Building a Route Library

So yesterday, I planned to walk three miles.  However, when I checked the weather outside, it looked like this:

Is that seriously snow? AGAIN?!

Yes, indeed.  It was snowing in Atlanta.  AGAIN.  In March.  AGAIN.  My inner Upstate New Yorker tried to tell me to suck it up and get my training done.  However, the part of me that loves living in the South wasn't having any of it.  In Atlanta, we don't do anything when it snows.  So training was postponed for a day.

Instead of training in the wet, gross weather I decided to spend some time talking about planning and tracking your training walks.  Every veteran walker does this a little different.  It's about finding what works for you and using it.  But this is my method, which has worked really well for me.  Towards the beginning of each training season, I sit down and plan out four or five routes around my house  and school at a variety of distances.  I plan out one or two routes that are one mile, two miles and 2.5 miles.  I also plan 4 or 5 routes that are 3 miles, 4 miles and 5 miles in length.  Then, throughout the training season, I just have look through my route "library" to piece together the training walk that I want to do that day.  For a longer walk of eight miles, for example, I'll pick two 4 mile loops and use the pit stop at my house in between to refill water bottles.  I have found that having this "library" at my disposal really saves me time before my training walks while also setting me up with a variety of options for my neighborhood walks.

What's the best way to plot training routes to build a route library?

1.  Get in your car and drive around your neighborhood, documenting the mileage of each loop that you drive.  
This suggestion is always in the 3 Day Handbook and it has never struck me as the most practical way to map out a training walk.  For one thing, you're limited to walking routes along roads.  If you like walking in parks or along hiking trails, this isn't going to work for you.  Plus, someone needs to write down every turn as your driving to document each route.  Kind of a pain in the butt.  But hey, if this is how you want to do it, go for it.

2.  Online mapping websites
There are a number of websites that integrate Google Maps or other mapping technologies to allow you to calculate the mileage for your training routes.  The two that I like best are www.gmap-pedometer.com and www.mapmyrun.com.

For the past two walks, I have used www.gmap-pedometer.com to map all of my routes.  This website is incredibly straightforward to use.  Simply type in the zip code where you want to walk to set the map.  Then double-click on your starting point and trace your route.  The website will automatically calculate the mileage of your route.  You can also have it calculate elevation and calorie burn if you choose.  When you complete each route, you can either save it as a unique URL to bookmark for later refrence or print a hard copy of your map.  You can also do a screen grab of each route and cut & paste into another file if you prefer.  It is worth noting that the window on this website is rather small, so it can be hard to view all of the details of your route if you choose to print your maps.  This is what a short two mile walking route at Emory University looks like on Gmap-pedometer (click to enlarge):


This year, I have opted to map my routes using www.mapmyrun.com.  This website is similar to Gmap-pedometer but with a few more bells and whistles.  First and foremost, if you set up a free, optional membership, you can opt to save all of your routes right on Map My Run.  In addition, you can add notes about each route, including the locations where water and aid can be found.  If you choose to save your routes on Map My Run, you can also tag each route with keywords, making it easy to find routes later on when you're in the mood for something specific.  Finally, Map My Run also has the option to search for routes that have been posted by other people in your neighborhood, a really helpful resource for out of town training walks.  This is the same two mile training walk on Map My Run (click to enlarge):

3.  Mobile GPS devices and Smartphone Apps

With the advent of smart phones, the simple pedometer has gotten a high tech upgrade!  There are a plethora of applications available on the various mobile platforms that use the built in GPS sensors to track your distance (and pace!) as you walk.  These include the Nike + iPod system and my personal choice, CardioTrainer for Android.  You won't be able to use these systems to pre-plan your routes before walking them.  However, they can be a great supplemental tool to determine just how far you've walked on any given day and to document newer routes as you discover them.

As I said, the application I have the most experience with is CardioTrainer for Android.  It's a free application that can be downloaded to any Android phone.  For every training walk that I do, I simply click "Record My Workout" and it does just that.  I have it set to notify me every time I complete a mile, alternating between my current pace and the total time I've been walking.  At the conclusion of each training walk, I have the option to either save my workout (both on my phone and on an easily accessible online database) or to discard it after I review the data.  I can't say this program is always perfect (it thought I walked from Michigan to Atlanta in an hour last week!), but it's a great tool when it does.  I love the voice prompts from "Murray" (as I have named the CT voice) as I walk and even better, I can sync my CT workouts with Facebook.  So now, every time I complete a training walk, my Facebook friends see something like this in their feeds:

Using CardioTrainer this way has been a great way to keep me accountable for my training and to remind all of my Facebook friends how hard I'm working to prepare for the 3 Day.  And the more I can get them thinking about the 3 Day, the more likely they are to make donations.  Definitely a win all the way around!

For those of you using iPhones, iTouches or iPod nanos, I have also heard great things about the Nike + system.  This system can be purchased from Apple for $30 and works with your iPod directly using a shoe sensor and a receiver that you plug into your iPod.  This system was originally designed to work with specially designed Nike+ sneakers.  However, you can attach the sensor to any pair of sneakers that you want and should work just fine.  Much like CardioTrainer, this system will track your mileage for you and allows you to log your workouts online.  A number of my Facebook friends have integrated their Nike+ system with their Facebook accounts as well.

So now you're all set to start building your library of training routes.  It can take a little while to plan everything out, but it's worth it.  When you're heading out for an eight mile walk at 7pm after working all day, you'll be relieved to not have to spend an extra minute plotting out exactly where you're going to walk.  Just pick your favorite loops from your library, lace up those sneakers and start walking!


Kristen S. said...

I have friends that use mapmyrun and love it. I have an iphone and use RunKeeper and love it. Thanks for the great tips, I would have never thought to build a library of sorts for training. :)

Carrie said...

Thank you! I thought I was going to have to drive all around my neighborhood to track how far I was walking and how much further I had to go. It was so easy I signed up right after reading your blog, made a route, then went out and walked it. I am training for my 1st 3Day walk and look forward to your next blog. Thanks again!

Cliff said...

Hey! Another great mapping website is walkjogrun.net, I use it all the time when training for a race. I've found it to be a bit more accurate than mapmyrun on a occasion, and has some nifty features.

Kristen Sager Cincotta said...

Thanks Cliff! I'll have to check that one out!

~*~ Beckie ~*~ said...

Excellent tips... thank you! I'm checking them out now! :-)