Jim Plunkett-Cole ran across San Francisco, unnoticed.
He was sweaty. He was tired. He wore a U.S flag and a California state flag on his back. But in the bright city lights, people celebrated around him. It was about 10 p.m. on June 12, and the Golden State Warriors had outlasted the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals, winning the championship and avenging last season’s loss.
He saw the euphoria a city feels when its team wins a championship: Cheering. Drinking. Strangers hugging. Fans dancing. Horns honking.
“The whole city just went absolutely bonkers,” Plunkett-Cole said in a recent phone interview. “I could just see this was such a huge, huge thing, and I felt quite inspired to do some sort of tribute in my normal way.”
Plunkett-Cole’s normal way is not everyone else’s normal way. So the 48-year-old Englishman ran 50 miles through the streets of San Francisco following a route that spells out “Warriors 2017 NBA Champs.”
The run was part of a larger goal. Plunkett-Cole is trying to duplicate the run from “Forrest Gump” — not the route, but the distance, about 20,000 miles. According to his calculations, he has to run 17 miles a day for three years.
Plunkett-Cole — whose Twitter handle is @JimGumpUK — started the journey on Oct. 1, 2016, and said he runs about 20 miles a day at a 12- to 15-minute pace, moving from city to city. Along the way, he promotes healthy living and fights childhood obesity with visits to elementary schools to encourage kids to be active.
He’s been to Colorado and Louisiana, Texas and California, and countless states in between. When he arrived in California, he went first to San Diego. Then Los Angeles. Then San Francisco. He arrived in the Bay Area in the middle of the NBA Finals. Since Plunkett-Cole usually runs his 20 miles a day in the afternoon and evening, he was typically running while an NBA Finals game was going on. He checked the score every time he ran past a television at a bar. He noticed how people were behaving. How they were cheering. It was nuts.
“It seemed to be something that was bringing people together,” Plunkett-Cole said. “What inspired me was their passion for their team.”
So the day after the Warriors won the championship, Plunkett-Cole began to hash out his tribute. First he went to an AAA office for a detailed map of San Francisco. Then he headed to a coffee shop with a highlighter and plotted a route that zigzagged across the city.
“I thought it would be 30 miles,” Plunkett-Cole said.
He was wrong.
He started the run on Thursday, three days after the title game, at about 5 p.m. He first ran the “A” and “B” in NBA. Then he started running “Champs.” By 9 p.m., he had finished the “C” when he looked down at one of his two watches that tracks his runs. He had ran 18 miles.
“The word ‘Warriors’ is much bigger than what you’ve already done,” Plunkett-Cole told himself. “You are not going to be able to complete that today.”
He called it a night and went back to his hotel. The next day, around 4 p.m., he went back to where he left off. He finished tracing off “Warriors” and “2017.” He ran with his AAA map to avoid mistakes. He ran under clear blue skies, over countless streets, and up and down the city’s famed hills.
When he finished Friday night, he looked at his watch to see how far he had run: 50.3 miles.
Then he did something that was normal: He slept until noon the next day. But he didn’t skip his daily 17-mile run.
Plunkett-Cole said his next stop is San Jose and then Silicon Valley. He will again run with a U.S. flag and a California state flag, and he’ll attempt routes that trace the logos of Facebook and Twitter and Google.
“I will be doing more tributes like that for big corporations to try to raise the profile of what it is I’m trying to do,” Plunkett-Cole said.
In addition to paying tribute to the Warriors and their fans, the route broke the monotony of Plunkett-Cole’s daily runs.
“If you were on a run for seven years without missing a single day, you’ve got to make things interesting for yourself,” he said.
For Plunkett-Cole, that is just his normal way.