Maybe you run for the fun of it. Maybe you’re training for your first race. Maybe you have a definite time goal that you are striving for in a goal race that’s not too far away. Just about everyone who runs uses some sort of timing device to give them an idea of how their run went.
Some people want to know only the distance that they’ve run. Some only want to know how long they were running. And some want to know every possible detail, including distance for warm up, stats on the intervals that just cost a lung, time between intervals, cool down pace, distance, and time, heart rate, elevation change, or even the ability to compare this week’s long run to last week’s long run. How much information you desire may steer you toward one device or another.
For those that only want to know the amount of time that you spent running, I suggest you consider a watch 🙂 If you just want to track your distance then there are dozens of apps that you can put on your cell phone that will do a reasonably good job. Most use a single satellite and will give you a good approximation. What I have found is that the Runtastic app shorted me a tad on the mileage, mostly by cutting corners shorter than I had run them. Conversely, the Map My Run app seems to pad the mileage on the corners just a bit so I ended up with a few extra hundredths on short runs. No big deal, you say? Consider all of the turns in a full marathon. Using the Map My Run app during the (certified) Disney Marathon in January, I apparently ran 26.9 miles instead of the traditional 26.2. The difference here is a very big deal when you’re attempting to pace yourself, either so you hit a goal time or to avoid over-extending yourself and burning out.
I also tried Runkeeper for a run or two, but found the voice reading back my mid-run stats to be annoying. If you think that using a phone app is sufficient for your needs, there are a bunch of reviews online. A couple other popular candidates to look for are Nike+ and Strava. Many of the apps are free to use (with ads) and upgradeable with extra features and fewer ads.
Like I said, I’ve used three different phone apps, and at that point in my running career they served their purpose. I am now doing more interval training and working with a HR monitor so I have stepped up to the next level. I debated moving up for quite a while because, like many of you, cost is a big factor for me to consider. I asked several runners who have been at this longer than I have and considered several options. In the end I purchased a Garmin Forerunner 310XT. It is not the latest and greatest product that Garmin offers but it does what I need it to do and more. And it is more affordable because it’s not the latest and greatest.
When I run with the Garmin I typically use the chest strap in order to monitor my heart rate. This is probably the biggest difference between a watch-type GPS device and a phone app GPS device. And it has made a huge difference in my training. I wore the Garmin and strap during a recent 5k where I achieved a PR and ran so hard at the end that I literally felt like I was going to fall down. From that race I learned that my maximum heart rate is 192. Using the old-style generic formula (220 minus age) I was led to believe that my max heart rate was 174. Huge difference there! And that difference gives me different heart rate ranges to train in for different paces. If you think you might want this feature be sure that the model that you purchase includes the strap – not all of them do! I also like the wireless transfer of data from the watch to my PC – it will upload the data to my Garmin page while I’m still wearing the watch.
I’ll let some pictures do the talking for some of the other features that come with using a Garmin, with a couple of side notes. The screens shown below are completely customizable. I set them up this way because it works for me – you can choose different data to look at, set up 1-4 screens, and set up 1-4 fields on each screen. I also have mine set so that every mile becomes a new “lap” so I get different data for each mile. When I do intervals I can begin a new lap for each interval and for each recovery period.
This model of Garmin is typically available on Amazon and eBay for under $150 including the chest strap. Bonus… it’s waterproof because it’s designed to be used in triathlons. Yes, you can program it to switch from swim to bike to run with the push of a button. Garmin (and other companies) have newer and perhaps better products, but some of them can run in the several hundred dollar range. If I had to guess I’d say the newer ones a probably a little lighter. This watch takes a couple of runs to get used to because of the weight, but it took me less than a week to get used to and I haven’t worn a watch at all since the 1980s. I’m also a big fan of Garmin’s use of multiple satellites, which makes it more accurate than the GPS phone apps.
Once the data is uploaded wirelessly to my PC, I am able to look at each split for time, distance, max HR, average HR, elevation change, and many other details. I am also able to see graphs of elevation change, speed, and heart rate for the entire run. IN other words I am able to analyze every aspect of the run and even look at a particular piece of the run that seemed really good or really bad.
I have only been using a Garmin for three months now, but I would highly recommend it to anyone that is looking to take their training to the next level. Have questions? Leave them for me in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!