5K to the Fifth

New Fifth Ward resident James M. Harrison follows the Astros’ “Race for the Pennant” 5K to the front steps of his own neighborhood:

After running the 3.1 mile race with a friend, I decided that 5K’s should be the next topic on [Christian] Lander’s blog, “Stuff White People Like.” Hundreds of people (many of whom were caucasian), rose with the sun for the big race at 7.00 AM. They came outfitted in their lightweight synthetic clothes and hot-to-trot running shoes– the perfect accessories for the meaningless number we all slapped on our chests to make us look like we were about to compete in the Boston Marathon (mine was 2757).

Nobody trains for a 5K. But if you’re up at daybreak, among the crowd of socially aware locals who are in good enough shape for 25 minutes of running, thanks to their motivated lifestyles (and the iPods strapped to their arms, cued to amp the jam for the blitz across town)– then you must be doing something right with your life. It’s so important to be a part of the healthy crowd, that you’ll even pay $25 to get in on the action for a morning. I am a victim of this system.


The gun fired, and we sprinted off from Minute Maid Park towards the Elysian Viaduct (which takes the title so far for best street name in Houston). Hundreds, if not thousands of people ran north, away from the city, towards the Greater Fifth Ward. We crossed the Buffalo Bayou, I-10, and Lyons Avenue— one of the main drags in Fifth Ward, as well as the street that [Covenant Community Capital Corp.] calls home. Then we came to the end of the viaduct, and turned around— to jog back towards the Houston skyline. A woman and her child sat on their front porch, watching the Saturday morning masses pour by their house, holding back their dog as it barked at everyone.

5K’s by nature have to be 3.1 miles. I guess it was for this reason that the Elysian Viaduct was chosen as the route– that and traffic-flow purposes. But I couldn’t help but notice that when we had barely reached the Fifth Ward (and it’s debatable if this part of the neighborhood even is technically the 5th), we made a quick U-turn, and headed back into the city for the post-race party.

I noticed this because from what I’ve picked up during my time here, the Fifth Ward has a reputation for being the kind of neighborhood that the kind of people who run 5K’s don’t typically visit. It was true on my train ride down here– as I sat next to a woman who told me danger stories about things that had gone down in the neighborhood. I asked her when was the last time she’d visited the Ward, and she couldn’t answer.

The neighborhood has it’s label for good reasons– a Houston Press article five years ago opened with the following lede: “Say the words “Fifth Ward” to most Houstonians, and they’ll think crime, poverty and desperation. The neighborhood is infamous in song — everyone from bluesmen like Juke Boy Bonner to rappers like the Geto Boys has made music about the Bloody Fifth and its perils.”

Interestingly enough though– the Press article was titled “Best Hidden Neighborhood,” and was a feature of that year’s “Best of Houston” series. And despite the occasional police siren, search helicopter, and a couple of noises that sounded like gunshots, I have yet to observe any of the perils for which the Fifth is notorious. I still have yet to meet a non-nice person (granted, I haven’t met that many people). Of course, I’m still completley a tenderfoot when it comes to Houston and the Ward. I’m unaware, uninformed, and naive— I’ve only lived here for five weeks. I’m in no position to make an authoritative observation on the way things are here.

But I have noticed that the neighborhood is full of great history and great people. There are bright colors, flowers, vegetable gardens, old churches and jukebox joints. I walk the streets at night and I feel safe. Last week, one of my neighbors offered me a job as a valet. Things here are on the whole, good. And so today, in my own greenhorn opinion, the Fifth Ward is charming. Maybe next years “Race For the Pennant” could drop off the Elysian Viaduct and just keep going on into the neighborhood.

2009 Houston Astros Race for the Pennant Route Map (rotated): James M. Harrison

6 Comment

  • I love your piece ‘Victim’ and think it was great to have 3000 people step into the Fifth Ward for the first time!

  • True Houstonians know that fifth ward makes first ward look like third ward. amirite?

  • I prefer to explore 5th Ward on Google Streetview. There’s less chance of getting shot.

  • Given the ballpark start, the 5th Ward u-turn occurred after enough turf was covered to ensure the runners hit the 5K mark at the finish – I guess that’s a less interesting explanation than fear of crime. The viaduct is an excellent route for these events because of minimal disruption and out-and-back capability. I’ve used it for weekend a.m. bike rides-right into and through the Ward- since the the 1980s…

  • You’re looking for opportunity to run the Fifth Ward? Try the ConocoPhillips Rodeo 10K every February; it goes over the Viaduct and further into the ward. And then there’s the Chevron Houston Marathon and the Aramco Half Marathon. These give you a great tour of Houston’s Fifth Ward. In fact, with the Marathon you tour the entire city, with a view of all its high and low spots, economically and culturally. You asked why the Astros don’t take their run further into the ward. It’s because it’s only a 5K and they want to end it in Minute Maid Park.

  • Thanks for moving to our city and immediately passing cultural-bourgeoisie-“socially progressive” judgment upon the opinions of people who have lived here much longer than you!