RunKeeper recently celebrated its fifth birthday. As part of the celebrations an amazing mass of statistics were releases. For example, RunKeeper has recorded 15,700 years worth of activity and it has 22.5 million users. Probably, then, it’s time for me to take a look.
RunKeeper is a free app for Android and Apple, and there’s a comprehensive web based interface too. It is simple and easy to download, and the only hardware requirement you need to check your phone for is GPS – without this RunKeeper can’t track your routes properly. Most phone have GPS so you should be OK, but if in doubt, check your handset’s specifications online before you download.
When I say RunKeeper is free that isn’t in fact the whole story. You can upgrade to RunKeeper Elite, and if you do that you pay $19.99 a year or $4.99 a month and get added features like live broadcasting of your activities, ‘lifetime insights’ such as tracking your average pace over time and advanced reporting and activity comparisons.
But you don’t need to pay up to get a huge range of features, and everything I write about from here on is based around the free RunKeeper.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t check out the added features in RunKeeper Elite, of course.
Once RunKeeper is installed you need to create a login and set up a few basics like age, weight and gender. You can do this on the handset, or if you find such things a little fiddly, do it at www.runkeeper.com. Once you’ve created an account you can get into it from a handset. And that’s one of the beauties of RunKeeper. Like any other smartphone app of its kind worth bothering with, the data collected by your phone is saved online so you can view and use it from the web on any device.
RunKeeper has to be one of the easiest to use, yet most flexible applications I’ve come across – and that means outside the fitness sector as well as within it. You have to do almost nothing to get started with it, and it will deliver. As you delve deeper it becomes obvious that there’s enough going on under the hood to keep many of us happy for long periods. For some people, an app like RunKeeper will be all the technology they’ll ever need.
That noted, if you want to use it, you’ll need a safe and secure way of carrying your phone during activity. For me that makes it inappropriate for competitive orienteering which is classed by many as an extreme sport and can involve getting wet and muddy. Something it’s a good idea to protect your phone from!
Still, let’s get back to the app.
I decided to go through the setup process on the web where it’s easier to enter the usual details – name, age (well, they ask for date of birth), gender and so on. You can also set up a whole host of other information including getting a vanity URL that ties in with your user name. You can indicate the type of activity you prefer –RunKeeper caters for oodles of these and you set up a preference in your profile but can pick from the lot when you start a new activity on your phone. The setup area is quite comprehensive, and even if you make the initial settings on your phone it’s a good idea to visit the web site and work through each of the menus fairly early in your use of RunKeeper, because there’s lots on offer here and some settings you might want to make from the off.
The obligatory ability to connect with Facebook is here – and you can use your Facebook profile picture or take a new one. It is also possible to auto share information with everyone, friends or just keep it private. You can make settings for your activities, body measurements, weight, and more.
You can see from this list that RunKeeper does more than just keep track of your activities, and you can use it to meet a range of goals including weight loss as well as general fitness. RunKeeper pushes its social side, so you can connect to Twitter and Facebook and share activity reports via those, and receive notifications when your activities are liked or commented on after they’ve been shared.
You can also get emails when you gain personal records to help with your own motivation. There are other social connection options for example with Gmail and Foursquare, and connections can be made on the data sharing side of things too, with a host of other apps many of which collect different data about your health and wellbeing. There’s yet another way to get data into RunKeeper. If you do an activity using some other recording equipment, or don’t record it with a gizmo at all, you can add details manually via the RunKeeper web site. Pick your activity and then add the details – even drawing the route you‘ve taken on a map or importing data from a GPX, TCX or Garmin file and then adding the finer details. So you could combine using RunKeeper with other devices, and get RunKeeper to be the place you log absolutely everything. To complete the circle you can export RunKeeper data, so you can use it in other apps. You set the export dates, and the file is delivered as a zip that contains .csv and .gpx files. The .csv files open directly into a spreadsheet where you can manipulate them as you wish. The .gpx file is the standard GPS Exchange format – it includes your routes information for plotting onto maps and you can import it into any app which can understand the file format.
This might all sound quite complex, but in use RunKeeper is simplicity itself and the range of views and information you get about any one activity is amazing. To start an activity on your Android or iPhone you just run the app, pick an activity type, decide whether or not to broadcast live, and then tap Start. Now, broadcast live is only available to paid up Elite members, so what you get if you select that is the option to sign up for Elite membership. If you don’t just want to use RunKeeper on the hoof you can pick from a range of free workouts and training plans, and this is one of the delightful features of RunKeeper. There are free training plans for a range of different activities targeted at lots of ability types. Some are there to help you work towards running distances – 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon. But you can also pick a one-off workout or even just set a target pace for today’s session. If you pick a training plan aimed at a specific distance a schedule and training plan is built for you and you can view it on your phone and on the web. The training plans are designed by real people and you can find out more about them and about the plans they have designed on the RunKeeper web site. The general layout of RunKeeper on a phone is excellent. The main screen shows pace and distance, and using the arrows to the left and right of this information you can switch to seeing your location mapped on one extra screen and current distance and split time on another.
At the top of the screen you can see elapsed time, GPS signal strength, your average minutes per distance unit (miles or kilometers), and calories burned. There’s a big central display that shows activity intensity. it’s flat on the screen shot on the right because I am indoors taking the image rather than outdoors doing an activity!
You can manually pause and resume – and the stop button is a nice big red one that you should easily be able to find at the end of an activity that’s left you exhausted.
Because a lot of people on runs – especially in social runs or large races – like to take photos, there’s a quick link to your device’s camera. And if you hit the settings button you can switch into night mode – which puts information against a dark background as the image on the left shows, or in day mode which puts it against a light background.
When you are done you get a brief summary, can write a short note about how your activity went, can decide whether or not to share to Facebook or Twitter, and decide if and when to get a reminder of the next activity that’s due in your programme.
If you have set up a heart rate monitor you get stats monitored by that too. You’ll need a Bluetooth HRM to take advantage of that feature – Polar is one maker of a Bluetooth Heart Rate Monitor.
Audible alerts come, of course, as you pass distance and time points – and you can set the latter at 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 minute intervals and then at five minute intervals up to 30 minutes. The former you can set every quarter of a unit, mile or kilometer depending on what you have chosen to use. You can also get pace and speed alerts and heart rate alerts if you are using a Heart Rate Monitor. You’ve got plenty of control over the kind of alerts you want to have.
You can decide not to save activities – handy if you’ve had to abort something or if you think it will disrupt your overall pattern.
Everything you decide to save gets uploaded to the RunKeeper and there you can view oodles of stats and set yourself goals to work towards.
You can review all your activities and if there’s a route you’ve traveled that you particularly like you can save it as what RunKeeper calls a route, using it time after time to measure yourself.
It is really difficult not to come away from even the briefest excursion with RunKeeper and not be a great fan. I can tell immediately why it is such a very popular application. It is easy to use, exceptionally configurable, and full of great features.
Yet for all the complexity that’s on offer here it is very easy to use, and it scores a bullseye on catering for those people who want to big up the social aspects of their activity. If there are things you want to do with your activity stats that RunKeeper doesn’t allow, it is easy to download them as a .csv file and play with them.
To put this all into a wider context, there are other services which are more complex, and which suit people who want to really drill into their performance. But for most people even the free version of RunKeeper offers a huge range of features and the flexibility to allow you to pick and choose between them. It’s no wonder this app is, if you will pardon the pun, a runaway success.
- Easy to use
- Superb use of graphics
- Very flexible
- Very difficult to find any cons!
Click image to enlarge