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Which GPS Running App Is Right For You?

If you run with your smartphone, these apps could be perfect for tracking your miles.

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So you’ve spent a few hundred dollars on a new smartphone (and/or smartwatch) and are excited to take it out on your next run. Until a few years ago, any data you recorded on a run was locked down to a GPS running watch and its accompanying software. Today, third-party apps and software work with current GPS watches, GPS-enabled smartphones and even smartwatches to provide runners with an abundance of choices of how to collect and display this information.

The large number of running apps available these days can make it difficult to choose the right one. A search for “running” in Apple’s App Store yields a total of 7,095 results. Each app has strengths and weaknesses, so it’s important to determine the features you find most important. Whether you’re motivated to get in shape by running away from zombies, training for your first race or deeply analyzing your training, there’s a running app for everyone.

The following three GPS running apps all do a great job of recording and logging pace, distance and heart rate data. Highlighted below are a few distinguishing features that will help you choose if one of these three apps is right for you. As smartphones, smartwatches and apps improve, this is sure to be topic that we’ll return to in the future.


Cost: The basic version is free to use. You can upgrade to Strava Premium for $6/month or $59/year.

The most unique and compelling aspect of the Strava app is a feature called segments. By running a specific section of road or trail, you can compare your effort to your own previous efforts along  that same stretch of road or trail, as well as against other athletes who’ve run the same segment. While you probably shouldn’t always go after the CR (the No. 1 ranking on the leaderboard for a specific segment), chasing the top spot for a segment can serve as a fun and new way to stay motivated.

Strava’s app and website also provides interactive graphs, data tables and tools to break down your running data. While the free version of the app provides a good amount of analysis, a premium subscription is required to gain access to actionable insights and the ability to broadcast your activity to other Strava users via Strava Live.


Cost: The basic version is free to use. You can upgrade to Runkeeper Go for $9.99/month or $39.99/year.

While the Strava app concentrates on segments and data analysis for experienced runners (and cyclists), Runkeeper’s Goal Coach focuses on beginners and helping people create general fitness goals. While a personalized plan and tracking require upgrading to a Runkeeper Go subscription, a number of generalized free plans are available to those looking to “Lose Weight,” “Learn To Run,” “Do a Race” and more.

The subscription version of the app also allows you to broadcast a run in real time to Facebook or Twitter on both desktop and mobile devices. Those who’ve been granted access are able to keep tabs on your progress and safety.

Nike+ Running

Cost: This app is free.

While it lacks a few of the options found in Strava and Runkeeper, the Nike+ Running app is free and you’ll never be prompted to upgrade the app. The ability to adjust the orientation of the screen between portrait to landscape mode is very useful. While this may sound like a small detail, viewing data on the run is much easier when the phone is configured in landscape mode.

Also, Spotify Premium users can link up with the Nike+ Running app to generate a personalized mix of songs called a “Pace Station.” The beat and rhythm of the mix will differ depending on the running pace entered. After selecting a pace of 8:00/mile and the Rock genre, I spent a 3-mile run listening to a mix of The Doors, Blue Oyster Cult and James.



About The Author:

Jim McDannald is a surgically trained podiatrist who writes health/fitness technology product guides for and coaches distance runners at McGill University.