There are approximately 101 different apps out there for tracking your progress as you run (based on my extensive market research, which consisted of 20 seconds of near-aimless scrolling through the app store), and they all seem to do different iterations of the same thing — along you to modify your running route until it resembles a penis.
All in the name of fitness, am I right? There are a great many running apps out there that track your route, pace and time, but there are a few running apps out there that set themselves apart by offering something more unique. Here’s my list of some of the more useful, yet different free running apps available on the iPhone. (or iPad or iPod Touch or whatever expensive Apple device you have strapped to your arm during your runs.)
1. Charity Miles
For the philanthropic runner, Charity Miles is a simple little app that donates to the charity of your choice as you run. Simply open the app before your run, choose from over 30 charities to donate to, choose the activity and then you’re off! Runners and walkers earn 25¢ per mile, while bicyclists can get 10¢ per mile (with some charity selections, the donation is different — like puppy and kitty vaccinations for the ASPCA.) The interface is ultra- simple, so the app is best reserved for your
regular run route, when you’re not as interested in the GPS tracking and lap times of other running apps. I found the distance tracker to not be ultra- accurate, so the entire length of your route might not be logged. As frustrating as that was at the get-go, I realized that it was all going towards a great cause anyways, and that every little bit counts! I tend to struggle with motivation at times, but Charity Miles gives me a necessary sense of responsibility, like if it weren’t for me logging 2 miles on a Tuesday morning than something like 100 little kitties and puppies might not get vaccinated! And then they’ll get sick and IT WILL BE ALL MY FAULT. Just because I wanted to spend Tuesday morning watching Funny or Die videos instead of running. Shame on me.
2. Pace DJ
There’s almost nothing worse than running along on a tough new route, jamming along to a really kickin’ song and finding a steady rhythm when WHOMP! That dud of a song you mistakenly put on your playlist drops, and your psych levels just plummet. In the five seconds it takes you to whip out your phone and change the song, it’s too late. You’ve lost your rhythm and your psych, all because that god-awful Black Eyed Peas song sounded like a good idea five months ago. The Pace DJ app aims to make your music experience while running more consistent, especially when your music taste is like mine and incredibly inconsistent. The app analyzes the songs in a selected playlist, and assigns them a beats per minute count. During your run, the app tracks your pace and chooses songs for you that best fit your pace. I found that the app tended to overestimate my pace a bit, but the faster songs it chose for me kept me pushing hard to keep up with the pace of the song. This was actually great, when you’re like me and struggle with self-motivation. If you think the app has miscalculated the BPM of a certain song, Pace DJ actually lets you tap out the rhythm of the song on your phone, to alter the song’s assigned BPM. The interface, at least on the free version, is fairly clunky, though. Pausing a song takes you to an ad, where you must wait a couple seconds to close the ad to resume listening. Make sure you have a wide selection of music to choose from, I found that the app would sometimes replay songs in a certain BPM range because I didn’t have enough songs in that range. Splurge for the paid version of the app, and Pace DJ will actually change the paces of your songs to match your pace, instead of the other way around! Sounds like a feature I would abuse more than use, like by adding “Unchained Melody” to my 160 BPM playlist.
For the ultra-competitive, regular runner, Strava is like RunKeeper on steroids. In addition to tracking your mileage and following your route by GPS, Strava compares your past runs to your current one, and lets you see how you stack up against your Strava friends. Or, join a Strava challenge and race against other Strava users to see who can complete the fastest marathon, or who can be the first of the month to complete a 10k. If you’re one of those people who organizes game night just so you can murder your friends at Taboo, then Strava is for you! Some of the challenges can be run for a charitable cause as well, like raising money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Strava tracks key data like distance, pace, speed, elevation gained and calories burned as you run. If you’re happy with your current route, you can save it in your Strava profile, or even piece it down segment by segment, so you can hyper analyze your stats at every step of your run. Upload your time on that route and compare it to the times of other Strava users who have run the same route. You can even upload the gear used on every run, to compare the performance of different shoes, socks, or bikes, if you’re a biker.While basic Strava is free, there is a paid version you can subscribe to to get even more features —but I found the basic Strava to be sufficient for my needs. Definitely great for the ultra-competitive but be careful not to push yourself too hard! The constant tease of one-upping your runner friends may prove too much to bear for some.
For the active business traveler or the more nomadic runners, Localeikki helps point out-of-towners in the direction of local running trails and parks that they might otherwise never have heard of! Local users input their favorite running spots into the app, and all you need to do is simply input the zip code or the city name, and Localeikki will pull up the nearest recommended runs. Scroll through your choices, and click on each one to see a detailed description including photos, park/trail amenities, rating, max trail length, recommended activities, and even the surface firmness! Living in a large, but not super outdoorsy city like Dallas, I actually use the app to find new running spots in my own hometown. It pulled up some great local trails that I may never have heard of if I hadn’t given the app a spin. Localeikki also uses location services to track you as you run, because we’ve all had that one time where we got really, heinously lost on a new trail. (Or God knows I have.) If your stay in an unfamiliar city is going to be a little more extended, than Localeikki has a database of local running groups and group runs that you can join to meet some like-minded runners wherever your travels take you! Best yet, the app even works internationally so you can hit the trails whether you’re in Hong Kong or Havana. The trails and parks in the app’s database are entirely user-inputted, though, so depending on the activity level of the area’s locals, certain places will have much more to choose from than others. So it looks like you’ll most likely still be on your own to find a good running trail on your next running trip to Cambodia.
For the cultured and educated few who just can’t seem to make themselves get down to some Lady GaGa while running, Runtastic is your fairly basic GPS tracking running app, with a twist — it allows you to listen to a selection of audiobooks as you run, in place of music, if you choose. The stories run the length of a fairly average run, at around 40 minutes, and the available stories are largely running-related. There are only 7 available on the lite version of the app, and at 99¢ a piece, they’re not crazy cheap. But still a good option for those who tend to lose focus when listening to the same playlist over and over. If audiobooks are not your jam, you can still integrate your playlist into the app, and even choose a “power song,” which you can queue up during your run to occasionally give you that extra boost. Or play endlessly and descend into madness. Totally up to you! Along with tracking your time, pace, distance, calorie count, elevation and route, the app logs your workouts into your history, which can be organized by week, month or even year. You can even elect to have a British-sounding voice coach chime in every so often over your music to tell your the stats of your current run. Runtastic also has the greatest amount of available sports to choose from, out of the apps I test drove, and will log any activity from CrossFit, to dancing, to even rock climbing.