"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Monday, March 28, 2011

In spikes again

It was hard to tell, watching me race the 5k at the Fred Hardy Invitational, whether I was 28 or 18.

On the surface, I was successful. I ran 15:42, which is the fastest I have run for 5k since 2008, though there is no telling what I would have run in 2009 in Scituate (without a train coming through the race and stopping me). As Jerry points out, three months ago I couldn't eat anything but melted sorbet, so running again like this is pretty good. When I look at the race in the context of the work I have put in, the way I have felt in workouts and the experience I have, it was disappointing.

First mistake- indecisive travel planning. My departure from Washington was up in the air until shortly before I left, but that wasn't much of a problem. When I arrived in Richmond, however, I was faced with getting to campus from downtown. I figured I could take a cab, but saw none when I arrived. I came across a Grove Avenue bus, and the driver told me a bus that went to campus was shortly behind hers. I waited on a bench for 75 minutes for that bus, which ended up being hers again. Granted, it was only $1, but it was a long time to wait outside in the relative cold, with smokers hanging out around me. Evidently I somehow missed two buses during that time that would have taken me to campus.

Once I arrived, I walked around a bit, signed in, and started my warmup way too early. Perhaps 20 minutes too early. I did a four laps of Bandy -- God I miss that field -- came back, and realized I had a half hour to freak out. I talked to Sherry and Lori for a while, then went out for my hard warmup. I took my spikes down to the field, put them on for the first time since the 2003 A-10 meet, and did a few strides and drills. Rhue joked that my spikes wouldn't likely survive the race, but I knew they wouldn't let me down. There was some confusion on the line with a kid wearing the wrong hip number, and luckily that gave me a chance to investigate the awful poking in my right shoe. It turned out to be a torn, sticking right into one of my toes. I was able to get the shoe back on before we took to the line.
I was out in 74, feeling pretty good, but far back. Another 74 high, though I was comfortably tucked in. I got a little more aggressive, moved up and ran 72, then a 73, and split 4:55 for the first mile. I was happy with that. I had great support -- Lauder and others along the home stretch, Sherry on the first curve, Steve on the back stretch, all very specific and helpful. I tried to stay aggressive after I heard the mile split, and went 73 and 74 for the next two laps. Then it got a little breezy, so I tucked behind a tall Shippensburg runner. He, unfortunately, slowed down, 75, 76, both high, and I came through two miles in 9:55, a 5:00 second mile. I started to feel taxed, and I stuck behind him rather than try to break free in the last mile- 77, 78, 79. After I saw the 79, I knew I had to do something over the last 600 or the race would be a total disaster. I tried to get moving but it wasn't happening. I came through the third mile at 15:10 and fought to finish in 35, but I didn't catch the Shippensburg guy and a Kutztown fellow I passed a while before kicked in like a maniac and nipped me. I was 15:42.82 and not pleased.
(photos courtesy of Steve Taylor)
Before the race, I told Sherry a good race would be 15:15, a modest race would be 15:30 and a bad race would be 15:45. I guess I came in a few seconds short of a bad race. Molz won in 14:57, with just a little challenge from a Ship dude. I was happy to have beaten the two Lynchburg guys in the race, because that year as a Hampden-Sydney Tiger resonates in me with a competitive urge to beat other ODAC athletes. I only wish I had been able to trounce a Longwood runner...

Surprisingly, though, my legs felt great. Lori and Steve both remarked that a race kicks out the junk and makes you want more. Well, I want more. After watching Little Benford run 8:56 for his first steeple experience since last summer (no practice or anything), I got a good four-mile cooldown around campus, then watched the unfortunate Richmond-Kansas basketball game on the stadium's video screen.

I woke up and did my long run, combining Rosslyn, Collegiate, University and Westham loops. I forgot just how much I enjoyed the Rosslyn loop, Fatty Z was right, we ran it so frequently in college that it is hard to truly appreciate it. Saturday morning, I did not see a single car while I was on the loop, but came across some delightful walkers. I averaged 6:06 at the 6,10 and 12 mile marks, then took it very easy for .75 miles on Westham. Once I hit Patterson again, I started going after it pretty hard down Ridge Top and subsequent roads until I hit campus again. I took it easy up Boatwright and finished kind of hard, averaging 6:15 for 16.25, not too bad a little more than 12 hours after my race. I watched Amy set a school record in the 3k and Ryan Lee and Chris York run great races behind Llano's sub-8 3k attempt. Quinn also ran pretty well, after a fast first lap.

Regardless of my disappointment with my race, it was wonderful to be back in Richmond and on campus. In addition to all the success Steve and Lori have with the teams every year, they do a great job bringing alumni back and keeping them involved. I can't wait until the web broadcast is archived and I can listen to Fatty Z and Stubbs' audio commentary. They really made the meet a family-like atmosphere, with Luke helping at the check-in desk, Howard managing the timing, Mike Cox and Steve Spence bringing their teams to compete. A number of connections worked together to get Quinnipiac to the meet so Jenn Ennis could race one of her high school teammates, with their high school coach Sherry watching. It really is the most comfortable place I can think of being.

After a trip back to DC and not much sleep, I got up Sunday and ran in Rock Creek Park, about 11 miles with Jake, Murph, Karl, Brian, Max and Manitoba. I wasn't feeling great, but got the miles in the books, then took a two hour nap before getting seven more miles at 6:39 pace on Park Plus in the evening.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Go time

I was feeling pretty cruddy Thursday, so my five miles planned because one mile on the treadmill and two outside. I felt better Friday morning and went for a 3.25 pre-race jog around Falls Church.
I'm seeded sixth, which means little. Molz is planning on doing the steeplechase anyway. I just want to come through two miles feeling relaxed then let the race have it over the last 1800m. As boring and difficult as my solitary turnover workouts can be, they have equipped me well to kick when I have other people around. I just hope there are other people around.
I am also pretty sure I am going to skip the Cherry Blossom race in favor of another track meet, either at George Mason or Maryland the next weekend. I'll get more out of a track meet and can really use a down week with three workouts, rather than trying to squeeze workouts and recovery in before racing a distance I enjoy but for which I am not mentally prepared.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

So friggin lonely

I do most of my running on my own, but racing by myself isn't as fun.

When I realized, a half mile in, that nobody at the Van Metre Five Mile was running my pace, I reasoned that I could run way over my head to stick with the lead pack or drop back and fend for myself. I chose the latter and hoped my tendency to run fast even when I felt like garbage would continue. I came through the long first mile in 5:16, feeling pretty good.

I lost sight of the lead pack during the second mile when they wove through a neighborhood. The only target I had was an african in a blue singlet who dropped off, stretched for a second, then started chasing the lead pack. I thought I could run with him for a bit, but then he dropped out for good. The second mile included some downhills, but the wind held me back a bit. I came through two in 5:20, About five seconds slower than I thought I was going. The third mile started with a long uphill, a turnaround and a long downhill. I saw Karl racing Gurmessa and the Platypus and yelled for him, but realized quickly that was a bad idea if I was trying to run fast myself. Coming down the hill was harder than climbing it, because all of my expectations were geared toward being able to roll down it. The wind once again prevented me from really enjoying myself, and to be honest, I stopped racing. I just got lonely. I saw Jerry at about 3.5 and he told me to aim to catch the people in front of me, but I had no idea where they were I wen 5:30 and 5:35 in miles three and four, and as I passed the four mile mark, the guy calling out splits kept going. I wondered if I had anyone close to me and to my shock I did. Even though there was nothing at stake, I got competitive again and held him off to finish seventh in 26:55. Far from a PR, even farther from a good race, but 28 seconds faster than my race at the St. Patrick's Day 8k in 2010.

I was hoping to go out there and surprise myself, but honestly it was pretty hard with nobody close to my pace. Sixth place was 25:17, so nowhere close to me. After a cooldown and trip home, I took a nap and went out for an easy five, totaling 20 for the day and 90 for the week.

The next morning, I went out to Edward's Ferry with Matias, his buddy Mike, Outlaw, Karl and Sam. We started fast, and hung between 6:30-6:40 for most of the first 15 miles. I started to have some intestinal issues, so my last three miles were slower as a result, plus I noticed a but of blood soaking my shoe thanks to a bit of trail debris that had gotten into my right shoe. I also just felt tired, but it kept me from getting out of control at the end of the run. 38.5 miles in two days is no joke. The nap after that run was absolutely perfect.

Monday, I had the battery replaced in my heart rate monitor watch and I went out for a simple 12.25 mile run around Fairview Park. For the most part, I kept my heart rate around 145-150 and averaged 6:38 pace. It was pretty humid, and I got a good preview of what the summer is going to feel like on a good day.

Tuesday morning I did my first morning run in as long as I could remember, a 3.25 Fisherman.
In the evening I grabbed my flats and headed out to George Marshall High School for a 4xmile workout with a faster quarter migrating throughout the workout. When I got there, 2.5 miles later, I was dismayed to find two soccer teams taking the field. I thought about giving McLean High School a shot, so I ran another 2.5 miles there, finding another soccer game in progress. I ran two more miles to the Greenwich Road Mile, but I knew it wouldn't suffice. As much as I love that loop, it isn't a substitute for a fast, precise track workout. There is no real flat stretch to speak of, and three quarters are rolling, with a steep uphill toward the end. It would clearly not work for these miles, but I gave one a shot. My rudimentary splits came out to 75, 70, 78, 75 for a 4:58 high, but honestly the effort was equivalent to a much faster mile on the track. For all the progress I have made in my track pacing, and it has been a lot this year, I am useless on that undulating road mile. I tried to do a second mile a few times, but rarely made it more than 300m. I decided to bag it and, with Lindsey's suggestion, try again in the morning.

Wednesday morning went a little better, if only because I didn't bother with McLean. When I got to Marshall at 8 am, a gym class was making its way to the track. For God's sake, who has gym at 8 am? So, I'll scrap the workout this week. I'll rest for the Fred Hardy Invitational 5k Friday night. Despite my disappointing race on Saturday, I feel much better about my chances. It's an evening race, and I tend to do better running then. It's on the track, so even if I am alone I can get feedback from splits. I'm unlikely to be alone, hopefully I can tuck into a pack and get two miles out of the way under 5:00 pace. Also, it's a track, no hills, it's well protected from the wind, and I really haven't been training for five miles lately. Hopefully the good and the bad from Van Metre will figure into my approach to running a 5k close to my expectations.

Friday night's 5k will be my first track race in six years. I have no idea if I am ready for it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Delayed gratification

Sunday I went to Balitmore with Jess McGuire to watch the Kelly Shamrock 5k, a dubious choice because I don't care much for St. Patrick's Day or Baltimore. I ran for about 45 minutes around the city, but felt off, so I bagged the other 50 or so minutes I had planned and watched the race.
Dirk said I should take the afternoon off and not worry about my second run, but after a car ride to Bethesda and a long metro and bus ride home to Falls Church, I figured I could get an easy seven in without causing trouble for my stomach, since I had a steak and cheese sandwich at 4:30. I ran a Park Plus, averaging 6:47s and felt fine. I'm glad I did it.

Monday I did my first hill "workout" in a while. I warmed up with seven miles of Pimmit Hills, then started the hill portion.
It's complicated, but: 200m sprint steep up, 30 m recovery, 200m sprint steep down continuing into 200m sprint gradual down, 200m recovery gradual, turn around, run medium 600m up (400m gradual, 200m steep), 230m recovery steep down.

Initially, the 200m steep uphill sprints killed me, but I realized I was going all out too early. I adjusted the second time, and that was when the gradual uphills started to become a problem. I was running the gradual 400m too hard, and my tank was empty by the time I got to the steep part. I was totally dead by the time I got to the end of the fourth, and instead of doing it again, I threw in a few extra 200m uphill sprints. I felt like I was mastering those. After a mile cooldown, I had 13.

Tuesday I did a sedate Scott's Run 11.75 miles in 6:40 pace. My glutes were sore from the hills, and I worried I might have done too much, but hoped it would pass.

Wednesday I felt like total garbage when I got to the track. The warmup was a struggle, and there was a point where Lindsey was talking to me and I had no idea what she meant. I ran a medium 800m warmup and noticed I went 2:35, so somehow despite feeling like I was better off
I stuck behind Murph for the 2k- running pretty even for 7:25. I took the lead for mile and 1200, running 5:04 and 3:41. Dangerous Dave led the 800 in 2:22 and the first 200 of the 400. I took off at that point and finished in 66 high, probably my fastest 400 since 2008. I somehow put together my most complete workout in eight months after feeling like I'd be pulled from the track before we started. Steve's suggestion to get regular turnover work is really starting to pay off -- mentally, running 73s doesn't even bother me anymore, and I have the basic turnover to do it. The only reason I didn't try to run harder at the end of the 400 was the fact that I hadn't run faster than 70 seconds on a track for a while and wasn't sure if I could do it. The hills certainly helped my basic speed, and perhaps my residual soreness and lethargy worked in my favor Wednesday, bridling my enthusiasm until I really needed it. Maybe that's why I finished with a 66.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

From soaking wet to way too dry

I dislike the W&OD Trail in certain circumstances, and tolerate it most of the time. It's a nice amenity to have, but too often it attracts too many walkers, joggers and bicyclists to be of much use to me. I integrate it into some of my loops, but I'll often use alternatives when they present themselves. I'd prefer a dirt path, or limestone, like the Panhandle Trail. It does however, offer a safe alternative to running on Shreve Road, which has a limited shoulder, and a pedestrian bridge over Route 7.
The only time I really relish running on the W&OD is when it is raining. Then, I eat it up. I toss on my Run for Roch hat to keep the rain out of my eyes and go for it. I used to run out to Park Avenue in Vienna and back because it was exactly five miles, but I broke out of that orthodoxy last Monday when I did a little loop around the community center. This week, with my plans to do singles again, I found myself needing 14 miles, and found an out-and-back a little farther than seven, turning at Clarks Crossing would give me 14.15.

I headed out into strong rain and ran 43:00, then turned around and ran 42:38 for the way back, despite taking it significantly easier in the last mile as I climbed Grove Ave. When I realized how quickly I had done it, I took my heart rate, and got only 129. That seems low.

Friday after work, I went out for a ratchet run. My goal was to go really easy for the first three miles, run normally for three miles, run a moderate pace for three, then a hard three, and an easy on back to the office. The wind was pretty rough on Capitol Street and the Mall, but I ended up averaging 6:30s. I was hoping for at least 7:00+. Once I hit Ohio Drive I had two full miles along the Marine Corps course to use the measurements in the pavement, and I ended up running 5:48s for them. It was bizarrely calm on Hains Point, given the wind in the first two miles, I expected By George-ferocity gusts. I ran about 5:40 or so to my "track" at "Henry Park," then let loose for the last three serious miles. The wind was even worse than before, and like the mythological wetsand, struggling only made it worse. I had a 10 second difference between my 400 into the wind and the 400 with it at my back- 85-75. I came through the mile in 5:20, which is about what I wanted, but my third time facing the wind, my stubbornness waned. I gave up. Adding some mileage around Capitol Hill, I saw the windmills near the gardens spinning like mad, and I realized I picked perhaps the worst time to work out. I finished up and went home and collapsed.

I switched my long run to Saturday so I will have time to run around Baltimore at my leisure before the guys run the 5k there. I went for my old classic Chesterbrook 18 miler. I started a little too fast- 6:04, and managed to calm down with a 6:30 second mile. I felt a little off, though. I averaged 6:23 through 9 miles and the magic was not happening up Glebe today. I was woozy, and regretted being so far from home. I struggled through most of the rest of the run, but was so thirsty. I also thought about unfortunate Jimmy, who is sidelined with Vertigo. Then I kept hearing the South Park caricature of Bono:

Bono at Union Jack's

Man,I was thirsty. I ended up walking a little, then cutting off a mile. My shirt was soaked and there was salt all over my blue shorts. Even though I will count the mileage for next week, in the last 14 days I have run 184 miles in 14 runs. Only three of which were in daylight. I am ready to double for a while. My schedule will be much more malleable next week, so doubling will happen. Plus, more light.

In other news, Llano ran the bejeezus out of the US 15k championships- finishing 23rd at 4:50 pace, just two places back in a stronger field than the 12k xc champs last month, where he ran 4:59 pace. Jonny Wilson also ran well- 41st place in47:14, just ahead of Outlaw, 48th in 47:55.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hitting the ceiling, for now

Days two and three of the legislative conference were far less pleasant than I had hoped. I woke up Monday feeling fine, but after a packed Metro ride and a fiasco trying to get into the press room, I started feeling drained. The temperature swing violently as I bounced between from packed rooms and gingerly-attended workshops. By the general session in the afternoon I was just looking for a horizontal surface on which to collapse. I have been fighting nasal congestion for a few weeks, but I have just run through it. Now it was getting serious. I fell asleep on my ride home and thought maybe I wouldn't run, but once I got off the train, I felt ready to go. I couldn't find my racing flats, so I took a pair of spikes with me to John Marshall by way of a five mile warmup and decided on doing some 600s, perhaps because of my collapse at the end of last week's 800. I started out a little fast- 70 second en route to 1:47, 1:48, 1:49 and 1:50, then the youth soccer team decides to congregate on lanes 1-4 of the 300m mark. That was pretty much the end of that. I ran a few 34-200s to give me a little more turnover work, but honestly I wasn't feeling up to much more running. I went home, popped a benedryl and slept soundly.

After another draining conference day, I came home hungry for another hilly run like the previous Tuesday's. I put together a 6.5-mile route from home to Military Road via Williamsburg, went out in what turned out to be 6:11 pace. I didn't think I was going that fast, and I faced some rough uphills on the way, but I eased up on the way back and ended up averaging 6:19 pace for 13 miles.

I had been looking forward to Wednesday's workout- 4 x mile. Jerry's plan was for the second group to go 5:04, 5:00, 4:56, 4:52. It was ambitious, but I felt most of it was feasible. I felt comfortable enough running 76s for 1.5 miles, so one shouldn't be a problem. 5:00 and 5:56 didn't worry me, but 4:52 seemed like a tall order. Granted, I ran 4:53 last week by myself, but that involved a suicidal first lap and hanging on. I also wasn't feeling quite as bad last week.
I gave Dickson's long dancer's legs some room and started a bit back for the first two, though I moved up halfway through the second. Right on- 5:04, 5:00. I took the pacing for the third, and was thrilled to keep the pacing right on- 74, 2:28, 3:42. I came home with another 74 to hit 4:56.12. I tried to take the 400m jog slowly, but I was anxious to see what I could do for number four. This was where the real work happens, and running 5:04 for a first interval didn't mean anything if I couldn't perform now. I started out perfectly, 73, though my 200 split was 35. The wind on the home stretch compounded my inability to breathe, and I struggled through the line at 2:29. A few steps later, I stepped off the track and sucked in as much air as I could. Evidently 74 was fine, but 73 was just too fast. A few weeks ago, 73 was my all-out 400 speed. Rationally, I did as well as I could expect for this workout, but ideally, I would have kept going. I headed out for the last 400 with Dickson, but in my worry that I would fall off again and end up being a liability, I started too early and didn't help block the wind at all as I ran 73. I did another two 400s, both in 74. The outsides of my quads were tight, the first time I have had any leg discomfort this year. More rest, more drills, more fluid.

I feel like I can be alright on a crowded track, not sure about a road race right now. I signed up for the BAA 5k again ($45!). I balked when I saw the price, but it will be a good opportunity to run for place, rather than focusing on time. I'll give Van Metre a shot next week, which I feel will be more of an opportunity to break back into racing than the By George 5k was, thanks to the wind. I would like to run 5:15s, but we'll see. Then, my first track meet in six years at Richmond. In Spiders news, Benford ran 13:59.99 at Notre Dame last weekend. I can remember how awesome we thought it was when Matt Hannay ran 15:07 at the A-10 meet in 2002. Now, freshmen are running under 15:00. I hope I can, this year... I need to continue to make 71s feel comfortable...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

More birds, fewer stones

When running 90 miles a week first became routine, I was at the start of a humid, uncomfortable, unforgivably hot summer, and doubling was crucial to keeping myself alive and hydrated. Now, the weather is such that I can handle 90 miles in singles with no problem.
Tuesday I put together two long, hilly roads with bike lanes in Arlington- Military Road and Williamsburg, and convinced Outlaw and Murph to join me prior to having pancakes. The run was nice an even- 6:56 pace for 12.1 miles, but the line for pancakes was ridiculous, so pizza sufficed.
Wednesday I managed to keep my stomach together for a pretty successful workout- two miles, 1.5 miles, one mile and 800m. I stuck behind Dickson and we came through the two mile a little faster than we had planned at 10:20, with even 5:10 splits. That alone convinced me that if I wasn't facing strong winds that I could handle a sub 16 5k. The 1.5 mile was even better- 7:36-- 5:06 at the mile, a little slow, so I pushed ahead. I led the mile and admittedly was way out of control after 400- 70 seconds, so I cooled it and slowed to 4:53. I went out in 70 again for the 800, but as soon as I hit 500m, I tied up like a mother. Things got better after jogging 100m, so I charged in, but only ran 2:28. Though I could be disappointed with 100m of my hard running, I can't be with the other 7900m. I ran quickly over a variety of distances and only felt stressed when I matched the fastest of my short-distance speeds. In fact, had I easily run that 800, I would question how well my turnover workouts had gone.
Thursday evening I ran 13 miles on the Double Pimmit loop, averaging 6:30s after seven miles, a good bit faster than I would have liked. I tried to slow, but ended up averaging 6:40.
Friday after work, I did some quarters on the Mall- the third rectangle of grass from the Capitol is 400m in perimeter. I did five warmup miles averaging 5:52, then gave it a shot. After 200 meters of trying to sprint on the Mall's gravel path, I initially planned to give up, because I would likely hurt myself slipping. After a 200m jog back to my starting point, I realized I would cut off very little if I ran on the grass instead, so I gave it a second shot, and it was a lot more successful, almost too successful- I went 68 for my first one, and 67 for my second. I figured that would do, and ran 69, 69, 70, 69, 69, 69, 71, 70, 69, 69. I would have liked to have run four more, but my intestines were rebelling.
Saturday I dragged myself to the metro and up to Bethesda run and watch what ended up to be a very successful tempo. Outlaw picked me up at the Rosslyn metro and we got there a little late, ran around for a while and watched the guys who were working out really crank it on the track. I got another 5+ miles with Karl, Diddy, Dave Burnham and the Hurricane (Dave Nightingale-force winds) on the CCT, meandering between 6:00 and 6:15 pace. I had, generously, four hours of sleep, so to finish 12 miles that fast feeling as good as I did was rewarding.
I had to work at our legislative conference Sunday, so I waited until I got home to go out and do 14 miles in the 40-degree rain. The wind was pretty miserable during the first mile, but things calmed down after three or so. I altered my Sleepy Hollow loop to replace Columbia Pike with a winding detour through some neighborhoods, and it turned out great. I was cold for a while, but I just stopped letting it bother me. I didn't worry about the time, because I have more quarters coming up Monday night, but I wound up averaging 6:30s.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Favorite Pittsburgh Runs #1

This route was born from my foray into politics in 2009.

My neighbor and friend Georgia ran for city council to represent the west end of the city. As I explored the district map, I realized just how little I knew of the area. While living in Mt. Washington in 2007, I had run in the West End, Crafton Heights and Elliott neighborhoods, but outside of that area, I was relatively unfamiliar, save for some trips through the Corliss Tunnel as a child. To help introduce her name to western neighborhoods, I planned to make a t-shirt bearing Georgia's name to wear as I ran through the area. The fun part was taking the district map and finding a way to maximize my travel and find a good longish route. What I came up with is a diverse and fascinating tour of Pittsburgh's forgotten neighborhoods that turned out to be excellent for running.
Note: I had become enthused with Esplen in 2008 when I saw this photo and story, but sadly it doesn't fit in the loop.

The start in the West End is a flat stretch through the valley between Elliott and Duquesne Heights until the climb up Steuben Street and Chartiers Avenue into Elliott about a mile in. Traffic can get a little tight early on Chartiers, but on the post-Lorenz downhill, the road widens and traffic disperses.

A right turn at the Comcast building takes you
through the Corliss Tunnel. As a child, I loved traveling through tunnels in Pittsburgh, and because the Corliss Tunnel was the most out of the way, I was drawn to them the most. I couldn't have passed through them more than five times as a kid, and tunnel is very short so they weren't long experiences. You face the Ohio River on West Carson Street and turn left and head west for a block until Glenmawr, a long climb that runs parallel to the West Busway and takes you into Sheraden.

Sheraden is the largest neighborhood in Pittsburgh's West End, annexed by the city in 1907. The once-stable, sprawling neighborhood has gone to seed lately, but decent housing stock is the norm, just in various states of decay.
While running down Ashlyn Street, Eric Shafer, Jo Rupp, Steve Garand, Brandon Gillingham and Greg Byrnes and I saw a teenage girl throw a brick at a boy across the street, but attempt no further assault. Turning down into Sheraden Park you can see some of the fields that bind many of the youth together in routinely strong baseball and softball leagues. A right on Fransisco brings you into the Sheraden Park co-op, with views through the trees of Brunot Island in the Ohio River and down into McKees Rocks.

Back onto Chartiers Avenue, you pass a few taverns on your right, Smitty's, Kron's Draught House and Molly O's Bar and Grille. The Googlemap represents each of these establishments with a martini glass, but I do believe if you order a martini at either place, your departure will be likely expedited by several burly gents.
A loop takes you around the Tuxedo Street skate park, and then hits Chartiers again. The route then descends past the Poale Zedeck Cemetary, associated with a congregation in Squirrel Hill, which is now full. Down the hill into Chartiers City and Windgap, two middle-class residential neighborhoods featuring the Remember When ice cream shop.

A left onto Windgap Road leads out of the city briefly into Ingram, by the beautiful Allegheny Valley School Patricia Hillman Miller campus in West Prospect before reentering the city in Fairywood, perhaps the most intriguing neighborhood in the city, as I consider it. The neighborhood has about 10 streets, with houses in varying states of decay, and few residents remain. I am still a little scared to venture onto Mazette Place...

The loop runs through almost all of the streets in the neighborhood, and the corner of Abordale and Fairywood Street is so remote that I doubt 99 percent of the city's population has ever been there.

Head straight into the Broadhead Manor housing project, abandoned in 2004 when Chartiers Creek flooded after Hurricane Ivan. It used to be the most dangerous part of Pittsburgh, and I'm sure there are squatters living there that keep it moderately dangerous, but on Sunday mornings they are rarely out and about. They're probably at church. Here's a taste of the dysfunction once abounded at Broadhead Manor. You've hit the lowest point on the loop and
will enjoy a few miles of flat but exposed running, so if it's a hot day, be ready for it. By that point you really start to feel like you're in the middle of nowhere. The valley you are in was rural until the end of World War II.

Coming out of Broadhead, you see the vitality and likely the future of Fairywood -- industrial real estate. I'm not even sure what all of the buildings store -- I know one is a food depot, another is UPS and a third is Roomful Express furniture. Head to the end of Beechnut Street and head off the road and turn left to run parallel to the train tracks that are part of the former Scully Yard.

Over a slight bridge and onto Napor Boulevard, you're now in Kennedy Township, I believe. Follow Napor under the Thornburg Bridge into Thornburg then across Steuben Street, in Crafton, back into the city.

The first time I remember crossing the Thornburg Bridge was in June 2001, when I got lost taking my then-girlfriend, Kelly, to dinner on Mt. Washington. I couldn't get over to the Route 51 South exit from 279 and took 51 North, where we hit an awful traffic jam. Trying to turn around in the West End, I made an illegal left turn and would up climbing Steuben Street into Elliott, Crafton Heights, regular Crafton and when I hit the bridge I realized it was time to figure out where in God's name we were. Eventually we got back on track, but for a long time the memory of being so completely lost in an area close to where I lived stuck with me and represented itself visually as the Thornburg Bridge.

In 1777, General Edward Hand built the first federal hospital in the new nation along the banks of the Chartiers Creek, near the fording between the Thornburg Bridge and Brodhead-Fording Road.
You run back to Broadhead Manor on the Industrial Highway, which is dramatically empty. It adds to Fairywood's post-apocalyptic feel of. It's really remarkable. Matt Ciccone discovered the same route as a high schooler, and my friend's boyfriend (who went to Langley) used to know people who would drag race there. It runs along Chartiers Creek, which my high school environmental science class studied. Someday, there will be a complete trail along the river, there there are a few miles of trail on the west bank.

There was a man on Broadhead Fording Road who used to be outside when I would run there in Spring 2009. He was a welcome change from the hecklers I ran into in the suburbs. He would ask me earnestly how far I had gone, if I was running the in marathon, and how far until I was done. I hope that man is still around. I doubt it.

In contrast to the rest of the neighborhood, Emerald Gardens is growing somewhat. A private company bought the former projects, Westgate Village, and is renovating them, and it seems to be the only growth going on there.

You're actually in a city at this point.
Shortly before the 14-mile mark, you start a long climb to Steuben Street. The next few uphills are pretty much a constant, but managable, climb. Clearfield street is hard to catch, so be mindful to look to the right up Windgap Avenue approaching Summerdale. There's a chain across the path, so look out! You disappear into a wooded path that makes you forget you're in a city. It's amazing. It's also very steep.

Throughout this stretch, you'll see middle-class homes and churches, with the occasional crazy man in front of the Middletown Road Baptist Church, who will ask you if you are interested in what he has to say. You are not. Trust me.

The climb up to Barr is kind of steep, but it's the end of any climbing you'll have to do. The last two miles on Noblestown are a long downhill, and it's fun to just let loose, especially when passing through West End Park. Crank it!There's a convenience store around the corner from the finish, and they stock chocolate milk. If you run early enough, you can get warm doughnuts in Elliott. A long hard run on this loop will satisfy you for a while, and if done right will leave your legs tingling.

For the most part, people I know don't spend any time in the area. When I had my going away party at the Obey House in Crafton Heights, most people said they had never been around there. I just love the variety that comes in this run, the long hills, the dramatic views, the 10 different neighborhoods, the fact that nobody knows where half of the places are.

I think one reason I enjoy this loop so much is that the area was pretty close to where I grew up, but I never explored it. I didn't know much about the area between interstates 376 and 79, and I didn't care. There couldn't be much there, right?

Considering how dangerous Broadhead Manor was, that's probably a good thing I didn't explore so much. To see that neighborhood reduced to near abandonment intrigues me, because the bad stuff that happened just picked up and left.

In 1998, Charlie Van Gombos and I decided to follow a pair of girls in their car after they bought some cigarettes (clearly underaged) and we wound up following them onto Noblestown Road all the way to the West End. Neither of us had a clue where we were- it was dark and that lent an air of mystery to the whole fiasco.

The neighborhoods' interconnectedness also adds a sense of adventure- a wrong turn on Berry will lead you to Langley High School if you aren't careful. There are fascinating views and spots all over the place.

It's a land of mystery, of which the nexus of it all may never be determined.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Another Pittsburgh Marathon weekend 5k idea

The Pittsburgh Marathon added a 5k to the weekend's races. This article describes the race, and the course doesn't seem too inventive, but it was certainly an afterthought for the organizers. It's admittedly a compromise to the popularity of the race weekend, which is fantastic, because so many people are interested in running the half (though we could use more people willing to step up to the full, there are plenty of spaces there still). With a little more planning next year, a 5k that takes advantage of Pittsburgh's hills for a fun and fast race. Note that I plotted this first course in April 2010, long before the marathon course was changed to Liberty Avenue, which necessitates a shift, perhaps to Smallman Street. I could redraw the courses, but since I already waited 11 months to reveal my prescient genius (along with my ego and sense of sarcasm) , I am just getting these ideas out now for...nobody to read them or take them seriously.

Rather than a loop downtown, take advantage of Pittsburgh's topography and "shoot them out of a cannon" down the Bloomfield Bridge and onto Liberty Avenue to the shared finish line at the convention center. People waiting along Penn Avenue could see people running on Penn and Liberty in different races.

A second option is down Bigelow Boulevard, which will be more scenic, though it will involve a few turns. You do get to finish on Grant Street, which is pretty sweet. I prefer this option.
Start the marathon and 5k races at the same time. If the slowest 5k runners come through in an hour, which at that point would be a trickle, the fastest half marathon runners will just be approaching, and the 5k will have been going on for 1:15 by the time an appreciable crowd comes through for the half.

The big logistical issue for both of these races -- getting runners to the top of the hill.

When it stops being fun...

A few weeks ago, I talked to my dad on the phone and mentioned that I was really enjoying running. He responded in a way that seems obvious but might not be to someone who gets in so deep as a long distance runner.

"Well that's good, if you don't enjoy it, there's no reason to keep doing it."


Sometimes it's hard to qualify "fun." I have fun when my legs are burning, but not when my intestines are in disarray. I will enjoy my races more when I have put myself in good shape through hard work, so it's all relative. Sometimes running for the sake of running is counterproductive. I have never really felt burned out, maybe frustrated, but I've never disliked running for more than a day or so. I have disliked situations (Hampden-Sydney's non-coach, my 2002 stress fracture that was my own doing right when I started running with the Richmond team) but I think I can attribute my relative longevity to prudence and perspective.

I employed both at the end of last week. I wanted to do a five-mile moderate run at some point,
and Friday morning seemed like the time to avoid the strong winds forecast for the afternoon. I woke up to rain, though the actual amount of rain is often obscured by a noisy downspout, and immediately went back to sleep. We had a large staff lunch at work, so I didn't run in the middle of the day, figuring I could run hard Saturday and just get in an easy 10 after work.
When I headed out for that 10, I noticed the stiff breeze people had been talking about. It was serious. I headed down to the mall, and when I got to the Capitol reflecting pool the full force of the wind hit me. I felt like someone was punching me in the face and slapping me around. After a little more than a mile, I realized I'd had it and this was certainly not an easy run anymore. Forcing myself to run through that was a quick way to make me not enjoy running, so I turned around, went back to my office and gave the treadmill a shot. After three miles at 6:58 pace and no fan to cool me off, I applied the same reasoning as before and just stopped, in hopes of wanting to run again someday. I couldn't

Saturday morning I slept through the store run again and took an easy four miles around Idylwood. In the afternoon I wanted to do a five-mile moderate run, and i found a nice loop that was park of Fineview Park. Less than a mile in, though, a gate blocked the entrance to the Raytheon parking lot, which was all torn up. I hurdled a metal barrier and ran around the fence, around some debris in the parking lot, then around another fence. Suffice to say, I wasn't feeling too swift after that. I kept it up until about the three mile mark, which I passed in 16:38. Ok, but the jumping and whatnot made my legs pretty dead, and my intestines were troubling me again. I slowed down and ran for a while longer, but with about a mile to go I decided to walk in. I wasn't going to do myself any good by angering my guts further.

Sunday I headed out for a long run that would combine two main elements -- the hills of Military Road and the W&OD trail near Bluemont Park. My congestion didn't seem to be a problem when I was running, I'd just blow my nose every few minutes, but I guess that and the temperature (in the low 60s) got to me through increased sweating, because by the time I made it to the trail at mile 12, I was parched. Luckily, I brought money with me so I stopped at a Shell station and bought a Gatorade, but suddenly adding 20 ounces of fluid to your stomach isn't going to make six miles any easier. I finished at the 7-11 at the base of Grove, bought some chocolate milk (I had been carrying money with me for just this occasion) and walked home.

Monday I did an easy 11 miles on the W&OD trail in the rain, as it seems every out-and-back I do there is thus accompanied by precipitation. I struggled to keep myself under control, most of my spot checks on my half mile pace were around 3:15.