Running and mobile apps seem to go hand in hand—after all, runners often have their phones with them, whether for safety, for music, or because they've paired their favorite fit tech device to their smartphone. So, naturally, there are plenty of apps out there to help train for a marathon, whether they’re training programs, running/fitness trackers, or even calorie counters. Here are a few apps to get you started—the rest of those 26.2 miles are, unfortunately, up to you.
If you’re not quite ready to even think about running a 10K—let alone a marathon—I don’t blame you. To help get yourself motivated, try a shorter race, such as a 5K (about 3.1 miles). C25K Free is an app that promises to get you from sitting on the couch to running a 5K race in eight weeks.
The app starts out with simple, alternating jog/walk workouts (three workouts per week for eight weeks) and features audio cues that tell you when to jog and walk. You can listen to your own music while you use the app, and by the end of the sixth week you’ll (hopefully) be running 2.25 miles without any breaks. Plus, if you like the C25K method, you can download Zen Labs’ paid apps which include a half-marathon and a marathon trainer.
Runtastic—iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, BlackBerry, Bada
Runtastic is more social network than hardcore fitness tracker, but it does help keep you motivated. This app—which is available for basically all mobile operating systems, including BlackBerry and Bada—uses your device’s built-in GPS to track your distance.
This means it’s best for people who run outside (it won’t be able to accurately track your treadmill workouts), because let’s face it: If you’re training for a marathon, mixing up scenery is key. Runtastic has a couple of nice features for distance runners such as letting you rate your day and workout by noting how you’re feeling, what the trail felt like, and what the weather was like.
Striiv Walkathon + Fitness Games—iOS
If social networks don’t motivate you, Striiv’s Walkathon + Fitness Games app might just do the trick. This app basically turns your iPhone into a pedometer by using your device’s built-in accelerometer to track your steps, whether you’re walking or running.
It’s not great as a standalone fitness tracker, since you can’t track individual workouts, but it does have a couple of unique motivation techniques—most notably a FarmVille-esque game called MyLand (the more you walk/run, the more you can grow your plants and build things), and a walkathon feature that lets you walk/run for charity. The more you move with Striiv, the more you can donate to one of three charities (saving the rainforest, clean water, and polio vaccinations for children)—combining exercise and philanthropy so that you can feel good in more ways than one.
MapMyRun—iOS, Android, BlackBerry
MapMyRun is a comprehensive fitness tracking app that works in tandem with a website. The app lets you track your runs (hence the name), including time, distance, pace, and calories burned.
What’s nice about this app is that you can choose different types of running workouts to track, such as treadmill running, sprints, races, interval training, cross country, trail running, and power walking.
MapMyRun (known as MapMyFitness on Android and iMapMy on BlackBerry) is free, but extra features such as coaching (which allows you to set goals, and tells you if you’re below your target pace), and the ability to control your playlist from the app costs an extra $5/month or $30/year. You can also opt to purchase a MapMyRun Bluetooth heart rate monitor for $50, which includes a year of the service.
Run The Map—Windows Phone 8
Run The Map is a simple, yet effective fitness tracker for Windows Phone 8 users. This app is similar to MapMyRun, but without all the bells and whistles. You can record your route, track your run on a map in real time, and see your time, distance, and average speed.
You can also track stats such as your maximum speed and altitude increases and decreases. Run The Map also automatically records interval splits, which is a great feature for people who don’t want to have to press a button every time they start or stop an interval.
RunKeeper is a full-featured fitness tracking app aimed at—you guessed it—runners. This app tracks your workout via GPS (though you can also enter in workouts manually), and features music controls and audio cues/coaching.
You can also set goals (such as distance, weight, or finishing a race), share your progress on social networks, and take photos during your workout, which is great if you happen to be hiking or running on a gorgeous trail. The app also works with a variety of heart rate sensors and integrates with activity trackers such as Fitbit, Zeo, Garmin, and Wiithings.
Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal—iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8
The best thing about distance running that you can pretty much eat all the carbs you want without feeling guilty. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paying attention to what you eat—you should, both to make sure you’re getting the calories you need (and not overeating) and to keep yourself from indulging on too much junk food.
Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal will help you do just this: It’s basically a mobile food diary with a pre-built database of over 2 million foods. It’s easy to use, and you can add multiple foods at once (a feature which the company boasts “no other app has”). You can also connect to other MyFitnessPal affiliates, such as BodyMedia FIT, Digifit, Endomondo, and Finis Swimsense to track your workouts alongside your eating.
Individual marathon apps
Marathons these days are pretty high-tech races. If you’re looking to get inspired, perform some race-recon, or just follow (and cheer on) your favorite athletes, you should check to see if your race has its own app.
The BMW Berlin Marathon has an app, as does the TCS Amsterdam Marathon, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, the Boston Marathon, and the NYRR NYC Half Marathon.If you're a runner, or looking to be one, these apps are a great place to start.