Sunday, February 14, 2010

Running Watches

For a beginning or experienced runner, a lot of time can be spent finding the 'right' watch. What should a good running watch have?

There a number of fair to fantastic running watch out there. I have probably spent a personal fortune trying to find the right one. It's almost as difficult as choosing a cell phone. Do you need GPS? What about a Heart Rate monitor? How accurate does it need to be? Should it have it all (GPS, Heart Rate, Time Splits, Zone Alarms, etc.) or should the GPS be part of a watch and the Heart Rate monitor be a different device?

I will save you a lot of time looking and just go with my personal opinion on what to buy/own. Keep it as simple as you can while getting the most out of what you use. What I am getting at is to make sure you are not toting around 6 devices that take longer to understand and use than it does to just get out the door.

GPS – Garmin has arguably the best devices if you are interested in having the most accurate time/distance keeping tool on the market. I owned the Garmin 405 and liked the ability to not only give me a constant time and distance but also give me a map read out when I got back and plugged it into the computer. The downside to it was the battery. I couldn't go three days without recharging it and would be frustrated when I forgot. I also didn't like using it on the treadmill. They do have a foot pod you can use, but switching in and out of the right mode to use it (let alone remembering to bring it) didn't make this a viable option. Also, trees/hills/valleys wreaked havoc on the accuracy of the distance.

Polar – owned at least 4 different versions of this. It is the most accurate in terms of heart rate monitoring. Distance/speed is dependent on a foot pod that approximates to your stride length. What you are giving up in accurate distance you are making up in heart rate accuracy. Moving between the modes on the watch also was challenging without being plugged into a computer.

Suunto – I consider myself above average as being technically competent with new computer hardware and software. But I'll be damned if I could ever figure out how to use this watch. Looked very nice with a business suit or dress clothes but as a user friendly watch, forget about it.

Timex – I like how intuitive the modes and uses of their watch, especially with the five alarms and 100 lap option. But like the Polar, they use a pod that you can strap on your arm or body to give you a distance reading. The pod totally eats batteries like a flood light. So again, your distance going out on you doing a 12 miles run can be a pain.

So, summarizing the above options, what's a runner suppose to do? I think every one of the watches above have strengths and weaknesses that might attract you to using them on your runs. But remember, like a cell phone, no one watch will meet everyone needs.

Currently, I've gone with the semi-cheapest option by having two devices that cover my needs. My Timex Heart Rate Watch takes care of my time/heart rate recording needs (up to ten runs until I have to record the runs and empty the memory). For my distance, I use an iPod Nano with the Nike Plus chip for the shoe for my running, an iPhone (with Nike Plus chip in walking shoes) for my walks/hikes. As I mentioned in my blog earlier, I have to have music/Audiobooks on my runs anyway, so integrating the Nike Plus with the iPod just made sense to me.

So, what do you use? Send me a post; I'm looking to see how other runners deal with keeping track of their runs through time, distance, and heart rate.

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