Pokémon Go: A four-hour, 8-mile, 900-calorie journey through virtual Lawrence

photo by: Jason Kendall

Lawrence is a hotbed of Pokémon Go Pokéstops like the ones pictured in this collage, from Fraser Hall on Kansas University's campus to the Wishing Bench in the Warehouse Arts District. A four-hour, 8.1-mile walk hit 115 of them.

If you’ve ventured out on Massachusetts Street in the past couple weeks, you’ve seen them: packs of people stalking zombie-like along downtown Lawrence’s main artery while raptly staring at their smartphones. A sign of the coming apocalypse? Maybe. It’s also the world’s newest accidental fitness craze.

Since launching earlier this month, Pokémon Go has become the most popular smartphone app on the planet, with 15 million downloads in its first week. To put that in perspective: Data usage researcher Sensor Tower found smartphone users now are spending about 30 minutes a day in the game’s virtual world, 50 percent longer than they do surfing Facebook.

This phenomenon’s implications for the future of humanity are, well, downright frightening. On the other hand, from a health and wellness standpoint, there are positive takeaways. GPS-driven Pokémon Go rewards users for walking (or biking) on a virtual map that corresponds to real-world places while in search of “pocket monsters.” Considering that a 150-pound human burns about 90 calories for every half hour of walking, the game’s users might just be collectively burning 1.4 trillion calories per day. That’s 385,700 pounds.

Between downtown and the Kansas University campus, Lawrence seems to be an especially buzzy Pokémon Go epicenter. The game’s virtual world is highlighted by Pokéstops, which users can visit to collect special items. Generally, these spots are tied to some point of interest: a sign, a mural, a historical building. (The World Company headquarters at Seventh and New Hampshire streets is one.) Whatever the reason, compared with the nearby Kansas City metro area, Lawrence seems to have an abundance of Pokéstops crammed into a relatively easy to traverse area.

So Thursday morning I decided to skip my usual run and instead make my way out among the Poképeople. I loosely mapped out a loop that would take me from the University Place neighborhood through KU’s campus and downtown. From there, I promised myself, I’d let the app lead me wherever it seemed cool to go.

A couple ground rules: In the interest of finishing my walk before lunchtime, I wouldn’t venture too far afield in pursuit of Pokémon, instead just capturing ones I happened upon. And I wouldn’t bother interacting with any Pokégyms — rarer spots where users hang out to battle each other’s Pokémon — though I would encounter many.

Two more rules: I would wear lots of sunscreen and drink plenty of water.

And here’s my disclaimer: While the goal of a long, hot walk through Lawrence seemed reasonable for a relatively fit person like me, when undertaking a new exercise adventure it’s best to consult your doctor and build up to things slowly — and while behaving safely. As the app advises, always keep your eyes on the sidewalk or the road.

With all that out of the way, here are some snapshots from my four-hour, 8-mile, 900-calorie Pokémon Go journey:

An idyllic hike

After knocking out a few pull-ups on the nearby playground equipment, I started my journey at the southeast corner of Veterans Park at 6:30 a.m. The park is near my house in the University Place neighborhood, and it’s also the logical southern border of what I estimate is Lawrence’s central Pokémon Go zone. (There’s lots of free public parking there, by the way.) Heading north through the park, I hit my first three Pokéstops of the day before trekking up hilly Louisiana Street to the southeast corner of campus.

Rising through the morning fog, I was taken anew by the quiet, early morning beauty of KU’s oldest district. From Fraser Hall to the Spencer Museum of Art (both of which are Pokéstops), I found it difficult to focus on my smartphone instead of on the natural spectacle around me — which I guess is sort of the idea behind Pokémon Go in the first place, to make urban explorers of all of us.

One interesting piece of trivia: Of the 115 different Pokéstops I eventually visited on my Thursday walk, only the Campanile has two separate-but-identical entries in the game, making KU’s bell tower an extra-lucrative spot to visit.

photo by: Jason Kendall

Alden Gregg, 7, and his sister Caroline, 5, play Pokémon Go with their mom, Sara, not pictured, on Thursday morning in Watson Park.

First-time player

Most of the exercisers I usually encounter — running, biking, walking their dogs — like to start their days early, but this doesn’t seem to hold true for Pokémon Go players, who tend to clog up downtown Lawrence more in the afternoons and evenings. I was an hour into my Thursday walk before encountering my first player, Alden Gregg, 7, who was hanging out in Watson Park with his sister Caroline, 5, and mom, Sara.

Alden had just downloaded the game 20 minutes before I ran into him, he said, and he was already in low-battery mode on Sara’s smartphone. Is it making you want to walk all over? I asked him.

“Yeah,” he mumbled, eyes glued to the screen, before wandering absent-mindedly toward the next Pokéstop, a nearby sculpture.

Alden and Caroline go to an elementary school where students aren’t allowed to use smartphones during recess, their mother pointed out. Still, she was happy to see her children up and moving around.

“It’s good to let him be part of the zeitgeist,” she shrugged.

photo by: Jason Kendall

There are more than three dozen Pokéstops within three blocks of The World Company's headquarters at Seventh and New Hampshire streets in downtown Lawrence, as partially seen in this Pokémon Go screenshot taken Wednesday night. The view looks south toward Massachusetts Street, with the Journal-World offices at the bottom.

Business booster

As I wrapped across the north end of downtown and headed south on Mass. through what looked to be the busiest portion of my loop, I caught Mayor Mike Amyx eyeing the sidewalk from his usual seat at Amyx Barber Shop. After asking for some clarification about the game, Amyx acknowledged he’s seen an uptick in foot traffic in front of his store since the app debuted.

“A lot of people are out there playing it, and it’s amazing to see everybody walking,” Amyx said. But will the mayor be taking over the nearest Pokégym anytime soon? “Probably not,” he deadpanned.

Other downtown businesses are embracing the new crowds. The Granada Theater and the Watkins Museum of History are among spots planning Pokémon Go-themed events later this month. The museum will host tours of Oak Hill Cemetery Pokéstops starting Saturday; the Granada is throwing a Poképarty later that day. Dempsey’s Burger Pub,the Burger Stand,Mana Bar and the KU Bookstore are planning similar promotions. The city’s tourism bureau, Explore Lawrence, has published a Pokémon Go visitors guide. The Lawrence chamber of commerce is even giving advice on how to drive Pokésales.

And one Lawrence retailer has seen a bizarre uptick in business since the app launched July 6, employees there confirmed. I usually don’t stop at a liquor store mid-exercise, but I had to pop into On the Rocks to find out whether something I saw in-game was true.

“Our blue sign will not be changing colors,” contrary to a rumor the app lists on the business’ Pokéstop at 1818 Massachusetts St., shift manager Mike Vogel confirmed. “On the other hand, we’re getting 10 or 20 new people here per day asking whether they can hunt Pokémon in our ‘beer cave,'” which seems to be a top spawning point for the virtual monsters, he observed.

“I can’t tell you how many people walk in here with their phone right in their face,” Vogel said, adding: “It’s good they’re at least out getting exercise and walking around.”

photo by: Jason Kendall

Running legend Jeff Galloway will soon be in Lawrence to promote his run-walk-run program at Ad Astra Running. From an exercise standpoint, playing Pokémon Go on busy Massachusetts Street is more like walk-stop-walk.


Mass. Street is definitely the place I caught the most Pokémon. But from an exercise standpoint, the downtown leg of my journey was a little frustrating: with so many stops to hit and so many monsters to hunt, I found myself breaking stride more often than I wanted to so I could interact with the game. I felt a little sheepish as I passed Ad Astra Running’s new window at 734 Massachusetts St., which advertised running legend Jeff Galloway’s run-walk-run program. For Pokémon Go players, Lawrence’s central artery is more like a walk-stop-walk routine. Between pausing to play at various points downtown and interviewing players for this story, I only managed a 2-mile-per-hour pace over the course of my trip, much slower than I anticipated.

photo by: Jason Kendall

Pokémon Go at the Wishing Bench in the Warehouse Arts District, a good place to stretch your legs after puttering through downtown Lawrence.

photo by: Jason Kendall

My Thursday morning Pokémon Go journey started and ended at Veterans' Park on 19th Street (bottom of map), traveling an 8.1-mile loop through Kansas University's campus, downtown Lawrence and the Warehouse Arts District. Total calories burned: 934.

So at the two-and-a-half hour mark of my walk, I was happy to finally head out of downtown toward East Lawrence and the Warehouse Arts District, where I could open my stride and get my heart rate up a little. One of my favorite places to run, the eastside is familiar territory for me, and it felt good to be home. Whether you’re a regular or it’s your first time, you have to smile at East Lawrence’s rustic charm and tranquility. By the time I reached the north head of the Burroughs Creek Trail, the distance between Pokéstops was great enough that I could even jog a little. It was a welcome change of pace.

Road warrior

Of all the intrepid Pokémon Go players I encountered on my long walk, Shawn Hastie was unquestionably the most legit. The fact that she brought along a hydration backpack was a clear tipoff. The 40-year-old Lawrence Memorial Hospital registered nurse told me that since downloading the app last weekend, she’s logged up to 10 miles per day, much of that with her family.

“My 16-year-old son and I walked 3 miles the other day at 4:30 in the morning,” she said, “just so he could collect more Pokéballs.”

As a health professional, Hastie sees the app as a potential game-changer for adults and kids alike.

“It’s definitely been a new development for me, and for my whole family,” Hastie explained. “For both mental health and physical health, it gets people out of their house, walking and connecting with others.”

My Pokéjourney stats

Duration: 4 hours

Distance: 8.1 miles

Calories burned: 934

Distinct Pokéstops visited: 115

Pokémon caught: 97