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running watch, polar M400

How to choose a running watch

A running watch is essential for anyone who is serious about running. A running watch can cost as little as $25 to over $400. It can be a substantial investment.

For most runners it is the most expensive running item that they own. Fortunately a running watch lasts much longer than the second most expensive item; running shoes.

Just like shoe companies, each watch company claims to have the best watch. Much like running shoes, no single running watch brand or model works for everyone. With all of the brands, features and claims it can be difficult to choose the right watch for you.

How to choose a running watch?

The first question to ask yourself is what you’ll use your watch for and how often will you use it. Expensive watches have lots of cool features. But how often will you use them. How often do you use 90% of the features on your smart phone?

How often you will use your watch is also important. If you train and race often, a good quality and feature rich watch may be for you. As a casual runner, a watch with a stop watch feature may work for you.

Do you really need a GPS running watch?

If you’re just starting out, your wrist watch is all you need. Many training plans for beginners focus more on the duration of your run. Speed is not the primary focus for beginners. It’s getting out there and getting started.

If your goal is to walk, jog or run for 20 or 30 minutes, your watch is all you need. Make note of the time you start your walk, jog or run. When you get to the 10 or 15 minute mark, turn around and head back.

My running club has a walk to run program every year. We have 30 minute work outs that begin with 1 minute of jogging followed by 4 minutes of walking. We repeat this six times for a 30 minute workout.

With 50 or 60 people in a training group, runners often finish at different times. The idea is to do your best and improve a little each week. Each week we increase the time running and decrease the time walking.

If you are training by your self, set a time goal and turn around at the half way point.

Tip: When starting out, spend your money on a good pair of shoes at a running store. You do not need a GPS watch.

There’s an app for that!

If you have a smart phone, which just about everyone under 60 years old does, you do not need a GPS running watch.

Your can use the clock on your smartphone to time your walk or run. Most smartphones also come with a clock feature which has a stop watch function. Using either the clock or stop watch features to time your workout will get you started.

Running Apps

Fiddling with your phone to set or check the time can be a nuisance. RunKeeper and MapMyRun are two popular FREE apps to get you to the next level.

RunKeeper has a FREE feature rich version that allows you to track mileage, duration/time, average pace, splits, calories burned, and elevation changes. On your computer you can see a map of your run and a graphic of all of your stats.

RunKeeper has several advantages over the clock on your phone. First of all you just launch the app, press the start button and go. You don’t have to remember the time you started. RunKeeper will also announce when you hit certain points in your workout. This can help you turn around at the right time.

RunKeeper beyond the clock

RunKeeper, running appsRunKeeper has many cool features available to you for FREE. The Dashboard page shows an over view of your activities.

The Reports page will give you more details such as distance, duration and calories burned per month. You can also track your cross training activities.

The Activities page allows you to see a map of your route, distance, duration, average page and calories burned for each activity.

The Training page has training plans to help your finish a 5K, 10K, Half or full Marathon. Most of these are free. If you are preparing for your first 5K race their 8 week “Beginner 5K” plan is available for free.

There are other features which you can explore. RunKeeper is FREE and can be downloaded to your smartphone.

My RunKeeper Experience

I first used RunKeeper when my GPS watch froze 15 minutes before a half-marathon.

Fortunately I had downloaded RunKeeper to my phone a few weeks earlier. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was thrilled to have a solution.

As the race started, I started RunKeeper and tucked the phone into my pocket.

At that moment I discovered my biggest problem using a phone-based app; I had to start the app and get the phone into a pocket while trying to start a race.

It’s too easy to drop a phone, or hit the wrong button and not start the app.

Tip: If you plan to use a smartphone app for training or running you should get an arm band carrying case for it.

Over time, I found it difficult to keep the app from closing just before the race started. I found that you had to start the app close to beginning the race, or your work out, and keep an eye on it.

For workouts this shouldn’t be an issue.

The first time I used RunKeeper, I discovered that it makes an announcement every 10 minutes. It will announce your pace, time running, distance traveled and how far ahead or behind you are from your goal pace.

I thought it would be annoying for everyone around me, even though I thought it was pretty cool! But everyone else thought it was cool also, and asked what I was using. RunKeeper was new at the time so no one knew anything about it.

I used RunKeeper a dozen times or so, but went back to Garmin eventually. I just didn’t like having to deal with my phone at race starts. I was also worried about exposing my phone to some of the harsh conditions I run in.

MapMyRun One Step Beyond

MapMyRun, Running appsMapMyRun is the other popular FREE smart phone app. It tracks all of your stats like RunKeeper, but it also allows you to see other runner’s routes.

As a new runner this can be very helpful. You can see the most popular routes in your area and look for routes that match your needs.

MapMyRun shows you a map and elevation graph for each route. You can send the map to your phone and follow a course someone else has scouted out for you already. Pretty cool stuff.

Some races use MapMyRun to provide race maps for their runners. Runners want to know where they are going and where the hills are.

I have limited experience with MapMyRun. The web site is feature rich and they offer some features that RunKeeper doesn’t such as the running routes of other runners and ability to send one of these maps to your smartphone.

If you are looking for a smartphone based running app, I would advise you to give MapMyRun a close look.

Do you need a running watch?

We’ve looked at the option of using your watch or smartphone for training and racing. These are good, low or no cost options.

Considering what we’ve discussed above, do you still think you need a GPS running watch?

Some veteran runners will “run naked.” They leave their watch at home and find out what their time is at the finish line.

Some people train without a watch. It’s liberating not to be aware of your stats and run by feel instead.

Running naked isn’t for everyone. Sometimes you have a fixed time period to run, or need to time a training run.

As a new runner or participant in a walk-to-run program, a basic wrist watch or smartphone app will do.

If you love tech or are making the step from beginner to more serious running, a GPS running watch is a great piece of running gear.

Resources to help choose a running watch

As I said at the beginning “A running watch can be a substantial investment.” Prices range from $49.00 to over $500.00. Before walking into your local running store you should do same research.

Running Watch resources

A good resource is the 2015 GPS Watch Buyers Guide, from the The Wired Runner. The site offers great product reviews and has a Pros and Cons of GPS Watches page that you might find helpful.

Buying a GPS running watch can be confusing with so many brands and features to choose from. The Wired Runner helps by letting you select a price, category, brand or activity type to help you narrow things down a bit.

Take your time, read the reviews and ask other runners. If you have a local running store, go talk to them. The runners who work at your local store know from experience what most runners use and can make a recommendation based on your needs.

Some of these watches are multi-sport and have features a runner wont use, and that you wont want to pay for.

Running Watch Brands

Polar is a popular sports watch brand, but the GPS running watch selection is limited and starts at $229.95 for therunning watch, polar M400 M400 GPS Running Watch.The M400 also can track your activity 24/7 which is a feature many running watches do not have.

Their A300 fitness watch is $169.95 but is not listed as a running watch and has features similar to a FitBit including 24/7 activity and sleep monitoring.

These features could be just the right combination for runners looking for something more than a running watch.

The “Polar Beat” is a FREE smartphone app that you can pair with their H10 Heart Rate Sensor ($79.95) and get many of the same features as a GPS running watch.

I have seen some treadmills that will sync with a Polar Watch. If your gym has one of these treadmills, Polar may be a good choice for you. I always find it frustrating to add my treadmill workouts manually to Garmin Connect. Often I forget the details by the time I get home.

Garmin makes a wide variety of GPS products, including running watches. Garmin’s running watch line is the “Forerunner” series and they dominate this category. I started with the Forerunner 410 a few years ago and now wear the Forerunner 610.

gps running watch, garmin 610

Garmin tends to keep their top of the line Forerunner watch priced at $399.99. As new models are introduced, they reduce their price on the previous models. They seem to keep some models around for a few years even as new models are introduced.

This is great if you have been eyeing a watch that is out of your budget and have the patience to wait.

The good news for a first time running watch buyer is that all of their watches get discounted eventually. If you are patient and check the site often you can usually get a nice bargain.

Forerunner 630, how to choose a running watchThe Forerunner 630 is their current “top of the line” and is $399.99 or $449.99 for the “Bundle” which includes the heart rate monitor strap.

Many runners like having a heart rate monitor (HRM) but hate wearing the strap. You can always buy the HRM strap later and perhaps get it on sale. It’s not something you need with your first running watch.

The ForeRunner 630 is an amazing watch with a color touch-screen hi-res display. Some new features that the Forerunner 610 does not have include the ability to display maps and automatically upload your results to Garmin Connect.

Click the link above for complete details.

ForeRunner 15, GPS watch, how to choose a running watchFortunately, the Garmin Forerunner line begins with the Forerunner 15 which is currently on sale for $99.99. Adding the heart rate strap will cost you $30.00. $129.99 for a GPS watch with heart rate monitor is very good.

This would be a good choice for a new runner looking for their first GPS watch. Just like with the ForeRunner 630, you don’t need to get the HRM strap to start out.

Between the Forerunner 15 and the Forerunner 630 are many different models and options for you to choose from.

TomTom is another well known navigation device brand that makes a wide variety of GPS products. You may have one of their GPS units in your car.

TomTom, how to choose a running watchMuch like Garmin, TomTom is a navigation product company first. They sell devices for boating and commercial applications.

Running and fitness watches and devices are a line of business for them, but not the focus of their business.

While I think they make good fitness products, I find their web site poorly laid out and difficult to find information on watches.


Running Watch Options

One option is to use your current watch or download a smartphone app. Very inexpensive but may not be as convenient as a watch. Phones can get dropped and are expensive to replace. An everyday watch doesn’t have the features a basic running watch comes with.

Another option is to take the plunge and buy a GPS watch. There is a wide price range available and several manufacturers to choose from. At the low end you still get many features, but not all of the cool stuff the higher end watches offer. You have many options and do not gave to break the bank.

I hope this article and links are helpful to you.

Run well my friends,


© 2015 andrew nagelin





One response to “How to choose a running watch”

  1. […] January I wrote How to choose your first 5K and How to choose a running watch. I was expanding on the information from the info-graphic […], pub-4167727599129474, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0