Turn Running into Art with a GPS Tracker

The application that allows you to track your run or ride can turn your route into meaningful images and words.

It’s hard to stand out on social media when thousands of images are posted every minute. On Facebook alone, brands post an average of 7.5 times a day. In such a dizzying world of content, drawing attention online to a cause you believe in (or just for yourself) can seem like a herculean task.

For GPS artists like Jakub Mosur, the key to keeping an eye on his content is The use of his legs. The 45-year-old photographer draws elaborate images and words while pedaling through the streets of San Francisco with his fixed-gear bike. With a fitness tracking app, Mosur transforms roadways into images like a detailed portrait of Frida Kahlo and sparkling messages like one to support vaccines.

The gadget works: every time Mosur adds another GPS Design or message to his IG photos, he gets two or three times more likes than on his other posts. He is not alone: Other runners and cyclists who use the Hashtag #gpsart receive hundreds – if not thousands – of Likes and comments on their images.

For everyday athletes, the art of GPS is a new motivator to put on running shorts and get out the door: they train and do something creative or also spread their message for social well-being. If the idea is appealing but seems a little daunting, these tips from Mosur and retired technician Lenny Maughan, another GPS artist from San Francisco, will get you started.

STEP 1: JUST GET STARTED

You might be tempted to create an image as stunning as Maughan’s portrait of David Bowie, but he and Mosur point out that less is more for their first attempt. “Remember, you can only use one line,” Maughan says. In other words, your route is recorded as if you were drawing with a pencil that never leaves the Paper. Diagonal lines are also difficult to reach when running, especially in urban areas where roads are formed in blocks. So just start, says Maughan: “Look at the List of Emojis on your phone [for Inspiration].”

For readability when writing words, Mosur adheres to bubble letters: they are easily made with a lattice street pattern and can be attached with short lines.

STEP 2: GET A CARD

For most of his drawings, “it takes longer to design them than to execute them,” says Maughan. Both artists recommend using a design program such as Photoshop or a detailed printed map to draw the design. “Resize a card, print a few copies on paper, and then sketch the image with a highlighter,” he adds. If he is satisfied, he draws in pencil on the picture — again and again, until he is ready and he has created a route. He uses the same procedure in Photoshop: “I use the drawing tool to imitate the line I want to make and I do it over and over again.”(In Photoshop, you can also overlay a drawing on a high-resolution map and move it until the lines match the streets.) Alternatively, you can use sketched letters to formulate a meaningful Phrase like human rights for everyone or other activist concepts like this drawing of work in progress to promote statehood in Washington, DC.

STEP 3: TRANSFORM A DRAWING, A ROAD

Once your image fits on the map, it’s time to make a route out of it — and that means thinking outside the box. When Mosur established the route for his “Get Vaxxed” lettering, he first cycled the top half of each letter in “VAXXED” and then the bottom half of the letters on the ride home. This made an 80-mile trip a more manageable (but still epic) 45-mile trip.

Another tip: Scan your route for potential obstacles to completion, Maughan says. You don’t want to get 10 miles or more into a race before you discover that a fence or gate makes it impossible to continue. To review your manual work, use the “satellite” function of your map application to enlarge areas that you do not know.

It is also important to know and avoid the traffic patterns of your route during rush hours or at other times when it may be peril to walk or drive on the roads.

STEP 4: ON FOOT OR BY CAR WITH TWO PHONES

As he heads to his creative Run, Maughan uses two devices. He loads his drawing and instructions on one, then checks his progress in an execution tracking application on the other. (Place them in a lightweight bag or waist bag for easier carrying.) If you don’t have two phones, check if a friend is coming: One of them can look at the map or turn directions, while the other records the progress of a running application.

If you make a mistake, you have to start from scratch, so Maughan suggests running slower than usual. “I run, but I don’t run fast,” Maughan says of his travels to create his huge drawings. “I really have to concentrate a lot – if I screw it up towards the end, there’s no ‘Cancel’ button.”

STEP 5: ATTRACT ATTENTION

Your Masterpiece is finished. Now get the attention it deserves by sharing it on social media (tag it with an explanation of its meaning). Then add a Hashtag (popular Hashtags for Drawings are #gpsdrawing and #gpsart). For even more eyeballs, you need to use several applications to track your drawing. Maughan uses Strava, which creates an orange line drawing, and Relive, which turns his journey into a moving video.