A man who has spent the last 16 years running the length of every street in Pittsburgh—including a final stretch during which he donned an elaborate nine-kilogram Pac-Man costume—has chronicled his successful effort in a short online documentary, and YouTube this week has helped shine a deserving spotlight on the unusual quest.
Google software engineer Tom Murphy VII who lives in the east-side neighborhood of Shadyside, combined his passions for running, problem-solving and the 1980s video-game icon to inspire and sustain him in the years-long project, which he dubbed “Pac-Tom.” He successfully wrapped up the mammoth effort last October. The project led Murphy down each of his hometown’s more than 7,000 streets for a total distance of about 5,892 kilometers.
YouTube on Thursday profiled the Pac-Tom project on the video-sharing website’s official blog. While completing the last section of road final street in his Pac-Man costume was certainly a milestone for the avid runner, the 30-minute documentary Murphy created about the experience is what truly capped off the project. Posted on Murphy’s popular @Tom7 channel—which features videos on projects ranging from designing impractical hard drives to creating “weird chess algorithms”—the Pac-Tom documentary covers all angles of this multi-faceted endeavour.
In addition to the challenge of mapping a multi-year run that includes every street in Pennsylvania’s second-largest city, Murphy’s documentary describes the “expert-mode” rules he imposed on himself for the challenge. These included guidelines for what counts as a “street,” what counts as a “run” compared to a “walk,” and, in a nod to the play mechanics of the video game that inspired the project, a requirement that he start and finish each run from the same location. The documentary also gives an insider’s view of the design and creation of the Pac-Man costume—complete with moving mouth—he wore in the final stretch of the run, along with some of the challenges that came with it (such as how to drink water while harnessed inside a giant Pac-Man head).
This wasn’t the first time Murphy has donned a custom for a run. He once ran a 10K on his birthday his dressed as a giant cake. He also ran a marathon dressed as a bandit—with real handcuffs and shackles—while a friend, dressed as a Keystone Cop—chased him the entire distance.
“It’s not like I enjoy suffering, but it is satisfying to do things that are hard,” he says of the novel running challenges he sets for himself. “For a while that was about trying to get fast and run races … but as I got older it became less feasible to keep setting personal records, so I turned to new dimensions of difficulty.”
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He says he hopes the Pac-Tom documentary can help others discover the rewards of running. “People regularly tell me that they ‘can’t run.’ Running does not feel good at first—and I don’t even think that ‘good’ is the right word for it once you’re conditioned—but don’t assume you can’t do it unless you give your body a chance to catch up,” says Murphy. “Doing hard things is good for you, and hard exercise even more so. … The second-hardest thing is getting started and the hardest thing is not giving up.”