There are several ways to explore a city that don’t involve a clunky bus or an enthusiastic tour guide. To some, it’s as simple as taking a run. As the blog Walk Jog Run describes it, running through a new city holds a certain allure:
Running makes you feel like a local – not like a visitor – and it’s one of the best ways to explore a new city. When you’re running, you don’t have to worry about finding non-touristy restaurants, fitting in with the fashions, or getting scowled at by locals because you’re stopped in the street taking pictures.
“As runner you really don't want to stop if you don't have to,” says Craig Slagel, who’s run dozens of marathons and visited hundreds of cities around the world. He’s also the founder of RunGo, a mobile app that combines the features of a running app with those of a travel app. Slagel’s running app is one of the first to offer turn-by-turn voice navigation, which also points out landmarks along the way.
RunGo offers users a list of pre-charted running routes in dozens of cities across the globe, including New York, London, and Vancouver. For a small subscription fee, runners have access to “verified” routes. These are based on popular marathons and 5Ks in the area, as well as paths drawn by local running clubs. The app also allows users to map and share their runs with the rest of the community for free; so far, there are more than 50,000 user-generated submissions. Routes can also be downloaded and used offline. All the while, the app tracks your distance, time, and elevation.
Slagel admits that he’s not the best with directions. The app was, in part, a solution to own problem. But it wasn’t entirely his idea; Slagel gives credit where credit is due—to a dog named Dynasty. “In 2012, I adopted a retired seeing-eye dog and I used to travel a lot for business and as a runner,” he says. “I’ve always had problem finding where to go and I used to get lost a lot, so my friend joked that [Dynasty] should guide me.”
Slagel took the advice seriously. In fact, the official launch for RunGo in 2015 was during a charity event raising money for guide dogs.
While the app he wanted to create is ultimately geared toward runners, he figured that in some ways, guiding a runner is similar to guiding someone who is blind or visually impaired: Neither can depend on visual maps. “When I walk, I’m actually quite happy to stop, look at my map, figure out where i'm going, and then start again,” he says. “When I'm running, stopping is just really annoying.”
So he began working with a guide dog organization in Vancouver and with Dynasty’s previous owner to learn what sorts of cues are most helpful. Small things, he learned—like advance notice about an upcoming turn—make a big difference.
The best part about the app, Slagel says, is discovering local gems. During a recent trip to Dublin, he followed a route mapped out by the owner of a local store that sells running gear.* “He created this route from the center of Dublin, in the Temple Bar area, and it took us down the riverbed, past the U2 recording studio, and into this docking area,” he recalls. “It’s all been developed and had these beautiful paths and bridges—something that I would never have discovered.”
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the creator of the running route in Dublin.