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The Fitness App RunKeeper: Reviewed For Lazy People, By A Lazy Person

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Part of me feels bad for RunKeeper, the first app reviewed as part of my Fitness Apps For Lazy People series. This is my first week of training for the August 27 5K my sister is forcing me to run, and I am essentially still about as fast and fluid as a clumsy manatee on two toothpick legs. By the time I’ve finished my warmup stretches, I’ve already broken into a full sweat. I am perhaps not RunKeeper's target audience.

I suppose, though, that in my current sea-cow state, I am in the optimal condition to review RunKeeper as part of the Fitness Apps For Lazy People series.

I used RunKeeper three times this past week. That means I've ran three times in the last four days -- it also means I ran three times in the last four months.

Three runs, all with the RunKeeper app on my iPhone. What did I learn? Prop yourself up slightly in your Barcalounger and read up:

BEST REASON TO GET OFF THE COUCH: RunKeeper's Robot Goddess Trainer Will Pump You Up

Okay, there are a lot of great things about RunKeeper for those who can actually run -- split timers, calorie burn counts, GPS tracking, all of the standard run-tracking stats.

My favorite thing about RunKeeper, and the most immediately encouraging feature of the app for the unfit, however, is the robot-lady who talks to you as you exercise. I was initially shocked when, on my first run, my head-banging Andrew W.K. tune faded out at the five-minute mark and was interrupted by an android-y woman with a firm voice talking directly to me. It was kind of like getting a telepathic phone call from HAL 9000's wife.

Luckily I wasn't going crazy, and what I was hearing was the "RunKeeper Goddess," which announces your pace, your current time, how far you've run, and other vital fitness stats whenever you want it to. The lazy and unfit are essentially looking for one of two things in a fitness app: features that distract them from how poorly they feel they're doing or features that encourage them, tell them they're doing great and let them know they'll be fit soon. RunKeeper's Goddess voice is one of the best distraction tools available for running beginners.

BEST REASON TO STAY ON THE COUCH: What The Goddess Tells You Isn't Always Encouraging ... Or Accurate

Running, and exercise in general, should be about celebrating how good you feel while doing it, not lamenting your flab with each tortured second. My experience with RunKeeper had a lot of celebration, but it also had its moments of lamentation, too -- damningly at the end of the run, which left me with a sour taste in my parched mouth.

The blame is partly on me, I know, for being out of shape. But when I looked down at my RunKeeper screen after my first run was complete, I saw on my read-out that I was pacing my run at 13-minute miles. Being told by the goddess that you've been running for 15 minutes and that you barely cracked a mile is quite disheartening. There was no way it was accurate (I blame the built-in GPS, but more on this in a second), and it didn't exactly get pumped up to hit the pavement again with RunKeeper the next day. There is nothing encouraging for me about running 1.14 miles in 16 minutes, and no amount of assuring myself that its a bug in the GPS really mollifies me. These fitness apps should be inspiring me, not leaving me frustrated. This was certainly the largest letdown of RunKeeper:

[N.B.: See below the incorrect GPS tracking. I ran all the way up and down 49th, 48th, 47th, and 46th before going down 45th and cutting across 19th Avenue. That I wasn't credited by the program or the Goddess for this distance was most disappointing to see at the end of what felt like a long and successful first run]:

This is a general problem with GPS-tracked fitness apps, but still, fairly discouraging to see after a workout that I was essentially going as fast as I would had I been walking at a swift pace.

CONCLUSION: Is RunKeeper A Good Fitness App For Lazy People?

The Disembodied Robotic Goddess Voice is definitely a fun perk of RunKeeper, and worth a chuckle when you first hear her sweet voice. The impressive database of tailored workout plans by official-sounding trainers are nice features and cool things to brag to your friends about (yeah, my personal trainer is a former Olympian, no big deal).

The user interface is a little dull and science-y, however, with lots of graphs and charts of vital signs that I associate with 50 Cent's "In Da Club" music video. I wish the design popped a little more.

If you're lazy, RunKeeper is worth a shot if only to try out the RunKeeper Goddess, which will have you feeling like a jogging Jetson. After that, however, it is hard to say whether RunKeeper has the firepower or the differentiation to light a fire under a true lazybones' tuckus. For established runners, or those serious about getting in shape, RunKeeper is a terrific, well-established, well-supported app. For a guy who ate nothing but 4 hot dogs for dinner one night this week, I'm not sure it's the game-changer I need to build up to my 5K.

I will miss you, RunKeeper Goddess; perhaps I will see you again soon when my endurance has built up a little bit. And so this is farewell, my dear, until I can run just a little bit farther at once. Our conversations were too short, I think you will agree.

RUNKEEPER ESSENTIALS (Listed In Bullet Form, For The Lazy)

Price: Free

Platforms: Apple iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7

Clout: Over 6 million users and 70,000 'Likes' on Facebook

Things It Can Do
GPS-based fitness activity tracking
Stores all past workouts online and on phone
Travel path shown on map
Ability to listen to music while running
Spoken audio cues
Database of training regimens online, programmable into phone


This is part of a series of articles profiling fitness apps for lazy people. I am training for an August 27 5K, despite my better instincts. For the introduction and mission statement, click here. You can follow my progress on Twitter at @gilbertjasono, or by 'liking' my reporter page here. Stay tuned for next week's Fitness Apps For Lazy People series installment when I review the sleek RunMeter GPS from Abvio.

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