Runners aren’t demanding creatures, though a few things are important, arch support and dry socks chief among them. For those who have to squeeze in a run around work, a headlamp can also be nice. But the nature of a runner’s solitary sport is self-improvement. And for that, an app can be huge.

There are several running apps available — many are tailored to the beginner, with increasingly ingenious features intended to motivate one off the couch and out the door. For those of us who are already out the door and have good habits — and who might feel slowed by constantly checking with a device — there are benefits to using an app while running, as I learned last month. The apps notify runners when their pace starts to fade, track and monitor their performance over time, map their favorite routes and get them to stick to a plan.

Pulse tested four of the most popular free running apps out there. All are available for iOS or Android. None, sadly, incorporate zombies as a motivational tool. And none involve the raw stimulation of running with bags of trash in your hands. •

Human

Not a running app as much as an activity tracker, Human logs your “active minutes” in a day, picking up with impressive accuracy when you start a run or ride. Like other trackers, it runs all day in the background, reading movement. This one offers insight into how much of your daily calorie burn comes from running, and it could shatter illusions about your fitness output.

The interface is easy to use. Visualizations give you a clearer picture of how you’re spending your waking hours.

Setting a daily step goal with the app is simple. Human notifies you when you’re close to your target of active minutes, and when you’ve hit your goal. Like other apps, its social functions give users a sense of how their activity compares with others in your city.

Premium service allows features like editing, which could be worth it because Human isn’t perfect and does occasionally misattribute activity, requiring you to go in and fix it.

Premium service: $3 per month. Unlocks 90 days of history on a user’s timeline.

Pacer

Pacer does primarily one thing — count your steps — and does it well, with a simple user interface that’s easy to check with one hand while running.

Pacer is clearly proud of the network of people on the app its accumulated since 2012: more than 60 million, according to the app. Its developers have also clearly spent time on workout plans to keep users engaged. Video guides show proper form for trailside workouts. The pedometer also counts calories and active minutes.

Pacer links with health and exercise apps to record your activity information, to compare to your body weight and data points. Pacer is handy for people who don’t own a smart wristwatch or Fitbit. And, helpfully for those who are opposed to change, it really couldn’t be more straightforward.

Premium service: $5 per month. Paying for premium unlocks features including advanced data reports, guided workouts and weight-loss coaching.

MapMyRun

The classic. MapMyRun is arguably the standard for running apps, and it has been heavily upgraded since its debut in early 2016 (right before the Pokemon Go craze propelled the popularity of step-counters). It now allows for easier data sharing and better integration with other apps and devices.

The routes feature allows you to find new runs, and include on- and off-road varieties here in Bend. It tracks runs well, and intuitively knows when your pace has slowed to a walk.

It tells you which types of runs you’ve been most successful at and offers feedback.

The app pairs well with music players. Some apps obtrusively interrupt music with in-run updates, sometimes shutting them off altogether, but MapMyRun fades in and out without much notice.

The app is customizable, easy to use and heavy on social functions with the millions of other users if you’re into that.

Premium service: $6 per month, or $2.50 per month for a year. Premium service means no ads, access to training plans, a heart rate monitor, live tracking, audio coaching and expanded use of MapMyRun.com.

Nike + Run Club

Another contender for industry standard is Nike’s contribution. It is used by local high school track and cross-country clubs due to its social functions — like its leaderboard — and reliability.

Nike-sponsored celebrities and athletes offer post-workout congrats and motivation. It’s harder to slack on a workout when you know Kevin Hart is watching.

After you’ve recorded several runs, Run Club does a good job letting you know how you’re performances stack up.

The app is solidly constructed and has a good sense of when you stop running, and when you’re momentarily interrupted.

Without premium membership it’s impossible to fix data, meaning some data must bear asterisks.

Premium service: No fee, but many features are only available when using an Apple Watch

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