Wednesday, January 03, 2007

GPS addiction with Motionbased and Everytrail

I'll be the first to admit I'm a trail running geek. If there is an electronic device to try, I'll be one of the first to strap it on, even at the risk of looking like Robocop at the starting line. It doesn't always work out (see my complete electronic meltdown at the Ohlone 50k, or the dead remains of the five iPods I've eaten through in the last two years), but I keep hope alive that the latest updated version of an outdoor gadget will stand up to the rigorous demands of ultrarunning.

GPS Tracking - Cool or Crapola?

Up until this year, I would have said that Global Positioning System (GPS) devices are a class of gadgets that hasn't lived up to its promise. My Garmin Forerunner 201 was such a piece of crap, I could run an entire 50k and barely track one mile of it. Each run would turn into a frustrating bout of trying to get a clear signal, distracting me from nature and the event. Within a few weeks, I had it on eBay with dozens of other frustrated runners struggling with similar entry-level GPS devices, and we were all ready to write off the whole GPS device category. If it wasn't for the comments of blog readers and fellow runners, I never would have guessed the Garmin Forerunner 205/305 (and it's new SiRFstarIII GPS chip)would be such a dramatic improvement.

I bought the Garmin Forerunner 305 about two months ago, and have been very impressed with how well the new GPS chip can receive a signal in the trees and canyons. On average, I am tracking about 90% of the time, which given my penchant for redwoods and ravines, isn't half bad. The watch-sized form factor is also nice. The battery seems to hold out relatively well for 50k and 50 mile runs, but conks out if you go much longer than that. But much to my surprise, I've been reaching for the Forerunner 305 for nearly every run. It took me a while to realize why I was doing it - it wasn't the information I had during the run (since it's always an approximate), it was because of all the cool ways I could use the data after the run.

New Ways to Use GPS Data - Everytrail and Motionbased

Once you have a relatively accurate GPS track of one of your runs, there is an endless amount of things you can do with it on the Internet. Much of this is thanks to the Google Earth/Google Maps team, who have opened up their API to allow all kinds of topographical use. Two great uses of this can be found at and is a new site that allows you to upload your GPS tracks, set up pictures along the route, annotate, and share with others. Their upload software hides the technical details, so you don't need to know the in's and out's of GPX or KML formats (don't ask - it's ugly); just plug in your ForeRunner, and it does the rest. Here's a sample where I uploaded the Woodside 50k:

Click on "View Details" to go to the site and see more about the race. One of the features I really like is the ability to plot pictures along the track. That way people can see a topographical layout of a race and check out where all the sweet views are. You can also look for other trails in the area and see the views from their routes as well. Everytrail is also "blogger friendly" in that it makes it easy to embed a map in your blog entry, much like YouTube has. Take a look at the other users of Everytrail, and you'll see it's mostly hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, all of whom carry a camera. is a subsidiary of Garmin, so most Garmin product users will find out about it in the product literature. The site is geared to be an archive of your events, where you can compare to previous times you did a route and see if you're improving, check out other trails and routes in your area and more. Most of the features are free, but the advanced features will cost you a monthly subscription (so far I'm content with the free stuff). Similar to Everytrail, it has an upload software tool that makes the process of uploading routes very simple. Here is a map created with Motionbased of a run I did in Central Park:

Map of Central Park Recovery Run

If you click on the link above the map, it will take you to the full detail page. Note the added details on the first link for such things as wind speed, temperature, and heart rate information. As a "library" of courses and experiences, Motionbased does a good job of capturing everything it can. There are thousands of users too, so it's likely you will find plenty of paths in any area you are looking. Another fancy (although I'm not sure how useful) feature is the upcoming "player" capability. that allows you to follow along as somebody runs; you can find the option on the right hand side of my Central Park run, if it's turned on.

What's Next?

Do we really need more ways to stay online instead of getting outside? Probably not. In the end, nothing beats a chilled out run in nature with no gadgets to worry about. But these new gadets and services do help in our ability to share the experience online. I think it's great to see Internet sites make use of data beyond the normal rates/speeds, and I bet we're going to see a lot more. A quick check of other sites looking to make use of GPS data shows them popping up everywhere, from mountain biking (, to utilities (GPS Visualizer), to GPS phone mapping (Bones In Motion) and more. I think this is more than just "a GPS product that really works"; it appears to be the beginning of the GPS era. Let my addiction begin now!

Have you got any great GPS advice/features to share? Please let us know!

Thanks, SD


  1. And in case you are wondering, yes, I did buy the ForeRunner with my own money! ;-) That's what allows me to call the 201 a piece of junk.


  2. Very helpful, Clark, thanks! I embedded a map above.

    Note to others - there are a few options on embedding from MotionBased, including a short digest of the facts of the run. Good stuff.


  3. Scott,
    Thanks for posting about EveryTrail and including your trip map. The map is fully interactive: you can zoom, pan, change map layers (streetmap, topo, satellite), and click on camera icons to view photos.

    We are brand new, and focused on constantly improving. Please check us out by creating a free account at and watching our short trailer at

    Our goal is to enable active people to share their experiences. We believe that there is no better way to get inspiration and information on any trail / trip than to look at the footsteps, photos and stories of people with the same passion.

    Pls drop us a line at if you have suggestions for improvements.

    Joost – Founder EveryTrail

  4. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for a great blog on the Garmin GPS. I've gone through the timex GPs, and currently have the Polar, with the Garmin on my wishlist.

    One area I'm interested in, is helping others to see where an athlete is on a course. Not so much for training, but for races. I'm reminded on the first 1/2 iron triathlon I did in Oceanside, and my fiancee was with me. It was raining and cold, and my fiancee was anxious to know how I was doing. Her only option was to wait by the transition area, shivering under an umbrella. I gave her some time estimates, but they could vary by the weather, my endurance that day, and technical problems. She came away wishing there were better options for "supporters". We've continued to discuss this, and reading your blog I realized that if she could have followed my progress through GPS, she would have been able to stay warm, and indoors, until I was arriving at the transition area. Since she is usually that goes to the vendor booths, there would be commercial advantage in making her aware of where I am, and how much time she can spend at the booths.

    Is something like that feasible? Could she get a map from her cell phone, pda, or at a "supporter booth" showing progress on a screen?


  5. Iain -

    That's a good question. I would certainly like to allow my wife to track where I am on the course too (let's face it, long endurance events aren't much of a spectator sport!). I know she enjoyed that she could track me online at the Boston Marathon; that uses scanning stations every 5k, so at least she gets updates. But it's not quite the "here and now" that GPS could do.

    From what I understand, the problem with GPS tracking is that it requires a second network. GPS can triangulate a position, but the device needs to send that position on a different network to get it to your wife. This means it's going to be more expensive than a typical read-only GPS device.

    There are some technologies out there to track things. @Road and SageTracker have $200 units to track your car in real time. Wherify has a $100 phone to track your kids, and Verizon Wireless, Disney Mobile and others have announced similar services from their networks for select phones (Bones In Motion allows real-time tracking as well). It still looks too expensive for an RD to foot the bill for all racers, but perhaps you could get one so your wife can stay dry and warm.

    Clark and Joost, you guys know the GPS world better than I do - feel free to chime in.


  6. Thanks Scott,

    These are some very interesting links. Through Wherify I got to a site that sells a Tracking Key. Since it is waterproof it could be great for triathlons.

    Our supporters would need internet access, but could see where we are over a map. I don't think the manufacturers had this in mind, but it might be a new use. The price is $230, but no monthly fee. Might be worth exploring. I'll keep exploring these links.

    Thanks again,

  7. If I didn't know from personal experience how lame Garmin is as a company, I would suspect they put you up to this blog! My 301 was just like your 201.. an exercise in frustration. Your article has helped me believe there may be hope, but I am still not completely convinced.

  8. Cool stuff.

    kpt - the 'Tracking Key' is passive tracking...i.e. you only know the data once you get the device and plug it in to your data port. I've seen similar devices on delivery vehicles for after-the-fact checkups on drivers. Wouldn't do the wife much good to only know once you got there, tho.

    That's why the others have a monthly fee for live tracking...because it has to involve active (real-time) data uploads...and most just piggy back on mobile networks for that anyway. Since most of us carry mobile phones I'm guessing that there must be software available or at least in the works to do exactly what you want. Verizon already does it with some phones directed at parents tracking kids...the others Scott mentioned are probably similar. AccuTracking (Nextel) used to be free but I think is all monthly fee-based now too.

    We can't be that far from free-ish stuff. Maybe something exists on Sourceforge already... Or maybe we can convince Scott to write some software... :)


  9. If any of you aren't seeing the MotionBased map, it appears the site is down for maintenance. I'm sure it will be up shortly....


  10. GPS is a great tool for training as well as tracking. I stumbled across a very cool application called SportsDo ( It requires a cell phone and a GPS reciever. Not too convienent for a race, but for long training ride or run, could be easily thown in a pack. This app does eveything. Tracks pace, speed, time, and all the standard GPS things, but where it gets cool is the extras. If you use it with a cameraphone, it will add geo-tags to the pictures and place them on the map based on the gps location when the pic was taken. It also allows other to check-in on you. It will send text messages to your "buddy-list" and even show on a map where you are. AND if that's not enough, you buddies can also see what music you are listening too if you have a Windows Mobile phone. Cool stuff, not practical everyday, but the ability for my wife and friends to "check-in" on me on my long runs could be useful, so they could come out and pace me for a bit! :)

  11. Thanks Mac,

    I continued my search, and found the S-911 Personal locator from Laipac.

    I think you can set it for different parameters, have to set it to be real-time. I suspect this would affect the battery considerably.

    It looks like this can be both active and passive. Correct me if I'm wrong. They also have a website that you can track the device from.


  12. Hey Scott,
    I bought the ForeRunner 205 and I love it! It was the first one I bought so I didn't have anything to compare it to. I have not used any of the info stored on it yet. I was going to use motionbased but now that I've seen I may try that.
    Heck - I'll try both!
    Thanks again for the info.

  13. BTW, John Sun has some good advice on how to get a signal started with the Garmin ForeRunner 205/305. Apparently the SiRFstarIII GPS chip is very sensitive, and it's important to stand still when getting the initial signal lock in place.


  14. Great blog, I also got a 305 recently and have been using it on trails, works reasonably well, another site worth exploring,, you can check out some of my recent runs to see how it handles thick woods and trails.


  15. Scott -

    Thanks for the GPS info...I may have to run out and get one now :)

    I was hoping you'd swing by - we're working on creating a blogging community focused completely on all types of endurance sports - we'd love to hear your feedback, as one of the "top dogs" in this niche.

    Of course, you're welcome to join in as well :)

    Happy running!

    Scott Randolph

  16. Another great software tool for GPS based fitness activities is

  17. There are new trail collections popping up all the time. I stumbled upon this one the other day... - very similar to everytrail, but the layout seems friendlier.

  18. Hey Scott, you should check out the mcnaughton park trail race. it's a great race with many high profile runners. 50/100/150 miles, whichever you prefer. check out the site a bit at least!

  19. But among the other brands.. are you Tomtom, Garmin or Mio? And when will the DigiWalker be really for walking?
    Check out what made it to
    CNet's top GPSs for 2007.
    More of the reviews of auto or handheld GPS.

  20. In your case, it probably is a great use. There are other good uses that apply to GPS, like for cars, boats and planes, for offender monitoring (ankle bracelets), and apparently putting it into laptops too.

  21. Hi scott...
    thanks for your info....
    i can't know this info here before....
    once again thanks scott keep it up....!

  22. i wanna use MotionBased Viewports in my website if you can suggest me about it


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