The Best Running Apps for Training and Fun

Whether it’s a marathon or the occasional jog, people love running. The focus has switched from professional runners to a community of people who run to stay fit, raise awareness of social issues, or just have fun. Since mobile solutions catering to these purposes already exist, it has become a bit harder to find an untapped niche and create the next best running app.

Our MadAppGang team has been working on an application for running which is grounded in science and integrates AI technology. We brought the heart rate indicator into focus, providing a service that not only tracks a runner’s progress but also, and most importantly, gives training insights according to a user’s heart rate.

To be distinguished among the best running apps for Android and iOS, you need to find a particular, key aspect and dedicate your program to it. The specifications and the set of features required will largely depend on your target audience.

You Can Tell the Type of Runner by the Apps They Use

People want to find a good running app which suits their individual needs and offers a personalised service. People who run are a diverse group and there are several recognizable types of runners. They could be new to running or want to get prepared for a marathon. They could be eager to socialise or would rather run alone listening to their favourite music. They could run to raise awareness or just because it’s fun. Surprisingly enough, there is a wide choice of apps for any of these preferences, and then some.

Apart from third-party solutions, there are in-built programs for smart wearables including Activity for Apple Watch and Google Fit for Android Wear. They track movements and offer to set exercise goals and all the data they gather is synchronised with the user’s smartphone.

Before getting started on your own application, it’s helpful to delve into the world of the existing ones.

Choosing the best running app

Running Apps For Training

Most running applications measure user performance and guide the runner toward better results. The competition between fitness apps for running and other activities largely centres around the complexity of the personalised training plans. The more accurate the health data and the more scientific the technology behind the recommendations, the more likely it is that an app will succeed.

At MadAppGang we’ve been working on an application for runners which is, unlike the majority of running apps, focused on health rather than performance. We took the heart rate as the basis for our running application. We did this so the training process would follow the accepted system of workouts within heart rate zones; consideration of these is needed for safe and efficient exercise.

Real-time data from a heart rate sensor and time tracking are two integral components in our app SmartRun. The app embodies the ideals of healthy training by dividing activity levels into five described zones which correlate to user heart rates: relax, fat burn, aerobic, endurance, and extreme. The project is currently in the testing stage and will be available in app stores soon.

SmartRun’s training plans are designed to be highly individualised and are set according to a user’s parameters and adjusted as needed. Recommendations are based on the received data with the help of AI technology. Smart and personalised service like this is what modern-day users expect from any fitness-related app.

Let’s see what the most popular running apps currently on the market offer.

Runtastic

80+ million users
iOS / Android / Apple Watch / Android Wear / Compatible with other wearables
Free / From $4.99 per month for personalised training and nutrition plans
Launched in 2009
Acquired by Adidas in 2015

Runtastic app

Source: iTunes

Runtastic has a whole bunch of health and fitness applications that track user activity, heart rate, and sleep cycles. The app can also guide users through various training plans or build diet plans. The company produces fitness wearables as well. A significant focus is on those who struggle to lose weight; there’s a dedicated section on Runtastic’s blog where users share their weight-loss success stories.

Like most running apps, Runtastic features challenges. For even stronger motivation during the process, are perhaps a few cheers, there’s a live broadcast option. Users can also share their activities on Facebook to get inspired by friends’ reactions.

There are short training sessions with voiced guidance which are customizable regarding the number of intervals, their duration, and intensity. A unique feature which Runtastic includes is shoe tracking − it analyses a user’s performance in different shoes and makes recommends as to when it’s time to retire the current pair.

Runkeeper

50+ million users
iOS / Android / Apple Watch / Android Wear / Compatible with other wearables
Free / $7.5 per month for more details on progress and other features
Launched in 2008
Acquired by Asics in 2016

Runkeeper app

Source: iTunes

Founder and CEO Jason Jacobs claims that Runkeeper was born out of his own personal passion for running and the desire to help like-minded enthusiasts run more. The company also made the Breeze app which functions in the background and tracks every movement, but they decided to halt its development and totally focus on improving Runkeeper.

Runkeeper is quite a universal tool which tracks all running, walking, and hiking activity and encourages users to set and achieve new fitness goals. There are also regular challenges for users to join.

In the application users can set plans and add information about their schedules. The app then sends notifications about when a user has free time to run. In RunkeeperGo, which is a premium version, weekly workout recommendations according to fitness level, weather updates, and more personalised features are offered.

Runners can share their data via Facebook or with friends who also use Runkeeper. Another crucial feature is the app’s connection to Spotify and iTunes − favourite playlists are an integral part of the process for most runners. Runkeeper also synchronises with several partner apps: HealthKit, Fitbit, TomTom MySports, Google Fit.

MapMyRun

50+ million users
iOS / Android / Apple Watch / Android Wear / Compatible with other wearables
Free / $5.99 per month for the ad-free app with more detailed analysis
Launched in 2008 / Premium subscription launched 2013
Acquired by Under Armour in 2015

MapMyRun app

Source: iTunes

MapMyFitness provides a number of health-related services including MapMyRun. This is one of the first fitness applications which, for the most part, focuses on building running routes.

Like similar apps, MapMyRun gathers performance data, offers users the chance to join challenges, and integrates with fitness wearables. The app provides runners with more than 160 million routes in different parts of the world. It’s among the few fitness services which include split time check (the time it takes to finish a set distance).

Pacer

50+ million users
iOS / Android / Apple Watch
Free / $4.99 per month for premium features like an AI coach and personal training plans
Launched in 2012

Pacer app

Source: iTunes

This application is popular in many parts of the world. The idea behind the project is to make fitness fun and simple: the app has a focus on a user-friendly interface free of distractions. It offers personalised plans for losing weight or keeping fit, as well as plans for teams.

Strava

35+ million users (one million more join every 45 days)
iOS / Android / Apple Watch / Android Wear / Compatible with other wearables
Free / $5 per month for personalised training, location tracking, and performance analysis (or $2 for each separate package)
Launched in 2009

Strava app

Source: iTunes

Strava was initially geared toward cyclists. Impressed by the social nature of cycling, the app’s founders starting planning Strava in their college years during the 90s. They wanted to build a community where fitness enthusiasts could analyse their performance and compare it with each other.

The name of the application comes from the Swedish for ‘to strive’ and its main purpose lies in motivation and entertainment. The program can identify different types of activity including walking, running, and climbing, and give users the opportunity to compare and contrast their results.

Strava has a trophy system with challenges, while personalised recommendations are included in the paid version, which is called Strava Summit. The company also launched an in-app store with branded kit and partner wearables but closed it in 2016.

An interesting fact about this project is the Strava Metro program which aims to initiate changes to infrastructure and make the lives of runners and cyclers easier and safer. Co-founder Mark Gainey has noted that data-driven insights are crucial for this business and the valuable information detailing user activity can enhance city planning efforts.

Strava claims to have a distinction in its business model since all its major competitors were bought by sports apparel brands. While these apps promote running along with promoting new shoes, Strava remains focused on selling subscriptions.

Endomondo

25+ million users
iOS / Android / Apple Watch / Android Wear / Samsung Gear (Not all versions of wearables are supported)
Free / $5.99 per month for the ad-free app with personalised plans and stats
Launched in 2007
Acquired by Under Armour in 2015

Endomondo app

Source: iTunes

Endomondo’s founder, Mette Lykke, wanted to create a web-based fitness platform at first, but the team quickly realised they needed a mobile solution. The app tracks and gathers statistics from various sporting activities but is mainly designed for running and walking.

Endomondo saves personal records from different sports and allows users to set particular goals both short-term (weekly) and long-term. The app’s Commitments feature lets people add their friends so they can act as motivators. All commitments users make can be edited or paused.

Because it’s a a community-driven service, Endomondo offers the ability to cheers others on in messages inside the app and share workout activities on Facebook. The premium version offers interactive performance graphs, a tool for calculating the amount of fluids needed based on weight, weather, and the workout details, along with some other features.

Users can also customise the training process according to heart rate zones − although this option requires integration with Garmin devices. Those looking for the best app for interval running training will appreciate Endomondo’s premium features.

Nike+ Run Club

20+ million users
iOS / Android / Apple Watch / Android Wear / Compatible with other wearables
Free
Launched in 2006

Nike+ Run Club app

Source: iTunes

Nike+ Run Club offers personalised run coaching. After partnering with the mindfulness app Headspace, it added a Guided Runs feature to hopefully help balance the mind and body of users.

The challenges inside the application are targeted at long-distance runners. Goals start from 15k and go all the way up to 60k. With that said, Nike+ Run Club is among the best running apps for marathon training.

Pumatrac

20+ million users
iOS / Android / Apple Watch / Pebble smartwatch
Free
Launched in 2013

Pumatrac app

Source: iTunes

Puma partnered with Tictrac, which provided the technology to track and analyse sports activity, to make an application for runners. At first, it was only available on iPod, but versions for smartphones and wearables were not far behind. The app provides voiced stats every mile and offers regular fun insights. The app integrates with iTunes and Spotify (fo premium accounts) and also features an Explore tab with running routes.

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Fun Running Apps For Android and iOS

There are many other purposes running apps can serve above and beyond training bodies and making users better runners. There’s a bunch of exergames (exercise + gaming) which combine gaming with fitness, charity initiatives, and motivational apps. Let’s take a closer look at some examples of the most fun run apps for iPhone and Android.

Zombies, Run!

3+ million users
iOS / Android / Apple Watch
Free / $2.99 for more missions and stories
Launched in 2012

Zombies, Run! app

Source: iTunes

An innovative way to get more people into running was unlocked by exercise games, and Zombies, Run! is the most popular app in this category at the moment. It instructs users about their missions, during which zombies may attack them, and let’s users know when they have to speed up to avoid succumbing to the zombie apocalypse.

The killer feature in this running game (pun intended) is its story-rich structure. It’s a fun blend between an audiobook and a fitness coach. The main task is to rebuild a town and during the game users collect necessary supplies while dodging the undead.

Charity Miles

1+ million users
iOS / Android
Free
Launched in 2011

Charity Miles app

Source: iTunes

This unusual fitness application is designed to make money from running which is then donated to a chosen charity.

Sponsors pay for user miles in return for premium advertising. In 2018, it was estimated that Charity Miles members had raised over $2.5 million for various causes. Each user can select the charity with a purpose that speaks to them the most.

RockMyRun

1+ million users
iOS / Android / Apple Watch
Free / from $2.99 per month for more features (adjustable tempo, ad-free listening, playlists matched to the heartbeat, etc.)
Launched in 2011

RockMyRun app

Source: iTunes

RockMyRun’s creators wanted to enhance the running experience with music while keeping the app aligned with a scientific approach. As a result of extensive research and communication with athletes, they came up with a scientifically proven system of music recommendations which are tailored to particular activities. Musical mixes provided by the app consider user measurements as well as personal preferences. This is the only service to focus on the interaction between the body’s function and music, which makes it unique on the market.

Running Heroes

1+ million users
iOS / Android
Free
Launched in 2014

Running Heroes app

Source: iTunes

Running Heroes connects to other applications to collect performance data and gives rewards for any running activity. For example, after making progress, users may receive rewards such as a Starbucks gift card, new shoes, or headphones. The app features weekly challenges with a limited amount of gifts from big partner brands. Apart from rewarding and motivating users, Running Heroes also regularly collects money for charity.

Others

Whether it’s music, the power of storytelling, or motivation from a running community, there are many ways of boosting run performance and frequency. While performance-oriented fitness trackers focus mainly on helping users make strides, running is much more than just progress. It can be about discovering new places, meeting like-minded people, or fundraising:

  • Some apps are dedicated to managing the workout data collected in other applications. For this purpose, iSmoothRun and RunGap are among the best running apps for iPhone
  • Travel running apps, including RunGo and Runnin’ City, provide navigation guides which combine sightseeing with jogging or walking
  • Social apps such as Runmates help people find running buddies
  • Apps like RaceRunner serve fundraising purposes
  • Inventive and lively exergames such as Run An Empire combine missions with exercise

Health Data and Privacy Are the Biggest Challenges When Developing a Running App

The main advantage of up-to-date running apps lies in accurate health data collection. While having your heart rate measured can help tailor better training recommendations, it also represents a significant privacy threat.

From tracking user location in the background, sending data to third-party businesses, to the exposure of military bases through heatmaps, fitness trackers can intrude upon privacy in many ways. The question of who owns a given user’s health data also rises when switching from one running application to another. People should check how to save and export their data.

Another big drawback that comes to light is the potential for unhealthy competition, which can lead to users “cheating” the apps or overtraining. For a healthy running experience, an app with a science-based methodology and a focus on balanced training is best.

While fun challenges are, well... fun, they shouldn’t be overused just to engage more people. The crux of the matter seems to be getting the balance between levity and seriousness right: the best running tracker app should be fun and easy to use but also health-conscious and sensible. It goes without saying that any app designed to help users get healthy needs to be rooted in solid science.

As we’ve seen, the running app market is crowded with the big names taking up quite a lot of the market share, but there are a few untapped niches and angles available yet. Have an idea and want to run with it? Get in touch with us to find out how we can help.