Creating the Ultimate Route Discovery Map

What 30,000 public runs reveal about runners in Paris.

Heatmaps have been growing in popularity over the last several years, because they reveal interesting things about the cities we live in. In fact, they’re so popular that every major running app has already released some form of heatmap including Endomondo, Runkeeper, Strava, Nike and, just this past week, Suunto.

Although, not much has really changed about what question these maps are trying to answer, which is “where do people run?” A more interesting question to answer is, “why do people run where they run?”, because answering this helps us understand if it’s a good route depending on different circumstances.

In the last 3 years, I’ve run through empty stretches of farmland in the south of Spain, from one town to another along the Croatian coast, up a mountain in Montenegro, and tried my very best to run on the city streets of Rome. From experience, just because there’s a bold line running down a major road, doesn’t make it a good running route. It might just be the only choice in that particular area, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you would want to take it.

When we lived in Montenegro, we used Strava’s heatmap to find nearby places to run. We quickly learned the hard way that you do not want to run down highways in Montenegro. And you probably wouldn’t want to run under tunnels at night, but there’s no easy way to tell these from the way current heatmaps work.

Since Smashrun will be based in Paris for some time, we thought it would be pretty cool to create a heatmap that does more than just reveal the obvious. We wanted to create a route discovery map that shows where runners go on weekdays, weekends, daytime, nighttime, and depending on the length of their runs on any given day.

To do this, we started with a data set of 30,000 public runs, all Paris runs since the beginning of 2016. We only used runs without pauses to keep the data as tight as possible. We also excluded any runs that were part of a major running event including the Paris Marathon, the Paris Semi, and several local races ranging from 10km-80km ultras. Doing this allowed us to see where people actually ran on a day-to-day basis.

We then broke it down by run length, daytime vs. nighttime, and weekdays vs. weekends. The results are pretty cool!

Runs broken down by duration where short runs are under 30 min, medium length runs are between 30–60 min, and long runs are more than 1 hr.

There’s a bunch of awesome things you can do with this map. If you’ve ever wanted to know where all the tracks are in Paris, just filter by short runs and you’ll find all of them. You’ll also find all the major green spaces throughout the city that you might not have known about.

All the little green circles are tracks.

If you need to find places to do long runs, filter by both medium and long runs then zoom out a bit, and you’ll see the routes people take to get out of the city. Running along the Seine is the easiest and most obvious choice, but you also have the long canal north of the river, the coulée verte du sud parisien, and the many trails along Hauts-de-Seine. You can even identify routes connecting different parks and trails, because they show up as longer runs overlaid on top of medium length runs.

Of course, you can also run long within the city. In fact, when we removed all of the Paris Marathon and Paris Semi runs, then filtered by runs before 7am and after 7pm, we could see that a lot of runners practiced on the actual race routes. You just have to run early enough or late enough to avoid traffic.

To see where people run on weekdays, weeknights, and weekends, just switch to Time of Day. For now, we set hard cut offs for daytime and nighttime hours, but we could also adjust this so that it’s actually based on the sunrise/sunset time for each day. Currently, the map is essentially showing you where people run roughly before and after work.

So, for those who run in the middle of the day during the week, there’s a lot of options. People generally run in the two major parks - Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes - or any one of the four large green spaces in the left bank, Tuileries Garden by the Seine, Parc de Buttes Chaumont in Belleville, and along the canal north of the river. These are probably the easiest places to get to…

Where people run in Paris on weekdays.

If you overlay the nighttime runs with daytime runs then zoom out, you’ll see that at night, most people run either within the city, along the river, along Bassin de la Villette, and a few suburban neighborhoods just beyond the Boulevard Périphérique. You can also run in some of parks including Champ de Mars, Luxembourg Garden, Parc Montsouris, or Buttes Chaumont which all get a fair amount of foot traffic even after sunset.

You’ll notice that there’s also quite a few “nighttime” runs in Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes after 7pm and before 7am. This is an artifact of the earlier sunrise and much later sunset starting in March. Although, we imagine the map would look dramatically different if we just looked at running activities during the winter months.

Smashrun’s route discovery map is still a work in progress. Our next step is to make it filterable by run type, terrain, and run length.

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