If you’re training with any amount of seriousness you start tracking the distance, time, heart rate and anything else that you can. For a while now I’ve used RunKeeper to do all my tracking and workout comparison so let’s take a look.
RunKeeper starts off with a great design and lots of information. Want to record your weight and % of body fat, RunKeeper can do that for you and show the changes over time. It also includes all the standards; time, distance, pace, elevation to make it a reasonably full featured fitness tracking site.
Second up is the awesome iPhone app. It’s easy to use and will track your elevation and pace so you can have a good hill comparison over multiple rides. If you’re an Android or Windows Phone 7 user there are also apps for both platforms which seem to have the same functionality. I’ve found that I can get a 4 hour ride in while listening to something and going through a few areas of spotty cell coverage and still have a bit of battery left. I need to charge my phone to have use of it for the rest of the day but it’s got enough to keep playing till I get to my desk for the day.
Want to do a set of intervals? Well the RunKeeper iPhone app lets you design interval sets and will provide audio triggers during the workout. It’s a bit short on options (can’t set warmup interval and you only have 3 speeds) but it’s enough for a basic interval session.
Not everyone has a smart phone so RunKeeper also provides manual mapping. I’ve found this useful when I’m racing since I’m not carrying my iPhone. Once I’m done I plot the course and record my time and heart rate during the race. Sure I don’t get a full profile of pace at different points in the race but it still gives me some data for later.
If you have a GPS based tracking device (Garmin 500, 800…) you can also upload a GPX or TCX file. This will track most of the data provided so you can map your heart rate against climbs against speed… This also presents a few issues which RunKeeper claims are not totally their fault, but we’ll get in to the specifics later.
RunKeeper also integrates with both Twitter and Facebook and while that may not be a selling feature to some I like it. I work from home so getting some extra interaction in my life in the digital realm does help keep me sane. There are also a few cyclists that live just far enough away that we can’t ride together regularly so having our workouts posted helps keep us all training so we’re not the weakest on ride days.
Finally RunKeeper also supports uploading of heart rate data from Polar devices. So even for an indoor ride it doesn’t have to be all manual. Theoretically (though I haven’t tried because my HR monitor is way to old for anything fancy like a file you can get off it) you could sync up the uploaded GPS data with the HR data to get a good profile of how hard you worked for each change in grade.
One of the major failings of RunKeeper is the fact that you can’t set up a training schedule unless you pay for and use their training plans. Even if you’re already paying for RunKeeper Pro you have to pay extra for the training schedules. Obviously the functionality is built in to the system and I can see paying for a prebuilt plan but the fact that you can’t build your own is a large missing piece of the puzzle. Add to that the fact that they don’t have any ‘Fitness Classes’ for cycling and it’s a double fail.
Second up is the fact that snap to road isn’t the default setting when building a manual map. At the very least it should remember that you picked ‘snap to road’ in your last session and have it on by default, but no you’ve got to manually click the box every time you enter a map manually.
As I stated above you can import your GPX or TCX file to RunKeeper but the Garmin Edge 500 and Edge 800 both use FIT files. Without delving too deep technically, FIT files are just more flexible than TCX files, we can get more different types of data for all our sensors in to a FIT file, you can read more about FIT files here. According to RunKeeper the issue sits with Garmin’s Connect plugin not working with FIT files. While this may be true other sites, like Strava and Garmin Connect support .FIT files so there is obviously some way to do it that RunKeeper hasn’t got to yet. In fact both required wanted me to install the Garmin Connect plugin so they could access the FIT files on my device. It’s still possible to get information from your FIT files in to RunKeeper but it takes the extra step of uploading it to a site that supports FIT files (like Gamin Connect) then exporting the GPX, or TCX file after they have done the heavy lifting on the FIT file. I’m not convinced the stats from RunKeeper are so ‘unique’ that it really warrants this extra work.
While this isn’t currently an issue for me, many cyclists will find the fact that RunKeeper doesn’t work with your power meter a non-starter. Sure you could fill the numbers in to the comment field but that’s of little use long term since it isn’t mathematically tracking it so you can’t really do any comparisons. The fact that power meter tracking is so widely available now for anyone training with a middling level of seriousness means many can’t even look at RunKeeper as an option.
RunKeeper also doesn’t track your cadence data. This is a good stat ‘in the moment’ while cycling and may or may not have long term tracking value but if the data is in my cycling computer I’d like to see it stored and tracked.
A feature you see in many other fitness tracking applications is the idea of a ‘ghost run/ride’. Typically you’re comparing the current effort over a given course with a previous best effort over the same course with audio cues letting you know if you’re faster or slower than the other efforts. This can be done with your own efforts or trying to beat efforts of other athletes on the same course. Unfortunately this is not a feature of RunKeeper, though it’s been a request for a while.
Sure this last one will change depending on your location but for me there is little regional information. 99% of the routes I find in their system are mine and the others just aren’t all that long/hard so I don’t really bother. The route information also lacks some of the extra details that MapMyRide has like who’s fastest on a given route. I know we’re not all in competition for real but if we’re honest all of us like to know how we stack up against others.
At the End
Like I said I’m a RunKeeper user so the big question is why? In all honesty it’s probably because I have a bunch of my Twitter friends there and that makes it a bit social. As stated above I work from home all the time so getting some extra social interaction (even if it is digital) is a big part of what keeps me sane day to day. Combine that with the fact that I don’t have a power meter so I don’t have more extensive tracking needs and RunKeeper is a great fit. Now that I have a Garmin Edge 500 I’ll be looking at my options again and see what fits.
How are you tracking your cycling?