Locals Highlight Bethlehem’s Running Culture

I was astounded by the turnout of Aardvark Sports Shop’s evening group run. Growing up, I worked at a similar shoe store. Even with the incentive of free beer, usually only around ten athletes showed up to our runs. By contrast, the run that I attended at Aardvark had around 40 participants! The large attendance illustrates the fantastic running culture present in Bethlehem. Following the run, I had the pleasure of speaking with some of the athletes, most of which regularly attend the store’s weekly runs held each Wednesday at 6 p.m. 

Gorgeous View of South Bethlehem and the Lehigh River While Running. Photo Credits: Jeffrey Kirshenbaum

 To me, running is the best way to get to know an area. From the time I first arrived at Lehigh University, running has given me a special connection to the Southside. By contrast to most college students, who often feel confined to their campuses, I’ve always loved exploring Bethlehem’s vibrant Southside. On my jogs along the Greenway, I run by the skatepark and watch locals do thrilling tricks. Shortly after, I run by Yasko Pool. It’s hard not to smile when hearing the laughter of children truly having fun. On my way back, I’ll add on mileage by doing a loop around the main part of town. Locals frequently provide encouragement, and it’s entertaining to people-watch along different streets. Running by restaurants such as Nawab, Social Still, and La Lupita is risky. Too often, I catch a whiff of their tasty food, and forgo my own cooking for a better meal. Other routes I’m fond of go around the SteelStacks. One of my favorite places to take a breather on runs is the middle of the Fahy Bridge. From there, you can see the historic Bethlehem Steel, picturesque train tracks, bustling downtown South Bethlehem, and the lower part of Lehigh. For me, and many others like those in Aardvark’s running group, running has created a strong relationship with the fantastic city of Bethlehem. 

One runner, Cory, met his wife through Aardvark’s running group, and needless to say, he’s been supportive of it ever since. Cory lives on the north side in the colonial industrial quarter, but many of his favorite runs go through the Southside. One of the routes he enjoys is called the “Bridge Loop Five-Miler,” which involves a figure-eight crossing the New Street and Fahy bridges and coming back through SteelStacks.  According to Cory, the group frequently runs on the South Bethlehem Greenway down to the Saucon Rail Trail for their longer runs. He was extremely enthusiastic about Bethlehem, exclaiming that, “The running community in Bethlehem is great. Everyone supports each other. No matter what your pace is—you’re a runner. Everyone cheers you on.” Cory said that even on some of his 5:30 a.m. runs, Bethlehem residents still encourage him. Everyone in the running community is friendly and supportive, and he’s made many friends through running. 

Mike, another member of the group, drives from Easton every Wednesday to run with them. He told me about Aardvark’s “Frozen Foot Challenge,” which encourages participants to run or walk outside for at least one mile every day for six weeks during the winter. Mike has competed in the Runner’s World Half Marathon and Festival as well as other races on the Southside, including the Musikfest 5K. Tom, another runner, said he enjoys that running gives him a different perspective of the city. He appreciates seeing the transformation of the Southside, running by all the new buildings and restaurants, and seeing the revitalization first-hand. Everyone I spoke with had similar, overwhelmingly positive statements about Bethlehem and its running culture. 

Many of the runners were Southside residents and boasted of the nice running routes near their homes. Most seemed to enjoy loops that go through both the south and north sides of our great town. Running on routes overlooking the Lehigh River at sunset with the sun’s orange light reflecting off the water and Bethlehem Steel acting as a rustic backdrop can truly brighten up any day. 

View of SteelStacks and South Bethlehem From a Run Across the Hill-to-Hill Bridge. Photo Credits: Jeffrey Kirshenbaum

I was also shocked to learn that the “mayor of running,” Bart Yasso is from the Lehigh Valley and occasionally trains with the Aardvark group. Yasso is a legend in the running community. He’s the Chief Running Officer for Runner’s World magazine, has competed in races on every continent, and is the author of My Life On The Run. I attended one of Yasso’s lectures as a child, and the experience was so motivational that it’s a big reason why I’m still running today. I was told that Yasso will occasionally organize a night-run that goes through the Southside up to the Bethlehem star. Looks like I’m going to have to free up my schedule for the next one! 

*Feature photo credit: Jeff Kirshenbaum*

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