Digital motivators for your next run
Are you just starting out? Do you want to keep track of your progress or are you just looking for something to keep you entertained during a run? Good news, there is an app for that! I’ve compiled a list of the best running apps that kept me motivated over the years.
Best apps for beginners
These are the apps that will get you started on your epic running journey. They will help you set a goal and guide you towards it.
Couch to 5K
This was the app that started it all for me. Exactly as the name suggests, it guided me in my training from being a couchpotato to a 5k runner.
The interface is intuitive and easy to use. The training plan itself is spread out over 10 weeks with three runs per week. You can choose between multiple, diverse coaches that will guide and motivate you during each workout. The app also has a built-in music player, but you are free to choose any music app you want and just run the Couch to 5K training cues on top.
The app is not free though but I believe the initial, small, investment is worth it. Once you finish the Couch to 5k program, you can download the 5k to 10k app for free from the same developer.
Runkeeper is another great option for beginners. It has a gorgeous interface that is easy to navigate. If you upgrade to the premium “GO” version, you get access to the training plans, detailed insights and live tracking. But even with the basic version you can use the workouts-feature if you don’t mind creating them yourself [link to 5k plan pdf page]. Basic stats, sharing with friends and audio-cues during your run are also included in the basic free version of Runkeeper.
This app is very similar in features as Runkeeper. The basic version will give you access to your basic stats, manual workouts, audio-cues and the community. When you open the app for the first time it will ask you to set a goal. Depending on that goal and your level of fitness, the app will keep track of your progress and give recommendations to improve your fitness.
The premium subscription will give you access to the training plans and improved personalised functions. Runtastic also integrates with sport watches from Polar and Garmin.
Social apps for runners
Seeing the progress your friends are making will keep you motivated to keep going as well. The apps that I mentioned above all have a built-in community to keep in touch with your running-partners and friends. But they will all have to use the same app as you. If you are looking for an app that most people use, then there is only one real option: Strava.
Strava is the biggest social media network for athletes worldwide. Since it launched in 2009, it has grown massively and today it has more than 50 million active users (https://blog.strava.com/press/strava-milestones-50-million-athletes-and-3-billion-activity-uploads/). You can connect with friends and like and comment on their runs. With the premium features, you can track your progress in detail, set training goals, create routes, set up live tracking and compete against friends. Because it is the largest sport tracking app in the world, it integrates seamlessly with most of the other fitness tracking apps and devices.
Music and podcasts
If you are out there all by yourself, running can become very monotonous, very quickly. Music and podcasts are the perfect solution to prevent boredom and make those difficult workouts a bit more pleasant.
Spotify is the biggest music streaming service in the world and with good reason. There are hundreds of curated playlists that are regularly updated so you will always find something new to listen to during your runs.
Since 2019, Spotify also provides podcasts from within its app. Not everything is available yet, but Spotify is committed to expand its podcast library over the coming years.
The free version of the app will allow you to stream all the playlists and play them on shuffle, like a radio station. But it’s really worth it to pay for the premium version.
You can play whatever you want, wherever you want. If you download your favorite playlist before you head out, you can even listen without an active data connection. Spotify also integrates with a lot of third party apps and devices, so you are able to control and store music offline on a lot of wireless headphones and sport watches.
If you are looking for a podcast app with a bit more options then the user friendly interface of Spotify, then Stitcher is the app for you. The library is a bit more extensive than Spotify, so if you have trouble finding your favorite podcast in Spotify, you can try to look for it here.
Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music
Both Apple Music and Amazon Prime Music are valid alternatives for Spotify. To be completely honest, every music app is a good music app as long as you can find and manage the songs you like. Apple Music is a great option if you run with your iPhone as it integrates seamlessly with your phone. Amazon Prime Music is free to use if you have an Amazon Prime subscription. So you can listen to your favorite tunes on the go without spending an extra dime.
Where other apps provide you with dry informative cues on your progress during your runs, “Zombies, Run!” uses the power of storytelling to keep you motivated. When you open the app for the first time it explains its premise. You are one of a few survivors of a zombie apocalypse and are tasked with gathering supplies for your outpost.You play the game by running in the real world.
The app can track you via GPS or your phone’s accelerometer so you can use it on the treadmill as well. The story progresses everytime you go for a run (or walk). Although your performance during a run doesn’t really have an impact on the outcome of the story, following the cues will earn you more supplies and materials.
When you arrive home those supplies and materials can be used to build your base in the app’s basic city-builder. The app is free to use and regularly updated with new story missions and events. More game modes, all story missions and better customization are available when you opt in for the subscription.
Most running apps include a tracking feature with a premium subscription. This will enable you to share your live location with friends and family while you’re running. But if you are looking for a free option, you should know that WhatsApp also includes an option to share your live location with your contacts. They won’t be able to see your running stats, but they will be able to follow you while you are out on your run from within an app they already have. To enable live tracking, go to your message, tap the paperclip icon, tap location and tap the “Share live location” button. You might need to disable the battery saver function on your phone to make sure your phone doesn’t go into sleep mode during your run as this will disable the location features.
Troubleshoot issues with gps tracking: Disable battery saver
If you experience issues with the GPS-tracking on your phone, battery saver mode might be to blame. Let’s fix that.
I will assume that you already tried turning off and on the location services on your phone and that you have granted the app to use the location services when it asked for it.
The next thing you should check is the battery saver function on your phone. This is only applicable for Android phones as the iPhone handles the battery saver mode much better for apps that use GPS.
For most Android phones you will have to disable the battery saver function by going to your phone’s battery settings:
Settings > Battery > Battery optimization > switch to All apps list (use the more menu at the top) > The app you are trying to use > Don’t optimize / High performance.
The support page for Strava has a detailed overview for most brands: https://support.strava.com/hc/en-us/articles/216918967-Troubleshooting-GPS-Issues
Some tips to use your phone while running
- Use an arm strap to store your phone. This will keep your hands free and you will forget it is even there. Make sure the arm strap is made for your phone. Although all arm straps are universal, make sure it will fit your phone without being too big as your phone might fall out while you are moving.
- Get wireless earbuds when you want to listen to music. As more and more new phones don’t even have a headphone jack any more you will have to buy one sooner then later anyway. Having a cable running from your phone to your ears is a real hassle while you are running. Sudden movements can pull the earbuds out of your ears. They don’t have to be that expensive as sound quality isn’t that important. Even the cheaper earbuds are water resistant and sound good enough.
- You might not mind running in the rain, but your phone will if it’s not waterproof. All phones can handle some light rain but they are not made to be out there when it’s pouring. You can store your phone in a zip lock bag before putting it in your arm strap for some extra protection. You can choose for an arm strap that is waterproof but they might be too clunky during dry days. You also shouldn’t buy a new waterproof phone just for this, but it might be something to keep in mind when it is time to replace your current one.
Now that we have covered the best apps for running it’s time for you to try them out on your next run and see what works best for you.