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Get To Know Pittsburgh With A Running Tour, Three Miles At A Time

Seven sweaty people stood panting in the Saturday morning light beneath a fading red and gold mural on the east side of a tattoo parlor on the corner of 11th and Carson streets. 

Trista Yerks described the work, created by street artist Shepard Fairey in 2009. It was one of several he installed throughout the city, made of layered wheat posters that degrade over time.

“You can see that it's very weathered. It's kind of starting to come down because of all the weather that Pittsburgh has,” she said. “So it makes me sad, but it wasn’t meant to last.”

Yerks is a de facto docent for the histories of dozens of larger scale public artworks seen on the weekly stop-and-start, three-mile neighborhood jogs she’s led for the past four years.

Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
The Shepard Fairey mural, Peace Goddess Burgundy, on the side of a tattoo parlor at the corner of 11th and Carson streets on the South Side.

She said she got the idea from visiting other cities where she’d often join running tours led by guides who shared information about notable spots like historical landmarks or public art.

Yerks said she couldn’t find anything similar locally, so she started Pittsburgh Running Tours, which offers 2 to 3 mile group runs through the South Side, North Side, Oakland, Strip District, Downtown, Lawrenceville and Bloomfield. 

“I was working on the North Side when I first moved to Pittsburgh, and I was running on the North Shore trail after work and just realized, 'Wow there's a lot of interesting stuff around here,'” she said. “First I developed what I think is a good route.”

Yerks started running casually after college as a way to stay in shape, but it turned into a lifelong passion. She's since become a certified running coach and marathoner. Last year, she ran 900 miles.

In the early days of the running tour, she said it was mostly out-of-towners looking for a way to get to know the city.

“It's great to see a city by foot,” she said. “We stop so that people can take pictures and ask any questions. I'm always here to give restaurant recommendations. I love to eat, so I'm always telling people, 'OK, we just passed that restaurant, remember it and come back and enjoy their food!'”

Now, locals like Mary Moran, of Brentwood, make up about half of her tours.

“It's good to have someone who knows the area and can point out different interesting things I never would have,” Moran said.

Yerks, who opted out of marathon training this year, is taking it a little easier these days. She said she likes the relaxed pace of the Saturday running tours.

A stranger cheered her as she jogged down Carson Street.

“I don't like treadmills," she said, basking comically in the sunlight. "I get just really bored quickly, so I like to go outside where I can look around and see other people.”

Sarah Kovash previously worked as a web producer for KDKA-TV, as a freelance journalist for the Valley News Dispatch covering local government throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and at NPR station KPBS in San Diego.
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