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The best running apps for Apple Watch 2021

Apple Watch for running
(Image credit: Kanut Photo / Shutterstock)

With the right running app, your Apple Watch can be a great training partner – whether you're just getting started with a couch to 5K program, or aiming to set a new PR for 2021.

While there's nothing to stop you sticking with the built-in tracking options found in Watch OS to monitor and record your runs using Apple Workout, there's a lot to be gained by turning to third party apps.

The problem is that there are so many running apps to choose from, and finding the one that's right for you can be tricky. This is why we've rounded up the five best running apps that you can install on your Apple Watch. Whether you're just starting out, a seasoned runner or just want to try something new, there's something in this list for you.

As everyone's needs are different, it is not really possible to rank running apps and point to one that is "the best". So the list below includes best of the very best apps to help you with your running regime, but its presented in alphabetical order for the sake of simplicity.

Adidas Running App by Runtastic

(Image credit: Runtastic)

1. Adidas Running App by Runtastic

Specifications
Price: Free (plus in-app purchases)
Reasons to buy
+Empty List
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

1. Adidas Running App by Runtastic

Price: free (plus in-app purchases)

You might be familiar with the name Runtastic, which was this app's original title before Adidas chose to throw its weight and expertise into the mix.

With Adidas Running App on your Apple Watch, you can track all of your runs and use the statistics to drive your forward as you strive for a better time. There are some neat touches such as Live Tracking which lets other people keep an eye on where you are (a reassuring safety feature if you're running solo).

You can receive optional voice updates while you run, and your Apple Watch screen can keep you informed about your heart rate, speed, distance covered and more. To help keep you entertained, you can control music playback from within the app.

The free version of Adidas Running App is – as you might expect – sprinkled with ads, but these can be removed by upgrading to the Pro version. Overall, it's a solid general-purpose running app that will serve you well regardless of your level of experience.

C25K

(Image credit: Zen Labs)

2. C25K 5K Trainer

Price: free (plus in-app purchases)

This is an Apple Watch running app with a very specific goal in mind: getting first-timers (or anyone who's returning to running after a long break) up to speed and able to keep going for five kilometers.

The secret of the app's success is that it is gentle, but not too gentle. With just three workouts per week, you should be able to tackle a 5K within eight weeks. The training program incorporates walking as well as running to help you build stamina and gradually work towards hitting your ultimate goal. You just need to commit 30 minutes a day and the program should work.

The free version of the app has a ceiling of 5K, but if you like the idea of taking things further, you can buy a Zen Unlimited Pass as an in-app purchase. This not only give you access to additional apps, but opens up more training programs including 10K, half marathon and full marathon.

There's also a Pro version available, which includes extra feature such as calorie counting and distance tracking. While not essential for the basic 5K training plan, if you're interested in taking your running further these might be enough to tempt you to upgrade.

Nike Run Club

(Image credit: Nike)

3. Nike Run Club

Price: free

Another running app for Apple Watch with a big name tied to it, Nike Run Club is stylish and, surprisingly, completely free to use.

Despite the lack of price tag, this is an app that is packed with features, including many that rivals charge a fee for. You'll find not only GPS tracking to map your runs, but also custom coaching plans, audio guides and custom challenges. Nike Run Club has so many bases covered that it is suitable for all levels of ability.

The audio guides are a nice, hands-free approach to workouts, and you have the option of racing against yourself using the Match Your Last Race feature. Nike Run Club can be used for running outside, but it is also suitable for tracking indoor runs on a treadmill. If you are out on the road and have your phone with you, the app will track additional stats such as elevation, but the vast majority of options can be accessed using nothing more than your Apple Watch. 

If you feel like getting competitive, you can participant in leader boards – something which can prove amazingly motivational in pushing yourself a little harder.

Runkeeper

(Image credit: FitnessKeeper)

4. Runkeeper GPS Running Tracker

Price: free (plus in-app purchases)

A stalwart of the fitness arena, Runkeeper has been with us for quite some time now. Although not shouted about in the name or branding, the app is another than comes from a sportswear firm – in this case ASICS. Runkeeper is arguably more intuitive and easier to use than some other fitness apps, and it is another which is suitable for varying levels of ability and experience. As you'll have guessed from the name, the app features GPS tracking so you can accurately record the routes you take.

There are various ways to use the app, ranging from simply tracking the exercises you do, as well as participating in app-based running groups. Pleasingly, this is a fitness app that you can use without the need to carry your iPhone with you. However you choose to use the app, however, what impresses is the level of customization that's possible and the numbe4r of stats you can track.

The basic version of the app is free, but if you're happy to pay then a premium subscription will open up additional features such as race plans that are customized to your needs, and more tailored fitness plans.

Strava

(Image credit: Strava)

5. Strava

Price: free

Unlike some of the other running apps for Apple Watch covered here, Strava can be used to track not only running, but also swimming and cycling, so if you're a triathlete, this could be the one for you. If you're a multi-disciplinarian, however, you'll need to pay for a subscription to track other activities.

Where Strava really shines is when it comes to its community elements – the option of pitting yourself against other app users is a great motivator, and much cheaper than getting a personal trainer. The app gives you the option of competing in regular challenges, battling to complete portions of road or trail (known as segments) and sharing not only your results but also your photos with the community.

There's also a handy safety feature in the form of Beacon. This lets you share your location with friends and family so if you are concerned about heading off on your own, you can rest assured that someone will always know where you are.

Fans of the app praise its simple, uncluttered layout, but some may feel that it is a little too minimalist. Strava's stats may not be quite as customizable as those of some other apps, but it still manages to cover everything you need, and it can synchronize with a huge range of apps and devices.

Sofia Wyciślik-Wilson

Sofia is a tech journalist who's been writing about software, hardware and the web for nearly 20 years – but still looks as youthful as ever! After years writing for magazines, her life moved online and remains fuelled by technology, music and nature.


Having written for websites and magazine since 2000, producing a wide range of reviews, guides, tutorials, brochures, newsletters and more, she continues to write for diverse audiences, from computing newbies to advanced users and business clients. Always willing to try something new, she loves sharing new discoveries with others.


Sofia lives and breathes Windows, Android, iOS, macOS and just about anything with a power button, but her particular areas of interest include security, tweaking and privacy.