5 brilliant running apps to take the hassle out of getting fit

The best apps for every level of runner

Wherever you are on your running journey – from idly thinking about starting to eating marathons for breakfast – sometimes motivating yourself to lace up your trainers and just run can be the hardest part, so we’ve collated our top list of apps that can give you the digital prod you’re after.

And we’re well aware that there are hundreds of articles promising the same thing as we are right now, listing the best apps on the market to get you running.

But here at TechRadar we’re in love with running, taking to the streets daily to stretch our legs, so we’ve curated a list of our favorite apps to make pounding the pavement an enjoyable and sustainable part of your life.

And there’s good reason to do so too.

“The use of apps is increasingly becoming a part of how we monitor and review training, [giving] runners a detailed picture of their training and racing around a wide range of performance variables,” says Tom Craggs, running coach at runningwithus.com

“Many runners team them up with GPS wearables, but even for those without a GPS watch, apps provide a useful method of recording sessions and planning training.”

But it’s not just on the run where apps offer potential help. “By integrating 'non-training' aspects into a runner’s life, these apps provide the opportunity for athletes to monitor their recovery and nutrition, and ensure this is balanced with their training,” adds Craggs. 

“From sleep monitoring to activity tracking to seeing if you’re doing too much (or too little) in your ‘non-training’ time, through to apps that check on macro and micro nutrient balance of a runner’s diet, knowledge is power when it comes to balancing training with lifestyle.”

The apps we’re recommending come in a variety of styles: from breaking runs down into smaller achievable goals, to give beginners the tools to cover a certain distance, to letting keen runners compete with others.

Whatever your standard, these apps will help you become a better, stronger runner – it’s like having your own personal running coach in your pocket!

Couch to 5k Runner

- Price: £2.29 iOS, Free, Android

If you're just starting out on your running journey, the idea of taking a speedy jaunt around the block can seem as daunting as tackling a marathon – and that thought can sap motivation faster than the time it takes to ‘just see what’s on TV’. 

The beauty of Couch to 5K is that it breaks down a big challenge into small and easily-surmountable goals. 

Over the course of eight weeks it'll take you from complete novice to being able to cover 5km, with three simple guided weekly workouts. 

Each workout is a mix of walking interspersed with running intervals – all prompted by an audio coach. 

The running intervals increase in length as you improve so you're constantly challenged (but never pushed too hard), and by the end of the eight weeks most people should be able to cover the full 5km distance.

If you're running for weight loss you can track calories as well as distance, while those who like a bit of praise will be pleased to hear there are progress badges to be won along the way – come on, who doesn't want a gold star?

It's worth noting there is a free version of this app, but it only covers your first four workouts, so it's best to opt for the paid version, unless you just want to give it a try before you buy.

In our opinion, if you’re a non-runner who wants to start, this is the app for you. It won’t be easy for some parts, but the sense of achievement at the end can be genuinely life-changing.

Nike+ Run Club

- Price: Free iOS, Android

If you’ve managed your first 5k or 10k race and want to start improving further, the Nike+ app is a great option to try out.

It offers tracking of all the basic run data you need (distance, time and pace), and also connects you with friends to ‘enhance your engagement’, which means you’ll get that little bit of extra motivation to match what your buddies are doing.

Available as a standalone smartphone app or built into the Apple Watch 2 Nike+ version, Run Club uses GPS to track distance and show a map of your route when you’ve finished.

The information tracked is pretty comprehensive, as it’ll add average pace, calories burned and the elevation gained or lost to your run stats so you get a full picture of what you’ve just done, boosting motivation when you’re lying panting on the floor.

You can also choose personalised running plans to work towards a goal, whether that's a certain race distance or simply getting fitter. These are a great way to improve, as all you need to tell the app is how many times you want to run a week and how far you're comfortable running at the moment; from there Run Club will take care of everything, so you’ll just need to do what the app tells you.

All your workouts are stored on the app so you can keep a log of when you ran and have all the stats at your fingertips. (You can also use Nike+ Training Club to add in strength sessions if you want to be more comprehensive with your body-altering efforts).

One of the big draws of the Nike+ app is the social aspect. Leaderboards let you see how far and often your friends have been running – if that isn't motivation to lace up, then we don't know what is – and you can take photos during your run or upload an image afterwards, complete with data about how awesome your run was.

Because if no one knows about it, it didn't happen right?

Endomondo

- Price: Free iOS, Android

Not just for running, Endomondo allows you to track any number of sporting activities, from aerobics to ice-skating. It syncs with MyFitnessPal too, letting you track your nutrition and daily calories.

In the free version of the app you get general running data such as duration, pace and route tracking, but it's when you upgrade to premium (£4.49 per month, £22.99 yearly) that stat fans will become enamoured. 

The paid app creates graphs from all your workouts, which give you a more digestible view of how your performance is improving over time.

You can also create personalised training plans that help you work towards a certain goal, and if you’ve paid for a fancy heart rate-monitoring wearable the premium version works with many of these too, adding another dimension to your fitness tracking.

One of the fun aspects of this app is the Challenges feature, available in both the free and premium version. 

You can create your own challenge – such as being the first to run a certain number of miles in a month, or who can cover the most distance in an hour – and share it with friends to add a competitive element to your runs and keep you motivated to train. 

Or, if your friends are sofa dwellers, there are plenty of public challenges to join where you can compete against other app users, sometimes for prizes such as run gear or certificates – but sometimes just for sweet, sweet glory.

Strava

- Price: Free iOS, Android

Think of Strava as the social network for runners, and just like Facebook it’s available both online and as an app. 

As you'd expect from a running platform like this, you can track your runs straight from your smartphone; however, this isn't ideal if you're training for a marathon, or completing lots of longer runs, as it can sap your smartphone battery faster than other apps.

Where Strava does have real strength is when you upload all the data from your running watch, meaning you can run phone-free and not have to worry about battery drain as often – and many watches will sync automatically too.

As well as analysing data, tracking routes and joining challenges – such as running a certain distance to earn a badge – Strava is particularly good if you have a healthy competitive streak. 

The app lets you connect with friends to see how fast and far they're running, but it’s the Segments feature we find particularly addictive.

Segments are simply a certain section of road – or maybe a particularly tough hill that you might encounter on your route – that another user has deemed worthy of putting in an effort to complete at speed. 

When you run that segment you can see how you compare to other Strava users, and push yourself to go faster next time in an attempt to move up the leaderboard. 

But like any good social network, it’s not just about your activities; you can comment on your friend's runs and give each other 'kudos' to say well done too.

Runtastic Pro

- Price: £3.99 iOS, £2.49 Android

Is running taking you away from the thrill of your PS4? With Runtastic you can combine your love of gaming with your love of exercise, because when you've got aliens on your tail running certainly ain't boring.

As an app, Runtastic is a good basic run-tracking tool that covers everything you’ll need: duration, distance, calorie and pace.

It also has the ability to live-track your run on Facebook so friends can send encouragement while you're out on your feet. 

But the thing that we really love about this app – and its top selling point – is Story Running.  

If you find running on your own just too dull you can download 'stories' – musical and audio – to accompany your workout. 

These include coached interval-training sessions that push you to run faster at certain times to improve your overall speed, or stories which make your run seem like you're starring in your own pulse-raising video game. 

Run for your life as you're chased by wolves, or fire nips at your heels, or you escape from Alcatraz, while the voice in your ears prompts you to look for new routes... or turn left and sprint to dodge guards. 

Just remember: you might get a few funny looks when you start hiding behind trees.

Stories are available for a small, varying cost on the free version of the app, or are free if you subscribe to the Premium version.

This article is brought to you in association with Tesco Mobile