'Hell On Hills' 5K Organizer Showcases Her Home Neighborhood In Annual Race

May 21, 2018

Bethany Ruhe was born and raised in the hilly south Pittsburgh neighborhood of Beechview. 

She grew up one block away from the main drag of Broadway Avenue, where the T train -- or, as Beechviewers call it, the trolley -- still runs its daily route down the middle of the street.

“It’s very diverse. We have a very large Hispanic immigration population here, which is wonderful. It adds a lot of vibrancy," Ruhe said. "It’s very family-oriented. There’s still a lot of families here, a lot of long-time Beechview residents. We haven’t had a lot of bleed, in terms of people leaving."

Ruhe has moved around a bit since graduating from Pittsburgh Public Schools’ CAPA high school, but she returned to her old neighborhood about three years ago. Since then, she’s poured much of her free time into planning what she calls “the world’s steepest 5K”: Hell on Hills.

The race starts off with a slog up the intimidating, cobblestone slope of Canton Avenue. Ruhe said it has a 37 percent grade, and is one of the steepest residential streets in the world.

From there, it hardly gets any easier, with a seemingly endless number of hills to climb throughout the neighborhood. Ruhe said she got the idea for Hell on Hills while running a particularly steep leg of the Pittsburgh Marathon relay.

“As I’m running up the hill, I’m like, ‘Running up hill is really efficient, it’s a good workout; it’s great.’ I was trying to talk myself into not wanting to stop," Ruhe said, with a laugh. "I was like, ‘Why doesn’t anybody have a 5k in Beechview? We have Canton Avenue, and lots of other hills. I wonder why nobody’s ever done that.’”

She said Beechview’s annual 5K culminates in a community-wide celebration at Vannucci Field, with music, free beer and food trucks.

Ruhe said some residents along the race’s course have had complaints about the inconvenience of having their streets blocked off, but on the whole, the community embraces the race.

“Last year was our second year, and we also saw a big uptick in people who weren’t running it, but were participating by cheering the runners on, which was great," Ruhe said. "I’m hoping this year we’ll have even more of that. The community in general is really proud of the race, and we also get a ton of Beechview volunteers, so, between volunteering, cheering and running, we’ve got a good show, locally.”

Since the race happens in late October, Ruhe said participants dressed up in costumes for a sort of ad hoc Halloween party last year.

“There’s a little part of it that goes past a little graveyard, so all the little kids dressed up like little zombies and jumped up and scared the runners, so if you run it this year, don’t be too afraid," Ruhe said. "And be nice, one of them’s my 7-year-old.”

Ruhe is also the past president of the Beechview Athletic Association, where she still volunteers as a coach for the youth baseball, softball and soccer teams. She said one day, she hopes to merge her two volunteer projects by directing any profits from the 5K race to the Athletic Association.

“Our fields are in the best shape they can be with our volunteer group of people that take care of them, but I’d love to get some improvements made," Ruhe said. "So, to the extent that Hell on Hills can help with that, I’m really hoping this might be the year we can give them a check to help improve some of the things that need done.”

This year's Hell on Hills race kicks off in the morning of Saturday, Oct. 27.