If you poke around this site you’ll see I like maps. I like to know where I’m going, where I’ve been. As a designer, I like the potential combination of artistry and useable information offered by maps. So, at some point after I started running again back in 2003, I got the idea that I wanted to plot all the streets in Vancouver that I had run. I logged all my runs, often drawing rough maps of where I’d gone, so keeping track of which ones I’d run seemed a natural extension as my return to running blossomed across the city. There was something satisfying about seeing what I had accomplished and the distances I had covered. This was of course, before personal GPS devices hit the market so my city mapping plan would involve getting a large map of the city and keeping score of my travels with highlight markers. I wasn’t running very far at the time so it seemed like a lot of effort just to colour in my immediate neighbourhood and the idea eventually fell by the roadside.
Fast-forward thousands of miles later to 2014. GPS devices and workout-tracking web apps are everywhere and the king of the activity-tracking mountain is a website and app originally designed for hardcore cyclists called Strava. I’d first heard about Strava on Twitter, mostly because some of its most enthusiastic users were often ridiculed by hilariously snarky cycling commentators, but eventually it became more widely accepted and I started hearing about runners using it. One of those runners was the BRC godfather, Cormac Hikisch, and we chatted about Strava during a long Sunday group run out of the old Running Room store on Broadway when he popped into town last June. He gave me the extra-long elevator pitch which included fun stuff like segments and CRs* and by the end of the run I was convinced to check it out.
I loved it. The interface was clean, intuitive and best of all, Strava offered a Premium account which included access to a heatmapping feature. Heatmaps, maps which use compiled GPS data to show heavily-travelled routes as bolder or ‘hotter’ lines than less frequented routes, had been in the news of late, mostly in the context of showing bicycle commuting trends in major cities around the world, but now, for $59 USD per year, I could have access to my own heatmap of every street and trail I had ever run — with a GPS — without having to drag out a dining-room-table-sized map and felt markers. I uploaded as much old GPS data as I could find and gradually started filling in the blanks. Before long I was obsessing over the digital canvas before me and wondering, Could I run every street in Vancouver? Well, let’s see.
* Segments are pre-set sections of a route which allow for a virtual competition amongst Strava members as times for each runner or cyclist are measured against all other Strava members’ times for a given segment. The member with the fastest overall time is credited with the running Course Record (CR) or cycling King of the Mountain (KOM) and bragging rights for that segment.
Click the orange button below to see my current heatmap on the Strava site. No, it seems I can’t embed the map into this page and if you have the app installed on your phone and are wondering why nothing is happening, at present, Strava heatmaps aren’t viewable in the mobile app so you’ll have to check it on the full site in your browser.