GPS Running Watch Buying Guide

What to look for when buying a GPS watch for running

Chances are that if you have been running for a few weeks you will have seen lots of runners stealing glances at their wrists as they zoom past you, standing on the spot waving their wrists around in the air or staring intently at their wrists as they are about to start a sprint of intervals session.

All of those runners will be looking at the GPS watch that they no doubt spent weeks researching before they bought, but with so many new models hitting the market this year, how do you know which watch to chose? This article is going to explain some of the key things to look for when choosing a GPS timepiece for running as well as some of the pitfalls and things to avoid.

GPS watches have revolutionized running.  No longer do you need to map out your runs on Google maps or some other painfully tedious website, when a fancy gadget can automatically and accurately record thing like  your route, distance, speed time calories and heart rate at the click of a button.

Most GPS watches record the basic stats mentioned above but there are a few key features which differentiate the various models into high, medium and low cost brackets.

Heart Rate Connectivity

Most units will connect up to a heart rate monitor but if you don’t already have one then a bundle including a HR monitor will usually set you back an additional £50.

When it comes to the actual statistics that are reported, something like the Polar RCX3 has a few extra features that make heart rate training easy to use and more importantly easy to understand. It includes a feature called Zone Optimizer which automatically detects if you are fatigues and advises you to train differently by adjusting the heart rate zones that your training will fall in so that you are running at a lower intensity.

If you do not need or wish to have anything other than the normal average and current heart rate live statistics then most models at the cheaper end of the scale should be able to cope including all of the Garmin Forerunner units, Nike SportWatch GPS, Motorola Motoactv and the Timex trainers.

Advanced Training Features

As already mentioned, most units will give you the basic live statistics such as current, average and lap of the following: speed, distance, time, pace, calories and heart rate. If you want a few extra features that will help to make planning your running routine a little bit easier to manage then the Garmin Forerunner 405, 410, 610 and 910xt watches are the models to go for as they contain an array of extra features.

All include something called the Virtual Trainer, which allows you to race against a imaginary partner on screen. The imaginary partner runs at a constant speed and you can see ho far in front or behind you are in terms of distance and time.

Another advanced feature of the higher end Garmin Forerunner’s is the advanced course feature. This lets you set up an advanced sprinting or intervals session with rest periods and repetitions quickly and easily.

Online Training Portals

Most GPS watches have their own online portals where you can upload and keep track of your training data. Each manufacturer has their own portal and the plus and negative points of each are as follows:

Garmin – Garmin Connect Portal

Good for the sheer amount of data that is reported as well as the ability to play back your runs, but searching for other peoples courses is clunky and not very user friendly. Also, considering this is the largest online training portal out of all the manufacturers, it is not very social.

Suunto – MovesCount

The Suunto portal is newer and slicker than the Garmin portal as well as being a lot more social. You can create events and then invite people to sign up to your events so that when they finish a race and upload their times they will automatically be recorded against other people in the same race. The downside is that is is not very well subscribed at the moment.

Nike – Nike+

Great for motivational videos and fancy graphics butt he SportWatch GPS does not report that many statistics and so it not the best for seasoned runners.

Polar – PolarPersonalTrainer

Clunky to access and navigate, the only good thing about the Polar portal is that you can customize personal running training plans within a few clicks of a button.

Motorola Motoactv

As this is the only unit with an inbuilt music player, the Motorola GPS Watch tracks what songs you run best to and then collates these into a playlist. The watch itself is pretty good apart from a poor battery life, but as long as you don’t plan on going for a run longer than 4 hours then this could be the GPS watch of choice for you.

So there are three things to consider when buying a GPS running watch. Do you want advanced heart rate and training features or are you content with the basics? Also considering how many stats you want to record and then report online/track is important as if you are an experienced runner then you will want the most detail possible as opposed for fancy graphics and poor reporting.

About the Author:
Ross is a club level triathlete and runner based in England. He is currently training for the UK ironman triathlon and can be found blogging away about the kit that makes his training easier on his RunTheLine running blog.

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