Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Mapping Minneapolis: Running Every Single Street

I moved to the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis just over a year ago and was faced with a dilemma: Footing. 

The previous five years in Austin, Texas had me having to worry about cold or bad footing on so few occasions I could count them on one hand. However, moving to the Twin Cities in February meant that if I were going to run outside, I was definitely going to have to re-learn how to ice skate while running.  Growing up in NW Pennsylvania, this was kind of second nature and fortunately didn't take me long to remember how to run on slipper surfaces. That said, while I thoroughly enjoyed the ease of running alongside the Mississippi River just a few blocks from my loft, the slippery conditions were a bit tough.  But it was the wind off the river, combined with the frosty temps, which drove me to find some different routes during the colder months.

 The places that look on fire are where I ran the most.
So one day I decided to venture to a part of the city that looked quite grid-like. I thought if I ran up and down the streets and then back and forth, then no matter which way the wind was blowing, it could only be in my face for so long. (Of course any runner or cyclist will tell you that unassailable logic is often proven wrong when you somehow have a headwind in every directions.) I luckily had a great run, (even with 13 mph sustained winds!), enjoyed this back and forth style running, and an idea popped into my head. I pulled up the map of Minneapolis and noticed how virtually all of the city was one big grid. I decided right then I was going to get to know my new city the best way I knew how: by foot. I had spent most of the five plus years I lived in Austin running the two same routes. I didn't want that to be the case in Minneapolis.

Running every single street is a thing I talked about in an earlier post when I did the same thing in my hometown last summer. But doing so in a town that’s barely 1.5 square miles of runnable streets is one thing. Running all the streets in a city nearly 50 times larger than that is another. 

While I wished to accomplish this task of seeing every doorbell in Minneapolis as soon as possible, I also wasn’t making it my only priority. With racing opening back up again post-COVID, I was traveling more than usual. In fact, it took me a month just to get my first 17 mapping runs in as I travleed to Colorado for a week, ran a half-marathon nearby and then took on six half marathon races in six days in six states. (Two wins and four second places, in case you cared to know.)

I was also spending time on the road working on the app I an launching here very soon, called Sherpa.  Then, in August, my mother’s health began to fail. This wasn't the biggest of surprises, as I wrote here, but it was shocking how quickly she deteriorated. Since that time, I have spent over two months back in my hometown either tending to her health, watching her pass away, or eventually having to clean out her house. As such I wasn’t in Minneapolis nearly as much as I thought it would be in 2022.

After she passed, it’s quite clear that when I was home, I grieved by putting one foot in front of the other. I began knocking out much larger chunks of the city. Runs got longer, I mapped a bit better cutting down on overlap, and generally, I was doing more than just chipping away at the 1,000 miles of Minneapolis streets. When snow fell at the end of November I knew it might get a little bit rougher to run on the sidewalks in town and picked up the pace even more. It appeared that I might actually finish this entire endeavor before the year ended. I was a bit excited about finishing this project in the same calendar year that I began it. 

Then a few different things, including a sprained ankle, and a couple of speaking engagements which took me out of town, put me into a situation where I realized it would take an unnecessary amount of running to finish Mapping Minneapolis before New Year's Day. I figured if I couldn't wrap this up as timely as I had hoped, that I would go another route and go out in style. 

You see, I had for quite some time been avoiding one particular street in Minneapolis. I wasn’t avoiding it for safety issues or anything else other than the fact that it is the longest street in the entire city. At just over 11.2 miles Lyndale Ave more or less bisects the side of the city west of the Mississippi River. Seeing a potentially exciting opportunity, I reached out to the mayor of Minneapolis‘s office to see if the mayor himself Jacob Frey, and extraordinarily accomplished runner in his own right, would like to finish my final run with me. Run through 20 of Minneapolis' 87 neighborhoods and six of its eleven communities would be one heck of a way to get a worm's eye view of the people and its environs. Much to my pleasure, he seemed quite keen on the idea. It then simply became a matter of coordinating schedules (his, obviously more than mine) and trying to find good weather that would allow us to get outside and safely navigate some streets. Four rescheduled dates later and Sunday, March 5th was when I could finally close out this project.

I was extraordinarily flattered that the mayor took time out of his weekend to join me on this quest, and I speak only for myself, but I think we had a jolly old time. I had the unique pleasure of meeting his wife Sarah, and their adorable daughter Frida as well, as they dropped us off at the North 53rd Avenue and
West Lyndale Ave North intersection. One quick picture for posterity with Brooklyn Center behind us and away we went.

The first mile or so was a little touch-and-go as a bright sunshine was melting some of the snow and ice and creating a bit of a mess on the sidewalks. I was attempting to lead the way as I had spikes in my shoes to deal with this slop. In addition, I figured not letting the Mayor go first and potentially injuring himself was a savvy move on my part.  I am all about PR, baby.

 But we soon found our groove and as we passed through the neighborhoods of Lind-Bohanon, Camden Industrial, and Webber-Camden. We picked our way from sidewalks to bike paths to different sides of the street in tandem as even runners who just started running with each other can do without even a word of direction. The sun was seemingly making people happy as we were given wide berths on the road, a few cries of "Watch out for that ice!" and just general merriment from citizens in the neighborhoods of Minneapolis which some would save are a little less savory.

A little further down, as the sun became surprisingly warm, and we both shed a layer of clothing, the Mayor said he wanted to get a drink. So we popped into the Winner Gas Station on the corner of W Broadway and N Lyndale Ave.We barely had a foot inside the door before the Mayor was greeted by the security guard there who recognized him even with a winter hat on. It was clear the Mayor also knew this gentleman by name and chatted with him and a few other patrons. We posed for a couple of pictures (I was graciously asked to join even though it was clear they were not aware of how much of a celebrity I am as well) and then proceeded to drink our fluids outside in the sunny weather. (The Mayor thoughtfully shared his drink and I made sure to pour it into my mouth from the acceptable two inch distance as to not pass along any germs.) No less than half a dozen people stopped to talk to the Mayor showing nothing but happiness towards seeing him out and about. 

"These are some of my favorite neighborhoods," he said while pointing out various building being constructed for housing projects and giving me a history of the area.  I laughed and said "I've heard this is the worst intersection in Minneapolis, but that Cub is my grocery store!" sweeping my hand across the street.

We soon were on running through one of the only two areas that is not a straight line as we passed through the Lowry Hill neighborhood and into Loring Park. (As Lyndale Avenue splits these neighborhoods in many places, I am counting them both as neighborhoods we ran thorugh whenever that happens. Fight me on it.) The surprisingly warm and sunny day chilled off a little bit right around here and I put my headband back on.

One of my fave houses.
I asked the Mayor some questions about his time on the Hansons Project for elite runners and he shared some stories one could only get if they were there. We both felt the day was going by rapidly. When I said we only had roughly four miles to go, we suddenly threw down a 7:29 mile in the South Uptown and East Harriet neighborhoods, even while waiting for stoplights and pedestrians. For the most part, we were able to run side-by-side and share thoughts and stories on running in general as well as the city of Minneapolis. He reminisced on door knocking for his first campaign for Mayor on what is one of my favorite houses in Minneapolis (5152 Lyndale Ave S; and if you know how often the number 52 pops up in my life you won't be remotely shocked at this address) and I told him Diet Mountain Dew should be the official city drink. (I didn't, but I should have.)

Before we knew it, we were soon approaching the end. In our conversations, I had happen to mention the passing of my mother. With a block to go he said “This one is for Barb." I said that Minneapolis ended right at Rt 62 but if it was OK with him, we would run under the 35W overpass and give my mom an extra block just for good measure. Once there, we shook hands and he gave me a real nice hug. We then posed for another picture and the difference between this one and the other just 85 minutes earlier felt like a lifetime.

This was my 133rd dedicated run to mapping Minneapolis. All told I had run 1305.85 miles of Minneapolis streets on these runs. The first 50 runs I did netted me 448.45 miles for an average of 8.869 miles per run. The next 50 brought in 499.05 miles, with an almost 10 miles per run average of 9.981miles. The last 32? Well, I ran 358.3 miles for an average of 10.58 per run. Most of those were in subzero temperatures of December and January. As I told the Mayor, I am only moderately fast but I get stronger as the run goes on. Know your strengths.

If I were to ever do this again in Minneapolis (I will not) or be consulted as to how to do it better (I am for hire) I could definitely get the miles down closer to the supposed 1000 miles of streets that comprise this half of the Twin Cities. (I started using the apps Strava and CityStrides far too late into this endeavor, as both would have made this much easier. They are the ones I created the maps at beginning of this post with.)

 I’m looking forward to speaking with people in charge of a variety of different departments within the city to share with them what I have seen, what I have learned, and what I find to be extraordinarily amazing about Minneapolis.

Regardless of info shared with others, my goal was to see my new city in a unique way. I can now say that if you live within the boundaries of Minneapolis, I have seen your porch.  

I've like what you have done with the place.

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