Before the evolution of running smartwatches that not only told time, date and temperature – and had a cool calculator – runners typically relied on bulky stopwatches with buttons that were as big as doorknobs to track their physical activity. Coaches and race officials relied on analog stopwatches back in the day to estimate runners’ timing and pace.
Some ‘Generation X’ runners may recall some of the first “cool digital watches” that were available on a budget.” Among them were brands like Casio, Seiko, and Timex – programmed with all types of bells and whistles never seen or used before in mainstream day-to-day sports. We all remember the monotonous yet short beeping noise they made to officiate settings as your stopwatch went off – kind of like the ‘gun-time’ that fires off at the start of a race. Although they were missing the “smart parts” of today’s digital and colorful watches, where text messages and other social media alerts can come through as we’re pounding the pavement, it was still an amazing feat to somehow keep track of our runs on a modern-day timer.
With Garmin, Apple, Fitbit and LG topping the current list of Consumers Reports’ best-performing smartwatches, it’s hard for runners – especially new runners – to choose one that works best. No matter which brand, style or operating system you prefer (and no matter which apps you use in conjunction with their operating system) it can be a challenge to decide what your priorities are as a runner. Without being bias about which watch brand is “the best,” simply identifying your running goals could help you eliminate the type of watch that’s really not worth your investment.
When you finally decide on a running smartwatch, you may want to ask yourself, as a runner, if you’re getting the most out of your investment and if it’s making you a better, more competitive athlete – or does it make you bitter and more picky about your overall performance? There are plenty of ways to make sure that gadget works for you!
‘Fitness Tracker’ VS Running Smartwatch
These days, you can literally buy a fitness tracker anywhere. What began as a high-tech gadget you had to purchase at a sports store, electronic shop or online has now turned into a running accessory carried by your local drugstore or any retail clothing establishment. Thanks to the constant advancement of more complex models of watches, simple and less expensive step tracking digital watches are also “in style.”
The difference in value, of course, is that a simple fitness tracker on a budget – one you can snag for less than $100 – basically tracks your steps, heart rate, sleep activity and calorie burning estimations (currently these are the main features of a basic fitness or step-counting watch). Are you only looking to track your daily steps to challenge yourself? Counting steps has become the “fitness norm” for those whose targeted goal is hitting a minimum of 10,000 steps – the average daily goal recommended by experts. Runners who go the distance will find that they can easily exceed this daily goal and that the simplicity of a fitness tracker keeps them on their toes!
Getting “smarter” means you don’t just count your steps and how many calories you’ve burned. It means you have a Global Positioning System (GPS) recording exactly where you trekked, at what intervals and for how long you kept your pace.
Spoiled runners who use their cell phone GPS along with a fitness app to log in their miles may find that less expensive fitness trackers just don’t do the job.
That’s why top-of-the-line smartwatches ranging from $200 to $400 are chosen for their accuracy, automatic settings (many will pause your activity in the middle of your run if you take a one minute break and kick back on when you start moving) and more detailed readings of runs, elevation and cardio condition, which experts claim can detect heart irregularities. Runners who may need to keep acute track of their heart rate will find this gadget most advantageous.
Advanced smartwatches truly put everything in the palm of your hand – or, rather, around your wrist! While it can be a distraction on your run, you won’t miss a phone call, text message, social media alert or e-mail (if you’re connected to your WiFi network). You can even store your running tunes on a smartwatch, a feature that allows you to leave your cell phone behind altogether. If being “socially connected” is important to you as a runner, the investment is well worth making and these types of watches just may make your trek more interesting.
Just Do The Math (You Really Don’t Have To!)
For all of those hardcore runners out there – whether you want to admit it or not, mathematics plays a huge part in your training! You’re constantly calculating how fast you have to run to complete that next mile, how fast your pace has to be to finish that mile sooner and how much faster you have to run to “make up time” if you slow down during a race and need to catch up.
Smartwatches have made the mathematical guesswork of running more acute, accurate and precise, helping us challenge ourselves during the course of our runs. Detailed mileage on running smartwatch apps break down our pace and even during that vigorous run, we can check our mile-per-minute speed and feel the gadget ‘buzz’ when we’ve hit another mile on the map.
Runners who truly want to get the most out of their running smartwatch don’t have to become mathematicians, but it helps! By comparing interval speeds on different runs, your watch is actually holding you accountable for your pace and mileage.
Did you maintain a consistent pace during each mile, and how can you conserve energy during earlier miles so you can still maintain a decent speed at the end of your run? Breaking down the details of your run can help improve your performance and enforce self-discipline along the way. Runners covering long distances don’t want to burn out or hit the wall too fast at the beginning – so acknowledging your pace on your smartwatch as you’re trekking can remind you to slow down or calculate at exactly which mile is best to get those legs pumping faster.
Experts are still hunkering down in the lab to test the limits of body physics and mathematical configurations to assess if it’s humanly possible for even the fastest runner in the world to complete a marathon in less than 2 hours. A concentrated study of pace/mile makes all the difference when every second and minute count towards your personal record finishing time.
After you have the math down, you can manipulate your runs and splits better, learn your weaknesses and strengths and work towards achieving higher goals.
It’s The GPS That Makes a Running Smartwatch Great
One of the best advantages of having a GPS enabled smartwatch isn’t just about knowing where you are or how many loops you’re running. It could be exciting for many runners to see their distance coverage and the diverse lines of their running path after they’ve conquered new territory.
A new runners craze is forming shapes and sizes during a run and sharing the recorded mileage on social media with other runners, which could be a fun competition. If you had to run 10 miles around your community – including places you’ve never run before – to form a cool shape or design on your GPS map, this feat may encourage you to run more.
Thanks to GPS, runners get to see the diversity of every trek and make improvements in ourselves along the way. If you see that you’ve only made it to a certain point or location on the map during one run, you may be motivated to proceed an even farther distance on the next.
There are plenty of ways a running smartwatch can enhance your runs while using GPS. Before you even head out the door, you can map out your stomping grounds, create challenging paths and take the roads less traveled to test your endurance. Running along a route you’ve never covered before can alter your form and distract you from the run altogether, making it more fun and enjoyable.
When it comes to capturing the physical detail of your recorded run, you can better estimate your mile splits and inclines/declines, including where your locational weaknesses were. If you felt winded and slowed down at some point, your fitness tracker probably recorded that ‘hiccup,’ and you can then focus your training to overcome that challenge. Without direction or proof of your challenging journey, you may be less likely to keep pushing harder on your next run.
The Con: It’s “Smart” But It’s Making You BITTER Not Better
Frustration can be a pit of quicksand that runners find themselves struggling to climb out of when their watches malfunction. Fumbling with a smartwatch can make it worse when things go awry. Whether you’re upset that your running smartwatch didn’t “sync” your run with an app, or if the automatic pause feature malfunctioned, it can be very frazzling and discouraging to get back on track – literally!
Old school digital watches were simple and didn’t pack tons of technological features that subsequently caused blips – including “software updates,” “connectivity” interruptions and short battery life – hey, you need to charge that device or it’s going to die before you reach mile 7!
Having patience with your upgrade might be aggravating in the beginning as you adapt to all of the high-tech features, which can sometimes be a hindrance to your run if you’re still getting the hang of tedious settings. Of course, the more you use it, the better you’ll be at managing its features, settings and customizable screens.
Don’t let that watch get you bitter – always remember to check its vitals before your big run. Is the battery charge powered up enough to outlast your trek? Is all of its software updated and operating normally? As a tip, take your gadget for a few “test runs” if you’re unsure about its accuracy and capabilities.
Also, beware of learning the hard way that your watch isn’t waterproof while you’re running in the rain – and if it turns temperamental in different weather conditions. Your running smartwatch will only work for you and the crazy elements you may face if you choose a model that’s built for battle.
Watch Out For More Features!
Runners are getting more and more out of smartwatches as companies constantly improve the style and functions of their products. As a runner, taking advantage of workout intervals programmed inside of your watch can be a big help. There are plenty of apps for running smartwatches that assist with ab workouts, planks, and lunges – just to name a few.
If you’re only using your smartwatch for running and capturing your mileage, you’re missing out on bonus features that can help you get stronger and maintain your stamina for the future. The list of training options on your watch may push you to test your strength and record regular workouts in addition to running.
With dozens of timed calisthenic prompts, your running smartwatch can be a “personal trainer” of sorts, guiding you through mini-sessions of core-strengthening and other challenging workouts. Whether you decide to complete the coached lessons before or after your run, it’s always helpful to get a little extra “push” in the right direction.
In the end, no matter which type/brand of watch you choose to invest in, make sure it motivates you to run beyond your limits and transforms you to the best runner you can be!
- PC Mag: The Digital Watch: A Brief History
- Wareable: What is the best smartwatch of 2018?
- The Wirecutter: GPS Running Watch, Fitness Tracker, or Smartwatch
- PopSci: Choose the Right Smartwatch for You