There are a number of apps on the market to get you running and help you keep it up. How do you choose the right one, and should you go free or premium?
Running makes you healthier and can give you a real sense of accomplishment when you stick to it. It can help prevent obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. Studies suggest that running can help your mind as well as your body. According to a study by the Journal of Adolescent Health, 30 minutes of morning running during weekdays for 3 consecutive weeks can help psychological functioning and sleep.
We all know this, yet with all our other tasks and responsibilities we can sometimes lose sight of it. What if you had someone, or something, reminding you how important it is to keep up your running? To motivate you to set goals and achieve them? Enter the bevy of running apps available to both iPhone and Android users.
Most running apps are at least somewhat similar, offering GPS tracking to follow your progress as you try to achieve distance and speed goals that you’ve set for yourself. What differentiates between these various apps, and what questions should you be asking when choosing which one to install? Let’s take a look.
What Devices Can I Use it On?
This question is perhaps more pertinent for running apps than any other type of app. Beyond the obvious question of whether or not an app is available to Android or iPhone users, you’ll likely want to know what other devices it's available for. Running with a cell phone is uncomfortable, and many people have made the switch to wearables, such as the Apple Watch, Android Wear, the Garmin Forerunner, or the Fitbit. Not all apps work on these devices. If you’ve made the investment in one of these items, you’re going to want to be sure that your running app is compatible with it. Map My Run, Strava, Runtastic and Endomondo are the most versatile apps on the market, working with Apple Watch and Android Wear, as well as a number of other wearables, such as Fitbit, TomTom and Garmin.
Is it Easy to Use?
The last thing someone trying to get motivated to run needs is any further impediments or excuses to keep them off the track. A good running app should have a clean interface and be easy to set up. If you’re a beginner and your tracking needs are relatively simple, you will likely prefer an app that tracks speed and distance, like Nike+ Run Club. It may not give you more advanced information about your stride, or calories burned, but this also helps to keep the interface simple and straightforward. For those who are advanced runners, Strava provides more sophisticated data, while still offering an easy-to-navigate interface. In addition to recording the same stats like speed, distance and calorie-burning that other apps provide, Strava allows you to follow your pacing and see how it changes during specific segments of a your course. You can get further race analysis if you opt for a premium plan from Strava. However, even with these advanced features, the app still has a high level of usability.
How Much Does it Cost?
Most running apps have a free version with limited features, and a paid version that gives users additional functions. There are a few exceptions, such as the Nike+ Run Club, which is completely free, with a roster of features that stands up well to the paid versions of its competitors. The features include:
Tracking and storing run data
Coaching instructions from fitness experts
Personalized coaching plans that change as you progress
Rewards you for your achievements
Sharing progress and competing with friends
Charity Miles is another running app that is completely free and has no premium upgrade option. As its name suggests, it has its own unique feature that may provide additional motivation for altruistic runners: the more you run, the more money you can earn for charity. There are over 40 charities to choose from and the app has raised some $2.5 million for various causes thus far.
Wahoo is another free app to track running progress, however, it only works with other Wahoo hardware, which will cost you money.
So, which apps have premium options, and what extra features do their paid plans give you? Let’s take a look.
Runkeeper's free plan allows you to track and log activities and gives you basic stats, however, for $9.99 per month or $39.99 per year, you can get a host of other features, including:
Coaching plans - to work toward goals in accordance with your abilities and schedule
Progress insights - which help you track your path to achieving your goals
Workout comparison - to see how you stack up against your friends
Weather insights - to optimize your running schedule
Live tracking - which allows your friends and family to see your progress in real time
Map My Run
Map My Run’s free plan has millions of prescribed running routes in cities across the world. You can track stats like pace, route, distance, calories, and elevation. A premium plan can be purchased for $5.99 per month, or $29.99 per year. Premium users enjoy additional features, such as:
Training plans - for reaching goals, such as 5K, 10K Half Marathon, Marathon
Heart rate monitoring and analysis
Audio coach updates
Strava's free plan offers activity tracking, both during and after runs. It also motivates runners with leaderboards that spur you to compete against other runners. There is a premium version of the app for $7.99 per month, or $59.99 annually. Premium features on Strava include:
Real-time location tracking - so loved ones can ensure that you're safe
Live performance feedback as you run
Detailed statistics - such as heart rate, power meter and race analysis
Runtastic has a slightly different premium structure, offering a 3-month plan for $14.90 ($4.97/Month), a 6-month plan for $19.90 ($3.32/Month), and a 1-year plan for $35.90 ($2.99/Month). In addition to the personal fitness tracker, audio feedback and live tracking, premium members enjoy:
A personalized 12-week body transformation plan
Unlimited training plans
Advanced stats and analysis
Weekly fitness report
With its free plan, Endomondo offers GPS fitness tracking, audio feedback for every mile, and manual logging of indoor workouts. If you're looking for further fitness features, a premium plan costs $5.99 per month or $29.99 per year. Added features for a premium plan include:
Personal training plans
Long-term statistics - such as calories burned per month and running distance by year
Heart rate analysis
Couch to 5K
Couch to 5K has a different pay model than its competitors and offers a very specific goal for its users. There is no free version of the app, but rather users pay a one-time $2 fee to download Couch to 5K, and they are given access to a program that is designed to get them running a 5K (3.1 miles) race within 8 weeks. Couch to 5K is designed with beginners in mind. The app's features include:
Audio coach and music
Calorie and distance tracking
Integrated with Facebook and Twitter communities
Zombies, Run! is not just a running app, it's a game that seeks to keep runners motivated by giving them missions to overcome a fictional zombie apocalypse. The app is free for a limited number of weekly missions, but you'll have to opt for a pro plan to get more missions and features. The pro plan costs $3.99 per month, or $24.99 annually. The extra features include:
260+ story missions for unlimited play
Ready to Run?
For novices looking to get off the couch, there are enough features in the free versions of these apps to get you started. More serious runners, such as those training for marathons, will likely want to opt for a premium service, with a personalized coaching plan. Of course, runners who wish to use a wearable device rather than a mobile phone, will have to be sure that their app is compatible. Whatever your situation, and whichever device you are using, there are plenty of apps to help you stay motivated and meet your running goals.