The year was 2020. The pandemic was in full force and vaccines still seemed like eons away. I was in need of an additional form of entertainment to help “fill the void” left by the pandemic. Since I couldn’t take vacations overseas like I would typically enjoy doing, I decided to take “vacations” in my own city by exploring new neighbourhoods on my own two feet. This evolved into a passion for “Citystriding,” which refers to runners who are seeking to run every street in their city.
Citystriders are referred to as such because they have signed up for an account on Citystrides.com, which overlays all of their GPS-tracked running activities onto the same map, giving them the ability to see clearly which streets they have run on and which they haven’t.
There are over 50,000 people in more than 100 countries currently attempting to run every block in their cities and almost 5-million streets around the world have been documented as run. Meanwhile, Citystrides calculates what percentage of the city you have completed, so you know exactly how much you’ve done and what you have remaining. When I first registered my Citystrides account I was sure I had conquered a decent chunk of Toronto—it turned out I had only finished around 5% of the city.
I had work to do.
Fast forward to 2023. Travel is now possible and social gatherings are back on the agenda, but Citystriding has not gone away. In fact, it is now more popular than ever. Another Toronto runner, Conor Hoekstra, pictured with me at the top of this piece, took up Citystriding more recently, in 2022, after the world already started to open back up. Conor and I are teammates and friends at BlackToe Running, and are now also “friendly rivals” who are taking different approaches to completing all of Toronto’s streets.
My career is in transportation and urban planning, and accordingly I’m motivated by the experience of it all, while running Toronto’s streets. I even run the trails and pathways that don’t ‘count’ towards my percentage completion of Toronto, just because I enjoy exploring them and truly soaking in Toronto’s urban fabric. Getting the chance to see neighbourhoods I wouldn’t normally otherwise visit has been fascinating and rewarding. There is something quite beautiful about the neverending hills and bungalows that make up the Caledonia-Fairbank neighbourhood. And I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the Jane and Finch area as it has a bit of a bad rap, but the people I ran by there were all friendly, quick to offer me a smile and a wave as I ran by. Additionally, as someone who puts a lot of effort into training seriously for my goal races, it’s nice to have this more lighthearted, less “serious” running goal to balance things out.
Conor’s career is different from mine. His field is in math and computer programming, and accordingly when he sets out on a Citystrides run, he finds joy in identifying and then running the most efficient pathways to complete the city. “Citystrides is like Pokémon Go, but with running and without the Pokémon,” says Conor, who has been completing approximately 50 streets per run with this strategy. “There are ways to be strategic about it.”
It goes to show you that there is no right or wrong way to be a Citystrider.
With Conor’s strategic approach, he recently leapfrogged me in the Citystrides leaderboard for Old Toronto, despite being at it for a much shorter time. Meanwhile, I hit a milestone of my own, having recently reached 50% completion for the City of Toronto (including East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, and York, in addition to Old Toronto). Suffice it to say we are both having fun and are motivated to continue our respective Citystrides journeys.
Conor and I are far from the only two in Toronto and across Canada who are Citystriding. What I didn’t realize at the time that I started this was that Citystriders are actually a community within the running community, and a pretty special community at that. When you try to do something crazy, like run all 10,427 streets in your city, that’s the kind of thing that brings people together.
I’ve made new friends through Citystrides and I’ve been on runs with other Toronto-based Citystriders and exchanged tips with them for how best to complete some challenging streets in the city. For example, there is a street in East York called Forestry Service Road that isn’t really a part of the city’s main transportation network. However, I learned it can be accessed via a mountain bike trail in the East Don Valley that would be easy to miss if you didn’t know where to look. Not only was I able to complete this street with the help of my Citystrides friends, but I got some epic views of the Don Valley and the East Don River in the process.
So far, the other Citystriders I’ve met have been in Toronto, but I’d be keen to meet other Citystriders in other Canadian cities, share stories, and perhaps be each other’s tour guides when visiting each other’s cities. After all, who better than a Citystrider to know all the best running spots in their city!
When I first started running, I assumed it was a solo sport. While running is indeed a personal endeavour, it’s something I’ve come to realize is made better with friends. My BlackToe friends keep me motivated to achieve my racing goals, and my Citystrides friends keep me motivated to continue exploring my wonderful city. At the end of the day running is supposed to be fun, and the more fun I can have while doing it, the more I improve as a runner, the greater the benefits are to my physical and mental health, and the more rewarding the whole experience of running is.
Whether you are looking to run every street in your city, or if you are simply curious as to what your map looks like, or are wanting to find out more about how Citystriding works, feel free to visit Citystrides.com and create your own profile. You can find me there and I’ll be happy to lend you a hand.