There was a time when all runners needed was a pair of good athletic shoes, some comfortable clothes and the motivation to move. Technically, that’s still true—but in our high-tech, info-heavy, wearable-friendly world, most modern runners also set out with some sort of gadget on their wrist, arm or waist. While fitness trackers and smartwatches are growing in popularity, the smartphone is still the most popular course companion.
While some smartphones can be a bit bulky to hold, there are plenty of convenient and comfortable carrying options. You can slide your phone into a FlipBelt that is worn securely around the waist, place it in an arm strap holder or zip it into a jacket or vest pocket. And if you use Bluetooth headphones, you won’t need to wrestle with annoying wires as you run.
In addition to the safety perk of being able to make a phone call in case of emergency, another great benefit of bringing along a smartphone is the abundance of apps that are available to tech-savvy runners. While a basic fitness watch with GPS can track your time, pace and distance, there are some super-sophisticated iOS and Android apps that can dig way deeper into your stats. Whether you’d like a personalized training plan, custom running routes or fun interactions to keep you engaged for every mile, there’s sure to be an app for that.
Best of all? There are plenty of quality apps that are either super-cheap or completely free.
C25K (Couch to 5K)($2.99, iOS and Android)
Quite possibly the best app for beginners, Couch-to-5K has earned a solid reputation for turning walkers into runners. Designed for people who have never run before, it guides users through an eight-week program that is 30 minutes a day, three days a week. It starts with an easy mix of walking and running, gradually increasing the running stints up to a full 5K run. Built-in music, audio coach alerts and tracked stats keep you motivated.
Runner Review: “I started as a couch potato and just finished my last workout and I'm still on my feet. Who would have thought it possible? I recommend this to everyone, especially those non-runners with no experience and little fitness.”
RunkeeperFree; iOS and Android
There’s a reason it’s the most well-known and popular app among runners. Runkeeper is super intuitive and easy to use, hooking into your smartphone’s GPS functionality to track your distance, pace, calories burned and total run time. Between runs, you can also use it for walking, hiking, biking, group fitness and more. Training for a specific event? The app includes a range of training programs, along with prompts and challenges to help you meet your goals. You can also save your runs to track your progress over time. At zero dollars, this one’s a no-brainer.
Runner Review: “This app is simple and fun to use. It spurs me to run even when I'm dragging my heels. I like the training options, and, it seems to run smoothly without using up too much battery. I like that it calls out my minutes, mileage, and average speed every five minutes, and gives me a map of my run afterwards.”
StravaFree, iOS and Android
Designed for mapping and monitoring runs, swims and bike rides, Strava turns your phone into a robust fitness tracking tool. It tracks distance, location, pace and other key stats, and also has a feature that lets you compete with other runners and create virtual teams. Upload your favorite routes, or explore the app’s network of roads and trails. The premium paid version offers training programs for specific race distances.
Runner Review: “Excellent app, does exactly what you need it to, and accurately. Wealth of information and stats easily available.”
Weav RunFree, iOS
Music is one of the best ways to amp up your motivation to pound the pavement. Enter Weav Run. This groovin’ app matches your running pace with pop songs at a certain tempo, so you can run with the beat. This helps you achieve a steadier stride, improves your cadence and increases the likelihood that you’ll find the motivation to get out there and move.
Runner Review: “I've been begging for this kind of thing for years. I have 130 different playlists trying [to] emulate this effect. This one, however, is amazing. Great music, great function, [and] able to set the tempo without fouling up the sound.”
Nike+ Run ClubFree, iOS and Android
If it’s sponsored by Nike, it’s gotta be good, right? In this case, it’s true. This sleek app tracks and stores the pace, distance, route, elevation, heart rate and mile splits for all of your runs, so you can drill down into the nitty-gritty details. Audio guided runs with Nike coaches and playlists keep you motivated along grueling routes, while fun badges and rewards commemorate your achievements. Use personalized training plans, connect with other runners virtually and share your completed runs with friends.
Runner Review: “This app is fantastic for running training if you're ready to put in the work. You can't cheat and use a treadmill. You have to challenge yourself to get out there and run. I have considered myself a fit individual for most of my life but never was I a great runner. I still struggle sometimes to motivate myself when it comes to cardio, which is why I enjoyed this app because it helps give you a plan and holds you accountable. If you're ready to put in the work and just need an extra bit of guidance to get you going, this is a great app for you.”
Map My RunFree, iOS and Android
Sick of the same old running routes? Map My Run by Under Armour lets you chart exciting new courses, get stats of your runs and save them to monitor your progress. It’s great for discovering hidden routes in your own city or while traveling. For each run, you’ll get verbal updates of your distance, pace, calories burned and elevation. We also love the built-in Gear Tracker, which notifies you when it’s time for a new pair of running shoes. You can also use the app to log walks, hikes, bike rides, yoga, gym sessions and more. Syncs with all of the latest wearables and apps.
Runner Review: “I like to keep track of my running mileage and pace. It helps motivate me since I've aged (now 74) and I'm mostly running alone. Also, I moved across town recently and the app gives me a map and keeps track of my distance so I can explore and go in a different direction every day. The best recent change is that it stops when I stop. Now even if I forget to turn it off, it patiently waits without racking up more time.”
RaceRunnerFree, iOS and Android
Tired of running alone? Indulge your competitive side by competing in virtual races with other runners, whether they’re across town or on the other side of the world. As you go, you can monitor your position and progress among the other runners. Start your own race and invite friends, or join other races already in progress. Not in the mood to compete? Choose the free running mode to track basic stats like pace, distance and calories burned.
Runner Review: “I can run and compete with my friends online. It makes me motivated…running alone is no longer boring. Great app with unique features. Simple to use and seems to be very accurate.”
Having an app at your fingertips is almost like having a virtual running coach in your pocket. And because most of these types of apps use GPS technology, it eliminates the need to spend money on a pricey GPS device. Armed with just a fully charged smartphone, you can step up your running game and push yourself to outperform yesterday’s run.
Do you own a smartphone? If so, would any of these apps be of interest to you? Are there any other running apps you would recommend?
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