If you are a runner, chances are that, when faced with an upcoming move or planning a vacation to a new place, you might asked yourself - where is a good place to run near [insert your favorite place here] or is there a running track there? There are many ways to find an answer, but in today's age of Web 2.0 (or is it 3.0 yet?) where should you go first? But, of course, the web. With online mapping tools like maps.google.com, maps.ask.com, maps.yahoo.com, maps.live.com, and others, the quest for running places becomes much easier. If you are looking for running tracks, simply go to your favorite maps site and switch to the hybrid mode, input your intended location, and adjust the zoom level. Presto! Tracks are very easy to spot because of their oval shape with usually a patch of green in the middle. Also easily recognizable are running trails. This can also be used if you happen to be hunting for an apartment or house on craigslist. Most of the listings on craigslist have a link to a map. Click on it, switch to hybrid mode, and you can even measure distances from your intended location to the nearest track or trail.
If you are picky about measuring distances (like I am sometimes) then go to gmap-pedometer.com and zoom down to the level where you want, click "Start Recording." You can mark your entire route using a series of clicks on the maps and at each point (i.e., each click) it tells you the total distance. I use this quite regularly when I run new routes. This is especially useful when I want to figure out the distance between two points along my route where I know I can run fast without having to worry about traffic lights. Keep in mind, though, that this won't work as well if your route is hilly since the site doesn't account for elevation change. So, if you happen to be running up a mountain, it will tell you the distance in as-the-crow-flies terms, which invariably will be less than what you will be running.
Tools are cool, nevertheless, the good old method of asking people - in person or online - still remains useful, particularly if you want to know specific details about the neighborhood and other stuff that an online map site won't be able to tell you. Another good resource would be a running store in the neighborhood. Typically, most running store employees are runners themselves and have a good knowledge of places to run nearby.
Do you have any favored recipes for hunting down tracks and trails that you would like to share? Send me an email.
Good luck and happy tracking.