If you miss running with friends, this app connects you with live runners from all over the country — here's what it's like to use
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- There's no denying the kind of motivation and stimulus you get by
runningwith a group of friends — being able to feed off their energy helps make runs of any distance more enjoyable.
- Charge Running intends to deliver on that experience for anyone that runs by themselves by connecting with a coach and a group of real, yet digital, runners.
- Though apprehensive at its effectiveness, I signed up for the free two-week trial of Charge Running and came away highly impressed with the app and how it improved my solo runs.
When Julie Knippen's running partner moved across the country three years ago, she found herself facing miles of lonely road and losing her motivation to get outside. Turns out, Knippen wasn't alone in that sentiment and out of that desire for shared mileage, she and two partners launched Charge Running.
Unique in that it's currently the only live running experience app on the market, Charge Running is having a moment as more people adjust their weekly workout routines. Whether they're spending more time indoors or lacking access to areas they're used to running, they're turning to digital
"We won't share specifics but usage has doubled in the past month," Knippen told Business Insider. "The live format helps runners feel connected."
I recently gave the app a two-week trial, something Charge Running offers to anyone for free. I left impressed with what the founders have created — and that caught me by surprise.
The right app at the right time
I've been running for more than two decades and mix up my weekly miles with a combination of solo efforts and runs with friends. When I run by myself, I never listen to music, don't upload my runs to sites like Strava, and, after many years of racing, rarely put much effort into my training. I'm content to simply run at whatever easy pace I choose, not caring to dedicate myself to specific workouts.
For these reasons, I didn't think Charge Running would be a good fit for me. To be honest, if it weren't for the pandemic, it might not have been. But this app found its way onto my phone at just the right time.
The Charge Running experience
Here's how it works: Using a network of 13 coaches, Charge Running offers 20 different live classes per day. These vary in format with anything from a 40-minute walk-to-run class to a 35-minute interval session and hour-plus runs on the weekend. The classes begin as early as 5 a.m. and continue throughout the day until 9 p.m. You choose the class that best fits your needs and schedule and sign up in advance.
Each class is coach led and from what I can tell, the coaches move around time slots and formats from one week to the next. Each brings a little something different to the table, too. One might be a bit more nurturing while another might have a more traditional, go get it-type of approach. All are certified coaches and some even work with high school or college running teams.
"We found our coaches through the Road Runners Club of America website and we've assembled an amazing team," Knippen added.
When you enter the class at your appointed time, the coach acknowledges you along with the other participants. There's music playing in the background and once it's go time, he or she gets you started with some easy warm-up drills. The next step might be a minute or two of walking, then onto some easy-paced base miles.
All about effort
No matter which type of run you choose, be it an easy jog or a longer multi-mile run, they're all effort-based courses.
"We designed the classes this way so everyone can participate in whichever one they prefer," Knippen said. "Even if it's a hard class, runners can modify it to their level and feel comfortable."
Throughout the class, the coach changes up the intervals and effort levels, depending on its purpose. I participated in a few different types of classes in my two-week trial, including the moderate base run and a light tempo run.
With both, I logged a couple of miles before starting in order to round my overall mileage up closer to six or seven miles. I discovered that I wasn't the only one with this practice as I'd sometimes hear the coach giving a shout out to participants doubling up with consecutive classes.
A moderate base run generally shook out with a warm up followed by three or four sets of varying paces. These ended up being nice pushes for me, stretching out to around four or five minutes a piece and separated by an easier minute or two. Then a cool down.
Motivation doesn't stop when the race does
Throughout the run, your coach let's you know your pace and miles run. If you're the competitive type, you'll start paying attention to who's on your heels and find that motivating. I say this as someone whose long-dormant competitive alter ego came to life. I'm looking at you, Darcy — thanks for the push.
When you finish, you get an email telling you how you stacked up against the other participants, along with a read out of your average paces. You can rate your run and your coach, and there's even a chat option as well. Many participants send in a quick selfie and acknowledgement to the group and coach before signing off.
The app goes beyond the live, scheduled runs, too. There are occasional virtual races, including a half marathon during the time I used the app and another scheduled roughly a month after. There are even training programs designed to help runners prepare for and meet race goals.
The cost for using the app after your two-week trial is $9.99 per month for a year-long contract ($119.88), or $14.99 if paying on a month-by-month basis. It's like paying for a Spotify or Hulu membership but something that allows you to be a bit more active.
The bottom line
Given that I was a skeptic of the app before trying it, I was blown away by how much I enjoyed the experience. Again, for me, I think timing had a great deal to do with this.
The Charge Running app filled a void for me. Missing my usual running partners, it served as a nice substitute. I looked forward to the runs I had scheduled with the app and welcomed the variety of paces and formats. I can't say for sure if it would be something I'd use in more normal times but I'm happy I discovered it. And yes, I signed up for the paid version as soon as my free trial expired.
- Should you try it? If you like the motivating nature of running with people, then yes. Charge Running combines the feeling of being pushed by a running group while also including a coach that helps along the way, too. The classes vary in length and effort, making it easy for runners of all types to not only join a class but to enjoy it, as well.
- What are your alternatives? For a run-specific app that pairs you with a group of people and a motivating coach, the exact competition is about non-existant. You could sign up for run classes via an app like Aaptiv or even the Peloton Digital Membership, though both of those offer a slightly different experience.
Pros: Lets you feel like you're running with a team of people, coaches are highly motivating and make you feel like they're working directly with you, wide variety of run types and times, all runs are effort-based so anyone can participate in any event
Cons: $10 monthly cost may seem unnecessary for something that just urges you to run
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