Day 65–Happy Mapping

It was an early start behind the desk this morning as I was covering F1 Testing in Bahrain, although it should be noted that my start time was the kind of hour some club mates are heading out for their morning run, which rules out any possibility of me moaning about how tired I felt.

After the delay in the test actually commencing (not enough marshals, apparently) and the initial commotion over Lotus revealing their tusked new charge, there was some time to spare to think about where I was going to run once the day’s work was over. I felt that the legs were up for doing ten miles or so, fancied charting some new territory, so took to mapping out a route to upload to my Garmin.

Uploading a map to follow on your watch would have been the stuff of fantasy just ten years or so ago, so this is still very much cutting edge in the grand old story of running and training runs. Ever since I bought my trusty Forerunner 305 I’ve been a bit fan of mapping out runs to follow using the trusty black triangle and black line, occasionally chasing a white triangle if I’d set the run pace correctly. This feature of the watch came to the fore when I was part of the F1 Grand Prix circus: it allowed me to explore areas I’d not consider venturing to before and making circular courses, previously impossible without local maps or local knowledge, eminently possible.

The procedure was something of a trial seven or eight years ago, but in recent times the process has matured to the extent where it can take literally a couple of minutes to map out a new route, upload to the watch and be out of the door running it. The process is not without its hazards however: there’s been occasion when the quiet looking country lane has turned out to be something more like a motorway and the infamous occasion in the Eiffel Mountains when a perfectly good looking road on Google Maps turned out to be the figment of a cartographer’s imagination – leaving me puzzled in a field in the middle of nowhere at 5:30 in the morning…

These unexpected surprises are now more or less avoidable with the addition of Google’s Street View, which allows you, from the comfort of your computer, to recce a road or lane and decide whether it is fit for running or cycling on. It isn’t fool proof, but if, sometimes, things go awry you just need to remember that at the turn of the century most of us were still measuring the distance of runs with a map and string, knowing your pace and distance ran was the stuff of fantasy, following a map on a run was the preserve of an orienteer.

Street View has though, for me anyway, created the new phenomenon of the non-Street Viewed Road. These are typically quiet lanes and bridle paths where, for whatever reason, Google has not been able to send their camera car, leaving the nature of the lane or path a mystery until they are actually seen for yourself. In most cases the explanation for the road not being captured is straightforward – it is either too narrow to fit a car or in too poor condition to risk driving a car packed full of technology on.

For some reason I tend to forget this straightforward explanation and think there is something more sinister behind the absence of Street View. Is there an angry farmer wielding a gun at whomever dares to cross their land? Is the terrain totally impassable, horribly dangerous, likely to injure or even kill? Is there a vortex from which you will be sucked into, never to reappear? The bounds of my imagination are seemingly endless when it comes to determining why certain roads are not captured on Street View.

And so this lunchtime I was mapping a route, using Street View as a guide to see if the roads were suitable for running on. This was initially made harder by Google completely revamping the layout of maps again, seemingly minutes after they last revamped it, at least on the computer I was working on (It’s currently totally different on each of the three computers I work with). They are certainly packing in a lot of extra information with these revamps but seemingly making it just a little bit harder each time to work out exactly how to do anything. Most of the run was straightforward, but there was a loop of around a mile where Street View was not available. I went to the end of each end where the Google car went as far as it deemed possible – there seemed no reason why they couldn’t have gone further save for a sign saying something along the lines of if the rain is really heavy and you cannot see the stepping stones, don’t bother coming this way.

I decided the route was one worth attempting especially as the escape route, if the road was indeed impassable, only added a mile or so to my planned 10 miles. So it was at around 4pm I headed out, just in time to be able to complete the run before it was dark. Out of Manthorpe and past Belton on the main A607 turning left at Hough Road just past Barkston. Along the road and past the level crossing (Not sure what train line this is – it seems a quiet one) and down the hill towards the crossroads where I was to turn left onto the lane where Google cars fear to tread.

I was partially reassured when I passed two girls on ponies – suggesting this lane would not lead me to anything too sinister. The bridle path, as it turned out to be, and called Drift Lane, was in very poor condition. It was now obvious why the Google car called it quits. I diligently followed the black line on my watch which thankfully tallied exactly with the path I was taking. I jarred my left ankle a couple of times and it was touch and go with the huge puddles in places, but there was just enough room to pass without my feet getting wet. I saw no stepping stones and after a mile or so the path connected back to a civilised paved road (West Street) – complete with houses and a pedestrian to reassure me I was on safe, charted by Google, ground again.

The run back was plain sailing; the legs a little stiff still but no pains to concern unduly. Ten and a third more miles in the bag run again at around 7 minutes per mile on average. There should be more of the same tomorrow but probably a little further and a little later in the day.

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