16 lessons learned by running every street in my town

On Global Running Day back in June a runner in my town posted a challenge on our local Mom’s page. The challenge was to run every street in town. I was up for the challenge! It seemed like a great way to elevate some of the boredom I was feeling from running the same routes for close to 10 years.

I went down to the borough hall and got a copy of a map. At home I took a yellow highlighter to it, marking all the streets that I had already run – my regular routes that I knew so well. I highlighted in green the railroad tracks that bisect our little town; in red, the state highway that creates another division and a bit of a hazard for runners. I wasn’t going to run on the highway.

Then I found a blue highlighter with which I was prepared to mark all the new streets I planned to conquer. There were a lot of them. Many of them were dead ends (cul-de-sacs), meaning I was going to have to run them in both directions. I was thankful that Ramsey, New Jersey  is only about 5 and half square miles and that I live just slightly northeast of dead center. I wasn’t sure if this challenge had any rules, but to make sure it was indeed challenging for me, I vowed not to drive to another part of town to run their streets. All runs would start and finish near my home.

On June 24, 2017, I set out on what I dubbed my “Complete Streets Challenge” a play on the Smart Growth America/Complete Street Coalition initiative (“Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work”).

Aside from relieving boredom, I thought this was a cool thing to do in my last year here (my daughter will graduate high school in June and I plan to downsize), another experience. I love experiences. Experiences provide an opportunity to learn.

A view from the top. Ramsey, New Jersey. August 2017

I completed the challenge this past Saturday. These are the lessons learned:

  1. Planning is the key to assure thoroughness, efficiency, and success.
  2. It’s okay to stop every once in awhile and check the map – and recalibrate the route if necessary.
  3. Things are sometimes very different than they appear on the map; be flexible.
  4. Some of the most gorgeous properties are on dead-end streets.
  5. A street can look completely different going in the opposite direction.
  6. Stepping into the unfamiliar can give us courage we didn’t know we had.
  7. The best views are often at the end of a long hard climb.
  8. My town still has a long way to go in meeting their Complete Streets challenge.
  9. Even the most dangerous and curvy roads can be safely navigated if you’re cautious and take your time.
  10. The most challenging roads make you stronger, both physically and mentally.
  11. Obey traffic laws; some rules are just meant to be followed.
  12. Keep your eyes on the road.
  13. Look both ways before crossing; be aware of your surroundings.
  14. Health and safety are most important and should be the guide in determining whether the goal is realistic or should be adjusted (full disclosure: I chose not to run one street that was only accessible from the highway – marked on the map in orange).
  15. Stay on the left, so the dangers are coming toward you and easily visible.
  16. Use overpasses to get to the other side of dangerous highways.
  17. Sometimes when you achieve your goal you keep running, because there’s another, bigger goal waiting.

This is a lot of what I’ve been saying all along. Much of this can be applied anytime we run on the roads – or to life itself. Stay safe. Plan ahead. Don’t let obstacles keep you from your goals. Be flexible. Change your perspective. Re-calibrate when necessary. Never stop learning.

The road not taken. State Highway 17. Ramsey, New Jersey. August 2017

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