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 race map online are freely available and include such 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 race mapping tools out there so you don’t have to. And here they are.
If you are a feature geek and want a free race 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 the fairly discreet ads from your race map page.
- The embedded pace calculator and live weather on the race 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 your race map in real life and record new tracks
- If we tried – really hard – perhaps the elevation graph could look a bit smarter
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 graphs with gradient view and a variety of underlying map options. We think the end product looks 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 any course from your phone in real life. And if you’re designing an ultra or trail race 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.
- 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
- Having a bike on the logo? Maybe?…Can’t think of anything else
3. Hello, Drifter
Hello,drifter is a relative new-comer on the course mapping scene. But it’s starting to gain a following both sides of the Atlantic, particularly among trail and ultra race directors.
The tool was designed specifically with race director needs in mind and offers all the things you’d expect (traceable elevation profiles, mile markers, multiple map options) as well as a few things you wouldn’t, like its custom 3D elevation data that can help you visualise the race elevation profile along the course on the main map (to see how this works, open any course map and press the little blue cube button at the top left of the main map – cool, right?)
Like with other tools, you can host your maps on hello,drifter or easily embed them on your own website. Unlike any other tool, you may be able to find a map for your race on hello,drifter even if you haven’t created one yourself, courtesy of hello,drifters admins and map data contributors.
If you do find a course for your race on the site, you can easily claim it by clicking the “race director” link to the right of the event map page.
- The course info section above the course map that shows total elevation gain/loss, elevation high/low and other helpful course stats.
- The ability to house multiple race distance maps under different tabs on a single event page.
- The unique 3D elevation data.
- Hard to find anything significant…
Plot A Route is another great race mapping 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 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 of checkpoint crossing times to help you manage aid station opening/closing times better, this feature may come in 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.
- 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
- The limited underlying map options
5. 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.
On the one hand, Google My Maps comes with some pretty severe handicaps. 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 feed it to a third party tool. More importantly, perhaps, there’s a lack of auto mile markers, which, as race 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.
- 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
- The lack of auto mile markers (although it’s easy to manually add major mile markers)
- The lack of elevation profiles
Mapometer is a pretty decent tool for race mapping, handicapped by the lack of map markers, which are only available on a paid subscription service. If you’re ok with all that, then this could be good choice for you, as the tool is really friendly to work with.
WP GPX Maps
If your website is run on WordPress you can use a plugin to design and embed beautiful maps with elevation charts on any page with WP GPX Maps. We actually found this to be the most popular mapping plugin used by race websites around the world.
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.
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!