Best apps for running a 5K for the first time

Fitness apps
Fitness apps

At the beginning of 2017, I made a resolution that I would run a 5K by the end of the year. Now if you're thinking 5K is easy, congratulations on being fit, but I was not fit. I was quite overweight about 235 lbs and had never run longer than a couple seconds to catch a bus. Running a 5K really seemed like a feat that was beyond my capabilities, but with a lot of hard work and the right tools at my side, I manage to run my first 5K race last month.

Apps are what really pushed me and gave me the motivation to keep going during my months of training on treadmills, tracks, and outdoors. I downloaded one running app and soon I was hooked. I'm by no means a professional runner; however, these were the apps I personally used to get me from never running to running a 5K race.

5K Runner: 0 to 5K Run Trainer

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Specifically meant for beginner runners, 5K Runner is a training program that takes you from never running to running 5K in a matter of eight weeks.

The program is interval training, meaning you start in the beginning running for a minute at a time and then walk for a minute or two. As you progress through the program, the amount of time you run becomes longer and the amount of walking time becomes shorter. I found this app to be the most useful in the beginning, but did find it extremely challenging.

The app lets you play your own music while it tracks your run with your iPhone's GPS and it will even try at keep you motivated by giving you words of encouragement throughout your run.

My biggest advice with 5K Runner is don't feel bad if you have to repeat a workout, getting to 5K in eight weeks is insanely hard if you're not used to running. Take it at your own pace.

Zombies, Run!

While 5K Runner was great to get me started, I found it wasn't the best app for motivating me to run faster and frankly sometimes running got a little boring. Zombies, Run! was the perfect cure!

Zombies, Run! is a sort of game and audio adventure rolled into one with one goal in mind: get you running. You start up the app, get to running, get a little ways and (headphones in, of course) you'll start to hear the distant moaning and groaning of the undead.

The app combines its own audio drama with your music to offer a truly immersive apocalyptic experience, where you run and collect supplies to grow your home base. There are a bunch of missions (first four are free and then you unlock one every week), and the continuing story helps keep you motivated.

Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal



When you're training for an event like a 5K, it's a good idea to get a better understanding of your diet. While a 5K run won't require you to do massive amounts of dietary changes (I barely changed mine), knowing what you put in your body gives you a better idea of the types of foods you should be eating before you train.

Using the camera, you can scan barcodes on your food packaging into MyFitnessPal, and the app will display all the nutritional information for that food. From there you can choose how many servings you intend to eat, and all the math is done for you. As you progress throughout the day, MyFitnessPal will add up all the calories, protein, fat, carbs, vitamins, and other nutrients you have consumed throughout the day and place them in a convenient chart.

You can also enter in food manually rather than scanning the barcode if you'd prefer, and you can even enter recipes of your favorite dishes, meaning every time you cook something you don't have to scan all the ingredients in again.On top of all the nutrition tracking of MyFitnessPal, it also will track exercise, and it can connect to about 50 different fitness trackers.

My best advice is to keep track of what you eat as much as you can and pay attention to how your body feels during and after your run. After a couple weeks of doing this and making minor changes, you'll find the best types of foods for you to eat before and after you run.


MapMyRun goes hand-in-hand with MyFitnessPal and it's especially useful once you graduate to running outdoors.

MapMyRun, by Under Armour, is exactly what it sounds like: It maps your run via your iPhone's GPS to give you a clear picture of your route and stats and lets you share them via social media. After every run, you'll get an in-depth look at your performance and ways to get better and achieve your fitness goals.

You can sync your data with the free Apple Watch app or any other fitness wearables you have, like Fitbit, Jawbone, Garmin, and many, many more. You can join challenges to stay accountable, and this app works with Under Armour's MyFitnessPal (opens in new tab), which shows you how your run is affecting your caloric intake and dietary needs.

Which apps did you use?

Have you recently decided to conquer a 5K run? Tell us which apps have been helping you through the struggle by leaving a coment down below!

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.

  • I think my old app still holds up pretty well in this company :) I built it several years ago to train myself for 5k and know all the pain points where people give up. So the voice coaching is tailor mode to help terribly out of shape people like I was around my 30s.
  • I used an older app called "Easy 5K - Run/Walk/Run Beginner and Advanced Training Plans with Jeff Galloway by lolo" You get coached by Olympian Jeff Galloway in a run/walk technique. It also has music that can be downloaded that changes speed to match the pace that you should be running/walking. You can also use your own music that is tempo matched to the pace you want. This is one of my favorite features of the app. Once you go through the course once, you can do it all again and the app will push you harder for better times. When you complete this app you can progress to Easy 10k, half marathon, and marathon. Of all the apps, of this kind that I have used, I always come back to these ones.