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Running is a great way to keep fit this summer and needs little more than some trainers and a pavement or a park. But even the most enthusiastic of us need some way to keep motivated for regular exercise when the couch, TV or sun lounger looks inviting.
These gadgets can help: from music on the go to the social power of Strava, they make pounding the streets a little more interesting.
Music or podcasts can help you eat up the miles with a bit of entertainment, but holding your phone while you run is not a comfortable way to do things.
Armband phone pockets are one solution. Strapped to your bicep with Velcro and a clear pouch, they let you work your phone and listen to music. They cost about £6-10 and come in various sizes. Or you can use an old MP3 player such as an iPod Shuffle if you still have one around.
Better yet, switch to a wearable music player with a running or smartwatch. Most good smartwatches, including the Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and others, can store music offline for playback straight to a set of Bluetooth headphones.
If you don’t already have a smartwatch and want something for running, there are many different options. One of my favourites is the Garmin 245 Music, which offers excellent tracking, can store hours of music offline from Spotify, Deezer or others, and can be picked up for about £200.
While you can run with almost any headphones, including AirPods or large over-ear sets, there are models that are better designed for running. I recommend Bluetooth sets that don’t block out the world, allowing you to remain aware of your surroundings.
Shokz OpenRun Pro
Bone conduction headphones send sound waves through your skull instead of your ear drum, making the music sound like it is coming from inside your head while maintaining your awareness of the outside world. Shokz make some of the best, with lightweight, comfortable designs, long battery life and easy-to-reach onboard controls for playback and volume. They are the only headphones approved by England Athletics for races, too.
The latest £160 OpenRun Pro last up to 10 hours between charges, can Bluetooth pair to two devices at once, weigh only 29g and are IP55 water-resistant so you can safely sweat all over them. They sound good, with more bass than previous models, but bone conduction technology can’t match regular earbuds for low notes. The older £130 OpenRun are similar, but with less bass and shorter battery life.
Bose Frames Tempo
Bose’s latest Frames Tempo Bluetooth audio sunglasses are designed for sport, with interchangeable lenses and sweat-resistance. They sound surprisingly good – at least as good as regular earbuds – with more bass and full sound than bone conduction. Others won’t be able to hear your music at normal volumes unless they are very close to you.
They cost £240 new or £155 refurbished, last up to 8 hours between charges and have easy-to-use swipe volume adjustment and a button for playback controls. If you always wear sunglasses when running these are great, but they can’t be bought with prescription lenses in the UK.
Sony’s weird-looking Bluetooth earbuds have a ring-shaped speaker that lets the sound of the outside world through a hole in the middle for awareness. They cost £149 and are low-profile, staying put with wings that tuck into your ear’s concha. The fit takes some getting used to. They sound decent, if lacking thumping bass, are IPX4 sweat-resistant and last 5.5 hours between charges or 17.5 hours total with their compact charging case.
Beats PowerBeats Pro
If you’re in a park or somewhere safe and want to block out the world, the £220 Beats PowerBeats Pro are some of the best running headphones you can get. They are IPX4 sweat-resistant, hook over your ear for stability, and have onboard controls including volume buttons on both sides and no cable to worry about. They last 8 hours between charges or up to 24 with the large charging case. The traditional silicone earbuds block some but not all noise, so you could hear a car if it beeped its horn.
Beats also made a version of the Powerbeats with a cable connecting them around the back of the head, which some people might prefer and are available refurbished or in clearance for as little as £50.
What’s your soundtrack?
Once you’ve sorted how to listen, it’s time to pick some tunes. Some subscribe to the philosophy of matching music tempo with your desired cadence. There are plenty of playlists on most services designed specifically for this purpose.
I run at about 180 steps a minute so I seek out high-tempo electronic dance music, but EDM is not for everyone. Running playlists can be a very personal and uplifting journey, so just go with what makes you happy and energised. You’ll find tracks that work for you after a few runs, and if music just doesn’t do it for you podcasts can offer a welcome distraction. The Guardian has a few you might like.
Tracking your progress can help keep you motivated, particularly if you have a goal in mind such as improved fitness, a faster 5km time or just longer distances.
Using your phone
The cheapest way of tracking your pace and distance is using your phone’s GPS. You can use any number of built-in or third-party apps, including Strava (more on that later), Google Fit, MapMyRun and many others.
If you want to record your heart rate you can also use a chest-strap heart monitor with a phone app, with models made by Garmin, Polar or Wahoo costing from about £40.
Smartwatches and fitness trackers
As with offline music playback, if you have a smartwatch it will most likely be able to track your running with plenty of detail. Most include fairly advanced measurements, including heart rate, distance, pace, GPS tracks and other bits.
Some more advanced fitness trackers also do similar, though those without GPS can only estimate distance from your movement, which is not very accurate and therefore difficult to use for training.
Running watches come in various sizes, prices and capabilities, with the cheapest and simplest often offering more than enough to get going, including GPS, heart rate, pace and training plans. They cost about £100-150 new or as little as £50 refurbished. Most have long battery life and easy-to-read screens, while better models include more advanced metrics such as cadence (steps a minute), VO2 max and fitness estimation.
The more you pay, the more features they have, with mid-range models supporting offline music playback and high-end versions costing about £450 and up, such as the Garmin Forerunner 955 or Fenix 7, featuring advanced offline maps and routing to stop you getting lost.
One of the best ways to keep motivated is to add a bit of friendly rivalry, encouragement and support through a fitness community. Most devices have their own system, including Garmin, Fitbit, Samsung or Apple Health, which if your friends use models from the same company may be enough.
If not, there are cross-platform services available that sync your running data from your device of choice to a fitness-focused social network.
Strava is one of the biggest and best. The free app offers activity tracking and a social network for logging GPS routes, times and other data. The Strava app for smartphones and smartwatches covers most of the basics, or you can automatically sync your data to the service from most manufacturers’ devices or apps.
With more than 95 million users worldwide, Strava is extremely popular with runners and cyclists, but supports a wide range of activities. You can keep an eye on your progress and your gear (so you know when to replace your shoes), find new routes and share “kudos” (likes) and comments with friends for support.
A paid-for option opens up some in-depth analysis and added features if you want to take things further. Other popular alternatives include the Nike Run Club, Asics Runkeeper, Adidas Runtastic and Under Armour’s MapMyRun.