The challenge: Run on every street in NL

Running in traffic up Ocean Avenue in New London toward the busy Bank Street intersection earlier this week, Sue Smith glanced at an electronic clock on a corner signpost ticking down the time before the light changed.

“Three seconds to get across!” she exclaimed. “Let’s go for it!”

We sprinted and reached the sidewalk just as a stream of cars, trucks and buses hit the gas. Whew.

No stopping, though.

“Left on Jefferson!” Sue instructed, and we then began loping on a one-way street in the same direction as the vehicles.

“I like it better when I can see the cars coming,” I said, looking over my shoulder.

Five minutes later, we finally reached our first destination: Walden Avenue.

“OK, left here," Sue said, checking her watch and smiling. “This is all new.”

A few minutes later, we turned on Colman Street and then hooked another left onto the west end of Garfield Avenue — another “new” street. Then we looped back to Jefferson via McDonald Street, also new territory.

Later, after our four-mile run, she checked off Walden Avenue and McDonald Street on an Excel spreadsheet as part of her months’-long quest to run on all 392 roadways in the Whaling City. The rest of Garfield Avenue, as well as several dozen streets mostly in neighborhoods in New London’s midsection, would have to wait for future outings.

“I’m about 78 percent finished,” Sue said, noting that she hopes to knock off the final road sometime this summer.

The New London Street Challenge is the brainchild of Sue’s brother, Steve Smith, and his friend Joe Clement.

For three or four years, the two had been running together most mornings, pounding out up to five miles before work.

“We usually would run from our homes near Mitchell College along Pequot Avenue,” Steve recalled. After they started keeping track of their distances, it occurred to them that they should try to run on all the roads in the south end of the city.

“It kind of expanded from there,” he said.

Joe visited the city Public Works Department, where helpful workers provided him with a map that had to be augmented to take in such state roads as the Boston Post Road; campus byways at Connecticut College, Mitchell College and the Coast Guard Academy; streets at Fort Trumbull State Park; and unmarked paved areas near State Pier and along Waterfront Park. Steve and Joe even included the New London portion of the sidewalk on the north span of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge across the Thames River, coming up with a tally of 392 streets totaling about 90 miles.

The bridge was the last section they ran last year to become the first to complete the challenge.

Since then, the two have been on a mission to encourage others to follow in their footsteps, and to date, some 60 people have signed up.

“We’re just trying to bring people outside and get some exercise,” Steve said. A former soccer coach and city Recreation Department volunteer, he also hopes to help promote New London as an active, vibrant community.

Joe agreed.

“We want to get people off the couch,” he said.

Recognizing that not everybody runs, Steve and Joe have opened up the challenge to include walkers and bikers.

By that measure Sue already may have qualified as a finisher.

A retired mail carrier, for years she walked up to eight or nine miles a day “all over New London,” she said.

“I love running in the city,” Sue added. “The houses, the buildings, the people …”

Then there’s Pequot Avenue, where you can watch submarines, ferries, the Coast Guard barque Eagle and other vessels on the Thames River.

“It’s always different,” she said.

As we loped along the other day, motorists tooted their horns and waved — as a one-time mail carrier and longtime runner, Sue, gregarious by nature, is a familiar figure on city streets.

Though she describes herself as a recreational runner, Sue has run in several marathons, including Boston. In fact, it was this celebrated race that indirectly brought her in touch with her friend Vicky Giordani.

While picking up mail to be delivered a few years ago, she noticed one envelope lacked a stamp. It was addressed to the Boston Athletic Association, and Sue deduced it must have contained an application to run the marathon.

“I knocked on the door and said, ‘Do you want this to be mailed?’” she recalled.

After Vicky put a stamp on the envelope and went on to run the marathon, the two women became fast friends. Vicky is now signed up for the New London Street Challenge.

If you’d like to join the fun, send an email to nlstreetchallenge@gmail.com.

You’ll receive a map and a list of roads. For $20, you can also buy an official New London Street Challenge T-shirt.

Though it’s not a race but rather a long-term goal (Joe and Steve took nearly a year and a half to run all the streets), I bet some hotshot speedster backed by a dedicated support team can get through the challenge, lickety split.

What do you say, runners: Up for a challenge?

 

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