Which running software?

I’ve messed around with different running software options over the last couple of years of running training and thought that I would share my experiences of a few of those options.

I’m not intending to score each one, or say that one is better than another and at the end of the day it’s all personal opinion. Most of the options are freely available on the internet and are well worth trying out for yourself.

The hardware

Smart phone or Smart watch? - that is the question!

Smart phone or Smart watch? – that is the question!

The first matter to consider is how you are recording the data. Modern smartphones generally  have GPS built in as standard which means that  they can be a cost-effective tracking device, assuming you’ve already bought your smartphone. These generally have the advantage of being able to link to the internet and share the data (at least as far as you want to do so) automatically, but with the downside that phones are quite bulky and if you haven’t got one, it is likely an expensive way to go about this.

But there are other options too, with watches and other bands which will record the information offline, requiring you to plug them into the computer after your run so they can download their details. Their advantages are that they’re smaller and more convenient to use whilst running, with the disadvantages being the manual step to upload your run details. A further disadvantage comes if you either a) don’t have a computer or b) don’t run the Windows or Mac Operating Systems, as many of these devices require proprietary drivers to make them work.

My hardware consists of a smart-phone, a Nike+ Sportwatch and a Linux-based operating system on my computer. I have to use a ‘virtual’ computer running a flavour of windows to upload my Sportwatch data to Nike+ which is a nuisance but at least it is possible to do. I have yet to find a native linux-based solution to this problem but if anyone can help, please do point me in the right direction.

So here are some options to think about.


Map My Run - example of output

Map My Run – example of output

About 8 years ago, when I first took up long-distance running, MapMyRun was the website I became aware of. At this time, in 2006, the concept of GPS applications on mobiles was well beyond my discovery, and I’m not sure whether anyone else was doing it.

My idea of selecting a run involved a plan of the distance that I wanted to do, and then sitting down with MapMyRun to plot it on a map so I could plot a route roughly of the distance I was intending to do.

In fact this worked pretty well and just arming myself with a stopwatch I trained for my first 10k, 10 mile and half-marathons this way.

Of course the world moves on, and with it so does the technology.

The MapMyRun of today now has it’s own mobile phone app which enables you to use your phone as a tracking device which means that routes can be automatically recorded. This is available for Android and for Apple products. In addition there are options to draw in directly from Garmin as well as GPX/TCX data files from other systems. Unless I’ve missed something I can’t see a direct way of pairing up with a Nike+ device.

The software also has a variety of logging options include dietary information, route creation and goal setting.

I must say I never really persisted with the mobile app and whilst I appreciate the company needs paying customers to continue to run its software, compared to others I found the ‘upgrade to pro’ nags were everywhere resulting in me not wanting to use the software. I found it’s ‘free’ offerings were similar to other ‘free’ options elsewhere, but the nagging just tipped me away from MapMyRun.


Endomondo - enthusiast driven?

Endomondo – enthusiast driven?

I discovered Endomondo in August 2011 and the joys of using a mobile phone with GPS automatically updating the website. Again, it has apps for both Apple and Android and has both ‘free’ and ‘pro’ options and has options to link in with other systems such as Nike+, Garmin and fitbit along with the ability to send your runs immediately to Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

I persisted with Endomondo for a few years. I liked the output as it was comprehensive and informative, providing information about distance splits from Coopers 12 minutes, through 1k, 1mile, 3mile, 5k, 10k, 10mile, Half-marathon and marathon. It had the ability to display these sections clearly on the mapping system which was interesting and linked in with the usual social media should you want this.

I would have considered the ‘pro’ option however reading the online message boards seemed to suggest that it didn’t work as well as the ‘free’ version. Now I never tested out the pro version to see if this was the case, but one would expect the paid-up members to get a better, not worse experience.

Endomondo wasn’t entirely perfect though. In some of the builds the GPS locking system seemed to become very sporadic, sometimes taking an age to find satellites (although using assisted GPS software alongside often helped this) and sometimes losing signal and doing some quite bizarre things. On one run it would appear I ran through houses and over railways, and on the Wilmslow half-marathon in 2012 I broke the 5 minute mile speed, which I would love to do, but would first need to break the 6 minute mile mark. As such the details it recorded could not always be relied on. Not that this is suggesting that other software options would necessarily be better but it was frustrating all the same.

The addition of the Nike+ link was welcome for me as I have one of these smart-watches however for some reason the information didn’t always pull across into Endomondo, so whilst I could see I’d done a run, I couldn’t get any of the details up about it. This of course could have been a fault from my own setup, but it didn’t seem to be as fool-proof as some of the other software options.

And speaking of frustrating, I suspect in a move to persuade free users to upgrade to pro, the layout of the software was altered. Suddenly I was no longer able to find all the nice breakdowns I was used to and this became a big problem for me as it was one aspect which I really liked from Endomondo. This does seem to have become available again but the layout was still frustrating for me as the information I wanted seemed to be tucked away.

It seems other people were getting similarly frustrated as there were a number of FAQs about getting one’s data out of the software. There was no simple option to export all your data, only to do it run by run. The fact this was being requested suggested to me a general discontent, only emphasised by Endomondo themselves stating there was no intention to provide such a feature.


Nike+ output with the darkened map and heat-trace run

Nike+ output with the darkened map and heat-trace run

Having carried a mobile phone around for 400+ miles of running everywhere I started to investigate other more portable options. I found trying to press buttons on my old HTC desire quite difficult when it was around the other side of my left bicep and with the general increase in size of mobile phones I felt this was probably not an option I wanted to continue with.

The Nike+ sportwatch with TomTom mapping sounded like a great option. I’d struggled with some of the mapping issues with Endomondo and the mishaps of button pressing on a phone I couldn’t see properly.

The Nike+ system has one big plus over the Android phones in that it both has a GPS and a footpod option. Those on the Apple systems can purchase an adapter which plugs into their phone or media player to connect with the footpod. But this has the advantage of being able to include treadmill runs as well as the outdoor variety. The newest systems use the GPS outdoor mode to calibrate the footpod mode used indoors so that it is reasonably accurate.

To be honest I’ve had mixed results using the treadmill display compared to the watch, especially when running at a faster pace. This may improve over time as I do different speed work outside using the GPS option of course. And similarly, the Nike+ watch measurement of distance seems to vary from some of the other systems, although I understand there are a lot more variables involved in the GPS calculations over the 3-dimensional terrain of the world. It does seem to record short in general though; I ran a number of championship races in 2013 which were officially measured courses. A 13.1 mile official course record seemed to be recorded lower on the watch, on one occasion to only 12.9 miles.

Of course no system is perfect and the reality of the technology is that it should only be used as a guide, and of course over time, using the same system and metrics should allow for reasonable comparisons to be made.

The one thing I really don’t like about the Nike+ system is their website. It’s very ‘motivational’ with all sorts of silly cards being displayed on the screen which I find distracting. Also the maps are darkened so as to highlight the line of the run, and again this is something I find unnecessary and distracting. I am unable to get a nice clear view of the map as a result. Nor am I able to get at the stats I like to work through.

The obvious solution is to export the data, but Nike+ don’t make this easy. Partner websites where a sharing link is up and running can do this nicely, but if there isn’t a link there is no direct way to get at the data. There are some third-party websites which will do this but it does rely on Nike not changing anything. It does seem to be an unfortunate decision that Nike have made and one can only hope they change their mind on this and make it possible to export run data more easily.


Strava - more community running

Strava – more community running

This is a piece of software new to me in recent weeks. It has its own mobile phone app for both running and for cycling as well as being able to draw in data from Garmin devices. It will also take in GPX/TCX data from other devices.

Strava itself has a big lean towards social network running. On top of the usual Twitter/Facebook options and the ability to follow ‘friends’ it also has a nice ‘segment’ option. This enables you to identify a section of a run and name it. Thereafter, any person using Strava that travels along that segment will be ranked by speed over it; it will also allow comparisons of your recent traverse of the segment compared to your best effort. Similarly, by running/cycling along a segment defined by another person, your own performance will be ranked against all others having used that route. It’s quite a nice little function which allows for a subtle level of competitiveness.

Strava also has a privacy option which is more flexible than other sites I’ve seen. Most give an either all or nothing approach; share your data or don’t. Strava allows you to draw a circle around your home which remains hidden regardless of your other settings unless you specifically turn the option off.

Splits are given along with speed and terrain measurements which are highlighted when each of the splits are selected.

There are plenty of options which come with the pro version, with more breakdown of the analysis. What I like about this site is that the pro sections are marked so they are obvious, but they are not obtrusive. So the site can be used either as ‘free’ or ‘pro’ without the level of frustration that I found with some of the other sites.

Taking the Strava Android app out on the road was very simple; select the ‘record a run’ option and hit the big circle in the centre bottom of the screen and away it goes. At the end of the run, hitting it again pauses the program and the little chequered flag on the screen ends it and uploads to the web version. Clean and simple.

For my test I took my Nike+ watch out at the same time to compare distance measurements between the two systems. Unsurprisingly, the distance on Strava was slightly further 10.30 miles compared to 10.17 miles on the Sportwatch. It’s worth noting that for the same run, importing the Sportwatch data into Smashrun shows a distance of 10.26 miles demonstrating the effect of the different mapping solutions applied by the sites.


Smashrun - a statistical runner's best friend?

Smashrun – a statistical runner’s best friend?

Smashrun is a slightly odd beast. Unlike most of the other sites it sets itself out as a motivational system with all the stats behind it looking to push you against yourself. Yes it does the social network approach as the others do, but the focus is all about what you’ve achieved.

The home screen really is a collection of statistics and in many ways this makes it a much less user friendly system. However if the statistics are important, moreso than whether you’re running more/faster than your friends, this is an advantage as the screen isn’t cluttered with things you’re not interested in.

There are a few oddities, you click on graphs and it just makes them bigger, rather than providing a breakdown of information which was what I was expecting.

The data can be considered on a by-run basis, monthly or annual basis and will subdivide race distances so that they can be compared like with like. In some ways this becomes a bit of a restriction, sometimes I like to see a 10k rate within a longer race for example, where this system instead will just compare for example, 10k races against each other.

Whilst a lot of the data is actually personal information only, the software undertakes a level of statistical analysis against other users of the site and will generate details covering where one’s running of particular distances compares within the universe of other runners of Smashrun, via percentiles

Smashrun is also different in that it works almost independently between the free and pro options. The latter provide a much greater breakdown of information, in some cases so much information it isn’t entirely clear what one is supposed to do with it. But it can also take in information from heart monitors, Nike+ and Garmin hardware and the usual array of TCX/GPX files from other systems.

Smashrun overall would seem to come at the running monitoring debate from a different angle to the other sites. In many ways it is a complimentary approach to be used alongside another system to give the best of both worlds. This is I guess both a strength and a weakness depending on what exactly you are wanting to get out of your software.

It has some quirky ‘fun’ aspects to the data. With your weight included in the settings an estimate of the number of calories burned is made for each run with a comment to the equivalent in food terms. So my 10 mile run apparently expended the calories equivalent to a whole watermelon (the healthy option) or a pint tub of ‘Ben & Jerry’s chubby hubby’ (the unhealthy option). In addition, there are a wide variety of badges to collect for your profile, ranging from completing your first mile up to completing a 50k ultra-marathon!


Each system has  it’s pros and cons, some will appeal to one person more than another. I must say I’m a big fan of a huge amount of data and information which makes Smashrun ideal for me. But it’s not the be all and end all. Strava’s community approach allowing you to see how you compare on segments of runs against the rest of the running universe (in your area at least!) provides information and lends itself to a competitive streak.

Install them. Try them. Delete them. Find the one that’s right for you. And the list above only scratches the surface with many many other options out there.

Happy running! 🙂

6 Comments on "Which running software?"

  1. Hey! Iv really enoyed your blog. Id love for you to followmy running journey aswell! run100run.wordpress.com

  2. I just found and read though this. I’ve come to the point where I am trying to figure out if I want to get a Garmin or not.

    It was interesting to read the various pro/cons you’ve dealt with on the various systems. I’ve been using the Strava App on my Android phone. I thought it was great and didn’t need any other hardware/software … but just this week I’ve noticed that the mileage tracking appears to be off. Yesterday it was off by more than a mile (on a 5 mile run). It might totally be me doing something wrong with it…but some research I’ve been doing is leading me to believe that the GPS search for satellites can be slow at times and cause errors.

    Do you know if the Garmin watches are better at locking on to a signal?

  3. Hi, and thanks for your comment.

    Drifting GPS is something I have experienced in the past, namely on my old phone (HTC desire) and Endomondo. Two issues frequently cropped up; the first being the slow search for satellites and the second being losing the satellites mid run. According to my unadjusted stats at one point at Wilmslow 2012 I ran a 5 minute mile despite my pace being 7 min/miles! This latter problem seemed to be a software issues and an updated version of Endo seemed fine.

    The first problem is frustrating if you’re waiting to get started in a race. Indeed on my Nike+ sportwatch I’ve had it forget where the satellites are moments before starting the run leaving the data incomplete which is very frustrating when it happens. Some of the older watches, and I’ve read this on some of the older Garmins, can take an age to find satellites.

    I’m not sure whether modern phones are better with their GPS or not although I’ve had less issues with my Galaxy 3. I’ve certainly not had any issues yet with Strava although I’ll keep an eye on the results.

    One solution is the usage of Assisted GPS, which is a download of data which basically tells the GPS antenna where to look to find the satellites, therefore speeding up the lock-on process. You can get a mobile app for this (I used ‘GPS Status and Toolbox’ on my HTC Desire) and certainly my Nike+ watch downloads this information whenever it is synchronised with the computer. I do not know whether the Garmins do something similar, but I’d be surprised if not as it would leave them at a disadvantage. This certainly improved the results for me.

    As I mentioned above, there is also a matter relating to the 3D recording of the data and adding it to the in-built maps whereby how the information is interpreted can give a discrepancy across different systems. Indeed a number of my half-marathons last year came out at different lengths (despite all being registered as the correct distance) with the ones with a greater shift in altitude seeming to come out worst.

    Hope this is of some help and that your results become more consistent with the distance you know you’re travelling!

    • Thanks again … I just read about the assisted GPS downloads … I’ll look more into it. I also just read that if I turn off my wifi it might help…I’ll try that this week. I’m carrying my wife’s Bike Garmin in my pocket to compare. (By the way, I have an Android HTC … it seems okay when I do a bike ride with it, as it was correct on a comparison with my wife’s Bike Garmin on a 30 mile ride … its the runs that are way off, which seems counterintuitive to me.)

      And oh … on that route that gave me a mile miscalc, it did show that I did a 3.27-ish minute mile …. WOW! I believe at that speed I would have set a world record AND burst into flames!

      Thanks again for the information.

  4. You may find this site of interest if you’re looking into GPS watches where the author appears to have done quite an extensive review of the garmins as well as many other options http://www.dcrainmaker.com/

    • GREAT! I just favorite the site and specific article to read tonight. I am looking at some of the Garmins … and have pretty much decided that it won’t be a Polar … but I’ll read the article to see if there’s anything that might change my mind.

      And … there was a contest giveaway going on for $400 credit to buy gadgets … so I entered that!

      Thanks again…great info and help.

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