My friend Jack McArdle says that North Park is the only place where you have to apologize for running 5 miles. “Hey Jack- how many did you run today?” “Only 5 miles.” The looks of pity come out and you feel like you have just gained 10 pounds. North Park is our little gem of a park where we have a 5 mile running path around a lake filled with trout, 42 miles of trails, a beautiful golf course, and a new zip line course. North Park is truly our outdoor gym. The runners in the park are serious and it is kind of funny in a way seeing that most people couldn’t run to the mailbox.
I used to play a lot of tennis in the park. I played a lot in college and when I was home, I played as much as I could. Truth is that I only was a decent “B” class player with my self taught ground strokes and serve that resembled an overcaffeinated orchestra conductor performing “The Flight of the Valkyries.” I soon tired of tennis and saw a guy running by the courts every day at the same time. They called him “Ten Mile” Bill. You could set your watch by him. Another group came by with a guy I knew in high school and Eileen Petrone the original Great Race Womens champ and the first Pittsburgh Marathon women’s champion. I decided I would be a runner and join the running boom. I bought myself some shoes and started to go to Stone Field the assembly point for Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. Harry was an affable guy who I will talk about in a later post. Harry is the Pied Piper of the park and everyone is welcome to join his club with no meetings, no dues, just run at the park and get a drink out of Harry’s trunk at the end of your run. Harry introduced himself and introduced me to Les Brodie and Ralph Schmidt who taught me the finer points of running as well as the finer points of practical jokes. If you ran with their posse, and had to answer natures call in the woods, they would pelt you with snowballs and laugh like hyenas. Ralph and Les were not the perpetrators but some of the comedians in their group delighted in this practice. If you dared use the port- a- john, you risked being tipped over with the same joyful derision coming your way. I had a lot of laughs and got in pretty good shape. Harry had a lot of names for people in the park. Big Nosed Bill, Ten Mile Bill, Water Bottle Bob,Sad Bill and “Bushy” Debbie. Never could quite figure that one out but we all knew eventually who Harry was talking about. By the way, Ralph’s daughter Allison was just a pup when we ran together. She was the Olympic Gold Medalist in swimming at the London Games this summer. Time flies and little girls grow up.
I started to run 10 K races with the group. We ran in every one we could find. The Butler 10K, The Great Race, The East Bum 10K,the no-name classic, you name it – we ran it. My goal was to break 40 minutes and eventually my PR was 36 minutes. I never got faster than that but the carrot out there was enough to inspire me. I made a lot of friends at the park like the group you see in the picture above. This was taken at the Monticello in Charlottesville where our friends the Habay’s moved. We all went to visit and we are still good friends to this day.(Nice retro Oakley sunglasses George). Our group ran together, ate together, went to movies together, and basically forged a great friendship through running at the park. Times changed, folks got married, had kids, and now a lot of them that left are migrating back to the park with their grown children and grand children. Most of them kept up the regime to one degree or another because they were serious about their fitness. Hot Harry and the Outdoor Gym have kept us all in the game and no gym can give you fresh air, fitness and friends like North Park. I got into cycling and run now in the winter on the trails. My road running days are over because of the pounding on the knees, but my winter running on the trails reminds me of the early days of pelting snowballs, laughs, and blue water from the tipping port a johns. I don’t apologize for running only 5 miles. That is actually a pretty good run for me these days. But the attitude and accountability has been taken up by the younger generation. But the rest of us delight in reminding them of the old days. Remember -the older we get, the better we were. Thanks for reading and stay active.