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Best running apps for 2021

A woman looking at a running app on her smartphone
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Whether you’re training for your first 5K or your fourth marathon, the best running apps on the market will help you track your training and help you reach your goals. Most of the best running apps will connect to your running watch or fitness tracker for accurate data, they can also provide advice, motivation and just make heading out for that daily run a little bit more fun. 

Yet the world of running apps can seem overwhelming, and finding the right one for you can be costly. Like a class at the gym, there’s no one-size-fits-all running app, and each has its own pros and cons to suit different runs. To simplify the process, we’ve filled our phones up with some of the most popular running apps on the market to help you click download on the best one for you.

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for an app with tried and trusted training plans to help you smash your PB at your next half marathon, or a running app that turns your daily run-commute into a game, we’ve found something for everyone. So download, lace-up, and let’s go. 

What are the best running apps for your smartphone?

The best running app depends on what you want the app to do. For tracking run data, the best running apps are Strava, Map my Run, and Runkeeper. Strava has the added benefit of tracking cycling, swimming, and cross-training workouts too, so you can keep all your training in one place. 

If you’re a completely new runner, the Couch to 5K running app is a brilliant way to get started, building you up slowly from a run-walk, to a continuous 5K. For those hitting the treadmill, the Peloton app and Apple Fitness Plus both have a range of workouts to keep you entertained.  

If you’re just a bored runner that’s looking for a running app that will make your runs more exciting, apps like Stride and Zombies! Run, are great at keeping you entertained. 

The best running apps for Android and iOS

1. Strava

Best running app overall

A screenshot from Strava, one of the best running apps

(Image credit: Strava)

If you need people around you to keep you motivated, Strava is the app to download right now. The community part of the app allows you to follow your friends, running frenemies, and work colleagues and even set up group challenges, like fastest 5K or longest monthly mileage. 

That said, if you’re not a competitive runner, don’t let this put you off. Strava has all the running tracking features you’d expect - from running speed and distance travelled, to more in-depth performance analytics and weekly miles. 

Strava supports a variety of running trackers in addition to Wear OS devices and Apple Watch. (Just make sure you opt out of the location tracking features if you happen to be around restricted areas.)

There are also handy features like Strava Beacon, which are designed to keep you safe, by allowing your friends or family members to track your live location on a run. 

Strava supports a variety of running trackers in addition to Wear OS devices and Apple Watch. (Just make sure you opt out of the location tracking features if you happen to be around restricted areas.) 

Alongside the free version of the app, Strava has a paid-for membership, named Summit. Strava Summit gives you access to more features, such as more in-depth race and performance analysis and the Strava maps feature, which allows you to easily find route suggestions from your current location. Strava Summit costs $5.00 per month or $59.99 per year. 

2. Map My Run by Under Armour 

Best running app for map building 

a screenshot from the 'map my run' running app

(Image credit: MapMyFitness)

Map My Run, now developed by Under Armour, uses the GPS and other sensors in your phone to track and map your running course, time, speed, and total distance traveled. 

The app displays both your real-time stats and your end-of-run totals. Useful extras include support for a variety of fitness trackers and heart rate sensors, Wear OS support and nutrition tracking. A premium subscription provides voice coaching and location sharing and removes ads.

Another cool feature now that the app is developed by Under Armour is that newer Under Armour running shoes will connect to Map my Run via Bluetooth, allowing your shoes to sync your running data to the app the second you step back through the front door. 

Enjoy other activities besides running? You'll find separate apps for cycling, walking and general fitness from Under Armour in both Google Play and Apple's App Store.

3. Runkeeper

Best running app for training plans 

a screenshot from the 'runkeeper' running app

(Image credit: ASICS Digital)

A perennial favorite among runners, Runkeeper uses your phone's GPS to track your running, cycling, hiking and other distance activities. The app records your pace, distance, total exercise time, calories burned and other useful metrics, while delivering a variety of training plans, complete with reminders and gamified challenges. 

Users can go freeform or download and follow popular running routes. You can measure your progress and workout history, as well as sync with numerous other apps and services and receive detailed reports of your tracked activity. 

Runkeeper also works with a variety of smartwatches and fitness devices such as the Apple Watch and Wear OS devices.

4. Peloton

Best running app for treadmill runners

a screenshot from the peloton app, one of the best running apps

(Image credit: Peloton)

If you’re a runner who prefers to clock your miles indoors, finding an app that makes treadmill running more fun can be a challenge. The good news? The Peloton app can be used on all treadmills, not just Peloton’s own Tread, and it’s got loads of great on-demand and live classes for runners to choose from. 

The main plus with the Peloton app is its trainers - from Becs Gentry to Chase Tucker. There are themed runs for runners who want to have fun, we particularly loved the Disney run, and you can tailor the runs by time or your goal. The sessions were extremely motivating and were easy to follow even using an iPhone propped up against the screen of the treadmill. 

Peloton offers a month’s free trial for their app, which is a fantastic amount of time to really test its different features (there are cycling and strength training workouts on there too). After that, it’ll cost $12.99 per month. 

5.  NHS Couch to 5K 

 Best running app for beginners 

A screenshot of the NHS couch to 5K running app

(Image credit: Couch to 5K)

An app that became extremely popular during the Coronavirus pandemic, the NHS Couch to 5K app is a brilliant way to take your first steps into the world of running. Developed by Public Health England, the app takes you from zero to running for 30 minutes in as little as nine weeks. 

You can choose your own personal trainer, who give you audio prompts and encouragement along the way. The app starts with a mixture of run-walking intervals, giving you audio prompts of when to start running. You’ll then gradually build up to running more of the session than walking. 

While it might be limited in some ways (it’s only really suitable for new runners, or runners returning from time off), it’s a brilliant way to get into a regular running routine. It’s also completely free. 

6.  Stride 

 Best new running app 

Screenshot of the Stride running app

(Image credit: Stride)

Relatively new to the running app market, Stride allows you to track your runs and walks via your phone’s GPS and play against other users nearby to control the biggest territory. You can play with neighbours or friends for champion status, and you’ll get rewarded for determination over speed. 

This isn’t the best app for serious runners - there are no training plans or competitive running metrics, but if you want to make running with your local running club more fun, it’s a cool way to do that. 

There’s a 7-day free trial when you download the app, after that it’s $3.99 per month. There’s also a yearly subscription that starts from $22.99 per month. 

7.  Apple Fitness Plus  

 Best running app for treadmill runners with an Apple watch 

A screenshot of the Apple Fitness Plus app

(Image credit: Apple)

 Another one for treadmill runners, the Apple Fitness Plus subscription has a number of treadmill workouts to keep you busy. It’s tough to choose between this and Peloton, we found the Peloton app slightly more user-friendly but loved the lively Hip Hop sessions on Apple Fitness Plus and the fact you get a three-month subscription free when you buy an Apple Watch. 

The sessions are divided up by time and music, so if you’ve only got 10 minutes to spare, that’s enough to get a sweat on. There are not the same live workouts as there are on the Peloton app, but Apple has announced that group classes will be rolled out onto the platform later this fall. 

Unsurprisingly, Apple Fitness Plus is only available on Apple devices. Apple Fitness Plus costs $9.99 for a month or $79.99 for a year.

8. Nike Run Club

Best running app for runners with an Apple Watch 

a screenshot from the Nike Run Club running app

(Image credit: Nike)

Nike may have ditched the FuelBand, but the company still makes a mean run tracker with the Nike Run Club, which now comes baked in with the Nike+ edition of the Apple Watch. The Nike Run Club app itself has added Apple Watch complications to provide at-a-glance stats and motivation, so this is an ideal option if you're a new Apple Watch 6 owner.

Designed for beginners and veteran runners alike, the app is an all-around run tracker, music player and social networking tool for runners. The app measures a variety of metrics such as your pace, distance run and mile splits; it also includes a variety of coaching plans that adapt to your fitness goals and progress. 

Once you're done with your run, you can share your details complete with photos, stats and stickers, and compare your progress with other runners. In addition to the built-in music player, the app also allows you to listen to audio cheers sent by friends, as well as encouragement from Nike's pro athletes.

9. Zwift 

Best running app for runners who run and cycle in the gym

a screenshot from the Zwift running app

(Image credit: Zwift)

If you find yourself doing a lot of exercising at home these days, Zwfit can help you change up your surroundings while you shelter in place. And the mobile app even adds a little gamification to your runs as part of the bargain.

With Zwift, you can take your runs to virtual courses, while staying on your treadmill. Along with the different courses, you'll run alongside other people, using their times for encouragement or competition. 

You'll need a compatible treadmill and footpod to make Zwfit work — the company lists compatible devices on its website. But the run aspect of Zwift is free to use. (Zwift also works with cycling, but after a 7-day trial, rides require a $15 monthly membership.) If you've got the right equipment, Zwfit offers a unique way to get more out of your at-home runs.

10. Charity Miles 

Best running app for motivation

a screenshot from the Charity Miles running app

(Image credit: Charity Miles)

Going out for a run can do more than just improve your health — it can also raise money for a good cause. Charity Miles looks to take all that exercise you've been logging and turning it into cash for the charities of your choice, whether you get friends, family and employers to sponsor you, or you direct money from Charity Miles' corporate sponsorship pool.

When you launch the app, you can pick the charity of your choice — there are more than 50 supporting causes that range from Autism Speaks and Feeding America to the American Lung Association and the Nature Conservancy. The Charity Miles app then syncs with either the Apple Health data stored on your iPhone or the built-in pedometer on your Android device. (It also syncs up with Strava, the best running app on this list.) Then, every time you log a mile as you run, you're earning money for your charity.

Charity Miles has been available for both Android and iOS, though the Android version seems to no longer be offered via Google Play. We'll keep an eye peeled to see if the Android version returns.

  • Download Charity Miles: iOS

11. Zombies, Run! 

Best running app for Walking Dead fans

a screenshot from the Zombies, Run! running app

(Image credit: Six to Start)

Zombies, Run! gives you the chance to jazz up your 5K round the park with a Zombie apocalypse. Feel like you're in a computer game as you attempt to gather supplies, rescue survivors, and save the world from the Zombies. In the app, you have the option to choose between GPS, step counting, or treadmill running, as well as whether or not you want to be chased by zombies during your run. 

If this all sounds a little farfetched, do not fear - there's still the option to link the app to your favourite music player and set a duration of how long you want to run for. While this probably isn't the best app on the market for serious training, if you want to mix things up and have a little fun, it'll do the job. 

How to choose the best running apps

Most of the apps featured here are free, though a few offer subscriptions that deliver more advanced features, such as guided workouts, location sharing and training plans. You can decide if these extra features are worth the recurring cost or whether you can make do with the free tier. (Some free apps are ad-supported, so you'll have to decide if that's too much of a nuisance.)

As we've noted, different running apps focus on different things. So choosing the best running app for your needs depends heavily on what you want to use the app for — Tracking your stats? Mapping your runnings? Playing music that complements your workout? — and picking the one that ticks all those boxes.

If you do opt for an app that maps where you run, check out that app's privacy policy to see where that data is stored and who has access to it.

Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.