First and foremost you’ve got to be serious about running. So the first question is:
1. For how long are you running and for long do you think you will?
I’m running from 2017 and I like it. I don’t think I will stop soon so a big money investment in a sports watch is justified. I also used Fitbit for about 10 years and I know I will always like wearing a sports watch. They are sometimes bulky. At least mine is but I sleep, work, run and even take showers with my Garmin Fenix 5 Plus watch. So the question really is, how serious are you about using it?
If you are running for some time (months but preferably years) then you know for sure the money won’t go to waste if you buy something expensive. And, be sure sports watches can be very expensive. The latest line from Garmin and especially Marq Driver is 2,500 USD. I don’t know you but that’s a helluva lot of money for me.
2. What brands of watches are your running friends using?
This is not to gain some social status or more acceptance and love from your running friends. It’s not even about staying on top with the latest trends in terms of sports watches. It’s simply because, being in the same ecosystem with your friends will help you run more. Call it piers pressure, motivation or whatever you want, it helps. When I was using Fitbit I would die to be number one in the weekly or daily steps challenge. I’ve been like that for years. It could be that I am competitive in that aspect but oh boy, what better motivation is than being on top of your friends list for the longest distance for running every single time.
So if your majority of friends is with Apple then get an Apple watch. If they are with Garmin go get a Garmin. It will help to see how you stack against your running friends.
3. Obscure brand? Forget about it!
Buying a watch from an obscure brand won’t be good for you for a number of reasons:
– there are not a lot of people using it so that means you won’t be able to see how your running improves in time compared to others
– small brand = small support. It could be they are in the game for the quick gain, hit – collect the cash and run.
– there is a big chance if the product is not successful enough they won’t have the money power to continue improving the products and come up with better versions
– ultimately, small products may lack product integration with apps e.g. the watch you buy might not sync with Strava. Which beings me to the next questions:
4. Does it have an app for your phone? Does it work with Strava?
They usually do but don’t be surprised if the sports watch you think of buying doesn’t have. Also it’s important to have an app like Strava to sync with your watch. The reason for using Strava or any other sports app is because it acts like a hub – you change your watch brand but you are still able to keep track of all of your running activities. Having a way to go back in time and see how much you ran 10 years ago is very rewarding. I used to sync my Fitbit with Strava before having my Garmin and I could see all my runs in the Strava dashboard. Sweet!
5. Build in GPS is a must!
Imagine you run in a hot sunny day in the heat of the summer with just a tank top (maybe topless?) and a pair of shorts with no pockets. What are you going to do with your iPhone 11 Pro Max? Carrying it in your hand while running 20k?!? What, are you crazy? (I did it, I carried my Samsung Note8 phone in my hand for a couple of runs, switching from left to right and back, it’s not fun). So the solution is having a watch with builtin GPS so you can leave the phone home. There is no way around it, just do it.
6. Built-in storage for music is a must!
My Fenix 5 Plus has music storage so I can drag & drop music from my computer or I can listen to Spotify offline. I don’t know about you but running with music makes a big difference to me. It’s because running is not always enjoyable. Sometimes it just feels like work and having a little distraction like listening to a good playlist or a podcast or an audio book makes it more pleasant. I know people in my running groups running without music and that is fine but if you are like me you will love to have music on your wrist streamed to your bluetooth earbuds. Or at least I do.
7. Built-in heart rate 24/7 monitor is a must!
One of the measurements helping you figuring out how fit you get over time with running is seeing your heart rate. If you see a descended trend, meaning your heart rate is lower now than 1 year ago when you are running, that means your fitness level improved, your heart and cardiovascular system are well trained. Also having a heart rate sensor on the back of your running watch will help you not over-train. For example I check my heart rate every few minutes because I try to stay below 170 beats per minute. There is even a name for that, HR (heart rate) based training, when you base your running solely on the HR. My watch also tells me the VO2 Max level based on the HR sensor as well. VO2 max is an important indicator of your fitness telling you how much of the oxygen your lungs get your body uses to output in the effort. It’s complicated – if you are just starting with running, HR and VO2 Max might not be something of interest but you will find all these numbers interesting pretty soon.
The list can go on and on. At the end of the day we all have personal preferences and they can weight a lot in the decision to buy a running watch. So if there is one last important thing to mention here, at least for me, is:
8. How good is the battery?
I was lucky enough to have a decent battery for all the smart watches / running watches I owned. By decent I mean at least 2-3 days. I owned one of the initial bands from Fitbit, then Fitbit Charge, then Fitbit Versa first generation and now, as I already mentioned, I have a Garmin Fenix 5 Plus. I love my Garmin because of all I had, it lasts the longest, up to 10 days with no GPS. Every run takes in average 20% of the battery, more or less depending on what watch face I use, how many time I check the watch when I run and so on. I don’t have to say why a long lasting battery has advantages, I’m pretty sure you know the pain of running out of battery for any gadget you pwn (smartphone, watch, etc) and not being able to charge it when you need it.
I hope my article helps you find the best watch for you.