Smart Broken

News for nerds

The best-loved in-ear coaching app for runners is Couch to 5k, which is free, NHS-supported, and excellent. It plots the minutes of each run as you build up, syncs to your music, dispenses motivation and advice, and always reminds you of the most important thing: don’t stop, even if you want to. On a randomised test of me, I can tell you it works. In the absence of anyone telling me not to stop, the minute I experience even the slightest discomfort, I can think of no good reason to carry on.

Even when I’ve done the 5k, failed to maintain my prowess peak and slid inexorably back down to couch, I’ve never thought twice about going back to the app. I never even change the voice – my Mr has the enigmatic Laura, but I choose Olympian Michael Johnson every time, for the incredible sincerity of his “Well done!” You have to imagine, as you’re running, that you’re alongside a hedge; the person on the other side shouldn’t be able to see whether you’re running or walking. Apparently this is a good way to keep your gait steady and efficient. I could critique it so many ways: wouldn’t they be able to tell just by how fast you were moving? And how, in the name of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey, can you think yourself into a stranger’s visual perspective and run at the same time? Yet I enjoy listening to it.

So, two questions: are there coaching apps for after you’ve hit 5k? And if Couch to 5K worked, is there a more wraparound approach, where someone in your phone could tell you what to eat, and how much water to drink, and how long to hold a plank how many times a week, and would you find that helpful?

The answers are yes and no. There are coaching apps for runners who can already do 25 minutes. One of the best is Nike Run Club, which is slick and also free. It will map your route and monitor your pace, has the option of virtually running with other people, and gives you plenty of the customary congratulations. This triggered a kind of existential anomie in me: how did they know I was doing well? Who’s to say I’m really pushing myself? It is, however, a useful resource if you’re looking for information rather than nebulous, depersonalised encouragement; the app has exhaustive, tailored content on everything from recovery runs to confidence crises.

For a lifestyle coach, I know recommending Joe Wicks is like running into a party, shouting, “Hey, has anyone tried Aperol?” Nevertheless, the Body Coach App – not to be confused with the Facebook workouts, or the Instagram recipes – is really pleasing. It has a series of 25-minute workouts that it plots on your calendar and then badgers you about, then sort of leads you by the nose, in your exercise-addled state, to try out his recipe suggestions. Before you know it, he has simplified your life so much that you have only one goal: to be more like him.