Choosing the Right Running App

Nathan Porch

Sunday, June 21, 2015

     When it comes to running apps, there's no shortage of choices.  As with any sport, runners can spend good money on expensive gear.  I don't think I've ever entered my local running store and left without spending less than $100.  I'm a sucker for gadgets and gear so if you put a new muscle roller on the market, I'm sold.  Only a handful of quality shoes can be found for under $100.  Add a new pair of compression socks, a snazzy logo shirt and throw in a couple magnets for the car and I just spent whatever I was planning on putting into savings that week.  Before I blew a week's nest egg on my Garmin 220, I was a connoisseur of running apps.  The great thing about running apps is that most of them are available in a free version with a purchasable Pro edition.  In my experience, most of the free versions are more than sufficient to serve their purpose.  When it comes to running apps, they pretty much fall into two categories, Tracking apps & Training apps.  I'll cover my experiences with apps in both categories and since I'm a recent convert to iOS from Android, I'll only cover apps that are available to both markets.


Tracking Apps

     With today's technology, pretty much every modern cell phone is equipped with GPS location capabilities.  If your phone doesn't have location traction I assume you're Amish.  With GPS technology, tracking apps are able to record the route that you've run and overlay it onto a map.  This has spurred a new movement of runners creating some interesting drawings with their apps check these out .  But artistry aside, these apps do a great job.  The days of estimating your distance by calculating time ran X amount of sweat that can be wrung out of your shirt are pretty much a thing of the past.  Of course, no GPS tracker of GPS watch is a replacement for the accuracy of USATF course certification when it comes to a race but for the purpose of your training, they do a great job.


Nike+ Running

Nike may have stopped developing the FuelBand and the Tom Tom supported GPS watch, but the company still makes a pretty good tracking app. Whether on a treadmill, trail or track, the app accurately records your pace, distance traveled and time, complete with audio feedback and a route map. The app also comes with a host of gamified social elements such as sharing runs, achievements and the option to challenge your friends to beat your time or distance run.  One of the small features that I enjoyed with this app is that it records the amount of miles put onto a particular pair of shoes.  When I hit 300 miles, I know it's time to head back to the running store.   Way to push in the business Nike, but the jokes on you, I wear Brooks.


Run with Map My Run

This is a great app with a pretty good website interface as well. The app displays displaying both your real-time stats and your end-of-run totals. Useful extras include support for a variety of fitness trackers and heart rate sensors, Android Wear support and nutrition tracking. One of the nice features that the online interface offers is the conversion of your running route into a Google Earth fly-over.  Why is this useful?  I have no idea, I just love rehashing my 15 mile run from 100ft in the air.


Worth Mentioning

While I haven't personally used these, from what I can see, they offer very similar features and may fit your personal style just fine.


Runtastic 

Runtastic tracks and maps your distance exercises, monitoring time, speed and distance, and plots your route in real-time. A personal exercise diary keeps track of your running metrics, and your routes can also be viewed in a Google Earth-style view. A configurable dashboard, detailed graphs of your exercise information, progress sharing over social networks and numerous training plans round out this neat exercise app.


Runkeeper

A favorite among runners, Runkeeper  tracks your running, cycling, hiking and other distance activities. The app records your pace, distance, total exercise time, calories burned and other useful metrics, while also allowing you to take and tag pictures on the go. Users can go freeform, or download and follow popular running routes. You can measure your progress and workout history, as well as sync with numerous other apps and services and receive detailed reports of your tracked activity.



Training Apps

While the above mentioned Tracking apps have an inherent "training" aspect to them.  These training apps don't focus so much on recording your route as they do on simply getting your butt out there and running.  They feature goal setting and continual feedback during your run to keep you moving and improving. 


Couch to 5K

This app is really geared towards the beginner runner.  While I've never used it personally, I've seen the impact that it has made on the running community.  That coupled with my own personal philosophy on running improvement which is, the only way to get better at running is to run, makes this app a personal favorite.  Active.com's Couch-to-5K is designed to gently ease couch potatoes and casual runners and joggers into running 5K courses over time. Users are provided a training course of 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week over nine weeks, to build up a runner's stamina from wheezing wreck to race-winner. Users can choose from four virtual coaches, complete with accompanying audio cues to help motivate them on the run, with automatic or manual logging for easily keep track of your progress.  What I really love about this app is that its concept of progressively building distance is the same concept used to build your distance to a 10K, 1/2 marathon, marathon and beyond.  If you're a beginning runner or someone who has always desired to run, I highly recommend this app.


SkyFit

New to the market is Skyfit.  I recently downloaded this app and subscribed to the free trial (a subscription will run you $9.99/month).  If you are someone who has enjoyed the pushing of an aerobics or spin coach, then this app may be just what you need to break through your plateau.  Once I convinced myself that the coach was really there and that if I slacked, they would chew me out for being weak, I saw the great potential for this app.  The coaching is general enough to fit into anyone's pacing and I found the interval style training to be a challenging addition to my run.  At $9.99/month, this app might be a little rich for most people's blood and I would need to feel pretty comfortable that this was going to be my only app before I ponied up for the subscription.



Zombies, Run!

Another honorable mention here.  While I think we may be on the backside of the zombie craze curve, I have to admire the designers for a creative take on the running app.  Personally, as a zombie purist, I adhere to the slow, lumbering zombie as opposed to the 28 days later/World War Z movie's versions of Mutai. Now in its third season, Zombies, Run! is an app that gamifies your exercise routine by adding a zombie apocalypse narrative to your workouts. You are a Runner, evading zombies (ever present in the ambient sound that plays in your headphones) while trying to fulfill your mission goals. The story unfolds over a series of 30-minute-long episodes, with users accompanied by a narrative story track and spurred to sprint by the sound of approaching zombies. As you complete runs, you gather items and achievements that can be used to develop a home base. Purchasing the app unlocks the whole first season, with additional seasons available as in-app purchases.



The key to a running app as with all running gear is that it works for you.  We all develop our own running styles and our own running idiosyncrasies and not every app is right for every runner.  For some of us, just a good old fashioned playlist is all we need while others just enjoy the sounds of nature overlaid with the sounds of their feet hitting the ground and the rhythm of their breaths.  Like I said earlier, "the only way to get better at running, is to run".  So, pick your app or load up your playlist.  Just get our there and run!



-N8