Meet Co-Founder of MapMyRun Empire

MapMyRun was literally one of the first fitness apps on the planet.

Five years later? It remains one of the top five free Health & Fitness apps in the iTunes App Store. And it has company—MapMyRide, MapMyFitness, MapMyHike and four other niche variations of the popular app have launched through the years.

This month MapMyFitness Inc. surpassed 9 million members and launched a beta version of a complete overhaul of the MapMyRun app design. We caught up with co-founder Robin Thurston last week to chat about this ever-expanding app empire.

Why do runners use MapMyRun?

Our history started around the visualization of data and mapping tools. I think it was this visualization that made people gravitate towards creating their own maps and discover the world and the distances they were running. For me it’s always been just a really great way to take what you are out doing or what you are going to do and be able to visualize that. If you use a Garmin or a Nike Plus or even our iPhone app, you are able to visualize all of your split data, and your graphs and carts around elevation and pace and all of that. It is just a very enriching way to really see what you’ve done and how you’re progressing. That’s certainly why I think the whole quantified self movement has really taken off. It’s just a great way to visualize everything.

I’ve been active for 30 years of my life. When we started the company, it was really based on things like precise measurement for people who didn’t necessarily have GPS devices in 2006. It was a great way for them to figure out how far they’ve gone without jumping in their car and driving around the block. You know, I wish today that I had a place to visualize all 30 years of my fitness. We really do think about it as a storybook. I probably have a combined 20,000 miles in the system since we started from running, cycling and other fitness activities. It is a lot. Sometimes I will go back and say “that’s when we were on vacation in California.” It is really about the history that brings the whole site together.

What have you learned about your fitness from tracking over 20,000 miles?

For many people, including myself, your fitness is an evolution. There are times when you are very dedicated whether it be for an event or a certain point in your life like an upcoming vacation. It’s when you are kind of preparing yourself, and you are very, very focused. Then other times you kind of let things fall apart. In many ways, the [MapMyRun] tools kind of keep you on track.

One thing that I learned is that tracking helps me stay more consistent then when I’m not tracking. There is a lot of details in that, too, like understanding how important rest is and seeing how much stronger you get after you rest. Most of all, it is a lot about making the data fun and social. The amount of activity I share at this point with friends is tremendous, whether that’s to Facebook and then other people trying out those routes or courses that I might be doing. That’s a really big part of the change—the social part of it all has really exploded and made it more fun for people.

MapMyRun Co-Founder Robin Thurston

What do you suggest to people who have been running primarily on the treadmill?

The great part of MapMyRun is that you can see what other people are running. You can find routes near you and try those routes. It’s all about discovery. There is any number of 2, 3 or 5-mile runs that are near you in the system.
I think the other part of it is staying on a regular workout. So you finish a program like C25K, and you want to stay on a regular workout—whether that’s 3 miles three days a week or 5 miles a couple of days a week. The app allows you to stay on track. It sort of makes you accountable. Then if you invite a few friends in … you create a group and everyone is in that group, then you can have things like group runs. There are social aspects to it that reinforce the behavior and make it more fun.

Are there any secret or cool elements to MapMyRun that are overlooked?

We added nutrition tracking about a year ago, and it’s grown tremendously in terms of its usage. We have a really cool dashboard that integrates both your fitness and your nutrition. It tells you your budget. I think things like that are really cool for the average runner to try for a while and see how they enjoy it.

One feature we added recently is to “send route to a phone.” So from our website you can send the route to your phone via email. It will launch the app with that route for you to run against. We are seeing a lot of usage of this new feature. You can essentially get any map that’s on our system sent to your phone.

What’s the longest run that’s been mapped?

We literally have people who have mapped runs around the world. There are certainly some long ones in the system. The most verified one is from Dean Karnazes, a sponsored athlete of MapMyRun. He ran across the U.S. at the beginning of last year. We mapped that entire journey live. So he was live-tracking during that whole journey. It was one serious run. It took him 75 days at 50 miles a day.

Dean Karnazes at the start of his cross-country run sponsored by MapMyRun. 

What’s your favorite MapMyRun success story?

There are so many of them. This week we will pass 9 million registered members. There are so many stories about people losing weight by running; there are all kinds of crazy inspiring runs across continents. At a really basic level, it’s really just seeing people activate. Fifty percent of our audience is overweight or obese, and that to me is the most inspiring part. They are actually trying really hard to get up and get going. Tools like ours are helpful whether it’s the visualization, the accountability or the social piece. Seeing those things to me are really the inspiring moments that drives us all here to keep developing and adding new features to the sites. There are a tremendous number of those stories.

Are you a runner yourself?

The history of the company is that one of the founders is a runner and the other is a cyclist. I am the cyclist. I certainly have run a marathon in my life. It was one of the most painful days of my life. We are a little split down the middle—we are half runners and half cyclists. I am very involved in the running community. We’re excited about all the developments around the number of new events that are being created and seeing 10Ks and half-marathons pop up across the country in droves. It’s an exciting time for running.

What’s the best way to carry your mobile device while running?

We sell an armband on the site, and there are a whole bunch of armbands for running outside that leave your headphones close enough to hear the voice feedback. There are also some waist belts that will also hold your iPhone along with other things you want to carry. We do see a lot of people carrying it in their hands, too. The armband is nice. I have used it from time to time in cycling, too.

Many runners jog with an armband.

How does MapMyRun differ from devices like MOTOACTV?

It’s a good device. It’s a closed device. They do not integrate with us, so there is no easy way to get the data into a community that’s as large as ours. That’s definitely one big drawback. They have done a nice job with the device. It has very similar functionality to your iPhone, so it’s pretty expensive.

What was the first app MapMyFitness created?

MapMyRun was the first app, and MapMyRide was second. Our first mobile app was actually both of them. We had two of the first 200 iPhone apps in the App Store. We were very early when we launched the company in 2006. There wasn’t really anyone else in the space other than Garmin. Even Nike hadn’t launched [its app] at that point.

What’s next for the MapMyFitness empire?

We have a lot of new things coming out in terms of updates and new features. We recently launched MapMyDogWalk. We have some fun new verticals that we are going into. What we really envision is the phone and the site growing into your own personal coach. We imagine deep integration into your calendar and a lot of advanced functionality on how the phone can kind of be your full-time coach. We definitely see that happening over the next couple of years.

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