Maybe it was hearing Patrick talk about his streak of consecutive days running (which he chose to end just shy of one year), or maybe it was hearing Terry talk about his recent 100-mile week (“sometimes you need to change things up”), but I got to thinking about how in the mind of a runner — a mind left on its own for mile after mile, day after day, season after season — peculiar projects, stunts, and escapades begin to ferment like strange brews in the basement.
Or maybe it was getting a nice note from Will Gibbons, friend and former Assistant Cross Country and Track Coach for Concord Academy, whose recent “project” of racing (on foot, with friends) the Green Line trains from Cleveland Circle to Kenmore Square landed him a bemused article in the Boston Globe.
Whatever it was, I started thinking about my own list of offbeat running projects that I might get to someday. Or not. One of the things that makes it fun is the lack of any practical object to these endeavors. To the question, “why would you want to do that,” the answer is usually “I dunno.”
Running all the streets in Newton
For many years I’ve wondered how long it would take to run the length of every street in my home town of Newton, Massachusetts. Newton, the “Garden City” has a land area of Approximately 18 square miles, and, according to the city’s web site, 1,485 streets that would extend 310 miles if laid end to end. I assume that does not include the major highways that pass through the City, but let’s ignore them, since they are of little interest to a runner anyway. It wouldn’t take too long to run 310 miles, but what if every run had to start and finish from my house? That constraint would transform the exercise into a major route planning project, not to mention a test of mental and physical endurance. I would guess it would take years to complete.
If this seems like a colossal waste of time and energy, I’ve had the same thought myself, and yet, I can’t get the project completely out of my mind. Even now, I have an urge to print out an oversize map of the city and start marking the streets where I’ve run. If I did so, presumably it would begin influencing my choice of training routes, and instead of running the same damn six-mile loop over and over, I’d be all over town.
Here’s another one, also in the “map” category:
Starting anywhere in the metro Boston area and running for two hours, what is the largest number of municipalities that one can visit? Maybe if I really spent time on this, there would be some obvious answer, some set of cities and towns that are clustered in such a way that even a rickety runner like me could visit on a modest long run. But if so, then I would merely need to change the constraints a bit to create new puzzles. How many cities and towns could *I* visit on a single run, starting and finishing from some arbitrary point? How many towns that contain the letter “W”? How many Town Halls could I visit? How many Anna’s Tacquerias?
This reminds me that when I was coaching at Newton North, several of my runners attempted one weekend to run to three Anna’s in a single outing, eating a burrito at each one. It didn’t end well, as I recall.
Here’s another project that I’m actually going to embark on “real soon now”:
Field Guide to Tracks
I am going to begin taking photos and compiling short essays on out-of-the-ordinary outdoor tracks in the metro Boston area. Heck, I might even claim this as part of a much larger (fanciful) project to compile the authoritative “Field Guide to North American Running Tracks.” I hear my audience responding with a collective “Huh?”
I sympathize, but hear me out: there are some really odd tracks out there, and they fascinate me. There is the old asphalt track — laneless and with weeds growing up through the surface– at Minuteman Tech High School, not far from the Battle Road. There is the nearly square track around Nickerson Field at BU. There is the 200m outdoor track at the YMCA in Newton Corner. I could go on. The point is, not all tracks are pristine but generic ovals, devoid of personality and interest. I’d like to bring the world’s attention to this. Look for the first chapter of my guide soon.
I suspect that many runners, after their first decade or so of running, harbor projects like these in their mind. Maybe not all projects are grandiose, but even small stunts add interest to this monotonous activity of ours. Creating little challenges for oneself, once one has satisfied or exhausted the urge to train to get faster, keeps things interesting. Of course, everyone will have their own pet projects. Maybe yours involve running the same race 20 years in a row, or running your age in miles (or kilometers, or laps on a track) on one’s birthday, or running shirtless as late (or as early) in the season as possible… the list of possible stunts is endless.
And mostly harmless, I think, although that’s not meant to be challenge.