A “How-To” Guide to Running (or Walking) Every Street in (your) Town

It may be more challenging to get workouts in right now with gyms closed. Exercising, however, is a necessary tool to maintaining our mental health. Especially important right now. Where I am in northern Illinois, we are again being asked to adhere to some strict guidelines around social distancing including a new “stay-at-home recommendation” which went into effect yesterday. 

The stress of this is compounded by the fact that we have been dealing with this for eight months, and aside from perhaps the hope of a vaccine on the horizon, there is no real immediate end in sight. Working from home may have also made us a little more sedentary this year than even the average desk job that probably included a commute and moving throughout a much larger office building setting.

Getting up and moving around is a must for both mental and physical health. Luckily, running – and walking – are not cancelled, and offer the best solution for staying active. Getting out in the winter, if it’s cold where you are, will require appropriate clothing, but other than that, these activities don’t require any special equipment. They may require some motivation. 

Transversing the same routes every day may get boring. Boredom is what first motivated me over three years ago to run every street in my town (at the time that was Ramsey, New Jersey – read about that HERE). With no races to train for this year, I decided to do it again (this time in Vernon Hills, Illinois – read about that HERE). The competitor that I am, making this game out of running gave me motivation to put in the miles I wouldn’t have otherwise.

So how does one go about running every street in their town, village, or city? Here’s how:

Determine how you will track your progress.

When I did this in New Jersey, I used a paper map and highlighter. I also used a GSP watch. At the end of the runs, I compared the data generated by my watch on Garmin Connect with my map and highlighted the completed streets. Since then, I learned about CityStrides, a website that you can connect to a GSP tracker app like Garmin or Strava and it does the highlighting for you!

For those that may be walkers, or beginner runners, and not interested in incurring the expense of a GSP watch right now, an app on your phone will work just fine. I recommend Strava. Even though my data was recorded on my Garmin watch, it’s automatically uploaded to Strava as well and therefore, CityStrides. This provides some back-up. In the event my watch dies in the middle of a long outing, I can simply switch over to Strava on my phone for the remainder of the miles/streets.

CityStrides offers Advice for Beginners. If you don’t like waiting for your data to upload after your activity, I recommend paying for the $2/month membership. The site was pretty good but did have a few glitches, both in terms of occasional syncing and what it defined as a street (the Wendy’s drive-thru, a dirt maintenance path through the woods). 

Doing research for this blog, I learned that CityStrides isn’t the only option. Another is StreetFerret. I haven’t actively used StreetFerret but did connect it to my Stava account (their only option right now) to see how each site compared. The interface is a little cleaner than City Strides and I did like the way it eliminates any requirement to cover roadway not safe for pedestrians (like a state highway). But like CityStrides, it had a couple glitches. There were a few portions of streets it didn’t give me credit for which I clearly ran, although last I checked – after 24 hours – it was still uploading my data.

These tracking sites aren’t perfect. Don’t go nuts over the data. You know what you covered. 

Plan your runs or walks

CityStrides offers planning tips. StreetFerret, advertises  “LiveFerret mode” which “shows a StreetFerret map of your local area, with an icon for your current position. LiveFerret mode will continually move the map based on your current position so that you can efficiently ferret out missing streets during your run. Just navigate to the streets in red on your map and off you go.” That could be a real plus.

When I started out I just enjoyed the run and didn’t worry so much how I was covering the streets, but since I had set a deadline goal for myself, I had to get a little more efficient. All but one of the 39 runs that made up my recent challenge were run from home. I needed to figure out the quickest way to get to a new street and make the best use of every run.

When I did this somewhat manually in New Jersey, I took a picture of the paper map and could check it periodically. This time, I used Map My Run to plot a course for each run. I then used their map to guide me through the route.

Just Do It!

Enjoy it. Have Fun. Make up your own rules. If you’re walking, driving to each neighborhood may make more sense. I was fortunate each time to live almost dead center in each of the towns I was running. If I decide to tackle other cities (and running every street in Chicago has crossed my mind), I’d need to drive. No harm in that. If you’re looking for more ideas and some inspiration, read about these runners who ran their cities:

Good luck! And please report on your progress.

Fall Running. Vernon Hills, Illinois. November 2020.

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