My Senior Thesis, Earthly Pursuits, looks at virtual community and how runners connect with one another when they can’t meet to run in person. Today, many runners connect online using tracking apps driven by data, sharing their distance, time, elevation and pace. I wanted to discover what a G.P.S. couldn’t: why they chose the route they did, how they navigated the city, what they were running to, from, for. Even more, I wanted to connect runners beyond social platforms, in a tactile way, with an object they could touch and carry. A shared artifact, an exquisite corpse path.
And so, I organized a month long relay. The baton? A rock. Ten runners participated in transporting the rock in and around Manhattan, collectively running a marathon distance. The rock had many homes, some it stayed in for weeks, others for only a few hours before it was picked up by the next runner. From there, it was limitless. They could run as far as they wanted, as fast as they felt like, in any direction they chose. While my website and app document this journey through photos and tracked data, my book looks at the path itself. In order to read each runner’s entry, your eyes must follow the very route they travelled, merging the quantitative and the contemplative. In the end, runners shared their stories, their paths, and a very special rock.
Hypothetically, all photos, routes, and stories would be taken, recorded and shared within the Earthly Pursuits app. For the relay I conducted, I relied on Instagram and Strava to gather photos and route data from each participant’s run. I created a website where runners could upload their photos, route, and any comments. Photos from their run were shared to the Earthly Pursuits Instagram so other participants could follow the rock’s journey, and find the rock for the next leg of the relay.
From Strava, I could download each runner’s GPS route, convert it to an SVG file, and plot it on an illustrator map of Manhattan. Each segment of the collective path was drawn with quotes from runners, in their own words, on their own route, about the experience of running and what gets them out there. I compiled these word paths chronologically in a book. My biggest takeaway was seeing how runners gravitate toward nature. The collective path intersects ten NYC parks, and the rock was only ever placed in these greenspaces.