andrew burke





My App Habits: Running

Posted on: 2023-10-09

I recently read "Atomic Habits" and it turns out I'm already doing a lot of what it recommends for various daily self-improvement activities - but mainly because of various mobile apps I've integrated into my life.

Apps have mastered prompts and gamification, often in the interest of getting you to play their games more frequently and ideally buy more in-game purchases. But the dark patterns from Candy Crush or whatever can be turned around to actually help you get better at things.

The app-supported thing I've been doing the longest is running. Many people use Strava and love the social affirmation aspect of it, but I generally use Runkeeper, since that's what I started with back when I began running again in 2016, and all my stats and tracking are in there, and I'm used to how it works.

My RunKeeper Dashboard showing all my activity and stats since 2016

(You'll notice near the top it says "Followers: 0, Following: 0" - like with my actual running, I do it alone!)

Runkeeper integrates pretty nicely with my watch and it gives me maps and stats for my runs. Most importantly for me, though, it has built-in training programs. You can give it a distance and speed and timeframe you're interested in and how many days a week you'd like to run, and it will give you a several-months-long program of short runs, long runs, intervals, surges, and more. I'm sure a real coach could make a custom schedule to more properly fit my specific strengths and goals, and in theory I could even just set up my own schedule without using an app, but there's something about having somewhat arbitrary tasks assigned to me - and which I can mark as complete when I'm finished - that helps get me out and motivated.

It's been a weird year for actual races - every single one I signed up for got cancelled or became un-runnable due to bad weather - but the real value of having a race in my calendar is I can set up a training program aiming at that distance on that date.

The biggest workout of my year was on the weekend, when I did the "virtual" Valley Harvest half-marathon all around Halifax and Dartmouth on a pleasant Saturday rather than in Wolfville on a stormy Sunday.

A RunKeeper map of a half-marathon route around Halifax with a time of 1:41

It completed my half-marathon training program. Runkeeper even gave me a little "congratulations" splash screen, but the social sharing links didn't work properly. They aren't Duolingo!

A RunKeeper congratulations screen on completing a half-marathon training program

Now I've finished that, I've set up a new 10K training program to keep me in shape for the re-scheduled Beat Beethoven race, which is happening in mid-December, roughly around the great composer's birthday.

A RunKeeper 10K training plan

"Atomic Habits" points out that it's best to start simple and easy to build up regular habits, and the Runkeeper programs start with several weeks of slow and low-stress 2 mile / 3km runs that can be done in 15-20 minutes. Ideally by the time things build up to longer and tougher interval training and the like, you'll be more locked into your habits. I usually am, though in training for half (or even full) marathons, the time commitment starts to get overwhelming. It's one thing to do several hours on the road on a Sunday, it's another to find the time and energy for an hour of surges in a regular work day!

But even if I'm pushing back against an entirely arbitrary schedule, at least there's something there, and it's helped me stay in shape both physically and mentally - something that gets harder as the years go on.

But if you'll excuse me, now I've got to go and run around the Common a few times.

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