Search for running apps in any search engine and a bountiful list immediately appears — Strava, RunKeeper, MapMyRun. FitBits, Garmin Running Watches and Apple Watches all are wearable options to track your run. These have been around for awhile, but they’re continuously growing in popularity: for example, Strava adds 40 million users every day, according to In The Black.
Generally, the popularity around apps corresponds with a more technology-minded lifestyle — those who enjoy using apps are more likely to download one that tracks their running.
Mark Schroeder, co-owner of Athens Running Company, sees his customers interact differently with their run and with each other.
“When we opened the store eight years ago, I didn’t even have a smartphone,” Schroeder said. “Obviously [apps have] changed the way people interact and that includes the way they run.”
In running, community and accountability go hand in hand. For those who find it unpleasant to run on their own, making plans to run with groups often can be a motivation to turn out. Apps work the same way: with the social media aspect, seeing others run and improve can motivate you to do the same.
Why and how these apps have been a success depends on each user’s preference. Brad Frink from Athens Running Company thinks it’s a matter of competition.
“Being able to compare yourself to others who are better than you, for some people, is what drives them, especially with serious runners,” Frink said. “For me, if I can look at a younger person’s stats and compete on their level, that’s a big motivation.”
This means runners can look at other runners’ stats and records around Athens and see how they match up. For people like Frink, that’s enough motivation in itself.
But Schroeder thinks for most people, the popularity of “smart” running apps have to do with self-motivation.
“Anything you can do to motivate people will be a success,” Schroeder said. “Take Strava, [for example] — knowing how others are performing can connect competitors, but most people will look at their personal best. These apps let us look back and see our progress. You can’t lie to yourself anymore.”
Runners who are frequent users of these apps note that it changes the way they interact with their workout.
Emily McIntyre, a third-year microbiology doctoral student, runs frequently and almost always uses technology in her process. McIntyre has been running since since she started college as an undergrad and now runs five or six times per week. She uses information such as heart rate, pace and elevation changes to inform her about each run.
“I use Strava and Garmin. Using these apps gives me an idea of how I’ve improved over time,” McIntyre said. “Looking at just race PR’s isn’t necessarily the best indicator; looking at the specific segments help me train better because I can see my progress and what I need to incorporate into my run.”
No matter each person’s reason for using the apps, they provide runners with something that didn’t exist before smartphones: a visualization of the personal and collective progress.
“You start off wanting to just finish a run, but these apps let you see how you’re better every time,” Schroeder said. “Each run is progress and a step to make yourself better. Seeing that progress rather than just feeling it, for some people, is motivation. People create whatever goals they have in their head, and these apps help them visualize that.”