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A City Dweller's 2-Year, 620-Mile Commute--One Way

What began as jogs home from work evolved into a determination to explore neighborhoods--on foot

June 26, 2002|LYNDSEY LAYTON | WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON -- Michael Bryant likes to take the long way home.

The Washington, D.C., resident has run home from every station on the Metro system, a private odyssey that took two years to complete and ended last week when he ran six miles from the last subway station on his list, Clarendon in Virginia, to his home in the District of Columbia neighborhood of Columbia Heights.

"I just wanted to make running a little more interesting," said Bryant, 37, a computer systems manager for a Capitol Hill think tank, who estimates that he put 620 miles on his size 11 Nike Pegasus running shoes.

At first, Bryant ran home just from stations in the city; he wanted to explore neighborhoods he wouldn't normally see in the routine orbit of home and workplace. He ran down glass-strewn streets he'd heard about in crime reports, through blue-collar neighborhoods lined with neat gardens, past million-dollar homes with shiny cars behind gated driveways.

Once he began crossing off city stations on the Metro map pinned to his office wall, Bryant figured he might as well do the whole thing.

In the mornings, he commuted on Metro from Columbia Heights to Union Station, a short walk from his office. In the evenings, he changed from work clothes to running togs and boarded a train to one of the 83 Metro stations, spread across 103 miles.

He did this two or three times a week, year-round. In 25 degrees and in 85 degrees. In the watermelon light of a summer evening and in the pitch dark of a winter's night. In prosperous upper Northwest, where runners are common, Bryant was ignored. But in other places, the thin, bespectacled man drew attention. Small children trotted alongside him for a block or two; adults asked why he was running. One teenager spotted Bryant and shouted "Run, Forrest, run!"--a line from the movie "Forrest Gump."

"He's methodical, detail-oriented and a little bit obsessive, but in a good way," said Randi Blank, a high school friend. "When he turned 20, he ran 20 miles. That's just the way he is."

Bryant tried to fit in some errands to enliven his commute. He visited any number of branches of his bank. He bought an iron skillet at the Williams-Sonoma store near the Friendship Heights station and ran home with it in his backpack, clanging against his shoulders. He would help Blank, who is looking to buy a home, by doing a "run by" past houses for sale to inspect their condition.

To map the runs, Bryant tried to follow the most direct route but often indulged his impulses to wander off course. He came across an old Jewish cemetery in one neighborhood and a red fox in a ravine in another. None of the runs was truly scenic, he said, especially those along neon highways that seemed steeped in diesel smoke, but they were always interesting.

After a year, he found himself in good enough shape to complete his first marathon, but soon after, suffered knee problems that slowed his progress on the Metro project.

But he never gave up.

Not even as Metro opened five new stations, adding dozens of miles to his journey. "I really wanted to finish it, to get the project done," he said. "If I didn't finish it soon, I figured eventually they'd start to extend the Orange Line toward Dulles and then I'd really be in trouble."

A colleague from work, Matt Broaddus, accompanied Bryant on about 10 of the runs. "I thought of it as an adventure," Broaddus said. But most of the time, Bryant was alone.

On Thursday's final run, four colleagues accompanied Bryant. When they reached his front stoop about 40 minutes later, a red finish line awaited them, and Bryant burst through the tape in a victorious lunge. He talked about his next idea: to run every street in the District, all 11,000 miles of asphalt, with one exception. "I think I'll stay off the Southwest-Southeast Freeway," he said.

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