What Is The Best Running App? A Comparison

Running Apps

As fitness moves more and more into the digital realm, a lot of people are beginning to train with apps right on their phone. This especially goes for runners. However, what is the best running app? As always, here at Get Fit On A Budget, we are going to be looking to discover what is effective physically and doable for those on a budget!

Today, we will be looking at four of the top apps I could find in my research. The best news about all of these is that they are FREE. Of course, each one offers in-app purchases if you want to go deeper with your training, which I will be taking a look at later. However, all of these offer some great benefits with their free versions that can help you track your progress.

With that said, the four apps I will be highlighting today are:

  • Runtastic
  • Run Keeper
  • Nike Run Club
  • Zombies, Run!

I know you just saw that last one and are wondering what I’m talking about, but fear not, we’ll get there! For now, on to your detailed analysis of each app!

Runtastic – The Great Basic

runtastic

Credit: Runtastic

The App: Runtastic

Available: iPhone and Android

Website: www.runtastic.com

Starting Price: Free (in-app membership purchases available)

This is the app that I have been using exclusively for several years now. I have always found it to be good, if not a little basic. There are several features you can expect from the free version of this app.

You will have the ability to GPS track movements of many types of activities including:

Walking, Running, Aerobics, American Football, Back-Country Skiing, Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Biathlon, Cross Skating, Cross-Country Skiing, Crossfit, Curling, Cycling, Cycling (Ergometer), Dancing, Diving, Elliptical, Frisbee, Golfing, Gymnastics, Handball, Handbiking, Hiking, Ice Hockey, Ice Skating, Inline Skating, Kayaking, Kite Skiing, Kite Surfing, Martial Arts, Motorbiking, Mountain Biking, Nordic Walking, Paragliding, Pilates, Riding, Road Biking, Rock Climbing, Rowing, Rugby, Running (Treadmill), Sailing, Skateboarding, Skiing, Sledding, Snowboarding, Snowshoeing, Soccer, Speed Skiing, Spinning, Squash, Standup Paddling, Surfing, Swimming, Table Tennis, Tennis, Volleyball, Wakeboarding, Windsurfing, Yoga, Zumba, and Other.

I’m sure that for those activities that do not really have to do with GPS tracking or covering a distance, such as using a treadmill or table tennis, you would sync it with a fitness watch or heart monitor to get accurate readings.

For that matter, I’m not sure I’d want to wear any technology while playing Rugby!

You also have the ability to sync your own music library or use playlists created by Runtastic. They offer story running as well, with two free stories. Beyond those two, you are looking at a charge to buy more.

As far as what kinds of preset workouts are offered, there are only a few to choose from:

  • Distance: 5K, Quarter Marathon, Half Marathon, or Marathon
  • Duration: 12 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour

Additionally, you can receive basic voice coaching, male or female, in a number of different languages. You can set when you hear the voice coach, either after a certain number of minutes or distance. The coach can update you on your distance, duration, pace, speed, calories, and current heart rate (if synced to a monitor or watch).

After your workout is over, it will give you an audio summary of your workout. All of these options can be switched on or off, depending on what or if you want to hear stats.

You also have the ability to customize your display. There is one large main section and three secondary sections where you can choose to show any combination of duration, distance, pace, average pace, speed, average speed, heart rate (if synced), average heart rate (if synced), calories, elevation, elevation gain, elevation loss, max speed, clock, and/or steps.

Lastly for the activity display area, there is a large section for a GPS map to show you your route.

Runtastic will also keep track of your running statistics, allows you to join certain challenges, set your own goals, and add your shoes to track how far you go in them. It’s pretty neat.

What’s To Like:

Runtastic

Credit: Runtastic

  • As I stated before, this has been my primary running app. I do not have a heart rate monitor, so it was nice to see that I didn’t need one.
  • I like how you can customize which stats appear where on your activity screen and the map is nice to see your progress when following the same running route.
  • I also like how there are a good number of activities you can track, therefore making it much more than a one-trick-pony running app.
  • I think it tracks quite accurately, though I’m sure, if I paired it with a heart rate monitor or fitness watch, I’d get ever more accurate results.

What’s Not To Like:

– While it is a very good running app, it offers little beyond the basic tracking.

– Anything, from training plans to making calories or distance and duration (combined) your workout goal, requires you to become a paying member. While that may be beneficial and do-able for some, to me it’s not really worth the amount of money it will cost per year. This is especially so, because I don’t do much running during the colder months and doing a monthly membership isn’t very cost effective.

– Lastly, while par for the course in free apps, annoying ads pop up to try to get you to switch to Premium, sometimes right as you are about to start your run. It really can take you out of the moment and sap some momentum as you stop find the big “X” or hit “NO”. Thankfully it has never done this mid-run.

RunKeeper – A Step Up

Runkeeper

Credit: Runkeeper

The App: Runkeeper (from ASICS)

Available: iPhone and Android

Website: www.runkeeper.com

Starting Price: Free (in-app membership purchases available)

Before writing this article, I had heard of Runkeeper, but hadn’t had any experience with it. However, like any good writer, I wanted to do my research and see if it was better than Runtastic.

Immediately I noticed that the amounts of activities you could track is quite smaller than Runtastic. While some may find this a turn-off, for my purposes, it wasn’t such a bad thing. The activities you can GPS track are:

Walking, Running, Cycling, Mountain Biking, Hiking, Downhill Skiing, Cross-Country Skiing, Snowboarding, Skating, Swimming, Wheelchair, Rowing, Nordic Walking, and Other.

You can sync your Spotify or (in the case of iPhone) iTunes Music Library to the phone to listen to your favorite playlists during your workout. They do not have any Runkeeper-made playlists like Runtastic does, however.

Runkeeper gives you several options as far as workouts are concerned. Here is where it mostly has Runtastic beat. In their beginner workouts section, the options include: Run/Walk/Run, Easy Out and Back (30 Minutes), Intro to Intervals, Run/Walk Interval Mix, Short Bursts, and Ramp Up and Taper.

They also have a workout section called Win the Long Run that builds you up to a final 5K. This trains you on surges, a short fartlek, progression, 400M repeats, and a ladder fartlek. Each step needs to be unlocked to move on to the next.

Additionally, you can create your own workouts, aiming for a certain pace, duration, distance, or interval. On the display screen, you can choose to do a free run or “My First 5K”. Upon clicking on this, it looked like there was a full program available, but you actually only get three workouts before needing to upgrade.

There is also voice coaching available which can update you at time or distance marks on your time, distance, average pace, average speed, current pace, current speed, split pace, split speed, as well as average and current heart rate (if synced).

It seems the Runkeeper wanted to have a little more fun with the voice coach options than Runtastic. While you don’t get the language variety, you can choose from Kat (the default female voice), Drill Instructor, Mademoiselle, Your Conscience, Boston Fan, or Mr. Announcer. Each has their own unique way of and sayings to motivate you along your run.

Most of it is cringe-worthy, but I can appreciate the effort.

As for the display, there isn’t quite the amounts of customization as with Runtastic. The default setting gives you your time, distance, current pace, and average pace. You can also choose to show your calorie count. There is a GPS map, but in order to access it during the run, you have to swipe right on your phone. If you swipe left, you can see stats for each mile.

Runkeeper, like Runtastic, keeps track of your stats and can do so weekly, monthly, and yearly. You can set goals and join a few challenges.

What’s To Like:

Runkeeper

Credit: Runkeeper

– Much more ability to customize your own free run workouts than Runtastic with cool intervals.

– More fun (if not corny) audio coaching.

– Simple display is actually a welcome feature.

– Less expensive yearly membership than Runtastic (though, still not enough to get me to bite).

– Run analysis is a nice touch with detailed line charts.

– I haven’t noticed bothersome ads popping up on the display.

What’s Not To Like:

– Any training plans, including 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon, 5 Mile, and 10 Mile require you to upgrade and pay.

– Though the ability to cross train with the ASICS studio is offered, it means downloading another app.

– For some, fewer activities to track may be bothersome.

Nike Run Club – The Cream Of The Free Crop

Nike Run Club

Credit: Nike Run Club

The App: Nike Run Club

Available: iPhone and Android

Website: www.nike.com

Starting Price: Free

In-App Purchase: None that I could find.

I had seen Nike Run Club before in my app store, however I never tried it before now. The first thing you will notice though, is that this is strictly a running app. There are no choices available for different types of activities. I guess it is called Nike RUN Club for a reason.

However, it seems that in choosing just one type of activity (though you could also walk), they have really focused on making it as good as they possibly can. Well, that focus shows. While bare bones, it is a really slick presentation.

As usual, you can sync your (for iPhone) Apple Music, Spotify, or other music accounts to make sure you have your playlists while working out.

Where it really shines is the sheer amounts of workouts you have access to for FREE. You can first choose from doing an Indoor or Outdoor activity. From there, you can customize your run distance, duration, or speed (allowing you to set your own intervals for interval training).

Additionally, there are a whole host of guided runs. These include 5K, Easy Run, Interval Run, First Run, First Speed Run, First Long Run, First Treadmill Run. They also have categories of “Run With Headspace” to help connect your mind and body, “Short Runs” under 30 minutes, “Long Runs” over 30 minutes, “Speed Runs” for interval work, “Treadmill Runs”, “Distance Based Runs”, and “Run and Train” with includes strength intervals.

Incredibly, there is also a section called “My Coach” which allows you to choose from a 4-Week “Get Started” plan, an 8-Week “Get More Fit” plan, and a “Get Ready For Race Day” plan. In the race day plan, you choose what kind of race you are doing (5K, 10K, 15K, Half Marathon, or Marathon).

Each plan asks you some general questions to set up your running plan. It’s really cool!

There is simple male or female voice coaching available and the display shows you your time, distance, pace, and heart

Nike Run Club

Credit: Nike Run Club

rate (if synced). You also have the option of seeing your GPS location on a map by clicking a map marker on the display.

Lastly, Nike Run Club can keep track of all your run stats. Simply click on a run and you can get all kinds of analytics for it.

What’s To Like:

– Simple design and easy to navigate

– Everything is free to use from the get-go. There seems to be no monthly or yearly membership and all workouts are available.

– The free personal coach is great, whether you are just getting started or training for a marathon.

– Wonderfully detailed analytics on each run you do.

What’s Not To Like:

– Nike Run Club is strictly for walking/running. It does not include modes for all different types of activities.

– The presentation might be a little too simple and bare bones for some.

– The app is eager for you to visit the run shop where they will happily advertise Nike shoes for you to buy. Thankfully ads don’t pop up on your, though.

Zombies, Run! – For Those Who Need A Little Motivation

Zombies, Run!

Credit: Zombies, Run!

The App: Zombies, Run!

Available: iPhone and Android

Website: www.zombiesrungame.com

Starting Price: Free (in-app membership purchases available)

This was the app that intrigued me the most upon download. It looked like it had the potential to add an element of fun to some of my runs. It is strictly a running app, so you will not have the ability to track different kinds of activities beyond walking/running.

However, it offers a few unique twists in that there is a story line you follow as a post apocalyptic runner, gathering supplies and evading zombie hordes. What this means is that when you start a mission, you get to listen along to a story as you run. When you encounter zombies at random points, you are expected to move faster to the tune of increasingly faster beeps (think the radar beeps from Aliens, only now encouraging interval training).

As you run, in-story, you will pick up supplies that you can later use to build up your base when not running. It combines exercise with survival horror game and is quite fun.

As for your options, it does allow you to sync your music to the app. You can listen to your music and it will be lowered in volume when story narration clips come on.

The app allows you to set either the duration of your run (ranging from 21-60 minutes) or the distance (ranging from 1.6-4.5 miles). From there, you can also set it up to” GPS” track you for outdoor runs, “Constant Pace” if you are using indoor equipment (such as elliptical or rowing machines), or “Step Counting” if you are using a treadmill.

Lastly, you can set whether you want Zombie chases to be on. Of course, in my opinion, if you are downloading a zombie running game, what would be the point of NOT turning them on?

There are a vast amounts of story missions that come with the free version, somewhere around 200 or so, according to the website. If you pay to become a member, though, it unlocks over 400 missions, in addition to some other features and training plans.

The free version offers the ability to enroll in a few basic training plans which include “5K Expert”, “10K Beginner”, “10K Intermediate”, “Half Marathon Beginner”, and “Marathon Beginner”. By completing missions, you are able to unlock achievements, discover artifacts, etc.

Additionally, there are Race missions that can be unlocked as you go, ranging from 5K-20K. You can also set the app to tell you your distance and time as a sort of voice coach option.

Zombies, Run! will also keep a log of your runs so you can track your progress, though it’s statistics are not as detailed as some other apps mentioned. Then again, that’s not necessarily the purpose of the app.

Lastly, there are level up, unlimited length missions where you do various tasks like act as a zombie decoy or go on medicine, fuel, food supply, tech supply, ammo, or entertainment runs.

I will give one disclaimer about this particular app. I made the mistake of running without headphones in my local park. I say mistake, because about two minutes into the first mission, my helicopter was shot down, there was yelling, explosions, and mild cursing going on. Of course, the moment this happened, there was a young family walking down the path.

No amounts of throat clearing can cover that up. So please use headphones if venturing outside!

Zombies, Run!

Credit: Zombies, Run!

What’s To Like:

– Fun, story based missions to keep your run interesting.

– Plenty of missions so that you won’t run out any time soon.

– The addition of zombie chases adds a unique twist on interval training.

– The ability to also play a little mini, base-building game when you aren’t running can be fun.

What’s Not To Like:

– Several options for training and additional stories are available without having to pay, but you must download them, which makes the app take up more space on your phone.

– YOU MUST WEAR HEADPHONES IF RUNNING OUTSIDE. Otherwise, you might get some looks when people hear zombie attacks, explosions, beeps, and screaming as you run by.

– The stat tracking isn’t as extensive as some might like.

– It is strictly a running/walking app, so those looking for tracking of a variety of activities will be disappointed.

So What Is The Best? Depends On What You Need

What is the best running app? It really depends on what you are looking to do.

If you are looking for a basic app that allows you to do a ton of different activities, then I would say go for Runtastic, as the sheer amounts of activities is awesome. Just don’t expect to be able to go much beyond the surface, as most features need you to become a paying member.

That becomes the problem with Runkeeper as well. You need to pay to unlock most of the features and training plans, though there is more ability to customize your free runs.

If you are looking for getting a ton of training plan options for simply running and don’t care about types of activities, then Nike Run Club is your best bet.

If you find running boring and need some extra motivation and a story to keep you interested, Zombies, Run! is the way to go.

For me, I think I will be keeping a combination Nike Run Club for, because I just want to train and Zombies, Run! , because I want to mix things up a little. The others, while great, and offering a ton of activities, aren’t really what I’m looking for.

What about you? Do any of these particular apps look like something you want to try? Is there a particular app that you use that isn’t on this list and I should check out in the future?

I’d also be interested in hearing your feedback, either if you have one of these apps or after you try one out!

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Until next time, run well, however it is that you choose to do so!

-Steve Halliwell