How ‘Pac Tom’ Completed His 16-year-Long Goal of Running Through Every Street in Pittsburgh
Modeling his quest after the arcade game Pac-Man, this runner from Shadyside now looks to hitting every street in Allegheny County.
Exactly 3,663.1 miles and 16 years later, Shadyside resident Tom Murphy VII can boast that he has run every street in Pittsburgh (he estimates there are 7,400 of them). The nearly two-decade-long project was named Pac Tom after the arcade game likeness of putting a line through every street on the Pittsburgh map, he says. Over the years, Tom, 43, developed a set of rules to ensure it was a safe but challenging task. For example, he always had to start at his home, he didn’t have to run on major highways and other rules are detailed in his documentary.
His final run was a 9-mile trek in a 20-pound Pac-Man costume that ended on Mount Washington with a view of the city’s skyline. In this interview, Tom goes into the nuances, lessons and emotions of his superhuman project.
Q: What made you want to start this project?
A: I picked up running as kind of a health thing in grad school, but I was running the same route every day. I got a little bored of it. It was a nice day and instead of turning right on my normal route, I turned left. I just went for a long exploration run instead of my regular 3-mile thing. And I had a blast. I saw parts of the city I’d never seen before. So I got excited by the idea, the challenge, of exploring the full city.
Q: What kept you motivated for 16 years?
A: Running is kind of addictive. It became a lifestyle. Running itself is a motivation for me, and that’s good because when you get older, you can’t just rely on youth to keep you fresh.
And it’s also a little bit like a video game. You’ve got your map and you’re checking that you’re crossing off all the streets. That feeling of making progress, getting more pointsis, I must admit, compelling to me.
Q: How did you establish the rules?
A: When I’m running, I spend a lot of time, like hours by myself just in my head. And I’m looking at the road, I’m thinking about the project. So that gives me ample time to ponder. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just finding the easy way out.
Q: What was the longest or hardest run and how did it go?
A: The longest is easy. There was one where I did a 36-mile run to the North Side. It was a nice day. It was a Mother’s Day. I just had extra energy and it was well over 6 hours of running.
There have been times when it’s been super hot or a thunderstorm comes in or I get lost. Those can be harder than simply a long run. I will say, running with that Pac Man costume could have been the hardest one because that was 9 miles with a 20-pound enormous costume.
Q: Do you have a favorite road to run on or a neighborhood? Why?
A: I think every neighborhood in Pittsburgh has something to offer, honestly. I know it sounds a bit corny to say, but one of the things I was struck by was how they all have their own character. They’re fun to look at, to see the weird, old stuff.
I really like the hills that Pittsburgh has, that’s a good challenge for running. In East Hills, there are a lot of good streets like Dornbush Street. that’s my favorite. It’s like the third steepest street in Pittsburgh, it’s really long.
Q: Do you have a favorite shoe? How often did you change sneakers?
A: My favorite was the New Balance 991’s, and these are famous sneakers. These were the sneakers that Steve Jobs wore. They actually were kind of the reason I got into running because my parents bought a pair of these for me when I was in grad school, and they were the first shoe that ever actually felt comfortable on my feet. Those shoes were discontinued by New Balance though; I’ve moved on to later generations of that shoe.
I went through about 20 pairs of shoes throughout the project.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson or take away from this project?
A: For me when I started, it wasn’t clear that I could do it. Seeing something that’s just barely achievable, or seems at first not achievable, but then seeing it come into focus as achievable over a decade, 16 years, it convinced me that I could do stuff. So that’s a lesson for me.
Q: What emotions did you feel when you finished?
A: We filmed a video of the finale, and I’m in the ridiculous costume, so it wasn’t a surprise at all. I had been visualizing how this scene was going to be for months. But when I actually did it, I was focusing on the filming and getting it right and I wasn’t even really thinking about, ‘Oh, that was actually it.’ So in a sense, it was a little anticlimactic in that only after the fact I realized, ‘Woah I’m done.’
Q: You’re now planning on running all of Allegheny County… How’s that going?
A: Yeah, so before I finished the city, I was still running. I was going outside the city because I was sort of afraid of finishing the city, but I wasn’t afraid of finishing Allegheny County.
I don’t really know if this is realistic. It’s crazy big.