Running apps are a common occurrence now. But are they really that useful or should we save our pennies and stick with the good old tried and tested methods of training?
The top five that people use are:
One of the most popular apps, Runkeeper tracks each run so you can keep tally of how far and fast you run over a period of time, as well as tracking your route run and elevation gained. It allows you to set goals and to log personal records to help keep motivation levels high. Runkeeper also has set training plans or workouts that you can follow. Not content with all that, Runkeeper now has an auto-pause function that magically stops the stopclock when you come up to a traffic light for example. Plus it now supports targeted heart rate training and will alert users when the heart rate is heading above or below the targeted rate. It has detailed health graphs which help users to track their overall health and fitness. Finally it gives you the added functionality of audio cues to tell you how well you have done over set periods.
Verdict? A good all rounder
Map My Run
Map My Run does what it says on the tin. It allows runners to map out their run. I personally use map my run before I set off to work out what route I need to take to run a set distance of miles. Map My Run also has a very useful sharing function where you can search other routes run in your area if you are just not feeling inspired. This is also great if you want a trial pre race run on a popular course route. Map My Run can be a bit fiddly to get used to, particularly if running offroad as you need to switch to "manual" to plot your route. Plus some of Map My Run's tools often do not work quite as you would like them too. It's also filled with annoying adverts that get in the way on the desktop version.
Verdict? Better pre run on the desktop computer
Nike+ Running is a little like Runkeeper. It tracks all your running routes, along with your pace. One of the benefits of Nike+ is that you can double check and amend the accuracy if the GPS signal is a little off kilter. Nike+ will then re-evaluate your stats for you. You can also use Nike+ on the treadmill so those gym sessions can also be number crunched. The other edge Nike+ has over Runkeeper is the ability to be able to alter your music choice easily while on the run.
Verdict? Great for music loving gym bunnies
Endomondo is possibly a more social running app by a margin. It allows you to see what your friend's pbs are over different distances so you can try to beat them. It also allows you to compete against someone on the same route you run. It's a nice clean app (though a few too many ads) and easy to use but it has no easy link to controlling your music, so you'll just have to concentrate on beating your friend.
Verdict? Good for social sparring with friends
Price? Free / Pro costs £3.99
Bored of the same, same but different running app? Zombies,Run! aims to scare you into running faster. Possibly not the best app for hardcore stats fanatics or those who are serious about chasing pbs, but a good fun app for those more interested in turning a boring jog into a fun workout. That said Zombies!, Run also does provide structured training plans for those who want to be scared into training for a race.
Verdict? A little gimmicky
I think running apps are great for a couple of things - tracking and keeping track of your training sessions. So by doing this they can help motivate and provide feedback while on runs and also after runs, by storing all your training and logging all the incremental improvements (hopefully!) over time.
That said, I don't think they can or should take over good old intuition and/or old fashioned coaching. There is nothing better than listening to your own body while training. I try not to run so much with a Garmin for example as I think it teaches you to be able to pace yourself accurately (so vital in races) by knowing your own body and what pace you are running at. I also think running with a club or friends who can help develop your training and provide feedback is far more valuable than a robot voice in your ear.
But, as a tool used in conjunction with other training methods, I can see the real value in running apps so I'll be adding one to my iphone. I just have to decide which one.