As the silver paper ripped to reveal the glorious green of my first Garmin Forerunner watch, I squealed with delight. This beautiful GPS watch for running felt like an exorbitant treat, a splurge, a I’m not sure I really need this kind of gift…and let’s be honest my future husband won major points for supporting my crazy.
I’d been running for years with a trusty Timex to clock my runs and then simply mapped them out on the computer later to gauge mileage. But I was in the midst of training for my first marathon and suddenly this felt like a new world of running was being opened up to me. I could run ANYWHERE and know the distance, what?!This is how you know I’ve been blogging too long…Christmas 2004. Fuzzy small photos, random graphics…I had it all.
Yes my young friends, there was a time when a GPS watch wasn’t simply an expectation of running! Amusingly since that time I’ve amassed a drawer full of various watches, which I’ve tested and reviewed over the years. I’ve found that there are definitely personal preferences to watches, just like shoes.
But there are also some things that universally make for a better watch these days.
GPS Running Watch Mistakes
Not only do I LOVE talking running gear with you, but you often ask me what you really need. I thought we’d start by looking at some mistakes and which watches might fit you best.
1 ) Buying More Than You Need
Looking at my plethora of watches, I’m the first to admit I get very excited by all the gizmos, gadgets, wickety, wackets that come out each year. And then just as quickly go back to using the features that really matter to me.
This is one of the features appearing on a lot of watches now. I’ve written a whole article to help you use that feature, but most of us aren’t.
Additional sports Metrics:
The Garmin Fenix 5 is one of the more advanced watches and includes features like tracking our Ski/Snowboarding adventures for speed, distance, vertical drop and an automatic run counter. Meanwhile in golf mode it gives you yardage to the front, back and middle of the green for any single course you’ve downloaded.
Do you spend a lot of time on the trails, hiking, running, biking? Is it possible you’ll get lost and need to know your exact location? Then the Suunto Sport Writs Baro might be worth the extra coins to get a more specific marking that GPS altitude. It’s also going to tell you the air pressure, provide storm warnings and temperature readings. And it allows you to navigate to a specific point of interest, no worries about your phone WiFi.
Sleep, food, life tracking:
These puppies can do it all now. And while I’m enjoying the daily step counts, do I want to sleep in my watch? Do you need to have your phone interrupt even more of your life my lighting up your wrist? Debatable.
All great…but possibly overkill for a lot of us.
If you simply need to know your distance and time, you can’t go wrong with the $50 Timex Ironman RunX20 or $70 TomTom Runner.
If you’re doing run/walk and want intervals the Garmin 35 and Polar M430 are very well rated and allow you to customize intervals that beep, keeping you on track. (I wasn’t a super fan of Polar previously, but have heard good things.)
All of that being said, if you want the bells an whistles this is the time of year to buy! They’re all marked down on Amazon.Don't overspend on your next #running watch, use these tips to make the most of it! #runchat Click To Tweet
2) Ignoring the HR Function
Heart rate training can provide so much information to enhance your running. But first let me say, you gotta ditch the models that require the chest strap. I’ve had enough scrapping and dipping and dropping of those things to last a lifetime.
A new world of training opened up with the advancement of HR through the wrist strap. I’ve used the TomTom for ages, which you can read about, and now I’m using the new Polar Vantage V daily because it has the most sophisticated HR in wrist tech right now.
I get a lot of questions about wrist accuracy: I’ve had a great luck with it. There are definitely issues in extreme cold because your blood flow changes and skin temp can make readings harder. I had spiking issue with all the chest straps, but not those specific wrist readers.
Why use HR?
- Allows you to measure intensity
- Allows you to measure fitness progress – overtime you should have a lower heart rate for the same pace
- Allows you to see when you’re overtraining (HR Is running higher than normal or you can’t get your HR up)
- Allows you to do things like a Low Heart Rate training plan to build a better cardio base
3) Signal Impatience
We’ve all wigged out over finishing a race to see our watch show an entirely different distance than the one we signed up for, which we can often blame on tall buildings, running under bridges or other signal interrupters that most watches will be prone to.
Some watches are known to have better GPS signals and tracking:
- Epson now goes down to .123 of a mile, which is pretty cool
- Garmin is the most well know for their variety of GPS products
- Suunto has more tools built in like the altimeter to improve accuracy
- All of these watches are likely more accurate than your smartphone due to their technology
While you’re standing impatiently hoping from foot to foot with your arm in the air, your watch is trying to latch on to at least 3 of the 24 satellites orbitting Earth.
You can help improve the accuracy by:
- Ensuring you’ve updated your watch software
- Giving the watch a full minute to completely connect, the more it connects to the stronger your signal as you pass under things. Feel free to turn it on inside next to a window.
- Save locations to speed up GPS locating (if your watch allows it)
- Look for a watch with GLONASS for improved accuracy, but possibly shorter battery life
- Upload your data – many of the online tools will actually “clean up” the watch data for improved accuracy.
4) Switching Apps
Each watch comes with their own App now to upload your data, which is great unless you’ve been using something else previously or tend to be a watch hopper like me.
While it sounds minor, trust me after years of running you’ll wish you had all of your information in one place. It’s extremely helpful to see your year over year data or to compare training cycles when trying to see what has worked previously or trends in injuries.
Having mine in one place allowed me to put my return to running post surgery in perspective and see what’s possible!
Not sure which app to work with? Checkout these top running apps >>
While our watches provide a wealth of data and can ensure we aren’t going out guns blazing on a 20 mile run, they can also take away from your ability to learn pacing. It disconnects you from understanding what hard, easy and medium efforts feel like.
And for a lot of runners, eh hem like my husband, it causes you to push too hard wanting every run to be better than the last. Remember it’s a tool and a guide, but don’t let it run you.
Read this on learning to pace yourself and remember to not be stuck looking at it all the time.
BONUS: The forgotten charge
Make a habit of keeping your watch charger in the same spot as your phone, you’ll be more likely to plug it in and ensure it’s ready for your next sweat session. Because nothing stops a good run in it’s tracks like realizing you’re without a means to measure it! Of course you could run sans watch, but when every run has a goal that can be easier said than done.
Once you’ve gotten your watch, make sure to read this to get the most from your GPS watch!
Looking for more reviews to find the best things for you run?
Checkout our full page of my must have running gear reviews and guides to save you time searching and money! I share what’s worked for me and fellow runners, along with what wasn’t worth the price tag.
A few common requests:
- Garmin vs Suunto GPS Watches
- Garmin vs Polar GPS Watches
- How to use all your run data
- Best HR monitors (from watches to straps)
- Best wireless headphones for running
What matters most to you in a watch?
Do you use all the features on your watch?
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