The 5 Absolute Best Running Apps

Photo: Strava

Type "running" into the search field of any app store and the results are overwhelming: Do you want to lace up your sneakers to lose weight? Or sprint away from zombies to boost your speed? Which on the list will help you stick to a training plan? Or integrates your carefully curated playlists seamlessly?

If you're tired of spending more time comparing potential downloads than, well, actually running, you can step away from your computer (shortly) and start stretching.

That's because, having clocked enough time testing running apps over the years to qualify for an ultramarathon—not to mention crowd-sourced top picks from serious racers—I've done the legwork for you in finding the best applications for going the distance with.

Whether you're mid-marathon training or just finding a new route around your neighborhood, these 5 running apps are leading the pack.

best running apps
Photo: Nike

Nike+ Run Club

Best for: Running with the in-crowd

Using Nike+ Run Club is like wearing Old Skool Vans with an accordion skirt—it lets everyone know you get it. In this case, however, the cool option is also the most functional. Nike+ delivers everything runners want (as well as some things they didn't even realize they needed), and it does it via the most seamless, sleek, user-friendly design.

It's got easy navigation, community, built-in training plans, and social sharing (because if you run 5K and don't tweet about it, it doesn't count). Plus, there's amazing music integration on the app—you can connect your Apple Music or Spotify in one click, and there are awesome Nike-generation running playlists you can grab off Spotify when yours get stale.

Photo: Stocksy/Bonninstudio
Photo: Stocksy/Bonninstudio


Best for: Marathoners and triathletes

If you've got fast friends who seem to be logging personal bests at a new race every month, they're probably using Strava. It's really popular within established running communities—as soon as I signed up, I had a long list of people it suggested I follow (all of whom I knew).

You can join clubs—which include great message boards where coaches answer questions—or engage in challenges. Strava also excels at tracking, with a sophisticated training log (that's also great for triathlons, since you can see swims, rides, and foot races in one place). It's got a matched-runs feature that lets you compare workouts along the same route so you can easily visualize your progress.

Before you get a full-blown runner's high from reading this, however, the big downside with this app is that it doesn't have music integration—so you'll have to switch to another app for tunes.

best running apps
Photo: Runkeeper


Best for: A little bit of everything

Runkeeper isn't sexy like Nike+ or sophisticated like Strava, but it does almost everything solidly well, making it a keeper in my book (or rather, phone). The screen you're on during a workout is super user friendly, with bright colors and easy-to-reference data points. It's fast and easy to sync your Apple Music or Spotify songs, too.

At the end of a run, it also offers additional creative ways to track progress, like a place to include notes and emoji faces to express how you felt after (though sadly there aren't unicorn or good-vibes options as of yet). And it's extremely customizable in other areas—from the voice that updates you to the display screen.

Finally, it includes a variety of training plans you can pick from based on your experience level (with deets on the coach who came up with it). Just enter your race date, and you're ready to go.

Photo: Thinkstock/Arthur Hidden
Photo: Thinkstock/Arthur Hidden


Best for: Quantified self junkies

This app is a level up, since it requires you to buy the OMsignal smart bra with embedded sensors. But runners keen on the quantified self movement will love it, since it adds personal biometric tracking to the many features offered by other apps (like audio commands telling you mileage and pace).

Not only does it measure heart rate, but it also tracks your breathing to help you inhale and exhale for optimal striding. And after five runs, the system uses your data to calculate your ventilatory and anaerobic thresholds. It then shows you “smart zones" to guide your training, based on a research-backed system that's been shown to optimize endurance and decrease the risk of common running injuries.

All this makes it pretty much the brainiest healthy app you can upload on your smartphone.

best running apps
Photo: MapMyRun


Best for: Exploring new routes

As the name suggests, MapMyRun's strength is in its maps. Now owned by Under Armour (so you can pair it with the UA smart shoes, if you've got them), it started as a kind of crowd-sourced database of routes. While the app now has lots of other features, like challenges and training plans, it still works the best for this purpose.

For instance, if you're practicing for a half-marathon and are up to a nine-mile run, you can see the journeys people near you have tried, find someone who's completed a similar distance, and follow their directions. Or, you can use the Route Genius feature to mark your miles. It'll create multiple courses for you to choose from, and then direct you as you go. One word of warning: Its ads are more annoying than in others apps.

Once your download's complete, check out these seven surprising ways to become a better runner and try the meal plan designed by Team USA's top female marathoner to help you prep for your next race.

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