Which Running Apps are Changing the Sport (for the Better)

by Jake Greski

The overlap between technology and fitness continues to grow each year. Current smartphones and smart GPS running watches allow athletes to train with a host of new opportunities and features. Connecting your watch to a variety of apps allows you to track almost every metric of your run, walk or any physical activity you can imagine. Want to know your exact pace, cadence, elevation, heart rate, and lap count precisely twenty-three minutes into your run? Download a fitness app onto your phone and you’re good to go. I’d like to highlight some of the running and fitness apps that I enjoy, along with some others that are worth checking out.

Garmin Connect

One of the most popular GPS device companies, Garmin, allows users to upload their activities from their Garmin devices through the Garmin Connect app. With nearly 50 different activity settings to choose from on select devices, an overwhelming amount of data can be gathered and analyzed on the app. I have used Garmin Connect for my runs, bike rides, and occasional swims, but virtually every activity can be recorded and displayed on the app. Garmin also allows you to connect with other athletes, and you can see their activities to comment on and like. My favorite part about this app is how you can wirelessly upload activities; I have mine set up to automatically do so once I finish my runs.


A more recently popular fitness app for runners and other athletes is Strava. This app is more centered on social connectivity between athletes compared to Garmin. I like to think of it as the Instagram of fitness apps, where users can scroll along the activities of the athletes they’re following. A map of the activity and tons of stats are automatically generated if a GPS device was used. If a group of athletes ran or biked together, Strava will group everyone together on the same activity and map. Another unique feature is the creation of what Strava calls segments on their app. A segment is created by someone taking a part of their running or biking route declaring that part as a segment, which invites others to run or bike that segment for the fastest time. Typically, segments are up challenging hills, popular roads, paths or even races. Strava also has what’s called a “Heatmap” where roads more traveled by athletes are highlighted more than less traveled roads. This heatmap comes in quite handy if you’re out of town and are trying to find a running route on new roads, and determining which roads are the safest for your run. Strava can automatically generate a run or bike route based on your current location and your average run or bike distance. While this route feature does come at the cost of a yearly membership, it is something I pay for. The membership does offer other great tools and features beyond what I’ve mentioned, making it well worth the price.

There is a HMRRC group in Strava where you can be a part of the HMRRC community. This is another great feature that does not require a membership. Within this group you can give runners within the group “kudos,” which is similar to liking a post on Facebook. From joining you can see the year-round races that HMRRC puts on throughout the Capital Region. You can see other group members’ performances and cheer them on and give support virtually. Outside of posting runs, you can send a message onto the group itself and start conversation about upcoming races, training tips, or anything else running-related. If you want to be a part of an online group of nearly 500 local runners, then I suggest giving HMRRC a follow on Strava.

Click here for more Strava Art

MapMyRun - Under Armour

Speaking of creating routes, MapMyRun, which is Under Armour’s fitness app, allows you to create a running route with a free account. This can show you the route’s distance, elevation map, traffic, and bike paths. Maps that others have created can be seen and saved for your own runs. While being popular for its mapping feature, MapMyRun also offers a workout log, goal setting, and community features much like Garmin or Strava. The goal setting feature is unique in that you can create your own goals or have goals suggested for you. I like the idea of setting a custom goal, so you can commit to achieving one specific to your fitness and not the standards of other athletes.  

Stride: The running game

An app with a different take on what a running app can be, Stride is something unique and separates itself from the apps I’ve previously mentioned. It is essentially a game - the more you run, the more you win. The idea is that you run around your town to expand your territory while competing against your friends and others in your area. The more you run or walk in your territory the better you control it and can defend it from others. It is like Strava’s segments in a way but gamifies this idea of competing against other runners virtually. Unlike Strava, it’s not a matter of how fast you can complete a specific route; what matters to Stride is just the amount of area you run or walk and how often. This can be a great motivator for someone to increase their activity by ramping up their mileage or just getting out the door and starting to walk. It also allows you to connect with others nearby and perhaps meet up for a run or walk in person. With trophies, leaderboards, friends list, and more, Stride motivates the runner or walker to get out the door for some exercise in a game of friendly competition.

One common thread I find between all these running apps is their ability to help and support the athlete, with Stride being a prime example. Instead of simply being a tool to upload workout numbers, these apps are creating a positive and encouraging running and fitness community. The idea of having a training partner in a different part of the world seemed impossible fifteen years ago, yet today it is easier than ever thanks to these fitness apps. I’ve given a brief overview of these four apps, but each one contains several more features and benefits. There are several other fitness apps I haven’t mentioned that are worth checking out that are like those I’ve mentioned. Many are cost free, and some don’t require a GPS watch to join and get involved in the fitness community. If you haven’t tried any or even some of these apps, I suggest checking them out yourself and see how they can help you in becoming a better runner or athlete.

JakeLogoPic.JPGJake is an elite runner, running shoe specialist, and student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Russell Sage College. His unique background makes him eminently qualified to write columns for the Pace Setter that our readers will benefit from greatly.
Click here for Jake’s column and other contributions

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