King of the Road

My Dad was a big runner for most of his adult life. When I was pretty small, I stood at the Boston Marathon finish line watching him come into sight -- he had this wobbly-armed gait that was unmistakable even from a huge distance. These days his knees keep him from running, so he's just shifted to his bike, both in the real world and these insane spinning classes he loves.

And that's the weird thing -- he really loves exercising hard. For a few years as a kid I would get up before school and run with him. I liked spending time with my dad, but mostly I remember thinking that running really, really sucked.

Fast forward to 2008. I'm working long hours on a new product, solving hard problems and generally having a great time. As always happens to me in this mode, I eat lousy, don't get the sleep I should and basically don't exercise at all. So I start packing on the pounds -- but unlike at my other startups, with this one I'm continually reminded of how this behavior is going to kill me.

So OK, a few months ago I decided that despite my inclinations to the contrary, it was time to get in shape, push down my blood pressure and lose at least some of my pot belly. And I've been pretty good about it, using my treadmill and rowing machine a few times a week and adding in some strength training. And yes, I feel better for doing so.

But the fact is, it still sucks. I am just not wired for the "runner's high" or whatever those nut jobs call it. So I welcome anything that breaks the monotony and distracts me from the reality that I am forcing myself to work really hard for no immediate benefit.

Enter Route Tracker -- quietly launched a couple of weeks ago by MSN Health & Fitness, it is one of the coolest examples yet of the kind of innovation that HealthVault makes possible. I absolutely am in love with this thing.

Route Tracker is all about giving you a fun payoff for sticking to an exercise program. First you define a virtual trip -- you can pick from a list of preset trips or create your own using the "driving directions" feature of Virtual Earth. I created a trip from the castle at Disney World to the castle at Disneyland -- 2,595 miles across the country East to West.

Now, every time I travel a mile in the real world, I travel five miles on my virtual trip (I used a "boost factor" of 5x to move along the route a bit more quickly). Route Tracker maps my progress, and along the way shows me pictures, news and web results from all of the places I travel. Because it's integrated with Virtual Earth, I can see where I "am" with satellite imagery, birds-eye photography and even 3D visualizations. Check out these totally cool screenshots from my "castle-to-castle" trip!

Currently I am in Malbis, Alabama ... which I now know is home to a beautiful Greek Orthodox church. My next run should take me most of the way across the bridge over Mobile Bay.

This is one of the neat things about HealthVault. I am tracking my exercise, weight and such in the American Heart Association application and with the HealthVault Weight Gadget. But because these are all HealthVault applications, I automatically can use that same information in Route Tracker to travel along my virtual journey.

Pran and Matt did a great job on this application -- I have been waiting for it to go live for a long time, and it is just a whole bunch of fun. Lots of new features are in the works too -- including the ability to create virtual competitions where you can challenge friends from across the country to join in.

Give it a try yourself -- and let me know where you're travelling!