There Must be a way Outta Here!

Terrace Village section of the Hill District Neighborhood

Theme music.
This was definitely a “run all the streets” run. I had intended to meet up with Steel City Road runners, but found myself in the wrong place at almost the right time. I also found myself in North Oakland, an area dominated by the sprawling University of Pittsburgh . Medical buildings, athletic facilities, dorms, frat houses are juxtaposed with older homes clinging to the hillsides and run down apartment buildings with gravel lots for back yards. This run was relatively long and eventually meandered to parts of Bloomfield and Shadyside, but I’m going to concentrate on one area, Terrace Village.

I got to Terrace Village as a side trip. I was running along Fifth Avenue when I decided to run up Carlow‘s main driveway, Dunseith Street. Where did someone find THAT name? Apparently it’s a small town in North Dakota, among other things. Anyway, Dunseith Street travels through the heart of Carlow’s small campus. I ran up it to Allequippa Street, then to Robinson Street. On a whim, I went down Wadsworth. At this point, Wadsworth looked like a short driveway into some new construction. I figured after 100 yards, the road would end and I would get back to Robinson. Wow, was I wrong! Wadsworth opened up into an area of modern, new construction. It was unclear whether it was condos, or graduate student housing or what. A planned community, at any rate. There was a rental office, a little playground, a health center. The houses were attached, but generally large, two or three stories with new double-paned windows and fresh siding. The sidewalks were even, unbroken and every street corner had shiny street signs. And it was large. Lots of streets to run on with many cross streets. I’ve been in Pittsburgh a long time and had never been in this area. I was also surprised at how many streets were back there…Wadsworth, Eckstein, Oak Hill Drive, Burrows Street. All these streets looked just about the same. Had I gone through a portal to the suburbs?

Then I took a right onto Bentley Drive. I had the expectation that I would go down the hill, hit a cross street and come back up to the Oak Hill Apartments. Hmm, not so fast! I went to Kirkpatrick Street, rather desolate at this point in its travels from the Birmingham Bridge to the Middle Hill. I came to Kennard Playground, a large grassy field surrounded by a fence. Oak Hill was above, and that’s where I wanted to be. But how to get there? I followed the fence around to its end, hoping at any point for the fence to end. Eventually it did, coming tight against the hillside. No “official” way to go on. But, I wasn’t the first one with this idea, and, sure enough, squeaking past the last fence post, I found a faint footpath leading up the hill. I popped out in the backyard of one of the beige and brick end units and trotted to the sidewalk, continuing my run. And so I wandered around and around Oak Hill; Bentley Drive, Jamal Place, Benson Place, Turner Place, Burrows Street. One more turn on Burrows, and poof! I was out of the suburban portal and back into Oakland. I ran on a few hilly alleys, Dunbar Way, Decre and made my way further into Shadyside.

And now, some backstory. Years ago (1 Billion, to be exact), I was preparing to move to Pittsburgh and a friend of mine from Pittsburgh described the area past Pitt as a truly dangerous ghetto. After being at Pitt for several years, that section of Oakland was off the periphery of my personal map. Following my run this morning, I spoke with a few people about that neighborhood. It turns out that Terrace Village, when I came here, was indeed, a dangerous place to be. Here is some of its unofficial history. During my run, Oak Hill seemed to go on forever, however nice it is now. I felt hard pressed to get out of that neighborhood and I would bet that many residents felt the same way before it became rejuvenated.

Run All The Streets 0011: Terrace Village, Oakland

Proceed to Warp 10!

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

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

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

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

Sometimes you just need motivation.

Run All The Streets 0010: Warp Speed

Fireflies in the Dark

Squirrel Hill North

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

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

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

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

Run All The Streets 0008: Squirrel Hill North and Shadyside

Starting the Southside

Seal-shaped Southside Flats

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

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

Run All The Streets 0007: Short run in Southside

Catching Up in Squirrel Hill

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

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

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

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

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

Run All The Streets 0004: Squirrel Hill

Point Breeze on New Year’s Day

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

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

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

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

RunAllTheStreets 0003: Resolution Run