Lenny Maughan: MapMyRun? Map My FUN!
With street maps of San Francisco as his canvas, Lenny Maughan uses his mind, feet, and various devices as the paint to expertly construct GPS art with his running routes.
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Something that is incredibly popular with the modern runner is wearable technology. It started with a simple GPS watch that would track your movement, then you could download the GPS data to your computer, and now it Bluetooths to your Strava or Nike+, or whatever app you use on your phone.
These apps also are social spaces. They’re places to celebrate running with others and find new routes and comrades. They’re places to consume and compare stats from other people’s runs. They’re another part of the ongoing revolution in perma-connectedness and sharing everything with everyone.
But that’s also how Lenny Maughan makes running suck less: he uses all of those tools to create fantastic GPS art using his running routes.
How did you start using maps to make running suck less, Lenny?
“It all began eight, nine years ago - just when apps started getting popular for smartphones and were using GPS technology to track where you were, and for the first time you could track running that way.”
“I was fascinated with seeing the result of a run that I would do. I’m the kind of person that sees shapes and things - pareidolia, it's called. I like to look at the clouds or the wallpaper and see shapes and patterns in there. I thought instead of having done a run and then coming to it afterwards and trying to think about what it might look like, I thought about beginning with the end in mind, as they say, and design something so that it turns out exactly how I want.”
Having studied the maps of San Francisco and considered the way the city was laid out, he decided his first map could be of the human hand. His “proof of concept” in March 2015 was a 6-mile tribute to a namesake - the recently deceased Leonard Nimoy.
Starting out using MapMyRun printouts and an actual highlighter pen, these days he takes an image file of a detailed map of SF and uses Photoshop to sketch out a route. At some point, he decides enough is enough in terms of amends and revisions, and he’ll upload it to his phone. Today’s high-resolution smartphone screens means he can pinch-and-zoom and follow his route without any errors.
“It's like writing a book, or composing a song. Sometimes you’ve just gotta say, ‘OK, I'm done.’” Lenny Maughan, GPS running map artist extraordinaire
It certainly is art that Lenny is creating, and the process is suitably meticulous and time-consuming. We discuss how he has to work to minimize doubling back and Lenny relates that to the mathematical concept of Graph Theory (finding the shortest route between two points). I point out how UPS truck routes are equally painstakingly-designed to take as few left-turns as possible for the exact same reasons of minimizing both time and energy.
Now, Lenny commits to one map art project every month, but it’s the thought that went into beginning the process of making map art that I want to dwell on for a moment.
That way of thinking is central to the Running Sucks philosophy. This is a blog about thoughtfulness and being thoughtful about running. If running is the thing that we do, I believe that thinking deeply about it is the way we can become better runners. Whatever that means to you.
Lenny’s maps are certainly one of the things that make running suck less for me. Opening Instagram or Strava and seeing one of his new creations gives me true joy. I wasted my avocado toast fund on getting a master’s degree in Geography - I love maps - and the seemingly limitless democratization of maps in the 21st Century has filled my heart to no end.
No longer is cartography the preserve of academia and complex, clunky GIS actions. We now have maps in our pockets and at our fingertips, and it’s beautiful. If we’re talking about how knowledge can expand a person’s horizons, maps are one of the most glorious, technicolor ways of learning place-specific social, economic and cultural details.
Whether it’s an unvisited continent to plan a trip across, a new Google Maps shortcut that saves you 5 minutes on your commute, or a previously-unknown hill in your city that your friend has just conquered the incredibly steep incline of and is now challenging you to become a Strava Local Legend at, finding and seeing new locations is no problem any more.
Perhaps it’s the mindset of finding joy in the everyday mundane that we can extend into other parts of how we exist in this increasingly anxious world. I believe there is still a lot to appreciate. Maybe we just have to identify it.
Anyway. Yes, I really do love maps. Back to running and back to Lenny.
Why did you start running, Lenny?
“I started running in high school when my gym teacher saw some skill in me during the required laps around the field and said, ‘Lenny. I want you to try out for the track team.’ And I thought, ‘What? Me?’ So he nudged me, encouraged me, and I ended up liking it. Now, as an adult, I don't know what it's like to not be a runner.”
Why do you run, Lenny?
“It is and has always been the runner’s high that you get from running. Some runners tell me, ‘What are you talking about?’ and that's sad for them, but I get it very, very strongly. I always have. Since I started running, in fact. Separate from my coach, I had heard that runners get this high, you know? And it's free! I’m gonna work for it, but it's free. After 5km, 3.1 miles consistently, even at an easy effort, it kicks in. Then I'm just cruising and all the benefits are there: I'm euphoric, everything looks so beautiful, pain is reduced, and I'm just happy. That's why I like to do long runs. I don't like to do 5ks, because that's just when it hits!”
Endorphins are undefeated and infinite, but here’s hoping that I can feel the dopamine-serotonin double hit of seeing Lenny’s maps online for many more years.
For this week’s coaching tip (I promise I am a real USATF-certified running coach!), we’re going to make running suck less with…
Single-leg training has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks as I recover from a twisted ankle and the ensuing knock-on effects all the way up my body.
I’ve been very gentle in my increase in running mileage, following the Recovery Advisor on my Garmin 235 (more or less) and staying within the weekly intensity recommendations on my Strava (more or less). However, nothing can quite beat a little strengthening and balancing.
What’s the point of single-leg training? Your body is riddled with imbalances from top to bottom, no less in your legs - the things you use to run.
Why does it matter if your legs have strength imbalances? Well, you start to overcompensate with one side. That leads to overuse. That leads to injury. Or worse - re-injury.
A solution is single-leg training. Think single-leg squats or step-ups, hopping on the spot, single-leg calf raises, single-leg lunges, box jumps, leg-raises, deadlifts. You can find the right exercises for you online or via your trainer.
The great news is that you can fit a lot of these exercises into your day very, very casually. In front of the stove, while waiting for a pot to boil, for instance. I do some of these while walking the dog! My neighbors give me a wide berth.
Anyway… The idea is that your weaker side will work harder during these exercises and strengthen more than the stronger side, thus ‘catching up’ with the stronger side, and hopefully achieving more balance in your body, which will lead to a lower chance of injury.
My number one reason for not running is being injured, so I am ultra-cautious about 1) getting injured and 2) rehabilitating injuries. Knowing that I’ve done this work allows me to run with a little less fear of injury. That extra freedom of mind makes running suck a little less for me.
Lenny’s life as a running artist:
Purposefully adding art to his running process
Chasing that Runner’s High
Ways to make running suck less covered today:
Enjoy Lenny’s GPS art
Balance your body via single-leg exercises
Look at your running app and really enjoy the maps (high five)
Do the strengthening work to gain peace of mind
Try to steal a Strava Local Legend crown off your friend
Wait ‘til that 4th mile when the Runner’s High endorphins hit
Tell me if you’ve ever mapped a run like this in a comment below. Tell me what you think about the single-leg exercises. too. I’m also happy to field any questions about why geography isn’t just coloring in. And please send this article to your silly friend who also studied geography for their degree. They’ll love it.
I hope you enjoyed reading this! If you did please, please share it with a fellow runner and tell them to subscribe as well!