Monday, December 17, 2012

Running Apps

By: Katie Minkoff, Intern

The sound of my alarm is sharp in my ear.  On this particular Monday, I drag myself out of bed, lace up my sneakers and head out for a 6 mile jaunt around D.C.  Like many runners, I live for the high that comes from my morning run. But like most exercise averse, somewhat stressed-from-life, former couch potatoes, gaining the motivation to start, continue and finish my runs is a daily struggle.
I first discovered outdoor running in 2008. As a lonely transplant in North Carolina, I joined an all-women’s running group on to break the monotony of my bi-weekly gym routine. The ladies of the “Downtown Raleigh Women’s Running Group,” not only broke up the monotony, but also introduced me to a new type of exercise -- social running. 

Finally, physical activity that is not brutally boring! No longer did I dread my indoors workouts, with only me, myself and I as company. Running with friends, or to-be friends, not only motivated me to knock out my morning run on cold winter mornings, but also provided a new avenue to make friends, catch up with old ones and set new goals (you know – those races all my running buddies had signed up for). 
Fast forward a few years:  While perusing Facebook, I notice my friend Rebecca is on a run.  Rebecca’s Nike+GPS app has just posted on her Facebook timeline, notifying her friends that she has just begun a lunchtime run.  I’m even given the option to post a message (called “kudos”) in a Facebook comment that I’m told will be instantly transmitted to her via the NIKE+GPS app. What a revelation! An app was making it possible for my friend to have a “social” run -- with no apparent running buddies in sight! I began to wonder - were Rebecca’s Nike+GPS outings providing the same benefits as my social runs?  Was she feeling the benefits of motivation, meeting new friends and reaching new goals and if so, how did they compare in the mobile world?  I wondered if mobile-social running would be just a blip on the radar screen or if it’s here to stay. 

To assess the mobile market I took a deeper look at the three benefits of in-person social running to determine if mobile apps do indeed provide such human-like perks. I took a test drive with three of the top rated iphone exercise aps, Nike+,  Runkeeper and Endomondo (for this last one I checked out the $4.99 app to access the full feature version) and reported some of the cutting-edge features I believe are making mobile a serious contender in the social-motivation fitness space.
Setting new goals and tracking progress:  All three apps provide the ability to track and store time, distance, calories, and even hydration (and have for some time). While most of these functions merely replace paper journals and spreadsheets, some apps, like runkeeper, take the effort out of planning by providing pre-designed workouts.  Other apps provide incentives such as “NikeFuel” to incentivize runners to get off the couch so they can brag (virtually) to others using the app.    

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