(back-dating this post, completed 2/2/2021)
On November 7th, 2020, I completed my years-long project of running every street in Northampton, thanks to CityStrides.
I joined in 2018 while training for the New York Marathon, but since it syncs with RunKeeper, my favorite run-recording app, it counted runs I had in 2015 while training for the Rochester Marathon and so I was already at 18%. I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled on it, but it was connected to working with CommonMedia because that’s where James Chevalier, the creator of the app, was working; I had signed up already when I saw him at a tech happy hour and we talked about it. Having it be something local was completely cool and unexpected.
CityStrides has made running so much more fun! It helped a ton during marathon training when the miles started adding up; the extra motivation to complete streets made the long runs more rewarding. That got me to 76% of the city, pulling ahead of the nearest competitors (#2 is at 65% as of today and #3 is at 49%; I didn’t record where they were then, but I don’t think either of them has been focusing on Northampton). It felt awesome to be in the lead, and I kept plugging away at nearby routes post-marathon, but my normal routine is only about 6 miles for a long run and I soon plateaued at a little over 80%.
My philosophy (even pre-CityStrides) is that I want exercise to be self-propelled, so I strenuously avoid driving to a route. I make exceptions for races, of course, and some of my favorite hikes (especially with friends) require getting in the car, but I didn’t want a single stretch of CityStrides to involve driving, so I didn’t make much progress in 2019. This year I decided to prioritize finishing by biking to the outlying areas, starting with sections near ValleyBike stations and then mixing in my regular bike.
I got a bottle of champagne at the end of October in order to celebrate, with the unspoken hope that we’d actually be celebrating a Biden-Harris victory. On November 7th, after the spontaneous celebrations all over downtown, I rode to North King Street to finish the last segment, Trinity Circle in Laurel Park. As I had suspected from a previous attempt, it turns out to be a phantom section that I had to mark manually complete. But one of the really great things about CityStrides is it’s based on the open-source Open Street Map, so I’m trying to figure out how to report this as a phantom or paper street and make it better for everyone. It’s very interesting that the official Laurel Park map, GMaps, and OSM of this area are all totally different.
I became a supporting member so I could get the instant gratification of uploading and syncing my new runs when I got home, but I’m really happy to do so anyway. It’s a great project and it’s free to use! One of the extra-nice features is that it brings in weather data, which RunKeeper doesn’t. I can look back on a particularly slow run and be reminded that it was 85 degrees with 100% humidity!
Some thoughts on why this was so much fun:
- Obviously, it got me to explore every single street. I saw all kinds of things I would have otherwise missed.
- Less obviously, I have memories and associations all over town – the neighborhoods I went to over and over, the little streets that eluded me at first, the places I want to revisit.
- Seeing the variety of architecture, gardens, wild areas, industrial parks – all delightful. Some of the newer/developer-driven neighborhoods remind me of McMansion Hell, but that’s interesting too!
- I found new conservation areas to explore, and now I have a secondary goal of tracking all the public trails in Northampton.
- It helped me enjoy what I don’t have – both in the positive sense, that other people’s gardens and design choices bring me pleasure, but also in the negative sense, that every lawn is one I don’t have to mow, and every soffit is one I don’t have to paint.
- When traveling or visiting family, picking a running route is (rather, was, and will be again…) an additional small joy. I won’t do much of DC or Rochester etc., but I can at least add a few streets on each trip.
On top of getting all the Northampton hiking trails on my lifemap, I can also set new goals – covering neighboring towns like Hatfield (fewer, longer streets) and Easthampton (tons of streets, accessible via ValleyBike). Years ago I had the vague project of walking every Manhattan street, which I was going to manually map. Once the pandemic is over, I’ll be able to work on that when we visit family.