What I Learnt from Running 1,000 Streets During Lockdown
Only the most stubborn of runners would deny that COVID-19 has not affected their running, and with it, their motivation, mental health and confidence.
In June 2020 – after many months of running almost every day – I came to the conclusion that my motivation was dipping. I was doing the same routes, at the same time of the day, and it all felt a bit monotonous. Conscious that I had to train over the summer for the rescheduled Manchester Marathon in October, I decided that I needed a new challenge to get the miles in ready for race day.
Many years ago, I had read an interesting article about a lady who, over a period of years, had walked every street in London. Why don’t I run every street in my home city of York, I thought one day as I walked around the City Centre? Surely, it can’t take that long?
Thus, the #StreetsofYorkChallenge was born…
Being a bit of a planning geek – I once proudly created a colourful and quite complex Excel spreadsheet to organise a straightforward stag do – I decided I need to approach the project methodically. So with this, I decided to lay down some ground rules…
- Every street has to be run in its entirety (even cul-de-sacs and dead ends – this has led to a lot of strange looks admittedly!);
- No venturing onto private driveways, gardens etc;
- Alleyways, paths and ginnels are not included;
- And of course, sticking rigidly to social distancing at all times.
After studying a 10-year-old map of York and the surrounding areas, I broke down the city into approximately 25 different areas. One by one, I have been taking on a collection of streets in a particular area. At the end of each run, I review my route on Strava (their maps are incredibly detailed) and I record by hand which streets I have run. All details (street ran, area, postcode and date) are then populated in…yes, you guessed it…a colourful Excel spreadsheet (part of which is shown below).
Picture – the infamous spreadsheet.
I then use StatTracker to view my heatmaps over time.
Picture – Progress as of Sunday 6th September 2020.
Picture – Close Up View of Streets Done.
Three months on and as of today (Sunday 6th September 2020), I have ran 1069streets, covered 439 miles and built up an impressive heatmap covering approximately half of York.
But more importantly, my motivation, health and wellbeing are back and whilst I still have days where I struggle to summon the energy and enthusiasm to run, I now have a long term project that pushes me that extra mile.
So, what have I learnt from it all, other than York is actually quite large and has over 3,500 different streets?
Switching Off and Watching the Miles Fly By.
On previous training runs, I would often find time really dragged and I would be often looking at the watch, wishing away the miles. One of the most surprising elements of the challenge has been how quickly the miles (and time!) goes when you run a particular set of streets. As you are concentrating so much on what is around you, avoiding traffic/humans, and thinking about how to get to the next street, you switch off from looking at the watch or glancing at the watch. Even just doing a handful of admittedly quite complex streets, less than half a mile radius from my house, added up to a few miles. Before you know it, you have covered your distance target and are set for the day.
Reconnecting with my City and Discovering Hidden Gems.
One of the highlights of my challenge has been that I have felt I have been able to reconnect with my adopted home city so much more. By running in different areas and districts, I have discovered so much more about the city I call home. On one run, I stumbled on a former Cold War nuclear bunker – less than one mile from my house – which I never knew existed! These days it is a visitor attraction! On one run, I stumbled across a statue of a bear (the Chalfont bear) in the middle a housing estate. To this day, despite some Internet research, I still do not know why the Bear is there! In addition, I have found deserted woodlands, nature reserves, lakes and trails that I didn’t know existed, all by virtue of my exploring. Many of these hidden gems will be the starting point for many other runs in the future.
Picture – The Chalfont Bear.
Picture – York Cold War Bunker.
Perhaps most importantly of all, my challenge has helped me to stay positive during what has been (and still is) a very difficult time with all the uncertainty around COVID-19 and the new reality we all find ourselves in now. Whilst it does not provide the same high as races or parkrun, running the streets has given me the focus and motivation I needed. When the Manchester Marathon was cancelled for a second time in July, I was naturally gutted but my challenge continued on. No miles are wasted as they say, and I know I can use these miles for the Marathon next year (fingers crossed).
Whilst this kind of challenge is obviously not for everyone (some people have suggested I am crazy!), I would definitely encourage people to think about taking on a new challenge. The beauty is that you can define our own project. You don’t need to be training for an event; you don’t even need to be super speedy or even particularly good at running. You just need to have the fire in your belly to get out there and pound those streets.
Whilst I still have about 2,500 streets to go (I think!), I know I have so much more to explore and learn about my city, myself and my running. Hopefully I will even find out why that statue of the bear is there too!
You can follow my challenge by following me on Instagram @rundaveymc or by following the hashtag #StreetsofYorkChallenge!
Happy running and thanks for reading!