Now that spring is here, it’s the perfect time to head outside for a run. Whether you’re an advanced runner or just getting started, we found five of the best running apps for your smartphone. These apps do everything from mapping your runs, tracking your mile times to getting you from the couch to your very first 5K. There will also be some zombies - yes, you read that right, zombies.
SLIDE SHOW: The Top 5 Mobile Apps for Runners
We enlisted the help of certified fitness trainer and running coach Dillon Kreider to test-drive these apps. Kreider leads running groups, race training and fitness programs from her studio, The Fitness Lab, located in Ballard.
“Using an app for running is great. In fact, I think if a person can stick with it – they will have great results,” says Kreider.
Krieder thinks apps are great for new runners who might be shy about joining a running group and want to build their confidence. She also likes the apps’ program design.
“Structured programs provide a clear roadmap from walking to jogging to running or preparing for longer distances,” she said. “I think it's a great way to prevent over-training, running too much in the beginning and making sure your runs are quality runs. Using an app can make the experience that much more enjoyable and being able to see what you have done gives anyone a much needed boost of confidence.”
Here are our top five apps to help you get the most out of your runs.
(Free and you can find it in the iTunes, Android and Windows Mobile stores.)
Runkeeper is one of Lifehacker, Men’s Health and Wired Magazine’s top running apps, and with over 14 million users, it’s also one of the most popular fitness apps on the market.
RunKeeper uses GPS to map your run, track your distance and monitor your pace, plus the app offers workout plans. Choose from a list of training plans like Beginner 5K or Sub 4 Hour Marathon or One Off workouts like the 20 Minute Easy Run. Listen to your playlist in the background and audio cues alert you with real time pace, distance and time information.
RunKeeper also takes the guesswork (and incessant watch checking) out of interval training, since you can create and save customized interval workouts. As the name RunKeeper implies, the app stores a detailed history of your runs, pace, and personal bests making it easy to track your progress. It also integrates with the RunKeeper website, and devices like the Fitbit and Garmin. Goal oriented types will enjoy the “My Goals” feature where you can set a goal like running a certain distance, losing weight or finishing a race.
Bottom line: Great app for runners who want to track their running progress in real time and keeps a running log. Plus it’s ideal for creating audio cues for interval workouts.
Couch To 5k
($2 and you can find it in the iTunes and Android stores.)
The Couch To 5K app is going to get you from your couch to the finish line of your first 5K. How does it do that, you ask? It’s actually pretty simple.
This Runner’s World Magazine approved app and winner of the 2012 Appy Award for Health and Fitness offers programs designed to help beginners build their running stamina and avoid injury. Even if you’ve never run a day in your life, start with just 30 minutes a day, three days per week and nine weeks later, you’re a runner. Kreider agrees, and thinks this is a great app for beginner runners.
Select from a set of trainers that includes an Army sergeant (FYI, he yells at you), and the trainers help you though the workouts with audio cues and customized motivational tips.
The app employs a walk/jog method and builds to nonstop running. The first workout on you couch to 5k journey starts with a 5 minute warm-up, then a circuit of one minute of jogs and one-and-a-half minute walks repeated for 20 minutes. Over nine weeks you work up to a full 30-minute jog.
Couch-to-5k keeps track of your workouts, distance and pace, plus you can find 5K races on your area and even get $1 off some race registrations.
Bottom line: The program design and goal setting make this a great for new runners who want to get started, not get injured and reach a 5k goal.
Map My Run
(Free and you can find it in the iTunes, Blackberry and Windows Mobile stores.)
Want to track everything there is to know about your run? Then MapMyRun is the app for you. Kreider loved the syncs with Polar, Garmin and other power sensors and all the “nerdy features of MapMyRun.”
Using GPS, MapMyRun maps your running route and tracks your pace and distance. One of Lifehacker’s 5 Best Running Apps, MapMyRun is similar in principle to RunKeeper; however, it offers additional features like the ability to track your elevation.
From the home screen, simply tap Record, and choose from an array of activities like running, walking, running on a treadmill and sprints. A map appears and the app starts tracking your run. Audio cues come in over your own music providing real time pace and speed information.
Click the “Routes” feature and create a new run or check out the list of nearby running routes displayed with a map and details like distance and elevation. This feature includes a social element since you can see other people’s times for each run. If you’re feeling competitive, input your own time and compete with local runners over routes.
Nutrition is an important part of running and weight loss, and MapMyRun’s app features a built in nutrition tracker. A screen displays your daily calorie budget and allows you to input food and water along with your weight.
Bottom line: Great for anyone looking for lots of data about their runs. Competitive types will like competing with other runners over local routes.
($4.99 and you can find it in the iTunes and Android stores.)
Travelers and those who like to try out new running routes will appreciate WalkJogRun. CNET even picked it one of the Four Killer iPhone Apps for Runners.
The app leverages crowd-sourcing to create a database of over 1.5 million running routes in cities around the world. This makes WalkJogRun ideal for finding a run while on vacation or a business trip.
Use your phone’s GPS or type in a location, and WalkJogRun displays a list of runs in your area by distance. The app allows you to choose different map display types so you’re not stuck with the standard map if satellite images work better for you. (If you like Apple Maps you can even choose it as a display.)
Similar to some of the other apps, GPS tracks your distance and pace, but with one difference, WalkJogRun claims to have the most accurate GPS mapping. The company claims that while other GPS tools can overestimate your mileage by 10%, their app tracks your distance within 1% accuracy.
You will also find training plans including 23 free training plans created by Runner’s World Magazine coach Jenny Hadfield, along with plans for beginners and advanced runners and walkers.
Bottom line: Great app for discovering new running routes at home or while on vacation or business travel.
($3.99 and you can find it in the iTunes, Android and Windows Mobile stores.)
You’re living in post-apocalyptic Able Township, and in order to save yourself and the other survivors you need to complete missions, collect supplies, and oh yeah, evade zombies. Zombies, Run takes running apps to another level with its fun combination of workouts and game play.
Created in conjunction with novelist Naomi Alderman, the Zombies, Run app transforms your regular run into an action packed adventure. The New York Times and Wired are fans and Time.com said it “takes all the fun of a zombie game and funnels it into a fitness app.”
To begin, select your “mission” from 33 options like a Lay of the Land or Paul Revere (alerting others of an imminent zombie attack). As you run, the story is unfolds after each song from your own playlist. Turning on the “Zombie Chases” feature randomly injects a zombie mob requiring you to sprint in order to escape their hungry grasp. These chases last anywhere from a few seconds to two minutes, so you evade zombies and tackle interval training all in one workout.
Zombies, Run works while you are running both outside and on a treadmill, plus you can share your runs online. If you enjoy adding zombies to your training the app also offers versions with 5k, and 10k training plans.
This was one of Kreider’s favorite apps. She liked the game play aspect because “for some people, running isn’t very fun and this absolutely injects fun into the mix by providing a storyline time interact with.”
Bottom line: Perfect for gamers, Walking Dead fans and anyone who wants to make their run a little more fun.
So whether you’re an avid seasoned runner or you have yet to jog your first mile, these five apps can help you reach your goals. With a little smartphone assistance, you can track your pace and distance, discover new running routes or set out on your first 5k.
Running coach Dillon Kreider’s spring running groups start in April. To see the programs visit Kreider's website.