RunKeeper Versus Runmeter on the iPhone: A Newbie Runner’s Review

[Corrected, see p. 2] If there’s one seductive thing about being a startup entrepreneur, it’s that you can utterly neglect exercise without feeling guilty about it. After all, doesn’t building a great company require every moment of wakefulness, every ounce of concentration? I know I’ve got a lot to show for my last three years of work at Xconomy: in addition to a couple thousand stories in the archives, there’s some serious flab on these bones.

Enough, in fact, to goad me out of my office chair and onto the street a couple of weeks ago for my first serious attempt at running. I knew I needed some form of workout, and running seemed like it would be the least hassle. With a gym membership, there’s always the mental barrier of driving to the gym, parking, and competing for the weight machines or the Stairmasters—not to mention the monthly fees. Runners can just pick up and go.

So I went running. But I had to complicate the process somehow—and being a gadget geek, I naturally took along my iPhone. For a couple of years now, I’ve had a GPS-based exercise tracking app on the phone called RunKeeper, made by Boston startup FitnessKeeper. But I’ve only used it for cycling, never running, which is what it was really designed for. So I used the app to record my first run. On subsequent runs, I decided to try out a similar app, Abvio’s Runmeter, so that I could write up a comparison.

Before I start detailing my observations, though, a few words of caution that may spare my fellow newbie runners some agony. Don’t set out on your first run with the idea of finding out just how far you can go. That’s what I did. My motives were admirable: as I just mentioned, I’d never done any real running, so I had no idea whether I’d keel over after one mile, or glide along for several. It turned out I was able to run five miles, no problem. (I guess the fact that I travel by bike whenever possible has had some cardiovascular benefits.) The next day: six miles. “This is great!,” I thought. “Five or six miles right off the couch! Next stop, San Francisco Marathon!”

Then the tendonitis set in. By the evening after my third run, I could barely walk—my right Achilles tendon was swollen and burning. I’ve been icing it and dosing up on ibuprofen, and it’s almost back to normal now. Experienced runners like my colleague Luke—who’s out pounding the pavement in Seattle every morning, rain or shine—will just shake their heads, but I’ve since learned that I should probably have started out more gradually, and prefaced my runs with a lot more stretching.

But I’ll be back on the road soon—so on to the product comparison.

I should point out that there are actually quite a few mobile apps that use GPS to track your runs and produce basic reports, including maps of your routes and statistics on the distance completed, your average pace, and the like. MapMyFitness makes apps for iPhone and BlackBerry; Trimble makes an app called AllSport GPS, also for the iPhone and BlackBerry; and Nike has probably the best-known system, Nike+, which uses a sensor in your shoe that communicates with an iPhone, iPod Nano, or a special wristband.

RunKeeperBut RunKeeper, which came out in August 2008 and is available for the iPhone and Android phones, is the app I’m most familiar with, having written several stories about FitnessKeeper for Xconomy Boston. It’s also one of the most successful—it came in at No. 8 in Time Magazine’s list of the top 10 iPhone apps of 2009, and is regularly ranked among the top 30 most popular health and fitness apps in the iTunes App Store. So that’s the app I used to kick off my running career.

There are two versions of RunKeeper—a free one that’s advertising-supported, and a $9.99 premium one with no ads and cool added features such as audio cues and split times. I’ve been using the free version, which does most of what I need as a beginner, but I’ll probably upgrade soon, as I’d like to try out some of the built-in coaching features.

While you’re running, the app shows you how long you’ve been going, your average pace in minutes per mile, your pace for each individual minute, and the number of … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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