What to Look for in a Running App for your iPhone or Smartphone
Our new spot for the Trainer armband tries to answer the age-old question “Can one cram an entire coach into an iPhone and what might it be like were one to succeed at doing so?”. Don’t know about that, but we can tell you that the number of walk and run-related apps available on the app store almost beggars belief.
When it comes down to it, however, your running app needs to do a couple of things perfectly. Every time you launch the app.
Distance/Time/Splits – for me, the Holy Trinity of training. How far did you go in how much time? Splits are crucial if you’re interval training.
Route Tracking – Where’d you go? Most apps worth their salt use GPS ancd a Google Maps overlay to show you your route. Helpful if you get lost, of course, but helpfuller still to be able to overlay your time and your splits to the terrain. Sure, you might slow down running up a hill, but you need to be able to know if your performance is improving.
Easy syncing – Data is great. Data you can read and analyze is greater. But data that stays locked up inside your device is useless. That’s why I prefer an iPhone/smartphone-based solution to a free standing running watch. Data gathered by an iPhone is easier to digest when presented visually. And iPhone-based apps almost always sync their data with a website giving you the dual benefit of data backup AND the ability to use your computer or tablet for more detailed analysis and sharing.
One running app to rule them all
A quick look at AppAnnie turns up 207 apps for iPhone or iPod that have 5K, 10K, half-marathon, marathon or pedometer listed in their name. That’s a lot of 1s and 0s created just to help you get out the door. I’ve used a number of them, but since January of 2011, I’ve been a fan of Runkeeper.
Developed by a bunch of runners up in Boston, Runkeeper delivers the goods in a couple of key ways. I’m not going to attempt a full review here, but Runkeeper nails my list of must-haves.
Distance/Time/Splits – Runkeeper tracks it all. The app itself will show your run history and allow you to swipe and tap your way through every run and race you’ve logged. I don’t know exactly how many entries it will show, but I can see my runs all the way back to January 2011. The embedded map allows me to tap anywhere on my course to see my time and pace.
Route Tracking – Much has been written about the fact that running GPS-intensive apps eat battery life. I’ve not found that to be the case. A fully charged iPhone running Runkeeper, playing music and whatever other apps I leave running in the background carried me all the way through the 3-hour slog that was this spring’s Country Music Marathon. I’ve had a couple of little mapping glitches with Runkeeper, but those were issues of GPS reception rather than shortcomings in the app.
Easy syncing – Want easy? Runkeeper syncs the minute you save a run. Better yet, the app pings the mothership on a frequent basis so that even if your run gets interrupted by a battery dying, the run itself is saved up until the point at which your battery died. Afterwards, you simply log in to your Runkeeper account and make the corrections to that particular run. Easy is good.
There’s another whole half of the Runkeeper equation, that of its killer web interface and it’s in-app-purchasable Fitness Classes. And it’s here that RunKeeper blows the competition away. But more on that in my next post.
Want to get RunKeeper Elite for a year free?
We’ve got you covered, thanks to the cool folks at RunKeeper. Sign up here for your chance to win a year of RunKeeper Elite, along with our Trainer Armband, some earphones, an iPod touch and even some new running shoes. But you’ve only got til Monday, June 4.