Michael Lisicky rapidly shook a cowbell as he jogged up Dark Lane near Mercy Hospital downtown Monday.
“Here we go,” he exclaimed as he approached a group of people cheering at the end of the alleyway. “Done!” His wife Sandy Lisicky was among those celebrating there, with their daughter on FaceTime.
Out of breath and sporting a black-and-white shirt that read “MichaelRunsBaltimore.com,” Michael Lisicky took in all the congratulations, and even snagged a selfie with a truck driver who recognized him from television. He had reason to celebrate. He had just run every street in Baltimore.
“I’m kind of pumped,” Lisicky said as he settled into those first few moments after finishing.
It took eight months for him to run what he calculated was at least 1,100 miles of city streets, which he marked off daily on a map from Barnes & Noble and documented on his blog.
The goal grew out of one he started 13 years ago to run every day after he became unhappy with his appearance and wanted to lose weight. Exploring Baltimore streets became a personal adventure that made him confront assumptions he had about people and places, but also introduced him to neighborhoods and communities he’d never seen before — and in record time.
“When you’re crazy, eight months is not the longest time. When you’re insane, it’s like ‘Let’s get this done,’” Lisicky said.
Lisicky’s last neighborhood to explore was Irvington in Southwest Baltimore. It was a “cathartic” ending and represented a wonderful “mix of people,” he said. He saw a range of age groups and races and thought it was an everlasting example “of respect and living together.” At one cross street he met a woman with a warm smile and chatted with neighbors about how long they’d been in the community. He also saw the “Taj Mahal” of chickens, where neighbors had secured a large area for the birds using wire. Lisicky said he cried on Frederick Avenue in Irvington because the end of his project is bittersweet.
He’s come a long way since he started his trek in Brooklyn last summer, days after a mass shooting there. From there, he kept an open mind to learn and an occasional “hello” on standby for those he met. In Curtis Bay, he wondered where people went to eat or buy their food because he didn’t see many options. In Arlington, he met a curious boy named “Beethoven,” and in some areas he’d run in the streets because there weren’t any sidewalks. Nonetheless, Lisicky is convinced that “everywhere there’s something good to find,” regardless of how trite it might sound.
Now, he’ll go back to his old routes in Patterson Park or near the Johns Hopkins University. He’s curious to see what’s changed in those areas since he directed his tennis shoes elsewhere.
Lisicky had become bored with those routes. It’s easy to get bored when one sifts from project to project like her husband, said Sandy Lisicky. That’s just how Michael is. He likes to see things from start to finish. Sandy Lisicky figured his running project would take a couple of years, until she realized he was running over 5 miles a day, leaving the house for hours at time.
“He proved me wrong as usual,” she said, adding that she’s always interested in the projects he undertakes and how he manages to complete them in his own concise way.
Karin Brown, a colleague and friend of the Lisickys, thinks much of Michael’s commitment comes from his dedication and perfectionism as a musician. He’s played the oboe for over 50 years and currently plays with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
“It’s crazy, but it’s so inspiring. It’s phenomenal,” Brown said of Lisicky’s running project.
Lisicky has run over 4,900 days in a row — through snow, rain, sweltering heat — and even when his toes cramped up. His toes “look like hell” after running 13 years. He knows he sounds like a sappy Hallmark card when he says it, but the positive encounters he had while running fueled him to keep going.
Lisicky jokingly told those who could make it to his finish to bring cigarettes and French onion dip, which he said would counteract the weight loss and healthier lungs he’s gained from running. He also popped open a bottle of Glenglassaugh Sandend Highland single malt Scotch whisky that he giddily poured into plastic shot glasses for any takers.
The whisky commemorates the only time he took a brief break from running for his 25th wedding anniversary, when he and his wife went to Scotland for 10 days.
“I ran Baltimore,” he said as he raised his glass and then took a sip of his shot.
He expects the next few days will be “weird” because he’ll miss mapping out his routes, learning and going on mini adventures. He’s not sure what his next project will be, but appreciates that he now has an entire running experience as a keepsake.
“Everything tells a story and every one of these runs tells a story,” Lisicky said.