One of the first and most important jobs you’ll do when planning a race is to design a race course. This will not only be useful to your participants, but also their guests and anyone who plans to come out and spectate on race day.

Nowadays, all the tools you will need to create and share your course online are freely available and include such great features as:

  • Link sharing and embedding options, so you can promote your course map and seamlessly  add it on your race website
  • Import/export functionality, so you can upload and edit GPS tracks, as well as offer your map for your participants to download into their GPS devices
  • Map markers and photo libraries so you can add things like aid stations, parking areas and other important features onto your race course map

Wondering what tool to use? We searched far and wide for the best free course mapping tools out there so you don’t have to. And here they are:

1. GPSies

If you are a feature geek and want a free mapping tool that can keep your users busy with tons of info about your race, presented in a friendly and sharable format, GPSies is the tool for you.

There’s really not much to fault GPSies. The design and mapping options are great, the marker icon library sufficient for almost any circumstances and the file import/export options offer more options than anyone will ever need.

Best of all, GPSies is free to use. If you like the tool and want to help the team continue to develop GPSies and offer it for free, you can donate an amount to the team and get rid of (admittedly, quite discreet) ads from your map page.

 

PROS
  • The embedded pace calculator and live weather on map page
  • The endless download options to match pretty much any GPS device
  • The auto-generated directions cue sheet
  • The GPSies app (available on iOS only) that allows you to trace our course and record new tracks
CONS
  • If we tried – really hard – perhaps the elevation graph could look a bit smarter

2. RideWithGPS

We love RideWithGPS and although the tool was created with cyclists in mind, it can be used perfectly well for mapping all kinds of endurance race courses.

In terms of course design and display options, RideWithGPS has everything you’ll ever need: clickable markers with photo and description, elevation graph with gradient view and a wide variety of underlying map options. We think the end product look great, whether you link to it or choose to embed it on your site.

RideWithGPS offers all this for free and even comes with an app you can use to trace your course on your phone. If you’re designing an ultra or trail course for the first time, we think the $6/month upgrade to the Basic plan offers great additional functionality in terms of manipulating and combining course segments.

 

PROS
  • The many import/export options of not only technical files but also configurable printer-friendly PDFs
  • The photo library for route and map markers
  • The RideWithGPS app (available on iOS and Android) for tracing your course and creating tracks on the move
CONS
  • Having a bike on the logo? Maybe?…Can’t think of anything else

3. Google My Maps

Google My Maps (the map-building add-on to Google Maps) is an interesting addition to our top 5 mapping tools list.

One the one hand, Google My Maps comes with some pretty severe handicaps insofar as course design comes. For instance, there is no native elevation profile option, which means that if you need an elevation graph you’ll need to pick up your course’s GPX file and take it to a third party tool. More importantly, perhaps, there’s a lack of auto mile markers, which, as course maps go, is a pretty big deal.

That said, Google My Maps does have a trick or two up its sleeve that can be a game changer, depending on your circumstances.

Are you organising a multi-distance event with races sharing bits of each other’s course? Google My Maps layers can help show all distances on the same map with the user toggling different bits on and off. That is also very useful if you make heavy use of markers that you may want to give your users the option to turn on and off (to see a great implementation of this, take a look at the Mercer Surrey Half Marathon course map here)

And, of course, Google My Maps being Google Maps’ little cousin, clicking on any point on a Google My Maps course can instantly give your user the ability to use Google Maps’ Get Directions function – nifty when you need to find your way to the start line or a point around the course.

 

PROS
  • The map layers toggle which allows users to easily add/remove features from the view
  • The large library of marker icons and ability to add custom icons
  • The integrated Google Maps functionality, such as allowing users to click anywhere on the course and Get Directions to that point
CONS
  • The lack of auto mile markers (although it’s easy to manually add major mile markers)
  • The lack of elevation profiles

4. PlotARoute.com

Plot A Route is another great free tool you can use to design your course and share it with the world.

There’s a few features that make this tool unique. On the plotting front, Plot A Route offers a number of different ways of manipulating the course route, from editing segments to looping. There’s even an auto-design option where you specify a starting point and a desired course distance and Plot A Route works out a course for you (which you may find handy earlier in the course design process).

On other features, there is a sophisticated course timing function where you can create a finish time estimate from an array of running pace information (pace on flat, pace on downhill, uphill and steep uphill). If you’re planning an ultra with multiple checkpoints and want to get an estimate for transition times so you can manage aid station opening/closing times, this feature may come handy.

Last but not least, there’s a pretty friendly directions generator and more course stats than you can shake a stick at. Oh, and it’s all free (save for a few ads here and there), so give it a try.

 

PROS
  • The user-friendly, auto-generated, editable course directions/notes
  • The variety of plotting options and the course auto-generate function
  • The course stats and display options for map and elevation profile
  • The ability to add choose from 100+ markers to add both on- and off-course
  • The route time estimator
CONS
  • The limited underlying map options

5. RaceEntry.com

If you’re after a basic course design tool (and don’t mind a rather friendly follow-up email by Race Entry sales), the free offering by US online registrations provider RaceEntry may just be the right choice for you.

Setting up a course map on RaceEntry.com is really simple: just click on the start point and keep on clicking through the course till you get to the end. Add your marker icons (plenty of choice there), then save your map and you’re ready to share it with the world or embed it on your website. You get auto mi/km markers and a perfectly useable elevation graph on top, so all the key components are there.

You can register for free with RaceEntry.com and turn around your race course map within minutes.

 

PROS
  • The ease of quickly turning around a sharable course map
  • The map sizing options
CONS
  • The lack of GPX import/export options

Others options

Mapometer.com

Mapometer is a pretty decent tool for course mapping, handicapped by the lack of map icons and map embedding options. If you’re ok with both of these and can do with a link to a fairly simple course map, then this could be good choice for you, as the tool is really friendly to work with.

MapMyRun

MapMyRun is, of course, only one of a number of options, if you decide to use a personal route mapping tool from the many fitness apps out there. Like Mapometer you’ll only have basic functionality to work with, but maybe that’s goof enough for what you need.

Topographic maps

If you are planning a seriously proper trail or adventure race in the UK or US, you may want to think about purchasing an Ordnance Survey or US Geological Survey map. Because some times you just have to!

 

SEE ALSO: 3 Alternatives To Chip Timing

 

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Have you used any of these course mapping tools? Did you find this post helpful? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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