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To Use a Running App…or Not?

Once upon a time, the only thing I needed to go for a run was a pair of running shoes.

Those were simpler times. These days, I find myself using awkward contraptions—bouncy running belts or homemade Ziploc bag carriers—so that I can bring my phone along with me on my run.

It’s not that I think I’ll actually need my phone to make calls or check my Facebook feed mid-stride. It’s that my phone holds my precious running app, and I simply can’t do without. After all, if I run X number of miles but my app didn’t record it, did I even run them at all?

On a recent trail run with a friend, I accidentally left my phone behind. My heart sank temporarily when I realized that those precious miles would not be added to my monthly total, and that my workouts for the week would show one less session than I actually did. The pain was real.

It’s around then that I realized that I missed the feeling of running without even a watch, where the data didn’t matter and the numbers were irrelevant. As I contemplate ditching my running app for good, I believe it important to weigh out the pros and the cons.

Pro: Tracking Progress
I picked up my first running app last September when I decided on a whim to run a half marathon that was only five weeks away. Miles mattered, and so did my speed. I planned out each and every run and used the app to make sure I stayed on track. I ended up finish the race strong and healthy, and quite a bit faster than I anticipated. Point: App.

Con: Running Apps Are Dumb
I felt a ping of pleasure the other day when my running app notified me of a new achievement: a new highest elevation of 3,143 feet! I was elated—until I realized that the number didn’t match the mere 300 or so feet I actually climbed on the run. Thanks for boosting my ego, app, but please stop feeding me lies.

Pro: The Motivation Factor
I will admit that I run faster when an automated lady informs me of my distance travelled every five minutes. She’s my own personal trainer, and I can’t let her down.

There are also apps that allow you to compare your time to others—strangers, even—who have run the same segments as you. If you’re the competitive type, this is golden.

Con: The “You Suck” Factor
I once tried this app that had a separate heart rate monitor. After my run, it rated my effort on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the lowest. I was busting my butt trying to keep up with the uber fit people in my running group, yet it scored me a “2”. Are you kidding me? Compared to Ussain Bolt, maybe.

Pro: Numbers Are Satisfying
If you’re the type of person who keeps a customized Excel spreadsheet that tracks every aspect of your life (guilty as charged), you will lose your mind over the beautiful data that these apps provide you with—barring, of course, the inaccurate stuff (see “Running Apps Are Dumb”, above). Comparing your logged miles or how you fared last week compared to this week is embarrassingly addictive.

Con: It Takes the Fun Out of Running
When you avoid stopping for water because you fear it will skew the data on your running app, it’s time to slowly put down your phone. Ask a trusted loved one to delete the app. Now, go for a run—with no phone swinging around in your pocket—and remember how good it feels to run with no app attached.

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