27 June 2006

Frequently Asked Questions

Since I started this whole thing I've received a gratifying amount of encouragement as well as a substantial number of questions. Here are some of the most frequently asked, along with my answers:

Q: Are you really planning to run every street in Brooklyn?
A: The short answer is yes, though I'm drawing the line at the BQE, the Belt Parkway, and other places where pedestrians are forbidden by law or social convention. But I will include things like the Brooklyn half of the bridges in and out of the borough (except the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which prohibits pedestrian traffic), as well as the bicycle and pedestrian trails in the parks and along the waterfront.

Q: How many miles of roadway are there in the borough?
A: According to a document about the bumpiness of city streets on the NYDOT website , about 1742. When the Daily News did a story on me, however, they cited a number of 1599 miles (also, apparently, from the NYDOT). So I guess it all depends on who you ask. In any event, it's a lot.

Q: How long's this going to take?
A: Good question. I usually run between 25-35 miles a week, so technically it'd be possible to run every street in a little over a year. But since it's not really practical to run different routes every day (there's going to be some overlap, especially closer to home), a good guess might be between one and half and two years.

Q: Uh, why are you doing something like this?
A: Can I give more than one answer? First, I've only just moved to Brooklyn, and I'm feeling a certain civic obligation to get to know my new home. This is the most important aspect, I think -- I like a lot of what I've seen of Brooklyn already, and I want to see as much of it as possible. Second, I like running, but I get bored easily and stuff likes this keeps me motivated. Third, let's just say I have an obsessive personality.

Q: What do you mean by "unique miles?"
A: Unique miles are simply the miles of road I've run for the first time and which count toward my goal of running every street in the borough. Obviously, I'll run parts of some streets more than once, and tabulating "unique miles" is a way to keep the "repeats" separate. Here's an example: Say I run down a dead-end street that's a quarter-mile long. Although running to the end and back would cover half a mile, only a quarter-mile counts towards the "unique miles."

Q: So why a blog? Are you vain? Narcissistic? Full of yourself? It's vanity, isn't it.
A: Not really. It's got a lot more to do with keeping track of where I've run. I ran every street of Iowa City, Iowa last year (somewhere around 250 miles), and I wish I'd kept a journal of some kind. Besides, it seems like there's a thriving blogging community here, and it'd be cool to be a part of that, if only in a small way. In fact, many of the kindest comments and most generous words of encouragement have come from other bloggers in the area. Furthermore, I have a lousy memory, and the blog is probably the only way I'll remember the details of most of this. And finally, the archived posts serve as a kind of "proof" of what I've done, especially if I actually complete this whole thing only to encounter some naysayer asking, "how do I know you didn't make a lot of this up?"

Q: How do you manage to take all those pictures while you're running? Do you run in place while snapping the photo?
A: No, I don't run in place -- that would probably make for some pretty blurry pictures. So yes, I do stop when I see something interesting, but only long enough to take the picture (which usually isn't more than a few seconds). And I stop my watch for however long it takes, too, so the picture-taking isn't included in the overall length of the run. I also only photograph things that I can see from the route I'm taking that day, usually from the sidewalk (I don't want to waste a lot of time sneaking down alleys or whatever).

Q: What kind of camera do you use? Do you like it? Would you recommend it?
A: I use a Nikon Coolpix L4. It's pretty compact, very light, and seems to take decent pictures. But I really bought it because it was the cheapest full-featured digital camera I could find -- I picked it up for about $140 (including tax) last July at the downtown J&R. I originally toyed with the idea of getting one of those super-cheapo cameras that go for under $50, figuring I'd only lose it anyway, but I wanted to end up with some halfway decent photos. And so far I've been happy with my choice, for the most part. It does have its share of problems: It has a slow lens and a lower-end CCD, for example, so it doesn't do all that well in low lighting situations (and I don't mean night, I mean in a heavy overcast or the shadow of a large building). Also, the lens creates quite a bit of fisheye-type distortion when the zoom is in the lower half of the range. But then again, for the money I spent, I'm happy that it has a zoom in the first place. And it seems to go pretty easy on the batteries (it takes two AAs, if you're wondering). To be perfectly honest, I figured I'd drop it, corrode the insides with my perspiration, or have it stolen long before I finished the whole project, but as of this update (10/27/06) it's still going strong. So, to answer the last question, yes -- if you're looking for an inexpensive digital camera that seems pretty reliable, you could do a lot worse.

Q: Do you listen to music when you run?
A: No. But a lot of the time I do take my old, held-together-with-tape Sony armband sports radio (I clip it to the waistband of my shorts), though -- dork that I am -- I only listen to NPR (which usually means Morning Edition on WNYC).

Q: I see you're based in Greenpoint. How do you get to and from the neighborhoods at the other end of the borough? Do you drive? Walk? Take the bus?
A: I take the subway, especially the G, F, the B/Q, and the L. Driving is too much of a hassle (especially finding parking), and the bus is usually too slow. I've found I can usually get wherever I need to in between a half hour and an hour, so it's not too bad. A lot of the time, I take the G from Greenpoint to the Fulton Street stop, and then just walk the two blocks over to the Atlantic Ave station, where I can catch the train to almost anywhere in the southern half of the borough.

Q: Aren't you worried about your safety? Some neighborhoods are definitely rougher than others.
A: Not really. I'm not a complete idiot -- I try to use common sense when I'm running regardless of where I am. And to be honest, I'm a lot more worried about getting run over than I am about anything else. There are a lot of crazy drivers out there. But I don't run late at night or wear any jewelry or anything, and I try to keep aware of my surroundings. (If you're curious, you can always check out the crime statistics page from the NYPD).

Q: Why have so many of your runs so far been in the far southern neighborhoods? Do you have something against Bushwick or DUMBO?
A: Of course not. It's just that, over the summer, I decided to draw an arbitrary line across the southern third of the borough -- from 65th Street in Bay Ridge across to Avenue P on the Sheepshead Bay/Midwood line and continuing along Flatlands Avenue through Marine Park and Flatlands and Canarsie -- and focus most of my energy south of it. Why? Because these are the farthest places from home (with commensurately longer subway rides to reach them), and I wanted to run these areas early on, when the weather was better and I was still experiencing the enthusiasm and excitement that accompanied the first few months of this whole thing. According to this logic, when it's cold and dark and I'm feeling the negative effects of all this running, I'll be able to run the neighborhoods much closer to home, preventing burnout and discouragement and everything else. It's kind of like being a kid, when you'd eat your brussels sprouts first to get them out of the way so you could enjoy the rest of your dinner.

Q: Fascinating. Is this plan working?
A: So far, so good. But ask me again in, say, January or February. And I still don't like brussels sprouts, or any of the cruciferous vegetables, for that matter. In fact, as a kid I usually didn't eat them at all -- I'd hide them in the potted plants or feed them to our dogs.

Q: You had dogs that ate brussels sprouts?
A: Well, now that I'm thinking about it, they probably didn't. But they were less picky about my mom's cooking than my siblings and I ever were.

Q: Have you done much running before?
A: I've been running seriously for about seven years now. I've done seven marathons (Duluth and Chicago each once and Quad Cities five times) as well as numerous shorter races. And in 2005 I ran all 230 miles of streets in Iowa City, Iowa, where I lived before moving here. Since 1999 I've averaged about 1500 miles per year.

Q: What, are you some kind of superhuman ultra-athlete?
A: I wish. To tell the truth, I'm not particularly athletic at all but rather a pretty average 40 year old guy, with occasional lower back pain and a doughy midsection. But success in a project like this probably depends more on discipline and sheer determination (or, indeed, obstinacy and stubbornness) than on coordination or natural ability, which makes it a good choice for me. It's not that I'm terribly slow or anything -- I'm just not super fast, either. Most of my daily runs are at a pace between about 7.5 and 8 minutes per mile.

Q: Huh. So what are your personal records for races at various distances?
A: A respectable (or so I'd like to think) 3:30 for the marathon, 34:42 for the 8K, and 19:54 for the 5K. I'm less proud of my 1:43 half-marathon, but I only ran one and I didn't really train for it. And believe it or not, I don't think I've ever run a 10K.

Q: What will you do if and when you finish?
A: I'll probably rest for a couple of days. I'd like to run the New York Marathon in 2007. And while I don't think I'll attempt to run any other boroughs of New York, I wouldn't mind devoting a few hours a week to walking all of Manhattan.


At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so cool. Seriously. I just started reading your blog and I love it!

At 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, this is great! I have been walking every street in Berkeley, CA, and keeping a blog about it. I just ran across your blog today because I wanted to write about others who were tackling every street in NY boroughs. Here's the mention:

Good luck; I look forward to following your blog!

Jen, Walking Berkeley

At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that is awesome!!!
I am in iowa city.Graduate student.
Thanks for giving an idea. I will finish those 250 miles here.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger shadi rahimi said...

Please contact me, I'm a freelance reporter for The New York Times and I'm interested in writing a story about you. Email bayfreelance[@]yahoo.com. Thanks, talk soon!

At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Laura said...

About how many pairs of running shoes have you gone through thus far?

At 11:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for the camera - do you hold it during the run or do you have some sort of fanny pack? Is it uncomfortable to have with you?

At 12:04 AM, Blogger Gary said...

As of the halfway point (which I reached in late January 2007), I was squeezing the last few miles out of my third pair. So, uh, the answer to your question is "three." I probably could get a few more miles out of them, but I didn't want to push my luck, and opted for a fresh pair after about 350 miles. Those sidewalks are hard.

And anonymous,
I have a little waistpack that I use to hold the camera (and my keys and metrocard and usually a folded-up article from the New Yorker of the Atlantic or whatever to read on the train home. It's light, and relatively comfortable, and it's served me well over the first half. But it is most definitely not a fanny pack. Let us never mention those words again.


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