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Review: Online maps can jog better running routes

Websites help runners keep track of the miles they run.

By Anick JesdanunAssociated Press / December 22, 2008

Serious joggers often brave the elements in order to get some exercise.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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The search company responsible for countless hours of sitting by a computer screen can help you burn calories, too.

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To plan jogging routes and track mileage, running enthusiasts are turning to independently produced sites that tap online mapping services from Google Inc. and its rivals. As someone who has logged every mile on a spreadsheet since December 2000 (10,146.7 and counting) these free tools help fuel my obsession with how far I’ve run.

After trying several of the Web services during a recent West Coast trip, I found there’s no substitute for simplicity.

I’ve long been a fan of Gmap Pedometer, created as a hobby by a first-time marathoner in Hoboken, N.J. Although I have since come across flashier tools packed with more features, I returned to Gmap out of frustration each time.

Despite its sparse look, Gmap is highly functional and easy to use.

You simply trace your route on a Google map as if you were leaving bread crumbs, clicking your mouse to place markers along your intended path. Gmap connects the markers in order, and automatically calculates the distance.

A new “automatic routes” feature helps improve accuracy by reflecting the added distance along curvy paths, even when you drop your bread crumbs in a straight line.

With Gmap’s help, I met two objectives for my final run during a visit to Vancouver. I needed to cap it at four miles, and I wanted to visit three venues for the 2010 Winter Games – the closest I’d ever get to the Olympics.

The night before, I used my hotel’s Wi-Fi connection to plot a route that circled the arenas for the opening and closing ceremonies and ice hockey before taking me to False Creek, where the housing for athletes is being built.

I hit the “undo last point” button several times to avoid generating a route that would have been too far or given me too little of the Olympics. Once I found a nice balance, I hit “save” to generate a unique Web address I can keep and share with others.

Earlier, in Los Angeles, the auto-route feature proved useful in navigating the curvy paths along Southern California’s beaches. Gmap also knew I shouldn’t run through people’s homes, so it had me turn at the nearest intersection.

As Gmap automatically filled out the route, its calculations were pretty close: a quarter-mile short of the 15.02 miles (24.17 kilometers) reported by a GPS unit I carried on the run.

I had to turn off that auto-routing feature for my Olympics run, though. Although Gmap was smart enough to let me run the wrong way on one-way streets, it didn’t know all the recreational paths I saw on tourist maps. (A setting for cyclists does respect traffic laws.)

My main complaint is Gmap’s inability to track runs by users. I must remember the Web address to access a saved run, and I cannot create an account to store all my runs at one place. I also cannot search for recommendations from other runners.

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