Running apps are an incredibly popular way to monitor progress for runners worldwide. They offer runners an opportunity to measure distance and pace, and also the chance to compete with other runners over virtual segments and routes.
Whether you are new to running or a seasoned athlete, using a running app can be a useful way to monitor and optimise your training.
The majority of running apps offer a paid subscription alongside the basic free app and it is sometimes useful to know just how much performance data and how many additional features you can get, and how much you need, before shelling out for the paid subscription.
Used well, apps can be motivational, giving users the ability to gamify their training, support and be inspired by others as well as planning their training. Yet even the best running apps can be overwhelming when you are injured or finding training a little harder than usual. Sometimes the best ‘running app’ is the great outdoors, without tech acting as a distraction or clouding the mind. Whilst we have detailed some brilliant running app innovations below, it is important to find out the balance that works for you. Delve into the data when it helps but know when ‘going naked’ (without a watch/app, keep your clothes on) is the right thing to do for you and your training.
Running apps which track your activity through GPS are naturally very demanding of your phone battery so that is worth bearing in mind if you want to use the app on your phone rather than uploading your activities from a watch after each workout.
Whatever you are looking for in a running app, we have detailed some of the best below. We hope you find a running app to suit you!
Strava: For data-hungry runners who are looking for the edge
In May 2022, Strava had 95 million users, with some now citing over 100 million users on the app. It is the most popular running app in the world, and it isn’t hard to see why.
Strava moved a lot of its features under the paid subscription in spring 2020 and whilst this was unpopular with some, the depth of data that Strava offers means that the subscription does provide a fair value for money. And it is clear that subscribers agree as Strava has continued to record year-on-year growth of users since 2016.
To get the best out of some of the more advanced features, such as ‘Fitness and Freshness’ which handily shows when you are in peak condition for a race, you really need to link up a heart rate monitor to your watch when you are working out. Similarly, the Heatmaps, Training Log and Create a Route features are all included with the paid subscription.
However, the basic features of free Strava are impressive enough alone with an Activity Feed, Training Calendar, Segments and My Routes amongst a range of those available. These features help you view, and give kudos to, follow athletes, plan your training and find the most popular stretches of road or trail near you where you can compete with fellow runners to earn the ‘crown’.
To upload data to the app, you can use the tracking function included on your phone, upload data from your smartwatch or create a manual workout for those that you haven’t recorded.
The app has a 4.5/5-star rating on the Google app store with 771k reviews made to date.
Map My Run: For runners who want a slick user experience
The app displays key metrics such as running cadence, average pace and stride length in a very accessible format with clean, uncluttered screens something that is clearly important to Under Armour, the app’s creators. The app is user friendly and announces each mile split if this is enabled in-app – for runners who don’t want to look at their watch this can be a handy and freeing feature, making running more enjoyable and immersive.
Another key feature of the app, which it shares with Strava, is the ability to add a pair of running shoes to your profile and get a notification after a given number of miles, prompting you to get a new pair of trainers at the best time for you. The subject of when it is best to replace running shoes is not a straightforward one and you should always check the wear of your trainers and make your own judgement on when your trainers are past their best and a trip to the running shop is in order.
The app has an impressive 4.7/5-star rating from 395k ratings so far to date.
Summit Bag: For the runner seeking hills to conquer
Whilst Summit Bag isn’t a stand-alone app, it can be used as a plug-in to Strava after users sign up through the Summit Bag website. The benefit of Summit Bag is that you can see all nearby summits as well as their respective heights. This can make planning hilly runs more interesting as you can see all the nearby hills that you haven’t yet climbed, and those you have climbed most often. The downside of this app is that you won’t ‘bag’ a summit, or record it as completed, unless you walk exactly where the summit is marked on the Summit Bag map. This can make using this plugin slightly infuriating when you have gone on a cracking run up a hill only to find that you crested the hill just feet away from the marked ‘summit’.
Runkeeper: For runners who like a plan
Compared to Strava, Runkeeper is an entry level running app. It is incredibly popular with runners who want a simpler experience and who don’t mind about delving into reams of information that Strava offers. Runkeeper, as with Strava comes with both a paid and free version offering differing levels of immersion.
Owned by Asics since 2016, Runkeeper is a running app which records your runs, rides and walks using its in-app GPS function before providing you with key statistics after each activity. The app is great for runners who are setting out on their running journey as it offers tailored training plans to help you achieve that all important goal. The app places a huge emphasis on the support of the Runkeeper community and offers users occasional Runkeeper challenges to engage its community in the pursuit of a goal.
How the app differs from others is the emphasis that it places on developing runners at the start of their running journey through goal setting, personalised training plans and tracking progress towards the goals that you have defined.
NHS Couch to 5K: For the beginner
The couch-to-5k is one of the most popular programmes amongst new runners as it gradually builds the length of your run over the course of 12 weeks, helping runners reach their 5k goal with a well-structured plan that is easy to follow.
The app is provided by the Department of Health and Social Care in partnership with the BBC and is available in the Apple app store. The app boasts an impressive 4.8/5-star rating with 315.6k ratings made to date making it a popular choice amongst new runners who are targeting the 5k distance.
The app may be a little limited for more experienced runners and runners who complete the programme may wish to switch to one of the other apps on this list once the Couch-to-5K programme is completed but it is a brilliant way to stay motivated at the start of the journey.
Zwift: For the treadmill runner
If you prefer running on the treadmill or find yourself confined to working out indoors in the winter months when paths become impassable, Zwift is the app for you. The app provides users with a virtual reality to make runs on the treadmill more interesting.
The app is perhaps better known as a cycling app where users compete on virtual courses in eleven different ‘worlds’ that are available in-app. The premise of the running app is largely similar, and users are able to choose which world they want to compete in.
Zwift does rely on having a compatible device that you can connect which restricts the number of users who are likely to sign up but if treadmill running is your thing, this is the app for you.
Weav Run: For runners who enjoy music on-the-run
Running along to the sound of music is something that splits runners – those who love it and those who’d rather hear the world around them uninterrupted. Weav Run is a running app for the musically inclined runner. But unlike other apps that allow you to play music on the run, Weav Run specifically focuses on music that helps you maintain your cadence, or put simply, the number of times your feet hit the ground in a minute.
Over-striding is an issue which can lead to injuries and can seriously detract from your running form. Keeping a good cadence is crucial if you are to perfect your running form, can help with running efficiency and also makes it easier to speed up.
So how can Weav Run help? You can choose whether the beat of the music matches the strike of your feet on the floor or whether your songs play at a fixed beat that encourages you to hit a specific cadence. Maintaining a cadence of around 180 steps per minute is widely regarded as optimal although this can vary slightly from runner-to-runner. By tuning in to the music, and feeling the beat, you too can speed up your stride and run with rhythm.
Your Takeaway Message
There is no one-size-fits-all best running app to suit everyone’s needs but each of the apps in this article gives users different features and levels of immersion to suit their needs. There is no shortage of choice when it comes to choosing the best running app for you and we hope that this article has helped simplify that choice and bring into focus the app that is right for you.