Walk, run & bike: Safety, injury prevention and tips for novices or seasoned pros


Click here to see a comprehensive list of biking safety tips


By now, most of us have forgotten all about our New Year’s resolutions to eat healthy and go to the gym every day.

Thankfully, summertime Pittsburgh overflows with opportunities to get active and take advantage of the city’s green spaces.

Walking, jogging or running

Having a support group or friends who are committed to running or walking can make all the difference in motivation.

People Who Run Downtown, a dues-free, casual running club that’s been around for nearly 25 years, hosts 2- and 4-mile runs every Tuesday and goes out to dinner afterward — a fitting reward for a hard hour’s worth of exercise.

Co-founder and Perry Hilltop native Dale Schwab said the group attracts runners of “all speeds, all varieties.”

The group meets at a different restaurant each week and provides route maps so no one gets lost and all can run at their own paces. Because of the group’s diversity, Schwab said everyone will find someone at the same ability level — whether they be marathon runners or walkers.

“It’s free, there’s no pressure on anybody,” said Schwab, who now lives in the suburbs.

Many who start out walking have gone on to run in marathons. Plus, running is good for you and can help you lose weight, he said.

Although there’s no single “right way” to do things, there is a wrong way to run. Wearing improper shoes or using poor technique can end in injury, and so it’s important to know what you’re doing.

The most common error beginning runners make is wearing the wrong kind of shoes. “If you’re a new runner, and [the group] sees you in Chuck Taylors, they’ll tell you that you need to get a new pair of shoes.”

Schwab emphasized the need for running shoes, not tennis shoes, basketball shoes or any other kind of shoe. “If you go out in regular shoes, you’re going to get hurt.”

In general, Schwab said swinging your arms while running is a waste of energy. Although a lot of arm movement is good for sprinting, it slows a runner down, and Schwab recommends keeping your arms by your side, with your elbows bent.

Also, keep your hips square and upper body straight (rather than leaning in) and don’t move them too much. “You want all your energy to move you forward.”

Other beginner errors are taking long strides and running on the balls of the feet. Schwab said over-striding can lead to knee problems, and running solely on the balls of your feet can cause cramps — it takes a long time for marathoners to build up the foot strength to run on the balls of their feet, and beginners are better off running heel to toe.

In 24 years, People Who Run Downtown has never missed a scheduled run, even in winter, so there will always be someone around to cheer you on.

More information, as well as a schedule, can be found on the group’s website, www.pittsburghrunning.org.


Don’t let traffic or Pittsburgh’s hills discourage you from picking up a bicycle.

In addition to being named a bronze-level bike-friendly city by the League of American Bicyclists, Pittsburgh’s many parks and trails — as well as resources for acquiring a bike for little to no money — make it a great place to ride.

For recreational riders, Friends of the Riverfront offers a free community bike program that allows participants use of a bike on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail system.

On the Northside, bike lockers are located across from the Heinz Loft apartments on River Avenue. Friends of the Riverfront assigns each participant an “ibutton,” which is tied into her identity and serves as a key for opening the lockers.

Anyone over the age of 18 can sign up for the program at the organization’s office at 33 Terminal Way on the South Side. The bikes will be available starting in June, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day during the summer and fall.

The program is in its third year, said Executive Director Tom Baxter. “People just love [the bikes] to death.”

Because the community bikes are only available for trail use, those who want to commute or ride in another city park will need their own bicycles.

Free Ride, a subsidiary of local advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh, offers used bikes for sale — and for free, if you’re willing to do some volunteer work. Through the Earn-A-Bike Program, riders can fix up a used bike and volunteer a certain number of hours to earn the bike.

For more information about Free Ride and to view a schedule of bicycle maintenance classes they offer, visit www.freeridepgh.org.

And of course, there are plenty of bicycle shops all over Pittsburgh that can help you find the perfect new bike for your needs.

“You have to know what kind of riding you want to do and how much you’re willing to spend,” said Bike Pittsburgh’s Executive Director Scott Bricker.

But, Bricker added, almost any bike will do. “If it’s ride-able and it’s not a chore … then yeah, it’s a good bike.”

Riders who want to commute or who plan to bike on streets need to know and follow the same traffic rules and signs that cars do. Bike Pittsburgh’s Bike Commuting 101 pamphlet, available online at www.bike-pgh.org, contains all the basics of street riding and signaling.

If you’re going to use a bicycle that’s been sitting around for awhile, you should do a quick once over to make sure everything is working properly and the bike is safe to ride.

First, ensure the tires are inflated and can hold air. Second, check the brakes to see that the pads aren’t worn down, that the brake levers don’t come all the way back to the handlebars and that the pads aren’t rubbing on the rim. Third, check the pedals and the chain to make sure they all work smoothly and are properly lubricated.

Bike Pittsburgh, located at 3410 Penn Avenue, also offers free bike maps that show where steep hills and dangerous roads for cyclists are, as well as which routes have dedicated bike lanes or are generally free of traffic.

And as for those Pittsburgh hills, Bricker said, “There’s no shame in getting off your bike and walking it.”

Bike Pittsburgh is a member-supported organization. To become a member, visit www.bike-pgh.org.

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