On this chilly, snowy, slushy, sunny Sunday I went back to Greenfield. In my earlier blog post, Greenfield: Land of Hills, I recounted my run along the southern border of Greenfield. Today’s run started in the middle of Squirrel Hill South and continued along the northern border of Greenfield. So, what’s the difference?
The biggest difference was elevation. I ran mostly on Beechwood Boulevard. Beechwood winds for five miles from Greenfield Avenue to Fifth Avenue, mainly following the contours of hills instead of going directly up and down them. This run had half the elevation gain per mile of the earlier run. (72′ of elevation gain per mile in contrast to 147′ of elevation gain per mile). BIG difference. Another difference was the tenor of the street. The earlier run was in a compact residential neighborhood with little traffic. This run carried me from wide-open residential areas with bigger houses to streets busy with traffic going to the Waterfront or to the Parkway East. Finally, weather was also making an impact. It was on the colder side and there was a couple of inches of snow on the ground. This made for slick footing. Thankfully the sun was out!
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.
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.
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.
Steel City’s Marathon Kickoff is quite the event. It’s the start of their “official” training cycle for the Pittsburgh Marathon. Various vendors and sponsors set up tents and give out runner’s delights such as water bottles, buffs and gloves. Buffs are tubular stretchy fabrics about a yard long which are prized winter headgear. There’s the usual finish line food; bagels, bananas, coffee and hot chocolate. There are also about 400-500 runners who show up. This year must have been more because I missed out on the “First 500 Blanket Giveaway”. Damn it! Carpooling doesn’t seem to be too big in the Pittsburgh running community yet, so there are also more than 500 cars here, too. There are not 500 parking spaces.
So, I did my usual and got there at the last minute. The parking situation threw me off a little, but I was still there in time to find my peeps, chat with friends and go out with a pace group. Feeling frisky, I joined the 8:30 pace group for 8 miles. It was a lot of fun. Our group had 20-30 runners in it. Got to chat with Alisa, Jessica and Emily. Got to annoy Jon with the jingling of my keys. (Inspiring me to write a book I’m going to call “10 Benefits of Running With Your Keys”. It will revolutionize distance running!) Eventually, the group’s route was simply an out-and-back along a trail. At that point, I decided to get a few more streets under my belt and elevation under my feet. I took a left off of the River Avenue and went up Rialto Street. That captured most of the elevation on my run. It didn’t add too many miles and I landed back at the Steel City garage about the same time as everyone else.
So, in terms of neighborhoods, this run crossed at least four – North Shore, Central Business District, Allegheny Center, and Troy Hill. I was surprised how small these neighborhoods are. Thinking about it, they do, indeed, have their own personalities, so I suppose it makes sense. The North Shore could be called “The Stadiums” because it is the areas adjacent Heinz Field and PNC Park. Troy Hill is considerably more isolated than the others, perched atop a large hill overlooking the Allegheny River. It is also much more residential, with tall houses side by side lining the narrow streets.