Running in the Digital Age: The Top Five iPhone Apps for Runners
The age of the smartphone has provided runners with unparalleled ways of keeping track of their workouts. The explosion of iPhone apps allow runners to track every detail of their workout in real-time—exporting maps, pacing charts, speed calculations, monthly activity reports, and staying motivated through online coaching and customizable training plans. Previously relegated to stopwatches, distance estimations, and running logs, the dawn of the smartphone app has allowed users to plot data, compare speeds, and assess their progress like never before. A search for running apps in iTunes yields hundreds of results of varying quality, but among them are five excellent apps which provide a range of mapping, timing, and social networking capabilities for little or no cost.
1. Nike+ GPS ($1.99)
The Nike+ system stands as the one of the first major breakthroughs in digital run tracking built into Mp3 players and smartphones. Beginning as a shoe-mounted sensor kit for select Nike models that synced with iPods, the original Nike+ allowed runners to track their workouts through a pedometer-like system which would store and generate reports directly from iTunes and a user-specific Nike+ homepage. The new software, however, takes advantage of the iPhone’s GPS system, ditching the shoe sensor for more precise measurements. The new software provides many of the same outstanding features of its predecessor: users can create customized running playlists, track their pace, view course maps, track calories burned, and receive digital coaching and encouragement to go farther and faster. What’s more, Nike+ GPS includes a web-based points system, awarding users for accomplishing personal bests, logging extra mileage, and even challenging users to race against each other virtually. The software, which is also compatible with the iPod Touch by using the traditional shoe sensor, provides an excellent graphical tool for keeping track of personal progress and the progress of friends and competitors from around the world.
2. RunKeeper Pro (free)
Since its release in 2009, RunKeeper has gained an incredible following as a fast, lightweight, and powerful fitness tracker. Using the same GPS-based monitoring system employed in the Nike+ GPS system, RunKeeper tracks distance, speed, pace, and provides optional audio cues at key distances or times during a run. Additionally, RunKeeper generates workout-based reports as well as monthly assessments of distances, speeds, and calories burned. The RunKeeper web site also allows users to export data for use in other software platforms, generating maps and spreadsheets of courses, distances, and timing. After uploading a successful run, users can log on to their RunKeeper page to see detailed maps and minute-by-minute changes in speed throughout each moment of their workout. Making heavy use of social networking, runners can use RunKeeper to stay in touch with friends on Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other sites by adding them to their Street Team. The Street Team system allows users to share details of their workouts, including course maps, topography details, average pacing, and speed. The RunKeeper website also provides information about local races, and for a monthly subscription, additional reports based on the users’ workouts. Unlike Nike+, RunKeeper also allows users to enter non-running activities such as weightlifting, biking, and rowing to name but a few.
3. Adidas miCoach (free)
In January 2010, Adidas took cues from the popularity of Nike’s training software and developed the miCoach pacer—a pedometer, heart rate monitor, and calorie counter designed for iPod and iPhone. The initial system sold for $140, and provided a breakthrough in data collection through the inclusion of new monitors and coaching software. In January 2011, Adidas released a slimmed-down version of the miCoach system as an iPhone app. The new miCoach system does not require the use of shoe sensors or heart rate monitors, providing a straightforward method for tracking runs while also coaching and encouraging its users. miCoach offers audible training, with pace-triggered voice coaching and online workout plans tailored to individual users. Additionally, miCoach includes sport-specific workout plans: marathoners, tennis players, or soccer stars can all create a customized program to bring their training to new levels. The app syncs workout plans and results to a user-specific web page and tracks the remaining cross-training elements in a daily exercise routine for on-the-go consult.
4. RunMeter ($4.99)
Similar to RunKeeper and Nike+ GPS, RunMeter is one of the most popular running apps available for iPhone. RunMeter offers detailed maps, a plethora of activity-based data and monthly reports, and tracks calories burned by storing the user’s data directly on the phone itself without the use of a cloud-based webpage for statistical analysis and user activity history. While RunMeter does not offer much in the way of a user-centric web page for keeping track of runs, the app now allows users to sync to the burgeoning running social networking site, DailyMile.com, among others. As a result, users are not tethered to using a single resource for tracking their activities—rather, they are able to pull data from the program manually and open secondary accounts on any of the popular running diary services available online. While the app does not provide a free version, users have compared RunMeter favorably to its less-expensive counterparts, insisting that the app provides a more intuitive user experience and more accurate GPS maps of completed workouts.
5. iMapMyRun (free)
The team behind MapMyRun.com, one of the web’s leading sites for keeping track of routes, workouts, and nutrition facts created iMapMyRun to take the user experience to a new level. The app offers the standard GPS-based map creation, pace calculation, and audio cues; what makes the program different, however, is the excellent integration into a user’s new or preexisting MapMyRun or MapMyFitness account. The app allows users to upload their workouts, create maps, or create groups for like-minded athletes across multiple sports. What truly sets the app apart, however, is the ability to track users in real-time. Through the Live Tracking feature, users can allow others to view their progress in real-time, tracking runners during races or while training. With iMapMyRun+ ($4.99), users can take advantage of the Motivation Tools feature, which includes geo-tagging capabilities for mid-run photos, voice feedback, and ad-free perks designed to keep runners on the road and on top of their accomplishments.
Also of Note: Couchto5k ($2.99)
While the apps listed above cater to the needs of runners across the spectrum of experience, newcomers to running should pay particular attention to the Couchto5k app currently available for iPhone. Based on the popular interval training program Couch to 5k (http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_3/181.shtml), the app provides step-by-step coaching to get first-timers ready for their first 5k through interval training, graduated training programs, and daily encouragement for personal bests. For burgeoning runners, Couchto5k provides a great beginner’s plan that is portable, efficient, and proven to work for many users around the world.