The big draw of a gps run

 Three years after moving to Brooklyn from Poland, Tomasz Berezinski awoke after a night of inebriety with a headache and decided his life must change. He started running, bought a GPS device and turned his body into a brush and the city into his canvas.

“I felt bad for my body,” said Berezinski, who works as a designer for a rug company. “I was overweight. I was drinking too much and I felt too much like an office person.”

Since that morning almost a year ago, Berezinski, 40, has run three marathons, lost more than seven kilograms and taken to creating huge drawings by following routes through city streets in the shape of faces, dogs and anything else that strikes his fancy. After planning a route, he traces it on foot or bicycle carrying his GPS device to record his progress. Then he uploads the “drawing” he has made to a map-sharing site called

Part sport, part art, GPS drawing lets runners, walkers, cyclists and hikers imagine themselves anew — not just as a collection of burning muscles, sweaty armpits, forward motion; not just as people endeavoring to crest a hill or lose a couple kilos. Instead, they are neo-cartographers, jumbo-size doodlers and bipedal pencils, mapping their track lines across cities, roads and farms, and sharing them online.

The Global Positioning System, or GPS, is made up of more than two dozen orbiting satellites transmitting location information to GPS receivers in cars, on bikes, in GPS-enabled fitness watches and increasingly in smart phones like the iPhone and BlackBerry. Some 240 million smart phones containing GPS receivers will be shipped in 2009, up 6 percent from last year despite a flailing economy, according to the market research firm ABI Research. “By 2013 every phone, except the most basic models, will be GPS-enabled,” said Dominique Bonte, the company’s practice director of telematics and navigation.

New GPS software applications like MotionX GPS, RunKeeper and MapMyRun for smart phones make it easy for users to track and share routes on dedicated Web sites and social-networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, making GPS devices viable drawing tools much like a pencil on paper or a stick in sand.

Pedaling the rectangular city blocks in San Francisco, Vicente Montelongo, 32, a graphic artist, realized the street layout lent itself to the pixeled shapes of vintage 1980s video game characters like Pac-Man, Q(AST)bert and Donkey Kong. Back home with a printed-out Google map and a pencil, he drew Pac-Man chasing a ghost over in the Sunset District and then set out on his bike, iPhone in tow, GPS mapping application on. After riding 13.8 kilometers in an unwavering line, he uploaded the GPS track data from his phone, and had his picture.

“It’s a good way to get exercise and see the city,” said Montelongo, who is working on a series of GPS drawings based on the beloved video games of his youth. “You end up going on these streets that you would never otherwise go down.”

Like Berezinski, Montelongo shares his maps on The iPhone is the fastest growing GPS tool of the site’s user base, according to Joost Schreve, the site’s founder. “But if you look at the quality of the maps, the best trips still come from traditional GPS devices,” he said, noting that the iPhone tends to draw less precise lines and to lose its signal under trees and near large buildings.

Jeremy Wood, an artist based in London, coined the term “GPS drawing” nearly a decade ago and continues to maintain, a Web site compiling his and other GPS-produced images from around the world. Whenever he leaves his house, Wood takes his GPS device with him. He has mapped all of his movements since 2004 and views GPS drawing as an extension of a long-standing human tradition.

“People have been doing this for centuries, making big drawings so they could be seen by the gods,” he said, citing the ancient Nasca geoglyphs in Peru as an example.

Last fall, researchers from the University of Arizona took members of the school’s nutrition club to a football field with GPS units to walk outlines of images with fitness and health-related themes — a carrot with a bushy top, a flexed bicep, a fish. As part of a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Agriculture, the researchers plan to use GPS drawing to help fight obesity by luring children into fitness with technology.

Ellen Worthing, an avid hiker and self-described “bushwhacker,” recently took her DeLorme GPS unit down the road from her house in Baltimore to Fort McHenry National Monument, where a bombardment by the British Navy in 1814 inspired a young American poet to write the words that would become the country’s national anthem.

Worthing, 47, a software saleswoman, walked a zigzagging line across the fort’s manicured lawns. “When I look at the aerial image of the fort, I see something that the history buffs and the rangers don’t see,” she said. “I see a pretty flower.”

She described her newly finished GPS drawing as “a kindergarten drawing”: a big flower, spiky grass, an explosive sun and billowy clouds.

Tourists peered at her nervously while she walked her catawampus path in the grass. “They probably thought I was up to no good,” she said. When onlookers asked what she was doing, she ignored them — civility a small sacrifice for the sake of a clean line. “You can’t stop,” she said. “It messes up the track. You get this blob of data points.”

She likes that with a GPS device she can reimagine a landscape so imbued with history, patriotism and war. “Do we need to see what the U.S. Park Service wants us to see?” she asked. “Or can we see what we want to see?”