Perspectives: My Favorite Pittsburgh Park for Running
Contributing editor Sean Collier explains the best thing about running in Frick Park.
Here’s how to run in Frick Park.
First: You don’t need a turn-by-turn plan. Just pick an entrance; it’s a big park and there are several. Find somewhere to park your car nearby, or find one near a convenient bus stop. If you’re lucky enough to live near Frick Park, just walk out your front door.
Don’t start your run at that point, though. Strolling up to the beginning of a trail, stretching and departing robs you of the best thing about running in Frick Park.
Instead, start your run about five or ten minutes away on a pleasant enough (but usually busy) city street. Then suddenly you will be surrounded by towering trees — that’s the best thing about running in Frick Park. One moment, everything’s normal; the next, everything is green, brown and, above, blue.
When you get into the park proper — after the impact of it has washed over you and you have your wits about you again — begin adjusting to the turns and elevation changes. There is more uncertainty here than there is on many Pittsburgh trails; there will be surprises and challenges. (Then again, that could be said about even paved roads in Pittsburgh.) You may find yourself slowing down from the pace you usually keep on a flat trail or track. That’s OK. This run isn’t about your pace; it’s about seeing as much of the park as you can before you tire.
You’ll get to forks in the road. Sometimes a mile will pass before you have to make a decision; at other times, you’ll find yourself making two or three turns in a matter of minutes. For the first part of your journey, it doesn’t really matter what you choose; most paths will lead downward. (Good news for your lungs and legs.) You could end up swooping back out of the park or picking a path that runs uphill for a bit, but eventually, you will find yourself gradually descending toward the heart of the park, the flat, open space at its center.
As you descend, take advantage of the ease of a downhill run to look around for animals. Even at a steady clip, there’s plenty to find: foxes, deer, owls (some as big as a hawk), hawks (some as big as an eagle) and turkeys.
When you reach the bottom, trails will branch off around you in nearly every direction. This is the exploratory period of your run; at this point, you’ll want to follow a trail and see where it goes. Some lead back out of the park (thus clueing you in on another potential entrance for a future run). Some wind up onto different, more challenging paths. Many, in this area, have streams and small waterfalls running alongside them.
See where the path leads; if you like the looks of it, follow it. If you change your mind, turn around and come back to the middle and pick another.
Run with a friend, if you can. (Even now, this is mostly safe to do; stay 6 feet apart and bring a mask for the walk back.) You will push one another when it’s time to find an extra gear and urge caution when it’s time to slow down. With two sets of eyes scanning the forest, you’ll spot more animals and beautiful views among the trees. And you’ll get the miraculous, healing experience of being awash in all this green together.
You’ll also get company for the second-best part of a run in Frick Park: the walk back. If you’re a particularly seasoned runner, you can probably make it back to the top — but it’ll be exhausting. Better to call it somewhere at the bottom and begin climbing one of those trails (a different one that you descended, ideally) back up. To be clear, this is part of your workout, too; you’re going to get a nice added challenge scaling the park once again, even walking. But you’ll also get to breathe deeply as you recover, examining the calm, remarkable landscape around you in more detail than you could as you rushed along earlier.
I could go on about what a civic treasure this is — many, many places don’t have a well-maintained, gigantic piece of park right in the heart of the city, the way that Pittsburgh does. (We have several, in fact.) But that would detract from yet another of the benefits of a run in Frick Park: the quiet.
Every so often, you’ll get a patch without bird watchers, dog walkers or scampering families. You’ll be alone for 10 or 15 minutes. And then, in the midst of everything, it will be beautifully, beautifully quiet.