Catching Up with Running Apps

April 26, 2022

Over the past few weeks I have been trying to figure out a strategy to improve my running. In 2022 you would expect two years of being locked down to have lead to great innovation in running focused fitness apps. So I dove in to see what I could find. Unfortunately it was not great.

The first problem I wanted to solve was can I have an app give me a guided training plan. I want to wake up every morning, be told what to do, and have the right tools to do it. I do not want to do much thinking here. I found two apps that do this: RunCoach and RunKeeper. Sadly both of these fall short of what I would expect.

RunCoach is a great concept. You get a real coach you can text with. Someone who is a pro runner. Unfortunately it is hampered by the terrible user experience of the app. It does a great job of telling you what to do in the morning, but it is otherwise clunky. All your workouts get imported from HealthKit, even if they are not running. Chats with your coach are buried behind multiple taps every time you exit. The plan from the coach is delivered using units and drills that the app is not designed to teach or track while the teaching content is on YouTube. Finally I messed up entering my information for a time trial and put minutes in the hour field, and could not find a way to edit and fix it.

RunKeeper is potentially the best solution for most people. Their premium offering is only $39.99/year and provides guided training. It works with intervals as well as regular runs. It even has a watch app. I did not like its disembodied synthesized voice. Finally the biggest dealbreaker is it declines to import my workouts from HealthKit. As far as RunKeeper is concerned if I do a run with the Apple Workout app, it doesn’t count. You have to remain in their walled garden to use this effectively.

Nike Run Club was the first third-party running app I tried, and the one with the largest library of guided runs. This is what set off my search in the first place. Nike Run Club works great for this, other than the fact you cannot set the relative volume of the coaching to the background music. This means if you are in a windy area you might not understand audio cues without turning the music up uncomfortably loud. Inexplicably Nike Run Club has only three training plans: get started, a 5K and a half marathon. You also cannot set or create custom interval workouts. You get no advice on supporting work like stretches and core work other than some of the guided runs including this in between the running components.

After this whirlwind tour I find myself back to primarily using the Apple Workout app with the Nike Run Club for guided run intervals. I setup Ring Fit Adventure with a custom core workout for cross training. I am roughly following the BAA 10K training plan for my upcoming run, but I’ve conceded none of these apps will ever be as comprehensive as a real coach or running program. Maybe in a few more years, one of these developers will finally deliver something impressive. For now, I am not holding my breathe.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.