Monday 6 August 2018

GPS Art Run #1 - Slow as a turtle

"Daddy, your drawing is ugly!" 

Kids always tell the truth. I look at my screen my 4-years-old son is pointing at and smile. He's got a point, my last long run displayed on Strava looks more like my shoelaces or a forgotten spaghetti. Like all running dads, my dream is that one day my son will join me on the trails and share my adventures. But at this age, it's hard to catch his attention, especially with route recaps like this one...

That's when the crazy idea hits me. What if that picture were the origin and not the result of my run? In other words, how could I create epic traces and run them? After all, I do it all the time, when I'm planning my long runs on my computer. But I never really paid attention to what my route looked like... Until now!

That's how I end up spending my Sunday morning looking closely at the street map of my neighbourhood, trying to make a funny shape out of the maze of streets around. The task can be tricky, depending on where you live. I imagine that US cities and their countless parallel streets would offer very different possibilities. Finally, I see something emerge, a reptilian head and a crafty eye. The rest of the body quickly follows, I have it! I rush to Wandermap, the routes creation tool I use to organise my runs and I sketch my new little friend. In a few clicks, he's ready and I download the GPX file into my watch. Let's go for a 14 km turtle run!

The next step is easy: run! There are a few things I need to watch out though. Most important, I try to stick to the route, as a single orientation mistake would ruin my drawing. To create closed loops like the turtle feet, I need to run twice around certain areas, so I try to stay on the same part of the sidewalk, to avoid double lines. Sometimes, I need to reach a point to close a loop, like the turtle's neck or eye, and immediately go back to keep drawing the rest of the body, which brings me some very odd looks from the natives watering their garden. I must look completely lost!

The drawing is showing up bit by bit on my watch and after a long straight line, I'm reaching up my starting point and closing the loop. Done! Now let's head back home and have a look.

The masterpiece is displayed on my screen. I already saw the route while creating the GPX file, but this time, it's the real deal! I'm actually looking at my last run's trace, and the result is pretty good. I managed to draw clean lines, overlapping nicely on the segments I had to run twice. Since I stopped a few seconds at each corner, I'm getting nice right angles instead of rounded curves. As long as I don't zoom too much on it, the trace really looks like hand-drawn. This might vary from one GPS tracker to another though and my watch is quite precise.

This was a very fun run, surprisingly easy to organise. With a quick search for GPS-Art online I discovered that it is actually a trendy thing. All around the world, runners and cyclists scribble the earth with funny shapes. What are you waiting for? Open the map of your region and get creative. Once you have found an interesting route, you can send it to your GPS watch or load it on your phone, using one of the countless apps like GPX Viewer and hit the road. I like to think that one day, secret government agencies or aliens will stumble on our race recaps and rack their brains out to find the hidden messages behind them!

"Look at the nice turtle daddy made this morning!" I proudly tell my son. He frowns, "That doesn't really look like a turtle!" Humph... I guess I will have to do better next time ;)

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