Tom Murphy VII is trying to run down every street and alley in Pittsburgh. Seven years on, he has long since covered every non-highway between the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.
Mr. Murphy, a 34-year-old Google software engineer, is a little different. He's 5-foot-3 and sturdily built, not the prototypical body of distance runner, but he makes up for that with drive, creativity and low-key wackiness.
I was alerted to his quest last week when someone emailed me a photo of him in the Great Race this past September. He ran all 10 kilometers -- 6.2 miles -- in full Penguins hockey gear, including ice skates.
Yeah. That's no typo, but I'll get to that little jaunt later. Mr. Murphy -- no relation to the former mayor who shares his name -- has run 4,500 miles in this city. Those aren't all unique miles; he covers much of the same ground because one of his cardinal rules is that each run must start or end (usually both) at his Shadyside home.
When, at my request, he ran up to my North Side rowhouse stoop one cold morning last week, he was already steeped in the sweat of an hour's run. Your Sunday stunt columnist is a walker, not a runner, but I ran with him for the better part of a half-hour and three miles as he mentally checked off more streets and alleys -- Galveston Avenue, Jabok, Buttercup and Faulsey ways and others -- from the back roads of Allegheny West and Manchester.
Any feeling of accomplishment I had was dashed as I watched Mr. Murphy run off to scratch a few more streets from his map during a 20-mile run before work. My morning hadn't covered even a thousandth of what Mr. Murphy has seen.
I'd lunched with him in the Google cafeteria in Bakery Square in Larimer the day before, and asked, among other things, about running the Great Race in skates.
"Skates is crazy,'' he agreed, confessing that he could only wear sandals or gauze for two and half weeks afterward. But then he talked about all the smiles from the crowd and mused, "A diving suit might be harder.''
Don't bet against that. He ran the 2011 Pittsburgh Marathon in prison stripes, handcuffs, leg irons and a heavy chain between the cuffs and irons. Even given this proclivity for the bizarre, though, what in the name of Forrest Gump has him running every non-highway street in a city of more than 55 square miles?
It started with his shoes, he explained. He moved here from Hamden, Conn., in 1997 to attend Carnegie Mellon University, and by 2006 he was deep into doctoral studies in computer science. When his parents visited on his 27th birthday, they bought him a pair of New Balance 991s. They were not only the best sneakers, they were the best anything he'd ever felt on his feet.
They propelled him into a trot. He couldn't help himself. Before long, he grew tired of three-mile loops in Shadyside. He took a long run to the zoo, liked that, and kept exploring. He started mapping his routes, and then someone told him a GPS watch could do that for him.
He now has colorful maps online. ("I liked sort of drawing on the map with my feet.'') They can be found at pac.tom7.org. He didn't set out to conquer every city street -- "It wasn't clear that's what I was doing'' -- but once he started coloring maps, he couldn't stop.
"I have like a completionist personality, the same kind of thing that gets you a Ph.D.''
He could now give lectures in outrunning small dogs and calming big ones, but this one-person game he calls Pac Tom is nearly over -- at least in the way Mr. Murphy would define "nearly.'' He has no idea how many street miles there are in Pittsburgh -- "It's a hard thing to get a stat for'' -- but he thinks he needs just 10 long runs, about 30 miles each, to finish this job.
Most of those jogs will be on the North Side, but he'll save the few remaining stretches of Mount Washington for last. When he's done, "I'll go to Grandview [Avenue] and, like, love the city,'' he said, throwing his arms triumphantly above his head.
After that, "I don't know what I'll do with myself.''
My guess is he starts pricing diving suits.
Brian O'Neill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1947.