Google Maps Directions for Runners

iRunFar headquarters is in a tizzy! Google has gone and done it now. They are clearly part of the problem, […]

By on August 5, 2008 | Comments

Google logoiRunFar headquarters is in a tizzy! Google has gone and done it now. They are clearly part of the problem, not part of the solution in America. Why? They are lazy biased. That’s right, those geeks at the Googleplex are biased against runners. How else can you explain that Google’s new option to give directions by foot is designated as “walking” as opposed to “by foot” or “running.” … Oh wait, you don’t know about the awesome new walking directions feature for Google Maps? Well, now you do!

On July 22, Google quietly added the option for “walking” directions to Google Maps. To access the “walking” directions feature first go to Once there, click on “Get Directions,” which is noted as location 1 in the image below. Next, at location 2 click on the small square button to the right of “By car” and select “Walking.” Lastly, type in your starting point and destination and click “Get Directions.”
Google Maps select WalkingBam! In a matter of seconds you have a walking route. While this might not be much of a feature for those who live way out in the country and can walk on any street. You can often simply use Google’s driving directions. That is unless you live on a major highway in which case Google’s fastest directions may not be the shortest walking directions. For the city dwellers among you, the walking directions have the major advantage of letting you walk in reverse direction on one way streets and turn left at no-left-turn intersections.

Google Maps walking directions route exampleExample of Google Maps walking directions in action

Some of you may already use Gmaps Pedometer for platting your runs. Well, it’s your lucky day. At least at first glance, Google Maps walking directions seem to be a major improvement for plotting road runs. (More on why it’s not an improvement for plotting trail runs later.)Google Maps add destinationTo form your route, you can either click and drag the route – only one direction of the route (in bound or out bound) should move. Alternately, you can add one or more additional intermediate points, again using the Add Destination item. We think that any more than four locations in total is overkill, as with whichever method you choose, you can easily click and drag the vague route into your intended route.

Google Maps Walking Directions vs. Gmaps Pedometer

As much as we love the beta of Google Maps walking directions, we here at iRunFar immediately noticed two ways in which Gmaps Pedometer is better: one is very significant and the other, not so much.

While Gmaps Pedometer’s click-for-every-bend-in-the-road is one of its most annoying aspects, that same aspect allows you to plot your run anywhere you want. Want to run on the highway? Go ahead. How ’bout the bike path next to the highway? Sure thing. Want to run from the bike path across the big field and down to the trail by the river? Keep going. You are gonna run on the path along the river? Gmaps Pedometer says, “Click away.” Want to run on water? Be Gmaps Pedometer’s guest. None of these are options with Google Maps.

Google Maps walking directions wont go thereWant to run the bike path along 66 or on Teddy Roosevelt Island?
Google Maps walking directions says, “Too bad!”

While we have no desire to run on either highways or water, we do run on bike paths and trails quite a bit, so this is a real bummer. Unfortunately, at this point, there’s no reason to think about Google Maps if you are going to run on trails or anything else that’s not a road. Actually, come to think of it, we do want to run on highways and highway ramps if there is a sidewalk! For instance, you can easily run across the Potomac River between DC and Virginia on I-395, but Google Maps won’t let you do it.

Fortunately, Google openly admits the short comings of the current walking directions:

Walking directions work well for short trips in urban areas, but we don’t always know if a street has a sidewalk, or if there’s actually a special pedestrian bridge for crossing a busy street. There are still a lot of pedestrian pathways we don’t know about, and they might save you some time if you find them. We’re working on collecting new data on pedestrian pathways and on more effective ways to solicit your feedback, so that we can steadily improve this feature and get you where you need to be as efficiently as possible.

The second, far less significant feature that Gmaps Pedometer includes, but Google Maps walking directions lacks is flags marking the mile points along the route. While there is usually little need for marking these way points, sometimes it’s nice to know approximately how far it is to an intermediate location without having to plot separately the intermediate points.

Future Feature Suggestions for Google Maps Walking Directions

Here are some features the iRunFar would like to see add to Google Maps walking directions either by Google or a third part.

  • Better indexing of which roads can be safely walked on and those that cannot. Yes, this will take time, but it can done… at least in populated cities.
  • The option to plot non-road courses, such as
    bike paths and trails.
  • Along these lines, we long for a company such as Garmin to compile its user data into a trail map! No need to waive privacy, plot only trails that have been run the number of times and by the number of different people necessary to give a reliable indication that users are following a set trail.
  • Mile (and kilometer) way points.
  • The ability to select a pace for “walking” directions. Not everyone will take 7 hours and 51 minutes to cover 20.9 miles (…though, come to think of it, we do know someone who took nearly 13 hours to cover 25 miles. Stupid Wasatch 100 course!)
  • End the lazy bias, Google! Change “Walking” to “By foot.” This change would also result in term construction parallel to “By car.”


  • So what do you think of Google Maps and its new “Running” ;-) directions feature?
  • How do Gmap Pedometer users think Google Maps walking directions stacks up?
  • Any other suggestions for how to improve Google Maps walking directions?
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.