If you're an active cyclist or runner, you've probably at least dabbled with online mileage and training logs, and you may even be a hard corps user. These online services add tremendous value to your training information. When used with data uploaded from a sports GPS device, they take virtually all of the tedium out of capturing, storing, and analyzing training data.
Complementing online training logs have been services such as Map My Ride, which provide utilities that let you map, measure, and pre-plan routes.
Garmin has successfully combined the features of online training logs and online route planning and mapping services in its free Garmin Connect service. The route planning and mapping feature specifically is called Course Creator. With Course Creator, you may also export a route file to your Garmin GPS device. This is a terrific feature if you want to pre-map a new route in a new location. A mapping GPS such as the Garmin Edge 800 can provide you with turn-by-turn directions from a pre-loaded route.
To begin using Course Creator, start a free account at Garmin Connect, if you don't already have one. You will make the best use of Garmin Connect and Course Creator if you also own a Garmin sports GPS device, but you don't need one to create and share courses online.
Click on the Courses tab and you will be presented with a detailed map. Click on "create a new course" in the top right area of the map screen. Zoom the map in and out with the "+/-" map zoom tool, and click and drag the map to your starting location. You may also select your starting location by entering a town name or address in the address window at the top right of the map area.
I recommend that you zoom in for a clear view of the back roads and street names to be sure you are getting the roads you wish to have on your route.
Next, simply click on the Bing map to insert your starting point. Next, keep moving the map and clicking on the roads you wish to travel. It's best to click on every intersection where you will be making a turn, as well. If you wish to do a loop route, click your way all around the route. The Course Creator tool will display total mileage in real time as you create the course.
The Course Creator tool does a good job of tracking roads when you have the "stay on roads" box checked in the menu. If you wish to plan an out-and-back course, simply create your point A to point B route, and then select the "out-and-back" option. This will automatically backtrack your route from your mid point back to the start, including calculating total mileage. You may also select a "loop to start" option, which will automatically create a loop route back to the starting point. You may modify a route at any time by clicking and dragging intermediate points.
You may save a course at any time with the "save" button. Don't forget to title your course using the title box in the upper left of the screen. Other controls in the menu box include manually set-able speed, pace, and time variables. If you set a target speed in the speed box, the other boxes automatically calculate based on the distance of the route.
Sharing and Exporting Your Course
When you have built and saved your course, it appears in your courses list. When you open a course (open a course by clicking on "view details"), you may make it private or publicly accessible by clicking on the lock icon in the upper right. I advise against making routes public that begin or end at your home. One of the neatest tricks of Course Creator is the ability to export your course to your Garmin GPS device. Simply connect your Garmin to your computer via its included USB cable. Click on "send to device" in the upper right, and a dialog box will appear with your GPS listed. Exporting takes just a few seconds. If you have designated your course as public, you also have the option to share it to e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and more.
Enjoy your powerful new Course Creator tool!