I’ve been running for 20+ years and when I started running, I had to drive my routes (or ask my mom to drive me before I could drive myself!) to figure out how long they were. I couldn’t afford a GPS running watch – they were brand new! — and smartphones weren’t a thing. While technology can be annoying in some ways, it’s also amazing to be able to easily to track our runs!
Before smartphones, GPS watches were the easiest way to track your runs and they were HUGE. I wish I had a better picture of my first running watch. I mean, look at the size of that thing on my wrist. (Oh, and checkout the iPod, ha!)
And before I got a GPS running watch, I measured out running routes in advance by driving to see how long it was. All that to say, it’s a blessing of modern technology to have so much information about our runs recorded for us so easily. And the fact that we can see how fast we’re going while we’re actually running in real time is incredible. (I’m dating myself and sounding old, but it’s true!)
But, you don’t need a GPS running watch. Sure there are pros and cons, but if you aren’t ready to invest there are plenty of free running apps available on iPhones and Androids to track your time, distance and pace. Some even have pre-programmed routes, while other apps provide audio coaches to serve as your virtual running coach. And most allow you to share your progress on social media. Today, I’m rounding up some of the best running apps on the market for beginners so that you can start running.
Let’s dive in! Err, I mean, let’s get running!
The Best Running Apps For Beginners
The Rookie Runner Program
The Rookie Runner Program is the running course I developed specifically for beginners. It’s different from the apps below because it doesn’t track your mileage or stats, but rather it teaches you everything you need to know to become a runner and stick with it. The course isn’t free, but I do offer a free newsletter with weekly running tips. Join that here.
Most running apps – free or paid — only show you your time, pace and distance. But there is SO much more to running. In the Rookie Runner Program, you’ll learn what type of shoes to buy, how to warm up, what to eat beforehand, what to eat after a run, what stretches to do, how to run faster (besides being chased by Zombie’s ;)), how to choose a training plan and more. You can even listen to lessons while you’re running and access training plans for 5Ks, 10K and half marathons that I wrote. Join the Rookie Runner Program here.
Strava is one of the most popular running apps. You can “start a run” to track your pace, distance and running time and then it will add it to your training log when you’re done. You can also add manual workouts into Strava after the fact if you didn’t carry your phone with you for your run. I especially love the social media aspect of Strava, where you can see your friends’ workouts and give each other “kudos”. I use Strava so much I wrote a full blog post on it here.
Strava is a free app but there’s also a paid version that includes training plans. For runners training for a race, it’s helpful to have your workouts recorded in Strava as your training log. I love looking back at runs from years ago too! Plus, if you do get a GPS watch down the road, you can sync your watch to your Strava account to have all your runs automatically uploaded.
Free, paid for upgraded features
Easy to use
LOTS of data
Tracks workouts other than running
Social media aspect
Shows other running routes
Motivating to see your friend’s runs
Tracks miles on shoes
Not the most intuitive app as a brand new runner
No audio coaching
May be discouraging to see others’ run if you’re prone to comparison traps. (On the flip side, that may motivate you as noted above!!)
Some of the data may be overwhelming. It tracks and displays a lot, so it can be a little complicated compared to other apps.
Runkeeper is pretty basic but it tracks all the typical things like distance, time, calories burned, pace, etc.
Easy to use interface
Great for beginners
Audio stats provide verbal updates about your time, distance and pace
Paid upgrade options
Works on treadmill with stopwatch feature
Not as robust of a platform with fewer features
Nike Run Club
The Nike Run Club app (no Nike gear required!) does all the essential things like tracking your pace and distance, but it also makes a game of things. You can challenge your friends, share your workouts, and even upload a song for the app to play when you’re needing an extra boost of energy on your run. I like the playfulness of this app and the fact that you can use this on your Apple watch easily. It also has audio coaching which is helpful for beginners who need a little motivation and help during their runs.
Connects seamlessly to Spotify
Guided audio-based runs
Create custom running plans
Does not note suitability level for each run
App glitches occasionally
Map My Run
Map My Run does all of the things you need a running app to do, but it also allows you to specify the “type” of run you’re on. For example, if you’re running indoors on a treadmill or out on a natural trail, those bits of data will be helpful to know when you’re looking back at your statistics. Map My Run is part of the Under Armour umbrella (along with My FitnessPal), but like the Nike Run Club, no Under Armour gear required ;).
Fun fact: I used Map My Run in the early 2000s to plan my running routes (or calculate them after the fact) to see how long they were. You could drag a route on a map and it’d tell you the distance. I think that’s actually how the website started… and they still have that feature!
Access user generated routes around the country
Tracks all basic running stats
Easily specify the “type” of run you’re on
Ads unless you upgrade to paid version
No heart rate monitor fata
A little wonky to use
Adidas Running App by Runtastic
Runtastic is another popular running app for beginners. People love this one specifically because it links with Google Earth to make route mapping super easy, especially in a new city, which makes it great for working out while traveling. It connects to Spotify too, which is great.
Easy to integrate with Spotify
Simple to use
Tracks shoe miles
No modification of training plan
You cannot delete the voice on the app
This app has a unique feature (in addition to all the basics that we’ve talked about so far): it allows for walk-run intervals. Many beginners should be starting with walk/run intervals when they’re starting out, and this app supports that.
Easy to track walk/run workouts
App interface isn’t great
Pumatrac also does it all, and also tracks the weather so you can get a well rounded picture of your run. And that’s important since running the cold or the heat impact your running dramatically. (You can get weather stats on Strava too, but it requires a connection with Klimat.) The interface is known for being really sleek as well, which is nice for the user. There are lots of non-running workouts pre-programmed in this app, including strength and HITT workouts.
Includes weather info
Some of the workouts are not explained thoroughly
Couch to 5K
The C25K app is a little different than the other apps I’ve mentioned, because its function is a specific training plan. While it does record all the data we’ve talked about, instead of clicking “start” on the app to begin a free run, you will follow the plans on the app. It will tell you exactly what the day’s run should look like, and you’ll follow it from there.
Great for beginners who need specific training plans to start running for the first time
Dedicated to beginners specifically
Takes all the guesswork out of training plans
Cluttered and hard to use interface
Limited to just the C25K plan
No other workouts included
Not helpful for intermediate runners
The Pacer Pedometer tracks your steps all day as long as your phone is on you somehow. You don’t even have to hold it in your hand. It will track your steps from your backpack or purse! Think of this app as a health app in general, not just running specific. They have a few free guided workouts on the app as well, and you can pay for a premium feature with more options.
Tracks your steps throughout your day, even if phone isn’t in your hand
Geared towards very beginners who need to start with walking
Great for creating fitness goals for the first time
Not geared to runners specifically
Very basic fitness goals, not made for someone already athletic
This app has such a funny concept. It’s set up as a game where you have to run from zombies. In Zombies Run, the goal is to run as many miles as you can, and as you run more miles you get rewarded in the app with “supplies” for your village. The slower you run, the zombies catch up!
This isn’t something I would necessarily like, but if it helps you feel motivated and makes running more fun, then I’m all for it.
Great for a younger age group
Easy to use
Not traditional in it’s design so may be confusing to use
Promotes running faster and not every run should be pushing the pace (Learn why not in the Rookie Runner Program)
Charity Miles is one of the coolest running apps on the market. Basically, brands like Timex have committed to donating to charities when people log miles in this app, so you choose a charity to run for, and for each mile, the brands who are part of the app donate to that charity. How cool is that?! This app tracks all of the basic running information that you’d need as well.
An AMAZING way to give to charity
Tracks all your running info while donating
Simple to use
Not a purely statistic-focused running app and you may want more data if you’re training for something specific
I hope these apps are helpful as a place to start if you’re new to running and want something to keep you accountable or track your progress!
Shop my running gear