I’ve been running for a few years now, and have been getting progressively faster. As you’d hope I suppose. But I’ve had a few ‘jumps’ in how quick I am, that seem to correlate with my fickle switching around running apps.

The first app I ever used was Runkeeper, with my first iPhone 3GS. As I remember, it did the job. I hadn’t used many apps of any kind at that time as I’d not had a smartphone before.

Then I got a new pair of running shoes, which happened to be Nike. And that led to me switching to the Nike+ running app, as although I knew running outside the app was using GPS, I thought when I ran on a treadmill it may be able to use the in shoe sensor. All a massive (and clever) marketing ploy of course but Nike are one of the few brands I am totally susceptible to. I never got the sensor working, but did notice my speed improving when using the app.

I knew this was probably an elaborate way of lying to myself about how quick I was getting, and that Nike+ was pretty far out when it came to distance (which obviously throws out speed). I ran in the Bupa London 10k an the app was convinced I’d finished a good half a kilometre before I actually had. So not too reliable.

But I stuck with it for a long while, until earlier this year I decided to give MapMyRun a go. I’d love to say it was in pursuit of more accurate distance measurement, or so I could give an unbalanced review across the apps. The real reason was my sister had started to use it and I wanted to show off how much faster I am than her.

Once again, I was suddenly faster using MapMyRun. Smashed pretty much all of my PBs, got a 41:07 10k on a route I’d struggled to get below 45mins using Nike+. On my usual route I knew exactly where the first 1k from my home was according to Nike+. It was about 30 to 40 metres earlier using MapMyRun, which if consistent would add up to a considerable distance over a 10k or certainly a half marathon.

My potential explanation for this was that MapMyRun accounts for elevation, where Nike+ did not. So the extra few metres could easily be distance I’d run up or down a hill, and I was running up and down a lot of hills.

I stuck with MapMyRun for a while, until I got fed up with the rubbish interface. It’s one of those apps that has too much going on, meaning doing the simple start and stop run is more complicated than it needs to be. And if you haven’t paid for an account you get irritating pop ups all the time. It’s how I imagine most Android apps to be.

So I decided to go back to RunKeeper. I considered Nike+ again but my latest running shoes are New Balance, so I’ve clearly shaken lose the Nike brand’s grip on me.

And I discovered since my dalliances with Runkeeper years ago the app had much improved. It’s got a slick, simple design, but gives you the data you want (including elevation). But, though I’m a lot faster than I was when I was last using RunKeeper several years ago, and I’m faster than I was using Nike+ last year, I’m fairly sure I’m slower than I was using MapMyRun. This weekend I ran 14k and felt like I was flying, when according to RunKeeper I was averaging about 20 seconds behind the kind of pace I’d expect to run that distance.

That said, this morning I ran a 10k on a usual route, and RunKeeper had the 10k mark at the exact same spot MapMyRun does. It was a couple of minutes slower than I’d hope to run it, but I’m willing to concede that’s probably just me.

Does anyone know what might explain all this? And don’t just tell me phone GPS data is just generally unreliable, I know that. Do all of these apps access and process the same data in the same way? Or have I just got progressively quicker as I’ve switched apps, bar the last couple of weeks using RunKeeper?

Oh and feel free to add me on RunKeeper.

photo credit: Jason A. Howie

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