Saturday, March 3, 2012

TRANSITION AREA: Two Amazing Free Running Apps

I'm kind of an app freak...I love finding new cool apps for my iPhone.  And I particularly love it when the app is FREE!  Then when it helps with your fitness goals, even better!

I recently downloaded and used two amazing, free fitness apps:

Runkeeper App

I'd been hearing a lot lately about the Runkeeper, so I thought I'd check it out.  I downloaded it for a run last nite and after a quick set-up, I was off.  (FYI, I have an iPhone, but you can also get Runkeeper for Android and Runkeeper for Windows Phone 7).

In a word:  suuuhweet!!  Why is it so great? The Runkeeper uses your smartphone's GPS technology to track you.  So what - your Garmin or other GPS can do that right? Well yes, but I found the Runkeeper to be more interactive and have a couple benefits over my Garmin...and did I mention that it's FREE?  So if you don't have a GPS unit or your's craps out (like the Garmin has been known to do), Runkeeper is a good substitute.  Here are the pros and cons:


  • Keeps track of all the typical inputs:  pace/speed, distance, calories burned, heart rate, and map.  Note that the calories burned are pretty generalized because it's based just on your weight and gender.  For heart rate, you'll need a compatible HRM (see below).  
  • It puts a coach in your ear!  This is what I really loved.  On the Garmin I always find it a pain to set HRM alerts or pace alerts.  But with the Runkeeper, it's as easy as a couple clicks.  You can set your own target pace (which I did with the Running Pace Calculator discussed below), then select what type of audio cues you want and how often you want them. The audio cues helped keep me on-track a little better than the Garmin.  I wasn't looking down at my watch every couple minutes because I had someone talking in my ear every five minutes.  Plus, the coach tells you overall whether you are above or below your target pace: 
I set my Audio Cues to tell me the time, distance, average pace, and current pace. Then I set the Audio Cues to go off every 5 minutes and every mile.  You can set them to go off at more or less frequent intervals, from every minute to every 30 minutes.  I set it at 5 minute and mile intervals.
  • Can be used for a variety of activities, including cycling, hiking, downhill skiing, and indoor activities (with manual input). 
Input Type can be GPS or manual entry (for indoor activities).  Choose from a variety of activities. Incorporate a music playlist from your iTunes. Turn on Coaching feature to keep you on-track for a target pace, intervals, or perform a fitness class (downloadable on the Runkeeper website).
  • Incorporate your playlists from iTunes.  No need to turn iTunes on separately - you can incorporate your playlists directly through the Runkeeper.  Also, when Runkeeper gives you the audio cues, the music plays softly in background...Makes you feel like you're in a commercial with your own personal narrator! 
  • Includes an auto pause if you have to stop for several seconds. 
  • Provides summary screen shots that show your route, a bargraph breaking down your pace for every minute, and chart showing your pace for each mile.  
One of the summary screen shots with bar graphs to show your pace for every minute..
  • Lets you post your summaries to Facebook or Twitter. 
  • Gives you a free account on the Runkeeper website.  You can set up a profile, control who sees it, and keep all your activities in a log.  All of your activities are uploaded automatically to the website.  
  • You can create a "Street Team" on the website by finding users who are close to you.  You can see each other's activities and make comments.  I personally don't use this feature, but I know folks who do.  (I'm always paranoid about stalkers!). 
  • Create your own routes so that you can compare your different performances on that same route. You also can find routes that others have done.  
  • Provides "Fitness Classes," which are training plans for a variety of distances.  Once you download a Fitness Class, you can turn on the coaching feature in your app and it will coach you through the workout.  There is a cost for these fitness classes. For example, the class to finish a marathon is $24.99, which may seem like a lot; but, if you can't afford a "real" coach and want something more than just a book so you can actually have some audio-guided runs, then this price is a steal! 
  • Allows upgrade to Runkeeper Elite. This is one of the features that I'm most excited about.  For $4.99/month or $19.99/year, you can upgrade to this feature to allow your loved ones to track you.  You also get discounted Fitness Classes, improved Fitness Reports, and advanced Fitness Alerts. Because I do a lot of long runs and rides on my own, the tracking feature will give my boyfriend some piece of mind so he can track me.   
  • If you want to keep track of your heart rate you need to buy a heart rate monitor that will pair with the app because the one for your Garmin or other GPS unit won't work.  Runkeeper sells Wahoo Blue Wireless HRM for the iPhone and a Polar Wearlink+ Transmitter with Bluetooth for the Android, each for $79.  If you already have a HRM with your current GPS, this isn't a worthwhile purchase, but if you don't currently have a GPS and are going to be using the Runkeeper as your primary training device, then the HRM is worth the investment.  
  • Some users report that the GPS tracking can be off, overestimating your mileage/pace.  That happened to me on my run because the map showed me starting about .4 of a mile further away than I actually did, so my the past for my first mile was 7:49.  Yeah right...Not on my best day!  This is not a problem experienced by all users and I'm guessing it's more a factor of the smartphone's GPS rather than the app.  Many users who reported this problem found that it could be fixed by deleting and re-loading the app.  My privacy settings on the website stay in place.   
  • The settings for posting and privacy don't stay put on the app itself.  Every time you close out the settings tab on the app, it undos the changes you've made to who can see your activities and whether you want them posted to Facebook and Twitter.  On mine, it always changes the "Activities Viewable By" from "Only Me" back to "Street Team" when I close it out. Also, it turns off the posting to Twitter and Facebook.  It may just be a bug that will be worked out by deleting and re-loading.  
  • You probably won't be able to use it for races. Most races nowadays don't let you bring phones/headsets (which is a good thing). So don't get too dependent on using it instead of your usual GPS unit.  But, I think it provides a good substitute or a nice break from the Garmin, especially with the coaching and Elite features.  

Runner's Ally Pace Calculator

There are tons of pace calculators (and I list some of my favorites on my Workouts and Training Calculators tab).  But the reason I love this app is because it not only lets you determine what pace you should be running for a particular distance to make your goal, but it gives you specific training paces and other race times.

For example, if I want to do a marathon in 4:20, my projected pace is 9:55 min/mile.  It then gives me projected race times for other distances:

My projected race times for a 4:20 marathon...
But what I like the best is the Target Training Run Times:

Some of my Target Training Run Times...
These Target Training Run Times give you targets for easy runs, tempo runs, maximum-oxygen runs, speed/form runs, long runs, and Yasso 800's, and explains the rationale behind each target time.  I found this particularly helpful because we don't always know the best training times to get us to our ultimate goal.  For example, for a 4:20 marathon, my long runs should be at 11:04-12:26 min/mile, and my tempo run pace is 9:15 min/mile.

Once you use the pace calculator to get your goal time for a particular run, you can plug it into the Runkeeper and off you go with your little running coach in your ear...So simple and FREE!!

Have you tried either of these apps and have some feedback? Are there other running apps that you like? 


katie said...

I agree, the Runkeeper app is a great app! I use it as a backup when my Garmin decides not to work (more often than I like) because I always have my phone with me. I don't wear headphones to run, but I keep it in the pocket of my running skirt and can hear the updates without headphones. I've found it to be pretty reliable even in the woods on trail runs - the mileage is usually pretty close to the markings on trail. Great app!

Jen said...

The only app I've used for running is AllSportsGPS. I liked it, free, easy enough to use. Maps out your run, gives you lots of data points (pace, elevation, etc) for free. They have an upgrade version but I haven't considered it as I'm not using even half of the free options. I haven't tried Runkeeper , but maybe I will now. :)

Life Through Endurance said...

Thanks, Katie..Maybe I'll add you to my Street Team since i know you're not a stalker! ;-)

And thanks, Jen..I'll check out the AllSports GPS too!

Anonymous said...

I found the advice about pace calculators (what speed you need to be at in different kinds of runs to achieve your overall objective) extremely helpful. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge.