Running for a Lifetime
I am a runner. If you’re a recreational runner like me, you’ve never won a race, you’ve never been part of the Olympic team, and you’ve never won a medal. If you’re like me, running isn’t about being the best.
- You run to get off your butt.
- You run to become a better person.
- You run to feel good about yourself.
- You run to be alone with your thoughts.
If you don’t enjoy running, you won’t run. Running must make you feel alive. It must be an integral part of who you are.
The vast majority of running apps get this wrong. They focus on the problems that result from running.
- You get injured.
- You fail to set goals.
- You let others discourage you.
- You quit before your body acclimates to the stress.
- You make excuses about the weather, the cold, or the time of day.
There are ways to avoid each of these problems. You can get a coach. You can sign up for races. You can go running with friends. You can buy specialty clothes, fancy apps, and wearable devices.
Lumo Bodytech sells smart gadgets which help you correct your bad running form. The Nike running app brings your social network to the fore, tracks your progress, and even has a coaching feature. Dark Sky provides to-the-minute weather predictions based on your current location.
These are powerful tools, they just don’t motivate you to start running. If people thought running would result in being injured, discouraged, and quitting, they wouldn’t start to begin with!
So what does a better running app experience look like? Let’s start by considering why you run.
Do you run to get off your butt? Perhaps you want to use running as a substitute for other things. Do you want to watch less TV? Get away from your desk? Be outside more? Feel alive? Not every goal has to be a long-term thing. Short-term goals are just as valuable.
Do you run to become a better person? That implies you have longer-term goals. Do you want to run an ultramarathon? Thru-hike the PCT? Climb all of the Fourteeners in the lower 48? Have energy to go out and do stuff when you’re in your 60’s and 70’s?
Do you run to feel good about yourself? Think about how you run. Do you feel best when you’re at a casual lope? When you’re cooling down after a hard interval workout? When you run past a familiar viewpoint? When you achieve another milestone in your training?
Do you run to be alone with your thoughts? Consider what environment suits you best. Do you enjoy pounding the pavement downtown? Do you prefer wooded trails in the mountains? Do you want to explore your part of the world, or stick with the old and familiar?
When we understand why people run, only then can we create an experience that will truly satisfy.
Clearly, there are many reasons why people run. A one-size-fits-all solution isn’t going to fly. You might have a goal-oriented app, a habit-oriented app, an app which optimizes your workout for maximum enjoyment, an app which plots enjoyable routes for you. Each of these is perfect for different types of runners.
Let’s say you decide to create a running app for people who want to get away from it all. It boils down to a very simple set of steps:
- Ask how far they want to run.
- Plot a route that heads straight for a trail system. Avoid running the same trail twice, if possible.
- As they run, tell them when to turn so they don’t have to worry about being lost or wondering where to go next.
- After the run, ask if they enjoyed the route. This will help you make better suggestions in the future.
Because we’ve designed an experience for a very specific type of runner, it’s a very simple, elegant solution. There are no metrics. No coaching. No push notifications. No social features. No arms race with other generic running apps.
In two taps, we enable a runner to be alone with their thoughts, on a trail picked especially for them. Simplicity is a beautiful thing.
Daniel Sauble is a UX designer, speaker, writer, and one-time runner of ultra-marathons. He recently published his first book, Offline First Web Development, and is already plotting his next downfall.