5 Running Apps That Make Running Fun
I run, but I don't consider myself a "runner." Runners seem to be those people that are happy to make running a daily habit, that can get out there rain or shine, and that stay motivated solely by chasing that runner's high. That is not me. For me, running is a free way to exercise and a good excuse to spend some time outside, but it's more of a necessary evil than something I look forward to. Thankfully, running apps are being created all the time that can make every run just a little more enjoyable, whether I'm doing 5K training or just hoping to enjoy a bit of sunshine. I tested some of the top options out there, so you don't have to:
Nike+ Run Club (Android & iOS | Free)
Fairly basic in most regards, Nike+ Run Club is one of those running apps I keep coming back to and my top choice for an everyday running app thanks to its easy-to-use and attractive interface. You can see your achievements for your farthest, longest, and fastest runs; unlock milestones with total miles logged; and get a visual representation of all of your favorite routes. But the best features of the app are the fun ways it encourages you during your run: if you sync the app with Facebook, it'll post when you're out on a run, and every time one of your friends likes or comments on the post, you'll hear the roar of a crowd in real time! Not keen on alerting the world to your running schedule? No problem—a host of famous athletes have recorded messages to congratulate you when you've reached a personal best.
Verdict: Ultimately an upgrade from the standard running app, its extra features are super useful, even if they're not outwardly "cool" or "fun" for the occasional runner. This is by far the app I use most often.
Spotify: Your Running Mix (Android & iOS | Monthly Subscription)
Spotify is still the top music-streaming app around, but they've added features as they've grown, including a customized running playlist. Unlike weekly Discovery playlists, which feature a set list of songs for a one-week period, the "Your Running Mix" playlist is constantly changing and fully responsive. It pulls a custom playlist based on your favorite music, but then it goes one step further, syncing the beats-per-minute of each song to match the pace of your run. I typically find myself running a little slower when I listen to podcasts on my runs, so having the playlist match me at a constant rate was more motivating than I expected when I wanted to keep up my pace.
Verdict: The songs chosen for this playlist don't feel as curated as those in the Discovery playlist and you can't skip ahead, but if your standby playlist feels stale and you need a steady beat, this works great.
Zombies, Run! (Android & iOS | Free)
You're jogging along your regular route, when suddenly the radio crackles in and the sound of machine-gun fire is ringing in your ears: the zombies are on your tail! The single most inventive and unique fitness app I've ever tried, Zombies, Run! combines storytelling with fitness for a totally engrossing experience. The concept of a zombie-run app might seem convoluted, but I was surprised with how easy this was to use and follow. Story missions put you in the lead role as a supplies runner for a settlement in a post-apocalyptic world infested with zombies. As you run, you'll be periodically interrupted with bits of plot or announcements that you've collected supplies. To push you toward that extra burst of speed, turn on the Zombie Chase feature, which will cause a siren to sound and the app to ask you pick up the pace to outrun the hoard. Its production values, with multiple voice actors and excellent sound effects, make it feel like you're listening to a radio play, and the chase aspects of the story are surprisingly motivating.
Verdict: I can't see myself using this regularly, but I always have a difficult time heading out on my first few runs of the season or after any long break. The app is also good at including cliff-hangers at the end of each episode, which actually makes you want to get out and run again.
Pro Tip: You can use the Spotify Running Mix and Zombies, Run! apps at the same time—Zombies, Run! will automatically adjust the volume for you during story segments.
Ninja Fitness (iOS | Free)
Ninja Fitness is another attempt to help users gameify their workouts. Instead of relying on a story to get you through, you'll follow the sage advice of Grandmaster Old Beard to complete workouts that earn you points, which can be used to upgrade a virtual ninja character that you create. You earn points for every workout you complete, unlocking tougher exercises as you level up. The tougher the workouts, the more points you earn, and that ends up being a great way to attach a value to your progress without needing to measure weight loss or strength specifically. The app is also more well-rounded than the others, including a full roster of yoga and strength-training exercises in addition to running workouts.
Verdict: As a running app, it's sub par compared to the others listed here—you can't map your runs, keep track of your best times, or even see your mileage. That said, it's definitely the most robust in terms of its point and reward systems, which more closely mimic the video game experience with high scores replacing times and miles.
Pokémon Go (Android & iOS | Free)
Okay, so it's not technically a fitness app, but Pokémon Go might be the most successful iteration of a "walking game" yet. It builds upon others in the genre such as Ingress, which has players walk to various portals around town and "hack" them to defeat an invading alien race, and The Walk, which follows the more story-based format of Zombies, Run! (it's made by the same developer). Instead, you use the GPS and camera on your phone to search your neighborhood for rare Pokémon and battle at gyms in select locations. More social than any of the other apps on this list, it's something the whole family can do together. Regular updates and special events help the game feel fresh, too, compelling you to keep coming back.
Verdict: I got rid of the app after about a week's worth of play, but that had more to do with my own personal lack of interest in Pokémon than the app itself. That said, it's been enormously successful at getting kids and adults alike outside, and was definitely a lot of fun initially. Mileage may vary once that novelty wears off, though.
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