In the long run: Hintonburg resident running every street in Ottawa

Alain Vermette (foreground) on one of his runs in Blackburn Hamlet last spring with running friends Colin McFarlane (background left) and Mike Hewett (background right).  Photo courtesy of Alain Vermette.

By Charlie Senack 

A Hintonburg man with a passion for exercise has made it his mission to run every street in Ottawa.

Alain Vermette, 53, picked up running 21 years ago. It’s been his main go-to activity in order to stay fit and healthy ever since. He’s participated in around half a dozen marathons, and has run most of the trails and bike paths in Ottawa. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Vermette said he started slacking off on his normal exercise routine: instead of running to and from his office every day, he was working from home. Events around the city were cancelled, and marathons went virtual. It was also a tough year in other ways. 

“I lost my mother, and then my mother-in-law a month later. By the end of 2020, things were a little gloomy,” said Vermette. “I run with a few buddies pretty frequently and one of them suggested I run every street in the city.” 

On Jan. 1, 2021, Vermette and a friend began to run all of Old Ottawa. When that was completed, the Hintonburg resident decided to keep going and run all of Nepean. 

“After that, I had to keep going because events were still not happening and I was enjoying seeing all these neighbourhoods,” he said. “I then did Kanata and started Gloucester — which is enormous, and a funny shape that goes from Riverside South to parts of Orleans.”

Vermette has now run 92 per cent of Gloucester and roughly 69 per cent of Ottawa, he estimates. The city has 8,479 streets—totalling 6,577 kilometres in size—stretching from Arnprior to Rockland. 

Because of its large geographical size, Vermette needs to drive from his Kitchissippi-area home to the running locations. It’s a huge logistical challenge and can be time consuming. 

“Nepean goes down to Barnsdale, which is Manotick, so it is a big district,” he said. “Kanata brought me down to Dunrobin, so you have to get in your car and it’s a 35-minute drive. With gas prices these days, you want to make it worth it so I am going for at least 10-kilometre runs.” 

As a result of this ambitious project, Vermette said he’s seen parts of Ottawa he didn’t know existed and is in awe of the National Capital Region’s beauty. 

“I have been pleasantly surprised with all the neighbourhoods I have run through,” said Vermette. “When you are driving you get a view from one street; when you’re running you get to see places that might look shady from the outside, but once you’re in, it’s really not.”  

The fitness idea was inspired by ultra-runner Rickey Gates who ran every street in San Francisco, California in 2018. He completed the task in 46 days, logging 1,300 miles and 147,000 feet of elevation. 

Vermette said he isn’t that ambitious and is completing the task slowly. He runs three to five times a week and goes for 10-16 kilometres each time. 

The runs are tracked on an app called Strava (which is sometimes referred to as “Facebook for athletes”). Once there, you can friend other exercise buffs and follow their routes through a connected app called CityStrides.

The Hintonburg resident is one of a few people in Ottawa looking to run every street in the capital. Currently in second place, Vermette argues he’s run more of the urban core than his counterpart in first. 

When asked about which area he will tackle next after completing Gloucester, Vermette said he’s not sure. The remaining parts of Ottawa are more rural and further away from the city. 

“I have to start thinking about it because I don’t know where to tackle next,” he said. “Maybe Quebec can be the next place I start doing. We live very close to the Champlain Bridge, so Aylmer isn’t far away. I wouldn’t be surprised if I want to keep going.”

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