App Review: RunKeeper Pro (Get it Free while you can!)

RunKeeper Pro is an iPhone app that tracks your activities, mileage, coaches you and provides reports. The app bills itself as having similar functionality to a GPS training device such as a Garmin. Since I don’t have a Garmin but I do have an iPhone, I’ve been putting this app to good use.

Features include:

  • Distance tracking (included)
  • Activity tracking (included)
  • Fitness Classes (plans have to be purchased; bummer!)
  • Coaching (included)
  • Graphs (included; makes our inner excel geek happy!)
  • Street Team (included)

My favourite feature to date is the coaching feature.  I choose my options for audio cues: distance and average pace. Options include time, average speed, current pace, current speed, current split pace and current split speed.  I do love options. This really is a user’s dream. You are presented with choices for almost every setting.

A few screen shots to salivate over, including Audio Cue Settings, Interval Coaching Options and the Activity Log.

Activity LogSettingsInterval Coaching

I love this app for it’s simplicity.  I have multiple activities that I can choose from.  The audio cues are easy to hear  and the battery life on my phone isn’t rapidly drained by the GPS.  Have I mentioned that you can also set up a playlist to listen to while you’re running/exercising?  Even with your iPod running, the battery meter only drops by approximately 10% over an hour long run which means I could easily get through a marathon with this app.  There is also an option to manually record activities.   You can share your workouts via Twitter and/or Facebook.  One option I particularly like is that you can turn off the map display.  You friends/followers will know you ran and how far you went but they won’t know where you were if you don’t want them to.  All of your workouts are synchronized between your phone and your online account so you have your complete history at your fingertips.  If you’re the spreadsheet type (aren’t all runners number crunchers at heart?), fitness reports detailing your mileage highs (and lows) are available online.

So, what’s not to love?  For starters, only basic reporting options are available to you.  If you want to compare anything but the defaults, you have to become an Elite member and pay the Elite fee ($20/yr or $5/month).  I love the audio cues but after a while, listening to a voice say “you are X seconds behind your target pace” after stating what my pace is, is a little annoying and there is no option to turn this part of the cue off, without silencing the entire pace cue.  At the same time that I complain about this though, I should say that it’s nearly impossible to do math when you’re running.*   So, maybe on those long runs I will come to appreciate the gentle prodding and the +/- pace cues.  Additionally, the GPS doesn’t work indoors.  This is the first winter that I’m attempting to run through without the use of a treadmill.  That means indoor tracks and outdoor ice/snow.  If you forget that the GPS doesn’t work indoors and you have your social network settings turned on, be prepared for lots of ribbing from friends when they see you’ve run 0.00 km in 60 minutes.  Not that I’m speaking from experience… 😳  It’s my understanding that all GPS devices normally don’t work indoors, even Garmin devices so I don’t believe this to be a fault of the app but if you’re counting on training indoors, you should be aware of this.

Finally my biggest issue with the app isn’t really with the app at all, but rather with the iPhone.  Carrying a phone with you while you run can be tricky.  Adjusting gloves and opening jackets to access inner pockets when it’s -25°C, just to start an app so you can an accurate distance/time isn’t the most convenient.  To add to the inconvenience, when I’m taking my phone with me on a run, I keep it in a resealable plastic bag to keep moisture out so I have to get into that too.  Because it is winter I’m running with clothing that allows me to stash my phone on my person.  When summer/spring hits, I am not sure where I’m going to put my phone.  I’ve tried a few belts/armbands but not found any of them to be particularly comfortable when running long distances.  That is definitely something to think about, if you haven’t already.  If you have thought about it and you have the perfect solution, please share!

Is this a replacement for a Garmin?  Not when you add the aforementioned accessibility issue.  Other than that, I think it’s pretty close.

As noted in the title of this post, the app is currently free; the regular price is $9.99.  Get it while you can folks; I have no idea when the price is going back up and for free, this is definitely a great deal!

Happy running!

* A note about running and math..

If you’ve ever tried performing mental math while running,  you know that your abilities can easily be reduced to those of a Grade 2 student.  Those endorphins get flowing, your brain goes to La La Land and suddenly subtracting 6:16 from 6:44 becomes a monumental challenge, especially when you start multiplying times and distances and trying to convert pace (min/km) to speed (km/hr).  Suddenly you’re freaking out, thinking your 10K race is going to take you 90 minutes only to come home, plug your data into a calculator and see you’re actually going to finish in 57 mins, right where you want to.  Whew!

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App Review: MapMyRun iPhone App

If I haven’t mentioned it before, it’s worth noting that I like gadgets.  I especially like gadgets that involve running.

I’ve always used MapMyRun (MMR) to map out my runs either before or after I hit the pavement.  I’m numbers-oriented and really like to track my distance.  In addition to tracking distance, MMR  provides you with your pace based on your distance and your time.  You can track your heart rate per session, gear usage (time to replace those shoes!) and your workouts don’t have to involve running in order to be recorded.  This is really just a snapshot of what the site can do.  If you haven’t visited, check it out!

The site is free to join and you know what that means: adverstisements. Everytime I logged into the site an ad would appear,  prompting me to take MMR with me (ie. use it on your smartphone).  I would think “Who could possibly need that?” and bypass the ad.

It turns out, I needed that.  Okay, I didn’t need it.  But once I got my new iPhone and installed the app, I realized how much fun I had been missing.  It’s AWESOME.  The app uses your phone’s GPS to record your run in real time.  That’s nothing new and not a big deal for Garmin owners.  I, however, am a lowly Polar HR owner and so this is a huge deal for me.  The app displays your current pace and has optional voice prompts that tell you your time/distance/pace/any combination thereof at user-specified intervals.  The MMR app also has a feature that allows for recording your heart rate.  That would essentially turn your phone into the equivalent of a  Garmin HR/GPS, plus, well, it’s a phone (such an understatement for the iPhone 4) so it has more functionality than a Garmin.  To use this HR feature you do need to purchase a wireless chip (Ant+) that will receive the feedback from your transmitter.  To cap things off, the app also has social media settings so you can post your runs (complete with maps) to Facebook or Twitter.

Cons:

– Carrying your phone.  Let’s be frank.  The iPhone 4 is heavy.  It’s not a brick but the heft is noticeable and it can bounce around if it’s in a pocket.  Where are you going to carry it?  You need to have a pocket (put it in a ziploc bag to keep moisture/sweat out) or some kind of belt/arm strap that you can pop it into. Don’t drop your phone.  That would be bad.  If you’re used to carrying a phone when you run, this may not be a con for you.

– This app chews through the battery.  I think I had determined at one point that if I had everything else turned off I could use this app for 2 hours max and then my phone would be dead.

– Preliminary investigations show that the Ant+ Heart Rate feature may not be compatible with a Polar transmitter.  Since Polar is the most widely used HR monitor on the market, that’s surprising and possibly a drawback.

Pros:

– If you are like me and feel a need to know how far you’ll be running before you start out, you’ll save time because you won’t be plotting out your run distances before/after your runs.  In that regard, I can return to losing myself and not thinking about street names or where to turn as I’m moseying along.

– You’ve got real time distance right in the palm of your hand.  I’ve come home from a number of runs thinking I achieved a certain distance only to find out that I missed and was short by 0.5 km.  (Frustrating!)  Knowing my exact distance holds a lot of value to me.

Check out the app here!

Check out the Map My Run website here!

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