Meet the Ultimate Master of Running Route Art

Kelly O'Mara
by Kelly O'Mara
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Meet the Ultimate Master of Running Route Art

Tom Veilleux has drawn hundreds of pictures. From seahorses to helicopters, Christmas trees and the Batman logo, his art offers a little something for everyone. But his pictures aren’t drawn with pen and paper — they’re done with his feet, using the GPS maps of his running routes through the MapMyRun app.

His artwork isn’t just static pictures. If he’s feeling extra artsy, the 54-year-old from Webster, Massachusetts, creates animations, where each frame is a different run. He tags his route art on Instagram with his personal hashtag, #DrawWithYourFeet, so people around the world can follow his fancy footwork. Oddly enough, however, Veilleux became the guy who draws with his feet by accident.

In high school, he ran cross-country, “so I didn’t have to play baseball,” he jokes. Though running was considered punishment by the other kids in school, he liked it. And he kept at it on and off through college and engineering school.

At age 34, Veilleux ran his first marathon in 3:04, the Baystate Marathon in Lowell, Massachusetts. “I’ve done 25,000 miles since then and 15 more marathons,” he says. But it wasn’t until 2013 that he found his real run calling.

As he walked through a parking lot, he was hit by a car and ended up with a compound fracture of his leg and had a metal pin inserted in it. His doctors banned running for six months. When he started getting back in shape, he downloaded MapMyRun for motivation. “I needed to track something to show I’m making progress,” he explains.

After he finished one of his runs, he noticed the GPS map looked a little like a Christmas tree. “I realized you could actually draw pictures like this,” he says. He waited until the holidays, ran a planned Christmas tree route and posted it to his MapMyRun account. Two days later, he ran what he thought was a menorah — but after he posted it, someone pointed out he had the wrong number of candles.

That wasn’t his only error in the early days of his route art. From time to time, he would accidentally give a person an extra arm or the streets on his planned route would end up being the wrong direction.

Menorah (the map was wrong for the streets on the left!) #DrawWithYourFeet

A post shared by Tom Veilleux (@tveilleux) on

Since then, however, he’s had plenty of time to practice and improve. He’s what he calls “a streaker,” having logged a run of at least five miles every day for more than 900 days. His engineering work for manufacturing company Saint-Gobain regularly sends him across the world, often to cities in Brazil, Belgium and China, so he explores the areas by running.

As he got to know other people who do similar mappings, he developed the unique technique of GPS animation. He’s the only person he knows creating such animations, like this lizard making its way across São Paulo:

It’s like stop-motion animation, except instead of drawing each individual frame like a cartoon, he runs each frame. He then puts them together to make a mini-movie. As one might imagine, it takes quite a bit of time to run each new frame over and over until the guy in this movie blows his bubblegum and pops it:

It’s no wonder Veilleux gets strange looks from passers-by when he’s coming back to the same corner over and over, or stopping in the middle of a street and turning around.

To plan a route, he looks at nearby maps on the MapMyRun app until something pops out at him, as he details on his #DrawWithYourFeet blog. He then creates a route on the app, moves it around to make corrections and saves the route. While he’s running, he pulls it up on the app and follows it to a T.

Cities with lots of circular roads and winding routes give him far more options. São Paulo, for example, is a perfect drawing playground. He calls it the “mecca of drawing.” In most cities, he’s relegated to straight lines of blocks and streets. To make the Batman logo, he had to run around a soccer field while staring at the GPS on his phone — he had to jump over a few fences, too.

From dolphins to macaws, he never seems to run out of ideas for new route art subjects. “I rarely ever do the same run anymore,” he says.

And with many more pictures to be drawn (or run, more specifically), why would he?

Written by Kelly O’Mara, a professional triathlete and reporter outside San Francisco, where she is an on-call producer for the local NPR station. Her work appears regularly in espnW, Competitor, Triathlete and California Magazine.

About the Author

Kelly O'Mara
Kelly O'Mara

Kelly is a professional triathlete and reporter outside San Francisco, where she is an on-call producer for the local NPR station. Her works appears regularly in espnW, Competitor, Triathlete and California Magazine. She also co-hosts the podcast, Locker Room Talk, for WiSP: The Global Women’s Sports Network. And she trains. A lot.


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