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Review: Online maps can jog better running routes

Websites help runners keep track of the miles they run.

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That is where MapMyRun and Sanoodi come in.

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I began with MapMyRun but couldn’t find any routes near where I was staying in Los Angeles. Sanoodi was better, offering me four.

But they were all too short, so I tried creating my own.

On Sanoodi, which uses Google maps by default, I had to create a free account first, even if I had no intentions of saving it. I found the controls confusing, and attempts to drag the map around inadvertently created “bread crumb” markers I had to then erase.

MapMyRun, powered by MapQuest from Time Warner Inc.’s AOL, was only slightly better. Though it automatically detected my presence in Los Angeles, the site kept freezing when I entered a specific address.

Upon returning home to New York, I gave both sites another try, along with one recommended by a few people in my running club, a Google-based offering called America’s Running Routes from the sport’s governing body, USA Track & Field.

I like Running Routes’ simple approach but find it missing some of Gmap’s features. It does let you view routes saved by others, but searches for runs in Walla Walla, Wash., and Jim Thorpe, Pa. – two small towns that came to mind – produced far fewer returns than MapMyRun.

I found MapMyRun more tolerable in New York, but I couldn’t print routes without paying $2 or signing up for a $48-a-year membership, which also gives you access to online training schedules. Annoying boxes kept popping up for filling in notes, with the “X” for closing them hidden behind other fancy boxes I didn’t want. And the auto-route option often took me blocks out of the way.

I do like that I could keep a training log and search for upcoming races on MapMyRun, and I’m sure the ability to compare progress with friends could come in handy. I could see using it to research routes in new cities or neighborhoods.

Sanoodi had many bugs its developers promise to fix by early 2009. Rather than prompting me to sign in so I could plan a run, the site simply returned other people’s runs when I hit “create a route.” And moving the map around sometimes disables the ability to add markers. Sanoodi also lacks, for now, an auto-route feature.

Both MapMyRun and Sanoodi are better than Gmap at letting you edit previously saved runs. Both let you import runs recorded using GPS devices such as Garmin Ltd.’s Forerunner, and Sanoodi has developed free applications for several mobile devices, upcoming versions of which will continually send data to the website as you run.

But until they get easier to use, simplicity wins any day. The point of running is to be outdoors, not sitting in front of a computer trying to endure flashy graphics.

Now, if only Gmap could disable my snooze button and get me out of bed for chilly morning runs.