew! This was the last run of June. I covered lots of miles (132) and climbed lots of elevation (13,400) in June.
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.
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.