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British Airways Athletics Club: Streets AtoZ Event Instructions

Streets A to Z logoThis is a fun competitive event that can be run or walked at any time during the period specified.

The objective is for each participant to collect a set of letters as a sequence through the alphabet - the winners being judged on the number of letters collected and the time or distance covered.

Hint: Although this is to be done competitively some people will have natural advantages or disadvantages due to the the streets around their starting locations. For some this event may be a sprint, for others a marathon, and for some it may prove impossible! Please accept your lot with a smile!

You need to start and finish at either an entrance to your property or place of work OR the nearest street-sign to that entrance (but note that this doesn't have to be one of your scoring signs). The objective is to collect as many different street-sign initial letters as you can in the shortest time or distance BUT each successive letter must be further down the alphabet. 

Moved Street SignHint: Roads usually have their street-sign at the two ends of the road or where the road crosses a bigger road. It can be difficult, or impossible, to find a street-sign for some bigger roads!

The preparation time for this event can also be used to check on Street-View where street-signs are located (but note, as in this photo, that the street furniture may have moved or been removed since the street-car visited!)

The letters are to be collected during a single exercise activity. The duration of the activity and/or the distance covered should be recorded and submitted with the letters collected. There is no limit but the shorter the better for your result. Letters are collected by visiting the street name signs of local streets - the council maintained signs that identify streets, avenues, roads, paths even in some cases roundabouts but not places (such as "Welcome to Hillingdon") nor commercial signs, building names, school signs, church identifiers etc.. Bus stops that are named with a particular street are also permitted signs.

Participants should get close enough to the street-sign to be able to take a photograph of it without the benefit of zoom. I'm not encouraging zigzagging across busy streets so photographs can be taken from the opposite side of the street. Photographs do not have to be submitted. If you are not taking photographs then you should tap each sign instead. A GPS trail should be submitted with your entry or a list of the streets in the order they were visited plus confirmation of when you got back to your starting position and the distance covered. 

In addition to street-signs you are also allowed to score a zebra crossing as a "Z" and other light controlled pedestrian crossings as an "X". To count as an "X" the crossing has to have, or be at, traffic lights and must have a button to press (even if this has no real effect on the sequencing of the lights). No other substitutions are permitted.

Abbey Road Zebra CrossingYou do not have to start with "A", nor with the letter of the street you start in. You can start with any letter and precede through the alphabet skipping letters as you wish. You need to include at least five letters. You do not have to finish with "Z". There are no letters beyond "Z" (e.g. the alphabet doesn't repeat). So an example set of length five could be:

  • Abbey Road,
  • Penny Lane,
  • The Long-And-Winding Road,
  • Strawberry Fields,
  • A Zebra crossing - conveniently located near the start.

Hint: Do some research before your start time and plan your route. Study the AtoZ or an online map and consider where your nearest letters are. And go for a walk and understand where the street-signs are and whether any paths or short roads have interesting names on signs that weren't to be found on the maps. You could even prepare a physical map to take with you on the run. But please do not do a practice run, that would give you an unfair advantage.

Having done the run you should then submit to the organiser the street names and letters collected in the order collected (i.e. alphabetical) and your time and distance taken to complete the event (i.e. get back to your start). The winner of the event will be determined by the organiser taking into account the number of letters collected and the time / distance covered.  This will be based on the time taken or distance covered by the number of letters collected but will favour greater numbers of letters collected - see below for more details on this. The judge's decision may be hotly contested.

Examples of street name signs are shown in the image below:

Street Sign Examples

So, just to confirm, you have until the closing date to do your activity and accumulate a set of letters. Email your entry to the organiser including your activity type (run or walk), the distance covered, the time taken, the GPS map and/or the list of streets claimed.  Towards the end of the period participants are encouraged to post photographs, GPS trace of their route and comments on the letters collected on Facebook. But it is considered unsporting to post a good result early in the event period.

Once all of the results have been verified winners can be announced.

Any questions? Contact the organiser: Roderick Hoffman

Letter Distribution (for interest only)

Street Spelling Letter DistributionThe chart shows the number of streets in London starting with each letter of the alphabet. This has been estimated from the street index of a copy of the London AtoZ.

Letters marked "*" and "**" are considered rare.

Judging the Finish Line

This event can be judged on distance, or time, or on each of these. Firstly, considering distance...

The principle is that more letters collected means a better performance and a shorter distance covered for the same number of letters also means a better performance, but a judgment is needed where more letters have been collected over a longer distance.

My immediately neighbourhood has most letters well represented and quite a few of the rarer ones also. There is even a "Q", a "U" and a "Y" at around one mile away. I've done a number of runs and walks in my neighbourhood collecting letters and modified results from these are shown in the graph below. Adjustments have been made to these to reproduce "perfect" scenarios for each of the five cases (for instance I did the 26 as a walk and it included a 500m diversion because an "S" street sign was missing due to an accident; this was deducted and the time for this was estimated using my running pace from recent longer runs). From the points plotted it is obvious that as the number of letters collected increase the average distance covered per letter goes up. This is logical - if it didn't, then one would ask why one hadn't gone to the 'newly' collected letters earlier in the collection runs.

A to Z Streets Results Graphs

The graph also shows a smoothed line, as generated by Excel, with the equation of that line as "distance = 0.0817 x exp( 0.0728 x distance_per_letter ). This line has been defined as the "Finish Line" for the event. Anyone with results "to the right of and below" this line has finished ahead of me and the person most distant from the line has been adjudged the best. The distance "to the right of and below" has been worked out using Pythagoras.

The attached spreadsheet has the equations to support this calculation encoded in the results table: Results Excel Spreadsheet

The time calculation is similar except that the curve is more pronounced since there is a natural slowing down as one takes on a longer distance run.

The graphs below show the lines in a more digestible format:

The A to Z Finish Line plotted on graphs