Go The Distance: Responsible Outdoor Running

by Lucy Golub

In an interview, Tian Wei, a graduate student at the GSD, expressed a problem she faces during this pandemic. Living a healthy lifestyle and exercising is important to her, but she also wants to follow social distancing guidelines. She gets nervous running outside, because there are many other people with the same idea. How can she stay safely distant while maintaining her exercise regimen? 

Our App:

The product we developed to alleviate Tian Wei’s outdoor social distancing concerns is an app called Go The Distance. This app offers a sleek visualization of the location data of runners in one’s area at any given time. Using projected data from Google Maps, and eventually information about peak running times based on collected data from users of the app, the app’s algorithm presents suggested routes and times of day to run outside in order to maintain social distancing protocols. 

The app begins with a short user survey: the user inputs when and where they like to run. Based on this data combined with other location data, the user is given two to three suggested routes that they can follow.

This app enables those who wish to run outside while still practicing safe social distancing the ability to schedule a run during a less busy time. The map interface is not unlike Snapchat’s SnapMap, which could ultimately be advantageous in its familiarity for younger users. Users can see where their friends are as well as strangers. 

The benefits of this app during this crisis extend far beyond lessening Tian Wei’s anxiety; it can help everyone because more stringent social distancing leads to less of a burden on hospitals. Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, running outdoors was seen as a foolproof replacement for a trip to the gym. But as scientists began to further understand how the virus is contracted, even this method of exercise began to seem like it could be a health threat. 

Especially in densely populated areas like New York, social distancing measures could be quickly undermined by a jog in Central Park if hundreds of your neighbors had the same idea and crowded the same jogging  paths. Our app allows people to stay distant, which helps reduce the spread of the virus and in turn helps doctors and nurses and hospital workers keep people healthy and safe. GO THE DISTANCE helps protect communities. 

Our app also provides personal benefit to the user. Many research studies suggest the physical benefits of consistent cardio and outdoor exercise. Right now, in these emotionally straining times and emotionally challenging times, these outdoor runs provide added benefits.

1) For many, exercise is the only time they are able to be outside and in nature. Some cities have mandates that allow only essential errands and exercise. 

2) Exercise leads to endorphins that alleviate negative mood & anxiety. Being inside and alone can have negative mental health effects on anyone, and exercise has been proven to help with depression and anxiety in many cases.

Connection to previous theory: 

Our app builds upon Fogg and Cialdini’s principles of behavior. People want to social distance to protect themselves and others. However, they might not be able to if they don’t know where to go to run that keeps them away from people. Our app increases their ability when the motivation is already there. By making it easy to know where to run, this app reduces cognitive load, employing Fogg’s idea of brain cycles. The user simply has to log on, and the work is done for them. GO THE DISTANCE also plays into Cialdini’s theory of Commitment to Consistency: People who are already socially distancing want to continue to do so all the time because they understand its importance. Social distancing halfway doesn’t work. Additionally, the app relies on the idea of authority: government and healthcare officials recommend social distancing, so people listen to them. GO THE DISTANCE makes it easier to take care of oneself through exercise while not putting them or others at risk. 

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Kate Travis April 13, 2020 - 7:43 pm

I’ve been running a lot since coming home, and social distancing is definitely a concern for me too! An app that allows me to see where I should run, especially in a more populated area, would be really helpful. I think one challenge with this design is just making sure that the data/information is accurate. For example, if the data only comes from users on the app, then there might be people out running around who don’t use the app, but happen to be in the same area. I think in that regard, as your blog post mentioned, it might be better to use data from Google Maps, or even pair with other common running apps to get more data on who is running, where, and when. I also think that instead of just showing routes, you could add an alert feature that could tell people when the best time to run is. For example, if someone really likes one particular route, the app could send an alert when there aren’t a lot of people on the trail, and even when the weather is right for a run. Overall, this seems useful and would love to have it in real life!

Eleanor Blum April 14, 2020 - 3:28 am

I think this is a fantastic idea, and have found myself in situations where I go out for a walk and suddenly get really nervous because the area is more crowded than I had anticipated. I think this is a great concept, I just wonder what can be done during the ramp up period before the app has enough data to make well-calculated recommendations. Maybe some sort of feedback system where if a user takes a route and then finds out that its really crowded they can report that to the app and the app can note it and also provide backup routes for them to try as well, or something to that effect.

Emily Koch April 14, 2020 - 10:04 pm

As a runner, I would definitly use this application to help me come up with safer running routes. I also think this would do really well in urban areas, or areas where runners/walkers would likely be crowded.

For the non-urban areas/rural areas with trails and hiking, it would be cool to see some sort of collaboration with All Trails.

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