Saturday, October 1, 2011

Yellow Creek State Park

Been doing a lot of work east of town lately and exploring that area, so write-ups on Crooked Creek and the northern section of the Laurel Highlands Trail should be on the way.  For today: Yellow Creek State Park in Indiana County along Route 422, about 90 minutes from Pittsburgh.

I ran the southern side of this park on a very muggy, muddy morning after the recent Irene-induced rains, but still found it enjoyable for the most part.  Based on the official map, I'd planned on doing about 5-6 miles connecting the Ridge Top and Damsite Trails.  I did that, and a bit more.  With better research I would have realized that much more than a half mile separates the two trails, and it's a winding route between them. 
This park is popular among mountain bikers for good reason, and they've done a nice job of mapping things out.  Check out the web site before venturing out, and I'd suggest printing their map as well.  Here it is.

What I ended up doing was the Ridge Top Trail to the South Shore Singletrack to the Damsite Trail to the Bear Cave Loop and back, which was about 10.2 miles. 

The Ridge Top Trail is great.  Lots of stretches through pine forest, some fun rolling hills, a few small creek crossings (or just runoffs from the prior day's rain) and good, mildly technical terrain. 

The rest of the trails were a mixed bag, though generally on the positive side.  The South Shore Singletrack meanders a bit too much in its easternmost sections, but is very fun as you move west.  The biggest creek crossing of my run--roughly shin-deep and about 8 feet wide--was somewhere along there, and was very refreshing on a hot day.  The Damsite trail is pretty standard fare, and same goes for the Bear Cave Loop with a tough climb thrown in there. 

I did get a bit off-track onto one sticky, buggy, disgusting stretch of mud on my way back around, which I suspect might have been the Billygoat Trail.  I reckon you'd best avoid that area unless you find yourself there during a drought.

I looped through the Ridge Top Trail again at the end, and enjoyed it even more the second time around, knowing where to let loose and where to exercise a bit of caution.

Finally, I was thoroughly pleased that I'd parked near the beach, as a dip in the cold lake (with a Power Ade from the nearby pop machine) was the only proper finish to this slow, poorly planned jog.

The takeaway: a very nice park that I'd be open to exploring again.  As for the trails themselves, certainly not on par with Laurel Highlands or McConnell's Mill but, then, there's a lot to be said for ending your run in a deserted lake.

(And I should mention the birds.  If you're into fowl, put another in the plus column for this park.  I saw several falcons, some wading birds (Heron?) and a huge owl along the way.)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brady's Run Park (Beaver Co.)

If you live up this way or happen to find yourself about an hour north of Pittsburgh, settled right between Route 51 and I-376 is Brady's Run Park.  A nice pond in the valley of two steep slopes makes for a nice setting if you're in the mood for some tough climbs and occasionally confusing trails. 

Here's the trail map.

The Brady's Run Trail (including both North and South) offers about 6.25 miles of nice singletrack, with some random roads and doubletrack thrown in here and there.  The map recommends a clockwise loop for mountain bikers, but after running it in both directions I think I'd advocate the opposite for runners.  Not only is it easier to find the initial trailhead for the North trail, but if you're willing to push through two serious, if short, ascents, you will be repaid with some very fun, slightly more gradual, meandering descents.

Here's the route I took second time around, parking at the ice rink and starting from the small parking lot just across Brady's Run Rd. from there (the trailhead is to the left if you're standing in the lot, uphill into the woods):

Unfortunately you won't see much of the lake on this trail, except at times from a distance.  You will see two annoying sections of seemingly endless switchbacks, one on each side, but I guess that's better than taking these hillsides straight-on (although you will do that, too, in places).  You will also see some minor creek crossings and and a few fallen trees, but no serious obstacles.

About a mile in you'll come up behind a baseball field and the trail will dump you out on the road.  I'm not actually sure that I took the right trail from there, but I just sort of wandered across the road and back into the woods where it looked worn and followed it, but whether it was the right trail or not, who cares.  It got me to the back of the lake, where I was able to again cross Brady's Run Rd. to get on the South Trail.

All in all this park reminds me a bit of Riverview: nice trails, but steep in some sections and confusing in others.  I wouldn't drive an hour out of your way to run here, but if you happen to find yourself within 20 minutes or so of the park, it's definitely worth exploring.  Here's the elevation profile for the counter-clockwise loop:

Based on that alone, it may not look any easier taking it one direction or the other, so all I can say is that I enjoyed it more running it in reverse.

One tip: next time I find myself here on a hot day, I'll definitely start at the west end of the lake, so I can end my run in the water instead of the radiating heat of an asphalt lot.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thumbnail Review: Sewickley Heights Borough Park

This is a beautiful little park off Fern Hollow Road in Sewickley Heights.  A partially marked trail system provides...  I have no idea, but probably 3-4 miles or more of doubletrack and mild singletrack through picturesque Pennsylvania woodland.

A map from the Borough will cost you $4, but you shouldn't have any trouble fumbling your way around this relatively small park.  As a few points of reference, if you hit a creek, you're at the lower edge of the park and probably want to make your way back uphill.  If you hit a large open field, you're at the peak of the park and right by the parking area. 

Despite its size, though, the woods feel quite removed from Pittsburgh.  A great place for a short run.  Here's a suggested 2-mile figure-eight that may or may not roughly track the trails I did with the spouse and hound last weekend:

(click for larger view)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Off the Road Again

No local trail reviews in this post; just a personal update.

As bad luck and reckless training would have it, that sluggishness referenced in the February 17 post below turned out to be the beginnings of a torn soleus muscle, likely triggered by PJ McArdle hill repeats on the prior weekend. As it further turns out, cani-cross with a recently retired and newly adopted sled dog is not the wisest sport to undertake when one’s soleus is starting to tear. So, two weeks after that post and eight weeks before the Big Sur Marathon, my right inner calf swollen and pulsating with pain, I realized I probably wouldn’t be running in the Big Sur Marathon this year.

The doctor ordered seven weeks of rest, and aside from two very painful test jogs in the middle of those seven weeks, I abided. A lot of chilling, a bit of stretching, an increasing dosage of cycling and an occasional foray onto the elliptical eventually found me still feeling the pain in varying degrees at the end of six weeks. And then it suddenly subsided.

I was still signed up for the marathon at that point, though knowing I wouldn’t be ready. So I down-graded to the 9-mile option despite uncertainties about whether my leg could even handle that much in its semi-healed state, particularly given the hills of that course. A few more sessions on the indoor bike, a lot more stretching, and two meager runs proved joyously pain-free, so I gave it a shot

Sunday morning in Carmel-By-The-Sea, the weather was perfect: about 55 degrees at the 6:45 a.m. start reaching above 60 when I crossed the finish, without a cloud in sight. The 9-miler followed an absolutely beautiful course, mixing Highway 1's pavement with the beach trails and park roads of Point Lobos Natural Reserve, which meandered along the coast and through tall pines. Without question it was the most scenic run of my life--if a bit bittersweet in light of my original plan--and my leg held up just fine to my delighted surprise.

All this to say I’m back on the trails, thank God.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Local news: Shoefitr

Right here in the Burgh, Shoefitr has been quietly developing what could be one of the best programs out there for the modern runner.  I first heard about the company through a profile in the PBT last May.

This month has seen a lot of rising buzz around the company, so I thought the half dozen or so Pittsburgh runners who read this should know what a few of your fellow Pittsburgh runners are up to.  Take this Time Magazine post from a few weeks ago as just one testament to Shoefitr's success. 

It's a great product, and the company certainly deserves to succeed.  I've used Shoefitr to purchase a few pairs now through RunningWarehouse, and was happy with the results in all cases.  Having an oddly shaped foot, I've found Shofitr's colored 3D models to be particularly helpful in determining whether a shoe will not only fit me, but fit comfortably in all places.

As a runner and a Pittsburgher, it's nice to see some local boys doing well.  2011 should be an exciting year for Shoefitr.  Here's hoping for the best.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

In Others' Words

Despite an inexplicable sluggishness, I enjoyed a lovely run through seventy-degree Virginia tobacco country last evening, and was delighted to return to the Burgh to see that the sun found its way north of the Mason-Dixon as well.  While no one around here probably needs any added inspiration to run on such a fine day as today, I've been gathering various quotes about running that have struck me over the past year or so, and so, I thought I'd share.

"During 13 years of professional running, I never got it fully right. It's like golf. You'll never be perfect; you try to get a little better at every opportunity. That's the beauty of distance running, I think. It's a never-ending journey of trying to find out how good I can be, what I can improve on, even with my limitations. I'll never know the answer, but I'll keep looking for it."
- Bob Kennedy (the runner, of course)

"I sometimes think that running has given me a glimpse of the greatest freedom a man can ever know, because it results in the simultaneous liberation of both body and mind."
- Sir Roger Bannister

"Remember, the feeling you get from a good run is far better than the feeling you get from sitting around wishing you were running."
- Sarah Condor

Whether the weather be fine
or whether the weather be not,
whether the weather be cold
or whether the weather be hot,
we'll weather the weather whatever the weather,
whether we like it or not.
- Unknown

"If you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing: you have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired... You've always got to make the mind take over and keep going."
- General George S. Patton (1912 Olympian)

"It's very hard to understand in the beginning that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the voice inside you that wants to quit."
- Dr. George Sheehan

“Do the work. Do the analysis. But feel your run. Feel your race. Feel the joy that is running.”
- Kara Goucher

"Running is not, as it so often seems, only about what you did in your last race or about how many miles you ran last week. It is, in a much more important way, about community, about appreciating all the miles run by other runners, too."
- Richard O'Brien

"Good things come slow--especially in distance running."
- Bill Dillinger

"Running well is a matter of having the patience to persevere when we are tired and not expecting instant results."
- Robert de Castella

"The music of a marathon is a powerful strain, one of those tunes of glory. It asks us to forsake pleasures, to discipline the body, to find courage, to renew faith and to become one's own person, utterly and completely."
- Dr. George Sheehan

"There are no standards and no possible victories except the joy you are living while dancing your run. You are not running for some future reward--the real reward is now."
- Fred Rohe, The Zen of Running

“Life is short. Running makes it seem longer.”
- Baron Hansen

Monday, February 7, 2011

Trail Conditions in Brief

Eliza Furnace trail is pretty well melted down to the pavement west of Hot Metal, with some intermittent snowy and icy patches at the gravel edges and an icy stretch between South Side Works and the Birmingham Bridge.  East of Hot Metal it's a bit more touch-and-go, with a fair amount of ice that manages to blend into larger areas of pavement and snow.

Lower Panther Hollow is dangerously icy, but passable at the edges where you can still dig in a bit on the snow.  I wouldn't advise venturing in without spikes.

Upper Panther Hollow is worse, with the snowy edges thinning completely in sections.  Don't risk it.

Bridle Trail is just pure, slick, skateable ice.  There may be some patches of dirt, hay and snow here and there, but they offer only false hope.  Just avoid it.

I haven't been to Frick or Riverview in recent days, so I can't speak to those.

Today's rain and dropping temps in the days to come do not bode well...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Riverview Park - Second Impression: Confusing

Upon a second, slightly longer visit to this park I have to admit, it's confusing as all get out (whatever that expression means). 

I did 10.5 snowy miles through Riverview the other evening--about 7 of them in spikes after slipping through my first few, and about 4 of them guided by headlamp as the dark set in.  While the woods are definitely nice, the short length of the various trails makes it tough to get a good rhythm going.  I found myself constantly running into forks, roads and the occasional dead-end, as you can see here:

I'm actually not sure that there's any section of uninterrupted trail here that lasts more than a mile.  It's clear from the official map that the named sections are all short, but they link together a bit more cleanly on paper than they do in practice.  As a point of comparison, I find Frick to be similar but much more navigable on-the-fly. 

Maybe Riverview Park just requires a bit more exploration and a higher level of comfort with its twists and turns to get a good longer run in.  For now I think I'll reserve this one for the shorter days. 

On the plus side, this time around I did see way more deer than I ever thought lived within the City limits, and spied a large hawk and a huge owl close-up.  So I got that goin' for me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Riverview Park - First Impression: Positive

Never having spent much time in the North Side aside from ball games and an occasional social gathering or similar event, I ventured into Riverview Park late yesterday afternoon with little notion of what to expect and my only goal being to squeeze in about 6 miles before sunset.  I parked on Perrysville Avenue and simply stepped into the steep woods.  I'd been told it was hilly, wild, under-maintained, and beautiful.  Sure as the sun fell, all proved true.

Despite the park being larger than Frick, I found myself criss-crossing my tracks and circling around the same areas several times.  When I didn't pass the famous Allegheny Observatory and eventually found my way back to Perrysville over the course of 5.5 miles, I figured I hadn't seen all there was to see.  As a Christmas gift gadget informed me when I got home, I was right:

This is good news, as the northern and western portions of the trails I covered were my favorites, so I can only assume those to the further northwest might be similar.  A trail map of the park can be found here.  Trails I covered included Deer Hollow, Overlook, Old Zoo, and pretty much everything east of Kilbuck Road.

There was no shortage of wildlife, with several blue jays, one groundhog, two does and even one decent-sized buck spotted around mile-marker 1 on the above map.  Unfortunately there was also no shortage of trash, although most of that seemed to be around the cemetery border and down near Kilbuck Road. 

The woods itself is very nice--quite comparable to Frick, but with a heck of a lot less people.  The trails were a pretty even mix of single-track, some lightly maintained double-track, and some fun if hard-to-follow deer paths.

Riverview is a great park overall based on what I saw, and since that wasn't much, I look forward to getting back and exploring the rest of it.  I can see this being a particular pretty park under a few inches of snow, so I'm glad I discovered it as we ease into winter.