Running man: Blau’s path takes him down every street in MinneapolisMINNEAPOLIS — As a high school athlete, Al Blau set a school record in the two-mile run that still stands at Harris-Lake Park High School in northwest Iowa. But he pretty much hung up his running shoes when he attended Worthington Junior College and then the University of Minnesota, pursuing a degree in mortuary science. Then a few years ago, Al — now a 50-some-year-old funeral director in the Twin Cities — decided to put those running shoes back on again.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
MINNEAPOLIS — As a high school athlete, Al Blau set a school record in the two-mile run that still stands at Harris-Lake Park High School in northwest Iowa. But he pretty much hung up his running shoes when he attended Worthington Junior College and then the University of Minnesota, pursuing a degree in mortuary science.
Then a few years ago, Al — now a 50-some-year-old funeral director in the Twin Cities — decided to put those running shoes back on again.
“After high school, I quit running for 30 years,” said Al, a 1976 graduate of H-LP High School and son of Fred and Nancy Blau, now of Reading. “Then, I think it was in 2006, my daughter went out for cross country here in high school, and I went for a run with her. But I couldn’t keep up, didn’t last long. So I decided to start running again, and in 2007 I did my first marathon — Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth.”
Al enjoyed the physical and health benefits of running, but he found the process a bit … well, boring. He never achieved a runner’s high. To him, every step was work — hard work.
“I’m not a natural runner. I’m too big — 6-foot, 185 pounds,” he said. “Most runners are petite little guys.
“I ran Grandma’s, and the training and the marathon itself was pretty grueling,” he continued. “After that, I ran for a little bit, but it got so strenuous and monotonous, and I was having a hard time motivating myself.”
So Al conceived a plan to keep his interest in running fresh: He would run down every street, boulevard, avenue, highway and byway in Minneapolis.
“I thought I’d try different routes, decided to try different parts of the city. Then I decided to run every street and mark it on the map,” Al explained about what became his New Year’s resolution in 2009.
Starting with the area that was farthest from his house, Al would drive to a starting point, complete the run he’d mapped out, and then drive back home. He would never repeat a route and tried to minimize backtracking whenever possible.
“I always ran twice a week,” he said about the routine. “Every run I plotted was between four and eight miles. I’d make sure it was within that amount of distance. I’d plot it out, and then I’d run it and mark it on my map. Twice a week I’d do that.”
Al not only marked the route on his map — using a different color for each run — but also noted other details of each trek, including time, distance and weather, on separate index cards. He used a GPS watch to record the exact mileage and times.
The project became a bigger endeavor than Al ever imagined.
“That got to be real time-consuming,” he said. “Plotting it on a map took a long time. Where the streets were in a perfectly square grid, it was no problem, but lots of parts of Minneapolis are a real tangle town. A lot of times I’d be out running at night in the dark and then have to come home and record it.”
Along the way, Al got to see parts of Minneapolis that he never would have visited otherwise, and encountered a few strange situations along the way.
“I was confronted by a pit bull once,” he recalled, “but it ended up that it didn’t cause any issue. He saw me running and just ran away. I don’t know if I looked mean that day or what.
“On two instances, cops had guns drawn on a house, but I just kept on running.”
Al’s wife, Julie, had some concerns about the endeavor, especially when his route went through some of the city’s rougher neighborhoods, but overall she was supportive, he said.
“I’m in my 50s, so she was always worrying that I was going to overdo it and have a heart attack, and she’d be nervous because I did run through some of the bad parts of town. I always carried a knife with me, but I never had any incidents at all.”
The routes along major highways posed the biggest obstacles.
“I ran the whole freeway system, too,” Al said. “I’d try to be clever about it. Some sections of 35W were closed for construction, so I was able to run those with no traffic. Sometimes there was bridge painting or some other reason they’d be closed. I always looked for where the state patrol was parked, and then I’d always exit before I saw their squad car. I ran along the shoulder of the freeways and highways.
“Running over the new 35W bridge was exhilarating,” he added. “I always ran the freeways early in the morning, too, as early as 5 o’clock, so there was no traffic. I’d see homeless shelters along the freeway.”
While running in downtown Minneapolis, he witnessed a Minnesota sporting ritual.
“When I was running that route in downtown Minneapolis on a Sunday morning, the Vikings tailgaters were already drinking and setting up their tents at 6:30 a.m.,” he said. “I knew they started early, but not that early.”
On May 13, 2011 — a Friday the 13th, he noted — Al completed his running challenge, marking off the last streets on his map. His total mileage was 1,410.06 miles, and it took him 190 hours, 24 minutes and 12 seconds to complete.
Al was done with running for a while.
“After I accomplished this feat, I took a break from running all of last summer and last fall. I gained 25 pounds, which was heavenly,” he said. “I didn’t exercise, pretty much ate what I wanted, and got out of shape. So this January I started running again, three days a week, 25 miles a week. Now I just go out and run to keep in shape, and I’ve lost all 25 pounds and am back to where I was.”
Earlier this year, Al was featured in the January/February issue of RunMinnesota, the publication of the Minnesota Distance Running Association.
“As far as we know, nobody’s ever done it before,” he said of his Minneapolis running project. “I still have all the notes on the runs and my map, and somebody said when I get it all together I should submit it to the state historical society.”
Whether his feat of the feet ends up in the annals of history or not, Al is proud that he accomplished what he set out to do.
“It broke the monotony,” he said. “It’s kept me running. … It was a fun experience. My wife said, ‘What possessed you to do it?’ Some people swim the English Channel or climb Mount Everest. It’s just a drive to do something interesting and challenging. I set my mind to it, and I knew I could do it, and it happened.”