I’m a casual runner. It’s a sport that I’ve picked up and let fall many times in the course of my life. At the moment, I’m enjoying probably the most sustained period of regular running that I’ve so far managed. I do want to emphasise that: enjoying this past year of regular workouts really has been rewarding and fun.
I began this period with my iPhone, using the excellent Get Running app to get from my couch to running 5k in a few months. And then I wanted to keep track of my runs and tested a few different apps, including Nike+ GPS and Runmeter, before settling on Runkeeper back in January of this year. And I’ve stuck with Runkeeper, paying up to become an Elite member (which adds a few features and lets you sign up for half-price fitness training courses).
When Runkeeper opened up their API earlier this year, it became possible for outside developers to interface with their services. Today I’m going to be exploring one app that’s taking advantage of that capability, Lake Horizon Ltd.’s iSmoothRun ($4.99). Join me after the jump to check it out.
On Your Marks, Get Set …
The first thing you’ll see when you start up iSmoothRun is the New Run page:
This page is a doorway to the app, and from it you can set up your activities exactly as you need. From the Activity menu you can select from Running, Trail Running, Walking, Hiking, Cycling or Mountain Biking. The Workout menu lets you select from a number of built-in workouts — challenging yourself to run to a specific distance, for a set time, or until you’ve burned a particular number of calories. Here you can also add you own workouts, including intervals, which is great if you’re into Fartlek or other variations on interval training. The interval editor allows you to be quite specific in setting up your parameters.
The Weight setting, of course, is where you enter your weight — this information is used, along with other details you can input in your user profile, to estimate the calories burned during your workouts.
You can use the Shoes menu to keep track of the mileage you’ve completed in your running shoes or on your bicycle, so I can see that I’ve completed a little over 330 miles in my New Balance shoes in the last 9 or 10 months.
The final menu item, RunKeeper Live, will only work if you are a RunKeeper Elite member. This is a live tracking feature that allows you to broadcast your workouts to your RunKeeper page so that others can keep track of where you are — if you’d like to know more about it, you can read more in this post on the RunKeeper blog. This has been handy a few times when I’d taken longer than expected coming home, and my wife was able to check online to see where I was at.
When you hit Start your run, the screen changes to the in-run display:
Here you can see live feedback on your progress: time, pace, cadence, distance, calories burned. Tapping the Map button will show your map position.
The settings on this view seem to be the only way to access what could be a very useful feature: the metronome. This is useful in working with your running cadence (I’d not heard of cadence before I started using iSmoothRun, and it’s been difficult to find good information online, but the idea is that increasing the number of steps you take per minute can improve your running speed). I found fumbling through these settings difficult with the phone strapped to my arm, and would have preferred to be able to set the metronome running before I got started.
In-run audio cues in iSmoothRun are clear and don’t sound as mechanical as the RunKeeper app’s announcements. They’re configurable, so that you can choose to hear updates on your pace, cadence, time, distance, average workout pace, and — if you have a Wahoo Fitness adaptor and a compatible sensor (I don’t, but would love to try one!) — heart rate. You can also set whether announcements are time or distance triggered.
The Log page keeps a record of your past runs.
The icon at top right (is that an index card?) allows you to filter by activity. Tapping on a particular run brings up more details:
The Feeling line is one you set at the end of your run, before saving the data. Tapping Ghost Run at this point will allow you to compete with the recorded run, which is a great way to test yourself against your past achievements.
As you’d expect, Continue allows you to carry on with the run if you were previously interrupted — I’m sure there are circumstances in which this would be useful. Certainly, one of the frustrations I had with the RunKeeper app is that I managed to accidently hit the Stop button on a number of occasions (it can be a bit difficult to hit the Pause button accurately when you have your iPhone strapped to your arm!). So being able to resume a mistakenly-stopped activity would be useful to have.
The Export button allows you to send your runs by email. These arrive as a simple text email with the information summarised on the run details screen, along with attachments in .csv, .kml, .gpx and .tcx formats, which allow you to import and view your run data in various Mac and PC desktop training logs. And it’s also kinda cool to open the the .kml files in Google Earth and watch as the viewpoint sweeps in from space to display your route. This is also where you can send your runs to a number of social exercise networks: Daily Mile, RunKeeper, RunningFreeOnline, TrainingPeaks or TribeSports. I only have experience of the first two of these, and the integration works excellently.
Map, of course, show you a map of your route. This includes the colour-coded pace information with which users of Nike+ GPS will be familiar:
I feel there’s still quite a bit to be said about iSmoothRun: it really is pretty comprehensive and covers just about everything one could hope for from a workout app. But I want to start to slow down now, as I approach the end, and so here are a few observations and issues.
One thing that I miss in iSmoothRun is the ability to control my music from within the app — none of the other apps I’ve so far used had this capability either (though Kinetic GPS, which I’ll be reviewing here soon, does), but I’m coming to feel that this really is a useful feature. I like that you can choose to have your music pause or duck into the background during audio cues, as I often missed bits of audiobooks while running with RunKeeper, which has no equivalent setting.
I encountered discrepancies between iSmoothRun’s records of run distance and those that appear in RunKeeper. These are usually quite trivial, but sometimes have been larger. Take the run I did last Tuesday: it’s recorded in iSmoothRun as 4.03 miles, but shows in RunKeeper as 4.04 miles. There have been larger differences: what’s interesting about this one is that I was also wearing a Garmin Forerunner 110 sports watch, which measured the distance as 4.07 miles. I posted a question about this to RunKeeper’s forums, and a few others joined in with similar issues. The developer posted a response, explaining that these discrepancies are due to the form in which RunKeeper expects location data to be recorded.
That explanation points to a second issue: the GPS lock seems to be slower than in other running apps. I’m not sure how this can be so, but it seems that even if you have the app open as you approach the start of your run, it won’t actually lock on until a few seconds after you press the ‘Start your run’ button. I’ve also had the app lose GPS signal once or twice while running — I can’t say for sure that this hasn’t happened with any of the other apps I’ve tried, since they don’t announce their GPS status in the way that iSmoothRun does.
These few issues aside, I’m very pleased with iSmoothRun, and it’s certainly displaced RunKeeper as my go-to running app. I love that it interfaces with RunKeeper, so that I can continue using the web service that I’m used to and enjoy. It’s elegantly designed and very comprehensive, and its inclusion of cadence, in particular, makes it a great option if you’re a serious runner. As I said, I’m not, but I feel that iSmoothRun is helping me to take my running that little bit deeper and farther.