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

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.
More lessons learned running every street in (a new) town

More lessons learned running every street in (a new) town

Yesterday morning on an 8.5 mile run, I ran nine new streets in Vernon Hills, Illinois and with that concluded my quest to run every street in town. I took on this challenge because without any races on the calendar I needed a way to stay motivated to keep up a regular running schedule. I also wanted to get off the park trails where social distancing was becoming difficult. I started on August 2.

Some stats…
43 – the number of Vernon Hills’ 441 streets I had already run prior to August 2.
229 – total miles run
398 – streets completed Aug 2 – Oct 31
1.74 – average number of streets completed per mile
39 – the number of individual runs (38 of which I started and finished from home. On one single run, I drove to 2 two streets – Benjamin Drive and W Apple Orchard Lane because they were on the opposite side of Milwaukee Avenue where there was no place to safely navigate a crossing).
5.87 – average number of miles per run
38 – most streets completed in a single run (Sept 13, 20k run)
10.5 – most streets completed per mile on a single run (Aug 21, 4m run)
1 – least streets completed in a single run (Oct 28, 5m run)
13.1 – longest run (Sept 26 & Oct 18)
1.5 – shortest run (Oct 30, when I drove to the 2 streets I couldn’t safely get to otherwise)

Crosswalks, sidewalks, and bikes paths made this quest fairly easy.

I did this before.

In Ramsey, New Jersey. Read “16 lessons learned by running every street in my town.” After I competed two Vernon Hills runs and 33 streets, I found myself back in New Jersey on August 6 for a week finishing some unfinished business. When I ran those streets in 2017, I was not aware of City Strides which I could connect with my GPS tracker (e.g. Garmin or Strava) to get an accurate picture of where I’d been and where I needed to go.

Since I did Ramsey manually, meaning I just highlighted streets on a paper map, it was up to me to decide what constituted a street and where it started and ended. When I linked my Strava account to City Strides in early August I was shocked to see I was only 97% complete. So while I was there, I knocked off the remaining streets. A couple were from a day my watch died and were never officially recorded on Strava. Others were streets that went farther than they appeared to go, streets not marked as completed because they extended into a neighboring town and I had stopped at the border, and a couple streets that I couldn’t navigate to safely because they were off the state highway. 

I didn’t, by the way, run on the state highway. Technically, I finished Ramsey at 99.5% or something like that. Since running on a state highway is not only dangerous, but perhaps prohibited, I just marked it completed manually. The City Strides map for Vernon Hills was a bit quirky too. But nothing I couldn’t handle. My favorite was “Wendy’s Drive Thru”. Why Wendy’s and not McDonald’s of KFC? I also ran on two roads identified as “Access Road” and “Maintenance Road” that weren’t anything that resembled a road.

Ramsey, New Jersey: 267 Streets, 5.5 square miles (26 miles Northwest of midtown Manhattan), population: 14,473 (Wikipedia)  
Vernon Hills, Illinois: 441 Streets, 7.75 square miles (37 miles Northwest of the Chicago loop), population: 25,113 (Wikipedia)

Lessons Learned

All the lessons – especially the life lessons – from the 2017 effort in New Jersey hold true here too. Some additional lessons…

  1. We can always find the answer, if we are open to possibilities. The Dalai Lama says, “Once a year go someplace you’ve never been before.” You might think that would be difficult to achieve this year. And yet, somehow in spite of the pandemic, travel restrictions, and cancelled races, I found 398 new places to go just a few short miles from home. 
  1. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Until I started this challenge, I hadn’t seen much of Vernon Hills. The Park District provided ample opportunity for recreation and adequate and ascetically pleasing places to run. That I knew, but most of my travels around town since I live right off Town Line Road didn’t go beyond the main thoroughfares. And honestly Town Line Road, Route 45, Butterfield Road and Milwaukee Avenue do not have a single iota of charm. Most days I was missing Ramsey’s quaint little Main Street. As I began to venture deeper into each neighborhood though, I found a lot of charm, diversity, and caring, thoughtful people (see #5).
  1. Flat is good. While Ramsey had less streets, Vernon Hills is basically flat. Roads that are not hilly, curvy and narrow, are much easier to navigate.
  1. Sidewalks and bike paths are even better. When I ran the streets of Ramsey, I called it the “Complete Streets Challenge” and made a note of how the town was no where near having “Complete Streets” (“A Complete Streets approach integrates people and place in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of our transportation networks. This helps to ensure streets are safe for people of all ages and abilities, balance the needs of different modes, and support local land uses, economies, cultures, and natural environments.” – National Complete Streets Coalition). Vernon Hills, on the other hand, is a pedestrian and bikers dream in comparison.  Although I was surprised that those main thoroughfares had a significant number of spots that lacked pathways or safety measures. All-in-all though, of the 229 miles I ran, I would estimate that less than 5 miles of roadway fell into that category.
  1. I miss running with others – one in particular. Yesterday, since I had made a few posts in the Vernon Hills Moms FaceBook group, one mom organized her neighborhood to provide a cheer squad as I passed through. This group made it fun. They had noise makers and a sound system playing the Rocky Theme! For the first time in more than eight months, I felt like I was running a real event! This quest involved a lot of lonely miles, and the one thing that I’m happy about now that it’s complete, is being able to run with Kurt again.

These lessons of course translate to life. Flat and straight, with lots of space to maneuver is the safe way to progress, but we meet challenges by considering new possibilities. Those possibilities are often found by just looking a little deeper. Ultimately, we need the support of others.

At the end of the last street. Vernon Hills, Illinois. October 2020.

A future blog post will include a “how-to guide” to running (or walking) every street in your town.