Every town in America has its iconic running and cycling loop. The Central Park track around the reservoir in New York City comes to mind along with the roads there that are closed to traffic on the weekends to facilitate bicycling. You can run the route along the Charles River in Boston or Lakeshore Drive in Chicago which all have the history of being where most people start to walk, run or ride a bike close to where they live. We have our own iconic loop here in Pittsburgh at North Park Lake.
The Lake Loop is 5 miles around and has traditionally been a benchmark for beginner runners and walkers. If you can make the 5 miles, you have definitely accomplished something. When I first started running out there with Ralph Schmitt and Les Brodie, 5 miles was a daunting task but eventually it became routine and variations of the route became the norm along with escaping the antics of Les and Ralph. Snowball battles, tipping Port a Johns, and other distractions along the runs became stuff of legend. Eventually, time became a factor for me and I began my quest for the all encompassing PR(personal records) not only around the loop and the variations, but in 10K races with our crew, pictured above. We had fun times back then but like Brenda and Eddy, you can never go back to the green. Different crowd, different atmosphere but………….still same old lake loop. Crowded on January 1st with all the New Years Day resolutionists, crowded on the first, nice spring day, and most of the summer. Isolated in the harsh days of winter but still observers can see the presence of the hard core Lake Loopers grinding out the miles in the snow.
If that loop could talk, you would have the most interesting book in print today. New mothers relating stories about their children,ER docs relating their care of gunshot wounds, couples discussing life together and life’s troubles, hard core runners not thinking about anything but heart rate and time, and cyclists battling the crowded bike path and surrounding roads with cars always to their left. Heck, Mick Jagger used to run the loop when he was in town. Imagine some of those conversations. I am sure Keith was not with him but the Pittsburgh Marathon staff certainly were entertained by Mick who was a faithful 7 mile runner. I have had some interesting experiences around that lake. Once time returning from a road ride out north, I was rounding the loop back to the parking lot at Stone Field when I felt a “WHAK” on the back of my neck. It was a chipped ham sandwich with mayo( the classic Pittsburgh Teddy Bear sandwich) along with a scathing, yelling commentary from the passing guy in the passenger seat of a car telling me to ” get the f@#$ off the road, a@@#$%^. Not really what you want to hear at the end of a pleasant road ride in the country, but I kept my head down and kept peddling none the less. I don’t mess with angry drivers- they carry guns.
It is interesting that things have changed a bit around the Lake Loop. Lots more people, and now with separate running and cycling lanes, the coveted real estate is guarded by some aggressive types. Our group comments all the time about people running and cycling around the lake who hold their ground and you better get out of the way or you risk getting run over- literally. There are road riders who fly around that lake. I call them the North Park specials because they ride in a pack and are really fast around the flat lake loop but never seem to venture out of the park to ride a hill. Some folks are clueless when they walk or run 4 abreast forcing those going in the opposite direction to seek refuge in the road along the loop. This can be a little dangerous and many crashes and falls have occurred. Courtesy sometimes plays second fiddle to the dedicated lake loopers who get their ride or run in come hell or high water. Get out of the way or prepare to die. Not the way it used to be but things seem to mellow as the season moves on and the enthusiasm of the rank and file seems to wane with the changing seasons. The hard core are still there but the newcomers and less dedicated seem to vanish as the temperatures and weather change. But the loop- remains constant. 5 miles. No getting around it.
I remember the days of 30 minutes around that lake. I look at the fast guys now and wonder what happened to the time. I generally run trails in the winter so the loop has been ignored by me with the exception of returning from a ride or walking with my wife. I wonder what I will look like in the years ahead running or walking around that lake? I am sure I will return at a much slower pace and continue the walks. I will age and get slower but one thing remains constant- the lake loop will always be 5 miles- winter, summer, spring, and fall. Thanks for reading and give some love to your local loop.