Just kidding—if only it were that easy, right? While there’s no single app that can absolutely take you from lazy couch potato to marathon finisher, there are several apps that can help you in your quest to run the absurd distance of 26.2 miles. Because marathons are so taxing, even the most seasoned runners still need to train—constantly.
I am not a distance runner, but fitness expert, personal trainer, and endurance athlete Crystal Hadnott—who has run 12 full marathons and more than 50 half marathons since 2006— absolutely is. Here are the apps she uses to help her stay motivated, on track, and in marathon-running shape.
It’s easy to be enthusiastic about running in the first week or two of your marathon training, but how can you maintain that motivation when you’re three months in? A surprising aspect of marathon training is the mind-body connection, Hadnott says. Think about it: There’s no way you’ll be able to successfully run (okay, run-walk) 26.2 miles unless you’re strong both physically and mentally.
MilePost(free)is a running inspiration app that’s simple, yet surprisingly effective. The app pushes daily running-related quotes to your phone against the backdrop of an open road. You can customize the app by choosing when you want quotes to be delivered (say, Monday through Saturday at 8 a.m., skip Sundays), and you can also change the background photo to something more inspiring or personal to your experience. MilePost is free and ad-supported, but you can remove ads for a $2 donation to the developer.
“A lot of apps provide me with the physical training I need for a marathon, but MilePost provides me with the mental training,” Hadnott explains. “The coolest part is that it lets me set daily reminder alerts to remind me to connect to my mental training.” MilePost’s daily quotes can be used as a jumping-off point for regular meditation sessions, or as mental fodder for when you need just a little inspiration to keep your head in the game.
Training for a marathon means tweaking every aspect of your lifestyle, including your diet. Because those extra miles take such a huge toll on your body, you’ll want to track your “macros” (or macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) to make sure you’re getting enough of each for adequate muscle recovery. “I’m a clean eater year-round,” Hadnott says. “But I add more protein to my diet during training for muscle development and recovery because of the extra mileage.”
There are several calorie-counting apps on the market, but Hadnott recommends MyFitnessPal (free) because it outlines macro ratios and syncs with multiple third-party apps and fitness trackers. MyFitnessPal is free, easy to use, and includes a huge user-edited food database. I like this app because it also lets you import recipes, add favorite or frequently-eaten foods, add “quick calories,” and set goals for workouts, weight, calories per day, and macro ratios per day. My Fitness Pal integrates with a ton of third-party products, so if you’re using a fitness tracker or smart pedometer to track workouts, chances are you’ll be able to import those workouts into the app.
If you’re training for a marathon, you should probably cut down on the heavy lifts and strength training—but that doesn’t mean you should give up non-running workouts altogether. Hadnott says she shifts her focus to Pilates, yoga, and body weight exercises that help promote the mind-body connection necessary to run ridiculously long distances.
If you don’t have time to hit your local yoga studio, you can practice at home with an app. Daily Yoga (free) is a great app for beginners, because it offers several free sessions (including pre-run and post-run yoga workouts), a pose library, a yoga forum, and six free yoga songs. For more advanced workouts, more poses, and more music, you can subscribe to Daily Yoga (or “Go Pro”) for $5/month or $30/year. The main drawback of this app is that the workouts are all separate downloads, which can be a drag when you’re just getting started.
There are plenty of marathon-training apps on the market, but that doesn’t mean you should jump right into training for a marathon—especially if you’re, ahem, not exactly the fittest of the fit. Before you even start thinking about 26.2 miles, you may want to work on achieving a smaller goal, such as running five kilometers.
Luckily, there are several “Couch to 5K” apps for you to choose from, all of which are based off of Cool Running’s Couch-to-5K Running Plan. Zen Labs’ C25K (free) is a popular one, as is Active Network’s Couch-to-5K. C25K will help you go from a complete couch potato to a relatively in-shape 5K runner in eight weeks with its voice-guided program. The app offers up workouts for each non-rest day (rest days are simply not listed), and the main screen shows a neat timer that includes elapsed time and remaining time (for those of you who like to watch the clock obsessively). The app lets you play your own playlists (including playlists from Spotify and Pandora) and integrates with third-party products such as Nike+ GPS and MyFitnessPal, as well as social media for extra inspiration.
Unlike other Couch-to-5K apps, C25K is completely free (albeit ad-supported). The app offers motivational quotes and exercise tips upon launch, and includes a fitness forum. When you’ve completed the 5K training regimen, Zen Labs also offers similar apps for 10K, half marathon ($10), and full marathon ($10) training.
Once you’re a seasoned runner, you can (and should!) take your training to the next level. The first marathon is often just about finishing, but the second is about improving your time. That’s where McRun ($5), the app version of the McMillan Running Calculator, comes in.
McRun extrapolates your race times so you can figure out how fast you are at any distance, and how you should train to achieve your desired time. The app asks you to enter in your best race time—from any distance race—and then it shows you your equivalent race times. For example, if you know you run a 7-minute mile, the app can give you an estimate of how fast you’ll run a 10K (50:28, at a pace of 8:07/mile) or a marathon (3:56:45, at a pace of 9:02/mile). The app offers “workout paces,” or recommended pace times for various runs (such as “long runs,” “easy runs,” and “speed workouts”) so you have a better idea of how fast you should or shouldn’t be running when you’re in training.
Hadnott appreciates McRun because it helps you get a better idea of how to train for even longer races—yes, there are races called ultramarathons, which are even longer than regular marathons. Because marathon-training apps only offer plans for up to 26.2 miles, you’ll need to use a non-marathon-training app if you’re looking to go the extra, totally insane distance. Hadnott also likes McRun because it offers a comprehensive training schedule for building and maintaining your running fitness during the off-season.
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