The Two Oceans Marathon is “the world’s most beautiful marathon” according to the organisers, and we would have to agree (admittedly though we may show some local bias). The 56km ultra marathon winds its way around the Cape peninsula showing off the remarkable scenery that recently netted Cape Town the ‘number one Best Place to Go in 2014‘ award from the New York Times. This year 11 000 runners will attempt the longer form of the race with 10 000 runners (including myself) attempting to complete the 21km half marathon. While it won’t be my first half marathon, it will be the first time I attempt the iconic race.

After a disastrous 2013 plagued by injury I turned to technology to help me get ready for this year’s race. Fitness apps and gadgets have flooded the mainstream consumer market in the last few years each claiming to be the best. I may be using the apps to train for a half marathon but they’re also fantastic for the part time runner and for those attempting the more daunting distances of 42km and above.

Nike+ Running

Nike+ Running

The venerable Nike+ Running app is one of the most popular apps for runners. The association with the well known clothing brand does much in the way of providing a measure of legitimacy for the app for first time runners especially. The latest version of the Nike+ Running app for iOS added a new ‘Coach’ feature to its repertoire. The feature has fundamentally changed the app from being a ‘nice-to-have’ to an ‘absolute essential’ in training for a race.

Coach provides you with a day-by-day training plan to get you ready to run a race. You start by selecting either 5km, 10km, half-marathon or marathon and providing your relative level of running ability – beginner, intermediate or advanced. The app then generates a full training schedule for you to guide you to your goal by race day. Every week has a target distance and each day has a different distance and type of run to train various aspects from speed to endurance. There are even rest days and days for cross training a different kind of exercise to assist in preventing injuries.

Unfortunately the feature is currently only available in the iOS version of the app but rest assured that it will make its way into the Android version before too long, although maybe not in time for this year’s race.

Download: Android, iOS

Zombies, Run!

Zombies, Run!

Zombies, Run! is one of the most interesting running apps ever made. It immerses you in a compelling, fun narrative to help you stay interested during a run.

“You tie your shoes, put on your headphones, take your first steps outside. You’ve barely covered 100 yards when you hear them. They must be close. You can hear every guttural breath, every rattling groan – they’re everywhere. Zombies. There’s only one thing you can do: Run!”

As Runner number 5 your job is to make your way through more than 30 missions recovering much needed medical and military supplies to help you build up your camp.

Zombies, Run! is my favourite app for long runs where overall pace and tempo aren’t a factor. You can cue your own music playlists to play in the in the background as you run your regular route with the story being driven by random radio broadcasts from base camp about your mission or voice recordings that you find. Kilometres seem to melt away without you realising it as your mind breaks from the usual array of thoughts to participate in the story that unfolds with you at the centre of it.

For those who need a bit of extra help with interval training Zombies, Run! includes the ‘Zombie Chases’ mode which sets hordes of zombies on your tail forcing you to speed up to get away.

Download: Android, iOS, Windows Phone 8

Tempo Run

Tempo Run

If you’re anything like me you enjoy listening to music when you’re out there punishing the pavement. The right song can give you a boost and help you increase your speed. Many of us, myself included, have been sucked into a quicker pace when ‘Eye of the Tiger’ hits the front of the queue, so why not create the perfect pacing partner to help you get better pace into your runs?

Fartleks, tempo runs and interval training all involve correctly pacing yourself and Tempo Run makes that as easy as matching your feet to the beat. Tempo run takes your music and grades it based on the tempo of each track into ten different levels, one is considered a walking pace while ten is an out-and-out sprint.

When you need to pick up the pace just let Tempo Run find the correct tracks in your playlist for an ‘eight’ and you can get back to concentrating on your running.

Download: iOS

Half Marathon Trainer

Half Marathon: 21K Runner training

The name says it all really. Half Marathon trainer (HMt) is a training app designed specifically to develop you from a 10km runner to a half-marathon conqueror. HMt takes each run and breaks it down into alternating running and walking phases with audio cues from your ‘coach’ telling you when to change up.

HMt is focused specifically on training and not on the ancillary functions like music and GPS. It lets you use your own music app, whether it be streaming radio from a service like Rdio or the built in music player and your own GPS tracking app like Nike+ Running or RunKeeper. Because training schedules are broken down into time and not distance HMt works outdoors on the trail or the road and indoors on a track or a treadmill. Every completed run is marked down as a win with badges and trophies for completing events along the way.

HMt is perfect for runners like me who get lost in their thoughts on the road and need a ‘coach’ to keep them on task.

Download: iOS

RunKeeper

RunKeeper

With more than 26 million registered users RunKeeper is one of the biggest fitness communities to join. RunKeeper boasts a list of features similar to those of hardcore GPS watches from the likes of Garmin and  Polar. the standard array of metrics including distance, pace and race time as well as your progress through your current run are fed to you through your earphones. Best of all, you can use compatible heart rate monitors to track your heart rate and ensure that you’re ‘in the zone’.

Where RunKeeper’s biggest strength lies though is in its integration with other aspects of healthy living. Besides running, you can track walking, bike rides, hikes and differentiate each of them in your history. Goals can be set up for distances in each discipline by a certain date as well as for other achievements like tracking weight loss. More than 100 different apps and services are part of RunKeeper’s Health Graph database which integrates apps that focus on fitness, sleep and nutrition all providing data into the same network. FitBit, Withings , Fitocracy and even Zombies Run! all contribute to the data base.

For race day though the coolest feature of RunKeeper is part of the Elite package which costs $20/R220 a year (or $5/R55 a month)  and allows live tracking of your run for your supporters.

Download: Android, iOS