If there's one thing that runners love more than running, it's talking about their runs. The only problem is, most nonrunners couldn't care less about their friend's latest route or time split. Eyes glaze over at the water cooler when runners launch into their latest musings on heart rate or RunKeeper maps or Strava KOM's. But data analyst Nathan Yau has found a way to bring runners and nonrunners together with beautiful maps that give everyone something to talk about.

running map from Nathan YauTo create these mesmerizing maps, Yau used the fitness app RunKeeper to merge the running and cycling maps of users who live in major cities and allow public access to their data. (That's his map of Washington, D.C., at left.) He figured that if running maps from an individual runner were interesting on their own, they would be even more interesting when combined with those of other runners. He also thought this collection of data might be useful for city planners or fitness advocates who want to know where people in their community need access to running paths.

From the runner's perspective, Yau's maps — posted on his blog, Flowing Data — offer a unique glimpse into the running community. Not surprisingly, runners like to run where there is the least amount of traffic and the most access to nature. So waterfronts and parks are popular running destinations, as are scenic neighborhoods.

The maps also provide a quick and easy way to see where the best running routes are in a given town. You can use running apps like RunKeeper to search for places to run, but it's nice to have an instant visual — particularly when traveling to a new city — of where the locals run.

Running data aside, Yau's maps offer some good info for nonrunners as well. A recent article about the maps in the Washington Post speculated that the maps reveal disparities between rich and poor. While I agree with the writer's assumption that folks living in poorer neighborhoods are less likely to have access to GPS tracking sports watches, I don't necessarily agree that this means that folks who live in poorer neighborhoods don't run. Nor does it mean that runners run only in the neighborhoods where they live. I know lots of runners who drive to do their workouts on the way to or from work or dropping their kids off at school to find a neighborhood that is more scenic or safe than their own. 

However you look at them, Yau's maps offer a unique view of the world of running — and it's a view that both runners and nonrunners can appreciate.

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