The Best Apps For Runners in 2020
Running. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other slightly faster than you normally would, right? In essence, yes, but these days we have replaced our ancestors’ basic survival requirement to run from A to B or evade predators with a need to hit the pavement, treadmill or trail to help us beat stress, get fit and raise money for charity.
The huge success of Parkrun in the UK and further afield, the multitude of races on offer globally (from 5ks to ultra marathons) and the growing popularity of running clubs is testament to the huge number of people who find that running enriches their lives in one way or another.
However, the simple act of running is complicated enormously by the vast number of things on the market that are supposed to help us do it. A lot of runners have trainers for road running, trail shoes for off road running and spikes for the serious mud of mid-winter cross-country. They have shorts, pedal pushers, ¾ length and full-length leggings, vests, technical t shirts, long sleeve tops, running jackets, high viz jackets, head torches, specialist running underwear and a whole host of supports, exercise schedules and sports torture equipment to try and treat various parts of their bodies when they get a niggling injury. And don’t get them started on the intricacies of pre and mid race nutrition…
But this is just the beginning. The most confusing aspect of the sport is choosing the best running app to help you get (and stay) motivated, record and share your progress and achievements, set goals, find training plans and train effectively for your chosen distance and terrain.
Every app on the market says it’s the best and, even if you have lots of friends who also run, their advice is often conflicting and what works for them may not work for you. Add to that the fact that, in the world of running tech, improvements and changes are made all the time and a helpful article written in several years ago will now be out of date and unable provide the best information.
With this in mind, we have created a thoroughly up to date breakdown of the most appropriate running apps for various different requirements, to help you navigate through the sea of what is on offer and find the right running app for you. We aren’t suggesting that you change apps every time you want to train for something new (unless you think a change is as good as a rest and you want to become an authority on running apps), but if you are embarking on any of the challenges below and want an app that fits your requirements, our suggestions are a good place to start.
Quick Menu Navigation
- Best Running App For Beginners
- Best Running App For 10K Training
- Best Running App For Marathon Training
- Best Running App For Ultramarathons
- Best Running App For Trails
Best Running App For Beginners - One You Couch to 5k (Public Health England)
Couch to 5k apps have been around for a few years now and in that time they have forged a proven track record for helping people find the will power to start and maintain a running fitness habit. There is a reason why Couch to 5k training programs are the most popular smartphone apps for runners. It is at this stage that runners need the most guidance and support to maintain motivation, avoid injury and achieve their goal. A good Couch to 5K app will help to transform a nervous beginner into a confident runner, determined to maintain and build on their success.
There is a multitude of Couch to 5K style apps out there, but we recommend the one from Public Health England. Created in collaboration with the BBC Get Inspired program, it offers an achievable nine-week fitness regime. It is worth noting that its aim (like many of the other options available) is to get you to a level of fitness where you can run continuously for 30 minutes, irrespective of your pace. For many people, this may not quite be the 5K they promise, but a few more weeks of practice and that distance should be achievable.
One of its most valuable features is the Couch to 5k Health Unlocked community forums, which connects you with like-minded people who can offer encouragement, insights and support when you need them most.
COST - It is free to download for both Android and iPhone, but if you don’t have some already, it is worth investing in a good set of running headphones (such as Jabra Elite Sport), as the app works alongside your chosen music player and will automatically dip the volume for you when your chosen celebrity trainer comes on to tell you when to walk and when to run during your workouts.
Best Running App For 10K Training - Endomondo
If you have conquered the Couch to 5K, there are plenty of apps available to run you through the next steps and help you achieve the 10K milestone. One of the best ones (in our humble opinion) is the Endomondo app. Bought by sports clothing giants Under Armour in 2015, Endomondo aims to turn your mobile into the PT in your pocket, offering GPS route tracking, performance analysis and suggestions for improvement.
Arguably the best feature of this app for runners at this stage is its social integration. Understandably proud of achieving the 5K milestone and determined to make the next one, you may well be sharing your progress on social media. The Endomondo app makes it easy for you to upload pictures and videos from your workouts on your social channels, so followers can easily see what you are up to.
COST – there is a basic free option, which includes advertisements. Once you have downloaded it you can choose whether or not to upgrade to Endomondo Premium for £9.99 per month. Premium gets rid of the ads and offers additional features such as heart rate zone analysis, access to more advanced stats and personal training plans tailored to your goals and ability.
Best Running App For Marathon Training - Nike+ Run Club
If you are looking for a new app to help you take on the huge challenge of running a marathon you probably need one that offers a training plan tailored to your goal and features little extras to help you push yourself beyond your comfort zone. The Nike+ Run Club app does just that. Not only does it track and record all your runs, it has personalised coaching plans that can be adapted to your schedule (so that an off day or a diary clash don’t make you feel like you are drifting hopelessly off course).
The Nike+ Run Club app is also focused on keeping you motivated, with audio-guidance and inspiration from coaches and top athletes, as well as the option to listen to in-run cheers specially recorded by your friends, or get a little helping hand from your designated power song when you are starting to flag.
When you have finished a particularly memorable training run or want to share the pictures of the big race day, the Nike+ Run Club app offers customisable post-run sharing with friends (and the Nike+ Run Club community, should you wish to shout about your achievements to a wider audience).
Another clever feature is that it can track your shoe mileage to make sure that you have trainers that have been well broken in but are not so well worn that you risk unnecessary injury during your long runs or on race day.
COST – Free to download
Best Running App For Ultramarathons - Strava Summit
Training for an ultramarathon requires new heights of commitment and a better understanding of how your body is responding to the trials you are putting it through. Due to the fact that the term ‘ultra’ means anything more than 26.2 miles, there are very few dedicated in-app training plans available. Therefore, the usefulness of an app in this scenario is its ability to record and interpret as much data as possible, so that users are able to track and analyse their progress and adjust their own training plans accordingly.
Perhaps the most comprehensive app available for ultra runners is Strava. ‘Strava’ is the Swedish word for ‘strive’ and it is one of the most popular apps for both runners and cyclists looking to beat a PB or compete with other users. If you’re training for an ultramarathon, we would recommend biting the bullet and upgrading to the paid version of the app. Not only does the Beacon feature offer your friends and relatives peace of mind (they can track your progress on training runs and during races and designated contacts can be alerted if you run into trouble), the advanced analytics and goal tracking mean that you get a real insight into how training is progressing.
Finally, the highly social element to Strava allows you to share the highs and lows of your day-to-day training and also to take advantage of other people’s experience and find new tried and tested routes. Training for an ultra is hard enough without having to contend with the boredom of re-tracing your steps on the same old running route all the time!
COST – The basic version is free to download but the Summit packages (broken down into Training, Analysis and Safety) are £19 each or £48 for all three for a year. These charges can be paid on a monthly basis, so we recommend buying all three packages for a month and then cancelling any of the three that you find you aren’t using.
Best Running App For Trails - Strava or Runtastic
Strava is also a pretty good bet if you are a keen trail runner. You can use the Heat Map feature (updated monthly) to find new trails that other people are using frequently. Taking advantage of this aspect of the app means that you are less likely to encounter frustrations such as impassable ground or recently re-routed paths. Not only will the access to other people’s running routes help you explore even more of the great outdoors, it also allows you to compete with their times, which is great if healthy competition is a strong motivator for you!
Another good option for trail runners is Runtastic, which use GPS to map and track exercise and even links up with Google Earth for easy route mapping in new places. It also syncs with music platforms such as Spotify and Pandora, so that you can link up directly with your favourite playlists to help you conquer a particularly tricky hill or get you through the last few miles of a particularly punishing trail marathon.
COST – The basic version is free to download but there is a pro version (for a £4.99 one off cost), which gets rid of the annoying ads and allows you to track other activities such as cycling and skiing. It also offers other extras such as coaching-style voice feedback and music player integration.
This post covers some of our favourite popular apps for various different running requirements, but there are many more out there and in order to find the one that works for your personality, syncs with your favourite wearable and helps you achieve your personal goals, it is worth taking time to consider what aspect of an app you will find most useful, as these are likely to be different for mileage junkies, speed demons, social runners and off-road adventurers.
A well-chosen running app will facilitate the achievement of your goals, motivate you to achieve more and provide you with valuable insights into your training habits. It can also help to connect you to other runners who can offer advice, support and a bit of healthy competition. It can’t run the Marathon des Sables for you, but a well-chosen app can help you dig deep to become the runner you want to be.