Whether you’re new to trail running or a veteran with hundreds of marathons to your name, at some point or another you’ll be seduced by one of the many running apps that have become available over the last few years.
The recent advances in technology have equipped our smartphones with GPS software, making it a literal walk in the park for running apps to track our runs or bike rides. Many of them also allow us to plan our routes, find running buddies and upload photos and videos in an attempt to show off our our athletic endeavours via social media.
But which of these running apps are actually any good? Well, it all depends upon your situation: how often you run, your technological ability, how advanced a runner/cyclist you are, where you run, whether you want to integrate your existing data, if you need music or stories to listen to, if you have a running watch you want to sync with the app, etc.
Some apps are better for route planning and social sharing, others, for recording your data and finding new routes. So here is a selection of some of the apps that I’ve been using over the past year or so and why you might want to use them too.
Disclaimer: I’m by no way associated with any of these apps – this is an unbiased independent review.
Best for: Those looking for a social media friendly running app that works with all watch brands.
Strava is sort of a Facebook for runners and cyclists – it’s all about sharing your adventures. The free version does everything you could need, with the paid subscription (full year £44.99/AUD$89.99) offering things like training videos, training plans, power curves, etc.
Besides allowing you to record your runs/rides through the app itself, it also has a clever function that tells you when your Strava friends are active. It syncs nicely with social media networks and has an excellent newsfeed that showcases what your friends are up to. The standout feature is the creating of ‘segments’ that allow you to compare yourself against others on a particular stretch of trail, a climb or on a descent with the vain hope of becoming a ‘King of the Mountain’.
Cost: Free or full year £44.99/AUD$89.99 for premium version
Best for: mountain lovers and those looking for a great off-road navigation device.
If you want an app that will help with navigation, then Viewranger will be your best friend. As I’m based between the French Pyrenees and London, I’ve got online subscriptions to both the Ordnance Survey mapping in the UK and the IGN 1:25000 mapping in France, which means I’ve always got access to my local trails.
I’ll be the first to admit that although an app will never replace a paper map – which don’t, after all, run out of batteries – they do nevertheless act as an excellent reference tool. I use it mainly for recording tracks where I’m not necessarily following way marked routes. And it’s also got a pretty good peak identification function – which can be very handy.
Cost: Free, but maps require subscription
Trace de Trail
Best for: Trail runners or ultra runners looking for new trail running routes
There aren’t many apps specifically designed for trail running, but the French owned Trace de Trail is. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not the most intuitive of apps when using it for the first time. But once you’ve got the hang of it, then it’s a useful tool for finding new routes. I particularly like the ‘challenges’ function that finds permanent user created vertical kilometre style challenges.
Its main client base are of course the French, but it does have some good route choices for UK users.
Best for: Those looking to plan their routes
For those who are regularly users of Google Maps, then you’ll like this app. It’s essentially a sat nav for trail runners, hikers, cyclists and mountain bikers, giving you turn by turn instructions. It shares some of the user generated functionality of Strava – which is arguably its main rival. With over a million downloads on Android devices, a similar number on Apple store, it’s a serious contender.
From a planning perspective, it very much focuses on the ‘adventure’ aspect of a route, rather than necessarily the ‘quickest’ way to get from A to B. Which basically means it’s perfect for someone planning an adventure run rather than necessarily a Fastest Known Time.
Cost: Free but offline mapping requires a subscription