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What I Learned from My First Six Months with RunKeeper

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logo-runkeeper-printRunKeeper is an app and website that tracks your activity and aims to help you to be more active. To use it, you launch the app on your smartphone, tell it you’re going walking, running, cross-country skiing, or whatever, and then it tracks that activity as you do it. The first time I used it was on June 22, 2013, to track a 6.45 mile bike ride I went on.

To give you quick backstory on me: I’m 27, and was overweight or obese for most of my life. In the last few years I’d started to sporadically make progress on improving my health, getting progressively healthier, largely by eating better. From a starting weight of about 270, I’m now around 180. I’d started 2013 a bit stagnant in my weight-loss journey, hovering between 210 and 200.

Which is where I was until about the time I started using RunKeeper. My activity level wasn’t bad, but nothing to write home about. Until April of 2013, I had a retail stocking job which kept me on my feet for about eight hours a workday. On days off, I’d sometimes go for short walk through the neighborhood. After leaving that job, I’d go for walks, or sometimes play basketball casually, but otherwise didn’t do much physical activity. But I had a good basic understanding of nutrition, fitness, and a strong sense of my goals. My goal at the start of 2013 was to end the year at or below 180 pounds, and I was pretty set on achieving that.

Why RunKeeper?

I could lie, make this into a story that RunKeeper would really boast about and tell you that I was super set on RunKeeper. But it’s not true. When I thought, “I should use the GPS in this new smartphone I have to track my walks,” RunKeeper was just the first app I thought to try, and it stuck. I’ve not examined the category deeply, nor ever found the need to even try alternatives. I like RunKeeper, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to someone looking to track their activity, but it’s not the only thing I can imagine using.

But this category in general, and RunKeeper in particular, have some awesome features we can and should bring to Medivate. It measures your activity for you, so you barely have to think about it. That gives some justification to your fuzzy sense that you’re more active now, and that’s awesome. And RunKeeper’s quite smart in the way it informs you about your activity. Especially to start, I couldn’t go for a walk without being told by RunKeeper that I’d set some new record by doing it. These were just simple, well-formatted emails sent without any human intervention, but they were quite motivating.

What RunKeeper’s Done For Me

As I said in the outset, the first activity I logged in RunKeeper was a bike ride of 6.45 miles, that same day I walked 3.56 miles. All told, by RunKeepers estimation I burned just over 600 calories that day. A recent Saturday was fairly typical for my current activity level: I went on a 22 mile bike ride — despite a cold (but not brutally cold) Colorado winter day — and then a 3.42 mile walk. By RunKeeper’s estimation I burned 1300 calories doing those things. IMG_0512

And that comparison isn’t perfect: that first Saturday was rather active for my activity level then, and this most recent Saturday was a shorter bike ride than I like to do. But the basic difference it conveys is quite real: I’m more than twice as active as I was in June. What’s more: I’ve started running — the mere thought of doing that in a none-emergency situation is something I used to scoff at — and I enjoy it. Just last week I managed to sustain a sub-8-minute-mile pace for the entirety of my 25 minute run, a first. To give a sense of why I’m excited by that, my first “run” was on August 23 and I averaged a 12:30 per mile pace.

Why this matters

RunKeeper’s been a great and beneficial service for me, and the impact it’s had on my fitness activity is exactly what we’re hopeful Medivate can do for meditation. Obviously the mapping’s not exact: while RunKeeper has a social component, facilitated through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve never used it. And while encouraging greater speed and exertion makes a ton of sense for fitness goals, it feels awkward to do that for meditation. But I do think we can learn some things from RunKeeper. Here are the most vital:

  • Progress notes of encouragement are almost always welcome and, well, encouraging. Telling people that they’ve just exceeded their longest meditation session or their longest streak of consecutive ones on the site, in their email inbox, and anywhere else they contact the service is an incontestably good idea. (We’ve not done this half because of technical limitations, and half for fear of “spamming,” but neither makes much sense having experienced the positive impact of the messaging.)
  • More insightful data can have a big-little impact. This is related, but even in its free tier RunKeeper does some pretty cool totaling, summing, and comparisons. I can see that I’ve climbed 1245 feet in elevation so far this week, vs 2252 last week. Or that I’ve so far burned 4053 calories (it’s only Thursday), vs 5554 for last week. These numbers aren’t themselves all that deep, but making them accessible and easy to access certainly motivates me to do and log more activity.
  • Seamlessness matters. If I’d not finally gotten my first smartphone, and found the act of starting and stopping my logging activity with RunKeeper as easy as it is, I’d likely have dropped away from their service and found an alternative or given up entirely. Medivate has made significant improvements here with the way that our online meditation timer sends the time to our logging page, but an app you were already using to time your meditation would be even better.
  • Personal motivation matters. If I’d not been trying to exercise more and lose weight very earnestly over the last six months, I don’t think that RunKeeper itself could have made me drop 30 pounds and more than double the daily time I spend exercising. The role of Medivate or RunKeeper is first and foremost to make the motivated more successful. While there’s opportunity around helping people find their motivation — and that’s an area I think Medivate’s got a bit of a leg-up on RunKeeper and other fitness trackers — no service or app is going to be able to convert every interested skeptic into a successful true-believer.

As we find time in our schedules, I’m quite eager for us to start to bring these lessons into Medivate and make the product even better for our users. We’ve got a lot of tasks before we can reach the level of polish and seamlessness that RunKeeper has, but my experience with it has made me certain that these kind of tools can have a big impact for the right audience (like me), and I’m really eager for us to bring that to meditation.

Thanks for reading, and in case it was lost on you, if you’re trying to exercise more in the new year, you should definitely give RunKeeper a shot. And if you’re trying to meditate more, here are some reasons why that’s a great idea.

  • Seth

    What happened to the Medivate Android app? The only link I can find to it on the website is broken.

    • fredclaymeyer

      Hi, Seth, We’re improving the Android app (adding features and fixing bugs), and have removed the download link in the meantime. We’ll try to have it back up as soon as possible.

      Thanks for writing!

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