Tracking a runner

10 Apr

Both Find iPhone and Endomondo a good way to track runners live during an event

When a runner is out on the roads or trails, how can friends or loved ones check in on them? I’ve been using two programs that makes it pretty simple.

This past weekend, I ran an ultramarathon on the trails near Pekin, Ill. My wife was serving as a pacer, and she needed a way to easily track my progress along the 10-mile loop. For this, Apple’s built-in Find iPhone was a perfect solution. And a number of friends and family wanted to track my progress throughout the day, so with just a little set-up, I was able to allow live tracking via my Endomondo app, which is free in the App store.

Both of these solutions were based on me running with my iPhone, but I use my phone to listen to tunes and podcasts, so I was going to have it with me anyway. Similar programs are available for Android phones or other operating systems.

Find iPhone features real-time immediacy

The accuracy and immediacy of Find iPhone is very good. My wife has used this to track me during my training runs, and it always finds my phone with great accuracy. We use it when my wife wants to meet me at a designated spot to pick me up or if she’s just trying to see where along the roads I might be.

The program is one of Apple’s built-in programs, so it comes pre-installed on iPhones and iPads. You need to have an Apple account, but if you have their phones or other devices, no doubt you already have an account.

Using Find iPhone is as simple as launching the app, entering your username and password, and then signing in. Within 15 seconds or so, it will locate all the devices that have been programmed for tracking.

Endomondo can be used by multiple users

I set up a slightly different arrangement for friends and family to track me during my race. I have used the Endomondo app for several years, and I like it quite a bit. I use it on many of my training runs,  and it will post to Facebook automatically, if that’s what you want it to do.

It uses the phone’s GPS to track your progress, and it maps that progress on a Google map. It also features a dashboard that shows the distance covered, the duration of the current workout, average speed and much more.

When you sign up for Endomondo, you have to create an account. This account will log all of your workouts on a calendar, and you can track mileage and the like over the months.

To enable friends and family to track me live during the race, I pasted a link on my blog to my workout section of Endomondo. You could also email the link to those who want to follow you.

Then when you activate your Endomondo on race day and a watcher goes to the link, it will read “LIVE” at the top of the map. Voila! Live, or nearly live, tracking of your progress.

The link will be: — where the “123456” is actually your unique user profile number. You can find that number at the end of the URL for all your workouts.

You can also get the complete URL by clicking on “Workouts” at the top left of the Endomondo screen.

The map shown on this page will be your most recent workout, but when the runner activates the app, it will change to “LIVE” and it will be the current workout.

Unlike Find iPhone, the Endomondo app will lag behind your actual progress. I had a niece tracking me during my ultra, and she said it seemed to lag by about 10 minutes.

Endomondo closer than GPS watch on race distance

I also ran the race with a Timex Run Trainer and my wife ran with a Garmin 210. Both of our watches were a bit off in distance for the 10-mile loop, showing about 9.2-9.4 miles per loop.

Interestingly, the Endomondo app logged the entire race at 49.87 miles, much closer than either of our GPS watches. I find that for my usual training workouts on the roads around town that my GPS watch is much more accurate than the Endomondo app.

The ultra I participated in had a Facebook page, and friends and family were constantly posting on the page, asking others for updates on their runners. That worked, but it required relying on others for updates and the updates were really best guesses as to where the runner was on the course.

Find iPhone and Endomondo both have their strengths and weaknesses, but for tracking a runner live during an event, they sure beat relying on updates from others.

2 Responses to “Tracking a runner”

  1. Bill Irwin at 7:03 pm #

    Very nice article up on this technology! And congrats on the finish of a very tough course! One note about the distance of the loop, I run it often and it is not a true 10 miles, (like most trail races) most GPS devices come up with about 9.5 ish. The total accumulated miles being closer to 50 may result from some extra meandering at aid stations, creek crossings,bathroom breaks etc. One question I had was regarding ,extending the battery life, I switched to GPS watches once my runs got over 3 hrs duration, due to my phone battery dying. I noticed an add on charger in your pictures? Also, weather was excellent at this years race, but in hot, cold, wet or otherwise nasty weather my Garmin is much less likely to completely fail. Even if I put my phone in a plastic bag it would seem to “cook” in the heat!


    • msmidt at 7:21 pm #

      Interesting observation on the tracked distance. I know that no GPS is exactly accurate. I think most GPS watches can be 5 percent off, and the steep hills and tree cover wouldn’t help accuracy.

      I’ve never seen Endomondo be more accurate than our watches, and I am sure the extra wandering did add mileage to the Endomondo track. I really use Endomondo for general tracking purposes, not for distance accuracy.

      My Timex gave out at 7 hrs, 15 minutes. My wife’s Garmin will last about 8 hours or so.

      Keeping the phone dry is always a concern, but we did have perfect weather (almost, just a brief rain) this year.

      If you click on the photo of the phone/charger, you will find a caption for it. I got about 9 hours out of the phone before I even added the charger to it. The charger cost me $15 on Amazon, and I got 15.5 hours out of the combo, and that includes playing music much of the time and running the phone GPS all the time. 🙂


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