Smartphones are awesome. They’ve changed many of the ways we run our lives. In the last couple of years, they’ve also changed the way we work out. There’s a few stand-outs amongst the ever growing crowd of apps and sites that really do a great job of enhancing your training. The ones I like are My Tracks, Strava, and MapMyRide.
For those Android users out there, there’s My Tracks, from Google. This app has a lot of advantages over it’s fancier and more fully-featured brethren. First, it’s free. And though many times you get what you pay for, in this case, you get a lot for paying nothing. All the regular metrics are tracked: current speed/pace/elevation, total distance, elevation gained, min/max grades, max speed, total time and average speed/pace, moving time and average moving speed/pace (automatically stop/starts tracking for moving versus total time). For those with sensors, it’ll also track heart rate, power, and cadence. So basically, everything you normally have tracked, but at no charge.
Stand-out features for this app include low battery usage (no real-time internet updates or anything, and no ad support, so less battery used), integration with Google Maps (to upload your own tracked routes) and Google Docs (for analysis of all your data), and the ability to add set marker points (every mile, five miles, etc.). My Tracks will also resume a track if your phone hangs and/or you run out of battery.
A few times in the hundreds I’ve used this app, tracking has been slightly off, so I verify against my bike comp and MapMyRide. Also, if you have too many tracks stored, the app starts to slow. So consider exporting your tracks once a quarter if you’re tracking more than 15-20 events per month. And unfortunately, this isn’t available for iOS or RIM.
UPDATE: MyTracks has been a little sketchy of late. The auto-stop/start doesn’t appear to be working properly, putting your moving time almost in line with your total time. This could be because the threshold for movement has been set to almost nothing, or because some other calculation error, not sure. But Strava seems to track more accurately (assuming your GPS works well).
If you haven’t heard of Strava by now, then you haven’t been riding or running. This app is a lot like My Tracks, but the keys to its success isn’t actually the app itself (which shows a lot less info than My Tracks). The standouts for this app include the social components and the deeper ride/run analysis available through your online account.
With Strava, every run or ride may cover “segments” that other Strava users have indicated are competitive. These are things like long, flat stretches of road that are great for sprinting. Or long or steep hill climbs. Each time you do one of these segments, your performance for it is tracked, and you get “achievements” for your PRs, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place times. You can also see how you compare with other Strava users who have ridden that segment.
On the Strava site itself, you can see a good breakdown of your tracked ride/run and the segments. For those lacking a power meter (most of us non-pro wannabes) Strava uses your tracked GPS coordinates, times, and elevations to determine your power output for segments and the entire event. They claim it’s to within 5% accuracy of a real power meter, but as I don’t have one, I can’t tell ya if that’s true. But it’s fun to look at.
You can follow friends – and even pro athletes – on Strava. You can give “kudos” for hard rides or lots of achievements, and make comments as well. You can sign up with local riding clubs and compare your performance to other members. And since Strava doesn’t send your info to your Strava account until after your event is complete, it is pretty battery-efficient, like My Tracks.
I’ve used both My Tracks and Strava simultaneously, with no indication of increased battery use, and they don’t conflict with one-another. The tracked data is sometimes different, but we’re talking tenths of a mile over ranges like 60 miles. And because Strava and My Tracks use different thresholds for their auto start/stop, the moving times may be slightly different (affecting your average speed/pace as well).
If you don’t have a Smartphone (or don’t want to risk it on a ride), you can use a multitude of Garmin devices and upload your Garmin data to your account. The Strava app – and a Strava account – are free. There is a Premium membership which costs $6/mo, which gives your additional breakdowns of leaderboards by age and weight, heart rate analysis, power analysis, VAM, and something they call a “Strava Suffer Score.”
Lastly, unlike My Tracks, this app is also available for iOS, though I don’t believe there’s a version for RIM (Blackberry).
I used to use MapMyRide, but their mapping technology got very finicky, their interfaces started showing advert and premium registration popups everywhere, and the elevation gains were pretty far off (by almost half). A friend showed me this site, and I’ve been using it ever since. Like MapMyRide, you can create a profile and log your rides, or create map routes. But RideWithGPS is much easier to work with, and supports mapping on all of the bike trails and roads (even when the map doesn’t show them, which is pretty cool).
The system supports exporting to GPX Track, TCX, and KML, and you can import those tracks into your Garmin to use as a course for turn-by-turn directions. The “Point of Interest” icons are a little limited in comparison to what you get at MapMyRide, but the turn-by-turn directions are much cleaner, and that’s far more important when planning rides.
Semper equitare, and may the tech be with you.