There was a day when the only way to measure my run was to use a pedometer. But when I set them up by measuring my stride and steps, it just never felt like I was going to get an accurate read on how far I ran. Fortunately, the GPS running watch has completely revolutionized the way that runners can track their progress. They can tell you how far you went, how fast you went, what your pace was, and, now, some even play music to ease your pain on those long and arduous marathon training runs. Truth be told, even though they are super amazing, I have not found them all to be as amazing as I’d hoped. In fact, I had to return a whole lot of GPS running watches before I found the one that suited me best!
Here’s a rundown on four GPS watches:
For the runner who is looking for more than just their running stats, the Fitbit Ionic is a good overall training GPS running watch. It comes complete with personal coaching and a built-in GPS tracker, and you can store music to stream to earbuds. It also has a heart rate monitor and a sleep tracker.
I liked the Fitbit watch because it isn’t overly complicated. The display is fairly easy to navigate, and it allows you to hold all of your favorite apps like Pandora and bank info so that you don’t have to bring your wallet along when you are out and about. Once you upload it with your payment information, you can use it at any retailers that accept wallet-free payment.
It also allows you to send and receive calls when you are out on the trail, but sorry Apple users, that works only if you have an Android phone. You can get social media alerts if you set them up, remotely from anywhere. The best part about the watch is that battery lasts for five consecutive days before you have to charge it.
It is also lightweight, so you don’t feel like one arm is 10 pounds heavier, yet it has a whole lot of functional uses. Lastly, it is completely water-resistant, so sweat away!
It is a bit pricey for someone who is looking for just a GPS running watch. If you are a hardcore runner, you might not want to spend the $299 plus the additional charge monthly to use it. Also, it can be a bit glitchy. If you’re an Apple person, you might want to consider other compatible Apple options.
The touchscreen can be a bit touchy, too, which can become irritating when you are running and just want to close out of something. Overall, it is a great improvement from the regular Fitbit if you want a totally functional “health and athlete” GPS.
It not only tracks your performance, but it is also somewhat of a personal assistant on the go. But if you are not a person who wants to be found when you get lost on the trail, it might not be for you.
Why is LTE important? With previous Apple watches, you had to have your phone with you to get the internet. Now, you can now use your Apple Watch without having your clunky phone in your pocket, although you do have to pay an ongoing monthly charge. (You can opt for the Apple Watch 3 without the LTE to avoid the monthly charge.)
My go-to choice is definitely the Apple Watch. If you’re going to spend the money, you might as well have something that you can use if there’s an emergency while you’re out on a run and you need help (the call feature). It’s also nice to not have to bring your phone everywhere: You can leave it behind and not worry about where to keep it because you have everything you need on your wrist.
The Apple Watch is good for the overall athlete who wants to know how far they go, what their pace was and to track progress. You can measure calories and try the coaching assistant to increase your performance.
I like the pace alerts that let me know when I am burning it too much or falling behind and the addition of music is a great one! The heart rate monitor keeps you on track. There is also a call button so you can talk to people when you are remote. It comes in a ton of different styles and sizes, which is a nice feature. And you can easily switch out the bands if you want to be more expressive.
If you are not an Apple person, then this is not the watch for you. The higher price tag of $350 is a bit excessive, and to be honest, I probably would have gone with another GPS running watch if I didn’t already have an Apple iPhone to pair it with.
For someone who is already an Apple user, the watch just makes things easier. The extra charge to use the cellular data on it can start to add up, especially if you are just looking for a GPS running watch and nothing more. Also the 18-hour battery life is substantially lower than the Fitbit and can be a problem if you aren’t diligent about charging it. Overall, it is an excellent tool for someone who is training for a marathon or who wants to increase their running performance. But it might be a little more than the average runner is looking for to gauge their runs.
I like the Timex Ironman because it has all the features I need without the high price tag or confusing bells and whistles.
It only costs about $95 and allows you to track not just your running, but also biking and swimming if you are a cross trainer. The watch gives you the distance, pace and time, which is all that you really need when you want to clock your runs. It also allows you to save workouts and gives you performance read-outs. I found the watch to be a bit clunky for my style, but I have small wrists, so that might not be a universal problem.
It only has a 12 hour GPS battery life, which for destination races is okay if you remember to put it on the charger. Also, the watch has an app that is supposed to download the entire GPS set up on your watch. If you don’t use the app, the watch doesn’t work. I found it difficult to use and had to call tech support because it wasn’t uploading. Once I got it, it worked fine. Fine is the operative word. If you are looking for a watch that gives basic information, is clear and not overly complicated, the Timex Ironman will do the job. It is at a price point that is nice, especially if you don’t want all the other features.
Somewhere in between the Timex and the full-blown wrist cell phone is the Garmin Forerunner. It has a simple design and costs about $170.
It gives you good GPS coverage and a heart rate monitor that you can use all day, even when you aren’t on the trails. The Garmin gives you pace alerts and tracking milestones, which are like a little “way to go.” The watch is also easy to view in both bright and dark conditions, and you can upload music to play when you are out running.
It really didn’t give me much more information than the Timex. The Garmin Forerunner 35 was nearly twice the price, and although it fits nicely, I didn’t think it was worth the additional money. It is a good overall running watch for someone who is just looking to track their distance and pace. But the only things it really had on the Timex was the ability to stream music, which I found complicated, and the heart rate monitor, which I rarely used.
A GPS running watch is a great way to track your running performance. If you want one that does it all and helps you stay connected, then it makes sense to spend the money on the Fitbit Ionic or the Apple Watch. But if all you want to do is track your performance, then don’t get caught up spending more than you have to.
Julie is a lifelong runner, as well as a writer, a wife and the mother of six. Throughout the many challenges she has faced, the one thing she could always turn to was running, which is where she finds solace and healing. Ironically, it is when she runs until she can’t run anymore and feels empty, that she finds peace. Julie became a writer more than a decade ago when she wrote an ongoing blog for her first husband, who was dying of pancreatic cancer. She realized that she loved writing as much as she does running, and it became her life.