If you’re in an unfamiliar place and need to plan a run, Strava Route Builder is the way to go.
For those of you who don’t know what Strava is, it’s a social media platform for runners and cyclists that automatically uploads activities recorded on GPS watches. Participants can then give “kudos” to the other athletes they follow and receive them as well. Like most social media platforms, the commerce of kudos is largely on a likes-for-likes basis.
Strava does some useful stuff with the data it gets from its members.
They are able to figure out, for example, the most popular places people run in a given area.
They post this data on what they call a Global Heatmap.
An example of one from the NYC area is below.
The areas that appear brightest are those areas that are the most popular. For example the outline of Manhattan is bright as many runners like to run on the paths near the water. Likewise, Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn are bright because they are also popular with runners. Most localities have starker contrasts than those in Manhattan, where there are apparently GPS-toting pedestrians on every corner.
Strava heatmaps do have some misleading results. For example, the Verrazano Bridge does not have pedestrian access and therefore you can’t actually run there. But, it shows up on the heatmap because it is part of the route of the New York City Marathon and, once a year, 50,000 people get a chance to cross the bridge.
Nevertheless the heatmaps provide a pretty good idea of good places to run in a given area. Something that is great if you’d like to get in a run or bike when traveling for work (or fun!).
But, you don’t have to just rely on the heatmaps, which are sometimes hard to navigate.
Strava also provides a route building feature that allows you to pick a starting point, an ending point, and points in between, and will tell you how to get there. But, it just doesn’t pick the fastest way or the shortest way. It can help you pick the way the routes that people who run actually use.
For example, take my commute from the Carroll Gardens neighborhood in Brooklyn into the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.
Google maps has you running through Downtown Manhattan.
Now, this may be the fastest way. But for someone who is trying to get a (somewhat) stress free run in, not ideal.
Another tool for building a run is called MapMyRun.
They too have you dodging cars and pedestrians on eighth avenue.
Strava, however, has a feature called “Use Popularity” that can use the data from local runners to suggest a better way to go.
Without the feature turned on, Strava also takes you through the streets of downtown Manhattan.
But if you toggle “Use Popularity” to on, it wisely advises you to head to the relatively luxurious running route on the Hudson River Running Path.
Once you’ve mapped out your route, there are even ways to have the route loaded onto your Strava smartphone app, so you can get live information about what turns to take on your route. I once successfully navigated a run from Paris to Versailles using this method.
The next time you don’t know where to run, try out Strava Route Builder.