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How runners and cyclists use new apps to create art in motion

Posted May 9

Runners and cyclists are creating art while in motion, etching faces, animals and Games of Thrones characters with the routes that they take. To get in on the craze, all you need is a pair of shoes, an imaginative spirit and a fitness app linked to the Global Positioning System.

In a report on "GPS art," The Wall Street Journal's Timothy W. Martin interviewed a Portland man who "drew" a picture of Yoda while running 20 miles. To create the image, Gene Lu made 152 turns during the three-hour run, and his GPS app marked the route like a sophisticated Etch A Sketch, giving Lu a wizened new addition to a GPS gallery he calls "Run Wars."

Other athlete-artists have created seahorses and rabbits, dinosaurs and queens, even the "Christ the Redeemer" statue that gazes down on Rio de Janeiro.

The Wall Street Journal anointed Stephen Lund as "perhaps the most famous name in the GPS landscape." Lund, a 50-year-old cyclist, is a Canadian who "drew" Christ the Redeemer, and his TEDx talk called "A Creative Spin: Pedaling My Art" has been viewed more than 16,000 times.

Lund uses Strava, an app that tracks athletic activity, with a Garmin GPS, turning his bicycle into a "crimson-dipped paintbrush," he says in the talk.

Although Lund's first GPS drawing was "Happy new year" on the morning of Jan. 1, 2015, fitness app companies were noticing crude sketches, such as jack-o-lanterns and hearts, as early as 2011, Martin reported. "People will do crazy things to get their minds off of the slog of fitness,” Jason Jacobs, chief executive of another app, Runkeeper, told him.

Lund's initial drawing was spontaneous, but he and others now map out their routes to create complex designs. Lu, who drew Yoda, spent 15 hours creating the design and directions, the Wall Street Journal said. For fun, Lu pores over maps of other cities, assessing their potential as a canvas for GPS art.

The Global Positioning System, a satellite network created by the U.S. military, was opened to consumer use in the 1980s. While its most common application is providing directions, fitness art is not the only use of GPS in recreation.

On the official website, the government notes that GPS can speed up play on a golf course, help fisherman find fish and help mountain bikers find new routes. It's also given rise to geocaching, a treasure hunt in the wild, and geodashing, a cross-country race.

For cyclists who'd like to give GPS art a try, Bicycling magazine has some tips. Among them: design your route in advance, start with words instead of pictures and expect to get fitter. "Doing Strava art the past seven months has gotten me to do 4,000 kilometers of riding that I wouldn’t have otherwise done,” Lund told the magazine.

Outside magazine adds another: Look out for sudden changes in elevation, which can ruin a design that looked great on a flat map.

EMAIL: jgraham@deseretnews.com

TWITTER: @grahamtoday

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