WalkJogRun, a more accurate app from the guy who invented run tracking

(Kari Bodnarchuk for the Boston Globe)
(Kari Bodnarchuk for the Boston Globe)

When Adam Howitt decided to run his long road race, the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta in 2002, he wanted to make sure to optimize his training regimen. However, the only way to figure out the certain distances he needed to run was to drive routes in his car and track the distance on his odometer.

As a programmer with a couple of decades of experience, he figured he could come up with an easier, more accurate way to track his distance runs.

So he developed a way to calibrate distances by using the relatively new mapping applications that were becoming available online. The code he wrote to track running distances was open sourced and published in a book of hacks for Google Maps.

Some of that code, Howitt believes, would eventually be used by MapMyRun to help lay the foundation for their website.

As it is, the application that Howitt developed was the world’s first online mapping tool that could figure out running distances.

When I asked if he regretted not having more control over the code or its IP rights, Howitt said, “At that point, I was an open source kind of a guy.”

Howitt moved up to Boston to work on what eventually became WalkJogRun, an iPhone app that just recently became GPS enabled.

However, while it may not have the same features (or design sensibilities) as RunKeeper, Strava, Nike+, and other fitness tracking tools, Howitt claims that it is by far the most accurate run tracker available.

He should know, he has tested it against all the others. WalkJogRun uses both the original mapping software in addition to GPS to get the most spot on distance, pace, and other key metrics that runners need to be accurate.

Howitt sent me the data that he collected as proof. Running set distances around a track or on the road, he found that RunKeeper, MapMyRun, Strava, and others could be off on the actual distance covered, which can have a major effect on pace accuracy, something runners who are following specific training regimens or chasing a specific time in race, need to be as precise as possible.

Some other applications can have tracked distances so off that they cause a pace read out to be between 30 seconds and almost two minutes off the actual pace. For someone trying to run 8 minutes miles, for training or a race, this can have an unwanted impact.

Personally, I have tried almost every run tracking application on the market, and, as someone who wants as accurate a pace readout as possible, I have often found that I will cross mileage markers and then get that distance tracked by an app meters later. I really want the technology to work, so it is frustrating to realize that using a watch to track pace can often be far more effective and accurate than the most advanced mobile GPS technology.

If Howitt’s tests are correct, and WalkJogRun does have the most accurate tracking of any running application on the market, I wouldn’t be surprised to see athletes turning their backs on applications that may have more bells and whistles for a running app that can better help them train and pace races.

The company has been bootstrapped to this point, but has a significant and growing international user base, Howitt said. A majority of WalkJogRun users are very active, usually using the app nine times per month.

In addition to the more accurate tracking, WalkJogRun also allows users to find the most common running routes used by users anywhere in the world that the app has been used.

Dennis Keohane was a Senior Staff Writer for BetaBoston.
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