The 5 Best Running Apps to Help You Rack Up Your Miles

Hit your stride.

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woman running

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Running may seem like one of the most straightforward workouts—lace-up a pair of sneakers, throw on a heart-pumping playlist, and you’re good to go. In reality, that’s far from the truth. Running requires a lot of skill, learned by proper conditioning and practice, especially to avoid injury. Since not everyone has the access or means to hire a coach, a running app is a great tool for hitting your stride, whether you’re a pavement-pounding pro or easing your way into the sport. 

There are several crucial features to look for in a running app. Keegan Draper, CPT and fitness specialist for Mindbody, says distance, heart rate, and pace tracking are most important. Once you start advancing, mapping and elevation tools help (and motivate) by providing route suggestions and popular segments completed by other app users. A GPS tracking service is an indispensable feature as well, especially for emergencies or if you get lost. Fitness expert Anthony Crouchelli suggests tempo variety features for advanced athletes, too. “Change up those paces, and work towards being comfortable in a new pattern to unlock your future potential,” he urges. 

Social and competitive features are also beneficial and make runs a lot more fun. Many running apps have them, and they’re great for holding yourself accountable, keeping you striding toward your goals and feeling like a part of a community.

Ready to start racking up those miles? Ahead are five trainer-recommended running apps to help you do so.

The 5 Best Running Apps of 2021

Best Overall: Nike Run Club

Woman Running

 

Artem Varnitsin / Getty Images

Why We Chose It: Recommended by Steve Stonehouse, NASM CPT, USATF Run Coach, and Director of Education for STRIDE, and Brittany Watts, CPT, the trainers favor the app's tracking and audio-guided runs (which you can overlay with your favorite playlist), goal-setting functionality, and ability to track personal progression against past runs. The pros dig the app's built-in photo and stat sharing features, as well as the unique mile- and shoe-tracking functionality as bonuses, too.  

What We Like

  • Quality coaching and guided runs 
  • Tracks essential stats & GPS
  • Goal-setting 
  • Synced with Apple Music
  • Community aspect 
  • Shoe tracker 

What We Don’t Like

  • Can feel advanced for beginners 
  • Some reviews report glitches when pairing with Apple watch 

Nike Run Club (NRC) boasts that it's your perfect running partner—think of the app as your best friend whose sole purpose is to encourage your every stride with effective coaching cues. The free app offers guided runs with vocal cues, not unlike a motivating voice inside your head that believes you can do it. There are versions synced with Headspace, too, to get you in the focus zone and stay there. 

The app includes GPS and allows you to track your progress with all the pertinent features, including pace, location, distance, elevation, heart rate, and mile splits. You have control over what you see during your run, too. So, if you’re only focusing on one or two metrics, ditch the others, and let those be the priority. 

The NRC app has custom Apple Music playlists, in-run cheers from the app community, and elite athletes’ encouragement to keep you motivated and striving. Community features allow you to compare runs with fellow Nike runners using a hashtag to see how you rank for specific goals or challenges, too.

You can even get a personalized plan from a Nike Coach, based on your fitness level and goals—as you progress, the program adapts with you. When sharing your runs with the NRC community, you can personalize them with photos, stats, stickers, and control who sees them, whether you’re the type to blast your hard work across your entire social network or intimately share with a few close friends.

The most unique feature: You can track your miles with every pair of running shoes you own (even styles from non-Nike brands). Plus, you can monitor the wear-and-tear of your shoes, so you know when it’s time for a new pair.

Best for Community: Strava

Woman running on treadmill

 Getty Images / Ratchapoln Sittichoke / EyeEm

Why We Chose It: Strava is trainer-recommended for its fitness and community features—from staying connected with friends to hitting personal records and viewing popular route suggestions. Trainers also like the app's ability to integrate with a variety of major wearable trackers and health apps so that you can sync your diet and exercise for a clearer picture of your health.

What We Like

  • Community aspect with “kudos”
  • Audio cues 
  • Easy-to-navigate data dashboard 
  • Tracks essential stats & GPS

What We Don’t Like

  • Advanced and premium features cost extra

The Strava app is for runners (and cyclists) of all levels and is renowned for its motivating community features—a particularly helpful tool for staying connected throughout your fitness journey, no matter where you and your friends are.

From the occasional, quick jog to multiple runs a week, Strava helps you work toward your goals and track progress with customizable voice-guided cues. Whether you want to be alerted of every half-mile achieved or keep tabs on your elevation, speed, and split times, Strava will notify you to keep you in the zone. Users can record every route and metric by saving the data from each run and note progress (you can upload photos, too). 

The Strava app readily shares your stats with your friends, which is a motivating tactic for staying in touch and supporting each other along the way—the app’s “kudos” button is a fan-favorite for encouragement. Runners of any level can participate in challenges and set goals to achieve personal records or engage in a little friendly competition.

The Strava app is free and ideal for beginners, with in-app purchases available for premium features as you advance.

Best for Beginners: Couch to 5k

Young woman runs outdoors, alongside greenery.
Running can lead to favorable changes in your brain, which result in benefits like increased resilience. Getty Images.

Why We Chose It: The free app is a top recommendation for beginners because of its structured and guided plan.

What We Like

  • Designed for inexperienced runners
  • Offers a set plan 
  • Emphasis on pacing and endurance development
  • Variety of related apps offered for progression

What We Don’t Like

  • Not ideal for intermediate or advanced runners

The ultimate running app for beginner runners, Couch to 5k does precisely what the title indicates: It helps inexperienced runners develop the skills to run a 5K (that’s 3.1 miles) in nine weeks.

The starter program eases newbies in with a schedule of 20- to 30-minute runs three days a week, with voice cues from a motivating run coach (you can choose from four); users can select their preferred level of voice-cued interaction for support. 

With built-in GPS, your runs are tracked, from the route to your distance and pace accomplished. While the GPS feature can drain your phone battery, Couch to 5k works and sends audio notifications when your screen is locked or another app is in use (like your music). And, don’t worry, you can listen to tunes and your running cues at the same time. 

You can track your progress within the app from your total distance to your average pace, which you can share with friends on Facebook or the app's running support community. The app also offers graphs for workouts to compare the distance and pace of older runs with newer ones, and there’s even treadmill support so you can manually enter an indoor run on a machine if you don’t clock your miles outside.  

As your running abilities progress, there are other versions of the app to set new goals, whether that’s a 10K, half-marathon, or the big one—a full 26.2-mile marathon.

Best for Features: Run With Meg

woman running

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Why We Chose It: This app made our list because it was created by a running specialist who caters to every level and goal. From customizable programs to strength training, flexibility, and mobility content, Run With Meg supports a safe and well-rounded fitness journey. 

What We Like

  • On-demand videos 
  • Suited to all levels 
  • Additional strength training, flexibility, and mobility content
  • Customizable programs 
  • Direct access to a run coach

What We Don’t Like

  • Individualized programs are more expensive
  • No GPS or tracking 

Run With Meg is a subscription-based app by running specialist Meg Takacs and designed for runners of all levels. It includes programs for the treadmill and outdoor running, so no matter your preference, there’s a program for you.

But that’s not all. This app is jam-packed with premium features beyond the daily on-demand videos to increase endurance and power and reduce recovery time. It offers video-guided, runner-specific strength training programs to keep users in optimal mental and physical shape, including HIIT, body weight, and flexibility exercises. There are also race programs ranging from 5K training to a full marathon. 

Run With Meg includes curated Spotify playlists to match each run, in-app demonstration videos to breakdown exercises and guide running form, and an encouraging community to help users reach their goals. Takacs also makes herself available to users for any questions by providing a direct-message feature through the app. 

This trainer-approved app varies in cost, with options for various budgets and needs. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced trail options are about $3 each, while monthly subscriptions cost around $39, and annual memberships will run you roughly $399. There’s also an elite, personalized monthly membership with a steeper price tag of approximately $999.

Best for Outdoor Runs: Relive

woman running up stairs wearing leggings

Getty Images 

Why We Chose It: Relive’s creative mapping and post-run video components are second to none, which makes it perfect for outdoor runs.

What We Like

  • Ideal for outdoor enthusiasts
  • Unique mapping and trail guidance
  • High-quality videos  
  • Community 

What We Don’t Like

  • Geared toward outdoor runners 
  • Focused on unique routes and adventure 
  • Less guidance and training 

Rooted in a passion for the outdoors, Relive is the app for runners (and cyclers, too) routinely hitting the trails and backroads. It’s a must-try for enthusiastic explorers and adventurers; if you struggle to find motivation on a treadmill or at a local track, combining the Relive app with nature’s stunning scenery might be the secret sauce.

Within this unique app, you can track your activity, capture photos and video, then create a unique video story of your route in a 3D landscape. Fun fact: There are over 100 million unique videos on the app. Within each video, you can see stats like speed and share them on social media, from Facebook to Instagram and Twitter. 

Of course, one of the most essential features for outdoor runs in the wilderness (walks and hikes count, too) is GPS tracking. And, Relive’s got it. Plus, you can see your key stats and location in real-time. Relive is also compatible with other tracking apps, including Suunto, Endomondo, and Apple Health.

Relive is free, but ultra-enthusiasts can join the Relive Club for about $7 per month with a free month trial to test out features like higher-quality HD video, more editing abilities like adding music, and interactive 3D routes. 

Bottom Line

Personal preference is all-important when choosing a running app. With consistency and best practices, you’ll hit your stride, no matter your fitness goals, and avoid injury (which is crucial for longevity). 

A few more helpful insights before lacing up and getting download-happy: No matter your level or running goals, the right pair of sneakers is crucial. An ill-fitting or too-worn pair can lead to improper distribution of impact, and potential injuries like sprained ankles, tendonitis, shin splints, knee injuries, and lower back pain, says Watts. A trip to your local running store for a personalized fitting is super helpful.  

Supplementing your running schedule with a resistance training program is also vital to strengthening your muscles and joints, allowing you to handle higher impacts, Watts explains. Free weights, sculpting classes, and even yoga are all great ways to build strength. 

Also, don’t go too hard, too fast—on the road or shopping for apps. There are plenty of free apps with key features, so it’s best to explore those first before investing in more advanced programs or premium upgrades.

What Is a Running App? 

A running app is designed to record data, and in some cases, offer training programs and coaching. It also connects runners of all levels, from beginner to intermediate and advanced. 

How Much Does a Running App Cost? 

Many running apps are free, some are free but offer in-app upgrades, and others have a membership that can range from about $3 for a trial up to about $999 for completely customized programs. 

How Do I Choose a Running App? 

Look for basic data metrics like distance, heart rate, and pace tracking. The more advanced you are, additional metrics like mapping, elevation, nutritional stats, and popular and suggested routes will become increasingly beneficial. Audio-guided coaching and cues are helpful features to look for, as well as the ability to pair an app with music apps and other health and wellness trackers.  

How We Chose the Best Running Apps

We selected these running apps based on the professional recommendation of certified trainers and runners. By taking into account the recommended features for various levels (all of these apps can work for beginner, intermediate, and advanced runners), we spotlighted those with different running styles and goals in mind. 

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