Step Saver

Why just track steps, when you can map an adventure?

We often talk about creating a fitness “routine” to help us stay on track and get in all the hours, miles and reps in our program. The problem with any routine, of course, is that it can become so routine that it’s boring. That’s true on the trail or the road as much as in the gym. And when you’re bored, it’s a lot easier to blow off that run or ride.

Why not use the technology you carry on your workouts to help you get a little more creative—and save your routine from becoming drudgery? There are a lot of options, from competing in social media challenges against your friends to setting your tracking program to put some interval work into your regular run.

One of the more intriguing options to add creativity to your running or cycling is to visualize them with maps. If your phone or tracker has GPS, it’s likely you already have a lot of choices for pulling up a map of your last route (or last several routes) on your phone or laptop screen. I’ve been using that to add some challenge.

Map your walk

A couple months ago, I started a regular lunchtime walk along the trails near my office in San Francisco’s Presidio to work some strength back into an injured knee. I picked the closest trail to my building and just did a simple out-and-back for about a mile, with one gradual incline that bisects a golf course. I used the workout app on my iPhone to capture my time and estimated calorie burn so I could chart my progress.

In addition to recording those numbers, the app also mapped the walk. Being able to see that not only helped me see (with colored segments) where along the way I tended to slow down or speed up but also made it easy to see how to connect with other roads and trails. That provided the inspiration, after a few days of the same route, to turn it into a longer loop of about 1.75 miles.

Besides adding distance (and the challenge of going down a steep staircase), it also gave me a chance to discover a few hidden secrets along the trail—the remnants of an old graveyard for merchant sailors and a protected habitat where a rare butterfly is beginning to reappear.

As my knee got progressively better, I wanted to add just a little more to the route, so looking at the map, I was able to see an easy way to revise the existing route and add an extra loop and get the total distance to just a shade under two miles:

Change your plans—or play

It’s been fun to plan the walk instead of just watching the clock until it’s time to go. Since then, I’ve added another loop to get to 2.25 miles and started to do the walk backwards—all the while, improving my time and getting my knee back into shape for more strenuous tasks.

I also have a new incentive to become a lot more creative with my route: An active coyote den has appeared along the main part of the trail, and the adults have become more aggressive lately to protect their pups—so it’s time for an entirely new plan.

Making plans is one way you can really let your creativity loose in service of your fitness. While I started my “dynamic route” by looking at a map after I had walked, you can use Google Maps or many other digital maps to sketch out a route in the form of a shape, words or both. Over the past few years, runners especially have gotten extremely creative in setting up competitions for the most-creative running maps. They’ve also begun to combine runs with geocaching (although stopping to find a hidden item isn’t compatible with shooting for your personal best).

And if you really want to celebrate creativity in fitness, consider what a runner named Ben Chudley did a couple years ago: He mapped out his marriage proposal in a series of mile-long segments of an hour-long run and put them up on Facebook for his girlfriend to see. He’s still mapping his runs on his Facebook page.

Photo credits: Jacob Lund, Adobe Stock; nenetus, Adobe Stock