Making it to the finish line of a marathon is seriously impressive. What’s arguably even more admirable: Sticking to a training schedule for several months leading up to the 26.2. Logging 20, 30, or more miles in a week (not to mention putting in the time to safely progress through that mileage), takes dedication. Most runners rely on an arsenal of quality apparel and gear to get them through the miles, but some also recruit a little handheld backup to train—yes, we’re talking marathon training apps.
We asked runners to share the apps that have helped them through marathon training—from suggesting new routes to tracking stats to offering motivation to just keep moving—and straight to the finish line. Meet your new virtual running buddies below.
1. MapMyRun (free, iOS and Android; $ 6/month for premium)
Download if… you want to remember that perfect route you ran a few months ago.
The top feature of MapMyRun, according to runner Veronica Phillips: “It keeps a log of all my routes, so if I’m looking for something that’s challenging one day, want to go a certain distance, or get in some hills—or avoid certain areas—I can look back and find what fits my needs,” she says. Also, she enjoys the consistent updates on her speed throughout her run (a perk of paying for premium). “This is important for me, because I’m always looking to improve as a runner, whether I’m out for a recovery run, speed work, or a progression run,” Phillips says. “I can set it to alert me every couple of minutes to tell me to slow down or move my ass.” The app also tracks things like mileage, pace, and cadence.
Lauren Carr likes the app because it links up to MapMyFitness, where she keeps a virtual food journal to make sure she is fueling properly. “I do a really bad job of making sure my body has the correct nutrition it needs for those long runs,” she says. “This allows me to really track everything.”
(Quick note: Some people, like Carr, find it helpful to keep track of their food to make sure they are getting the nutrients they need to power through a lot of running. But tracking your food is absolutely not necessary to do if you don’t want to.)
2. Fitbit (free with Fitbit device, iOS and Android)
Download if… a little competition inspires you to work harder.
“I am an avid fan of Fitbit; I love the platform,” says runner Aja Carter. Paired with a Fitbit tracker, the app keeps tabs on your mileage, pace, steps, and other workout stats. It also lets you challenge other users to fitness competitions. “Over the years, I’ve convinced many family members, co-workers, and associates to purchase one, just to participate in the weekly challenges,” Carter says.
3. Charity Miles (free, iOS and Android)
Download if… you want your miles to contribute to a cause.
Carter says that Charity Miles offers her extra incentive to keep going by donating money to the charity of her choice (there are over 40 options) with each mile she logs. “Anytime I go for a walk or a jog, I am sure to turn it on,” she says. “It provides a win-win situation for everyone!” The app also keeps track of distance and pace.
4. Strava (free, iOS and Android, or $ 2-$ 6/month to add premium features)
Download if… you could use some virtual high-fives.
First-time full marathoner Amanda Fludd likes connecting with friends and running teammates (she’s a member of Black Girls Run!) on Strava who can send congratulatory messages after she finishes a run. “You need a lot of encouragement to train through 26.2 miles—it’s a long project,” she says. You might as well get some love from fellow runners as you go.
Liz Upward follows workouts from her Garmin Connect app, and then uses Strava to analyze those workouts. “Their premium feature has great graphs for the lap splits and [heart rate] zones you hit while in different places,” she says.
Psst, SELF is on Strava! If you use the app to track your runs, join the SELF club and get support and advice from SELF staffers and other members. Runners of all levels are welcome to become part of our #TeamSELF community!
5. RunKeeper (free, iOS and Android)
Download if… you’re looking to set (and then beat!) new personal records.
Jacinta (JC) Carter has been turning to RunKeeper to coach her through training since 2011. She’s used their half- and full-marathon training plans to get ready to race to the finish, plus she signs up for several challenges throughout the year. “I’ve actually achieved my goal of running over 100 miles per month several times, and I can still view the activities in my history,” she says. “I love that I can see my fastest 5K, 10K, 13.1, and 26.2 records at a glance. And the weekly, monthly, and yearly mileage comparison is amazing. I enjoy challenging myself to run more miles than the previous month.”
6. Nike+ Run Club (NRC) (free, iOS and Android)
Download if… you like to run with a virtual trainer.
Tracy Thong uses NRC to track her mileage, time, and pace, and listens to guided runs within the app on a regular basis. Guided runs feature running pros like Eliud Kipchoge and Shalene Flanagen offering helpful tips and motivation throughout your workout. “There are guided runs for just about any type of run you have for the week, from a short tempo to a long run,” she says. “You can also set challenges for yourself, which is great motivation.”
NRC is Jay Ell Alexander’s must-download for daily tracking and monthly challenges. She also likes getting some gear discounts—the more you use the app, the more special product offers you can unlock.
7. Motigo (free, iOS and Android)
Download if… you want prerecorded messages from your loved ones to listen to midrun.
Motigo offers the motivation Alexander needs to continue putting one foot in front of the other. Using the app, friends and family can record 30-second messages meant to pick you up when you’re slowing down. Or, you can record your own mantras that you know will work to push you along the course. “It’s a great audio app that features Black Girls Run! members from across the country, with motivational sayings,” Alexander says.
8. Garmin Connect (free with device, iOS and Android)
Download if… you find in-depth data reports helpful.
You’ll get an overview of your run, a mapped-out route, a schedule of weekly workouts and—a popular feature among runners—challenges. You can even sign up for a training plan for a race. All those features make it runner Shana Blenman’s favorite, along with the ability to set a pace for interval training runs. “It allows me to keep better track of my fitness goals,” she says.
Garmin Connect also provides monthly progress reports, feeding you data on things like your average heart rate versus average pace for the year, or your typical cadence. You can also search for popular routes in your area—and then compete against other runners who have completed the same ones.
Upward uses the app with her Garmin Forerunner by programming workouts into it ahead of time. “This allows me to focus on my movement and efforts, without constantly looking at my watch,” she says.
9. Final Surge (free, iOS and Android)
Download if… you work with a running coach IRL.
Final Surge is great if you have a run coach. It allows you to interact without meeting in person—you can send messages back and forth right in the app and check in on your weekly workout schedule. “My coach posts my workouts [on this app] and we can both comment on it to share reviews and feedback on my workouts,” Upward says. “It allows us to go back and review my progress. It also helps me plug in strength training workouts to track my holistic training.” It also syncs with Garmin and Strava, so you can have a complete view of all your data.
10. Training Peaks (free, iOS and Android, or $ 20/month for premium)
Download if… journaling helps you keep track of your training goals.
Training Peaks makes it super easy to plan out runs for the week (a feature in the premium version) and keep a journal of how each one went, runner Tracy Thong says. “You have the option to add notes about how each run felt, and also track your progress through the journey to 26.2,” she adds. You can also check the time you spent in different training zones—important when you’re aiming for a recovery run versus a tempo run—or keep an eye on how many miles you’ve put into your sneakers.
Download if… you get super nervous before long runs.
“I started getting into meditation during marathon training, because I was so stressed leading up to a long run, and I needed a better way to cope with those thoughts and fears,” runner Liz Ruggi says. That can be a pretty common feeling for anyone looking to take on 14, 16, or 20 miles—especially for the first time. “I tried to use the app at least once a week to set aside time for processing these emotions. I love that it helped change my relationship with anxiety and fear,” she continues. The app also taught her the mantra she repeats to herself on race day: “Strength and courage in; self-doubt out.”
12. New York Road Runner’s Virtual Trainer ($ 50 for a 12-week plan, syncs with Strava)
Download if… you’re looking for a training plan and race time predictor.
So this technically isn’t an app, but Fludd also swears by the NYRR training plan, which she's been following every day as she trains for her first marathon. It syncs with the Strava app (rather than coming as a separate app, though the training plan itself is mobile-friendly). “It calculates your pace and projected finish time for the marathon using recent race stats, and it adjusts workouts based on when you want to run and how aggressive you want to be,” Fludd says. Workouts include intervals, hills, and options for cross-training.