Running GPS are they worth your money ?
This is a legitimate question when thinking about buying a running GPS, they aren’t cheap piece of equipment . You might also wonder how it can help you in your running or even make you a better runner?
I’ve long been an advocate of running by feel and perceived exertion, not quite a running purist but thinking I didn’t need all that gadgetry to figure things out.
That was until strapping a GPS wrist watch a friend of mine bought. Boy was I wrong! Way too optimistic about my distances. I also thought I was good at gauging my pace which wasn’t the case.
That was hard to admit it but I wasn’t honest with myself as far as my perception of where my running was. Back to reality was a bit harsh but never regretted getting my first running GPS watch.
What exactly will it do for you?
Some might argue that it will get in the way of your running pleasure and freedom but it is very much how you use it and what you do with it that matters.
Running GPS watches are powerful tools when it comes to tracking your running. However they have been designed with the average runner in mind not rocket scientist so they are fairly simple to operate.
How can it help the average runner who wants to have fun running and have the satisfaction to experience some improvement?
Understanding your pacing and learn how you can control it for better running comfort and endurance.
Set up your running program and challenge your built in virtual running partner to add more fun to your training.
Check your heart rate:
Record and store your HR stats under effort and show the graphs to your doctor during check ups. Also recommended to pregnant running women to not go over 140 pulses / minutes.
Find your way back:
Very handy when trail running in unfamiliar terrain or away from home on holiday or business trip.
Very useful to keep count of your shoe mileage and avoid injury related to insufficient cushioning. Always nice to be able to brag about distances covered (or maybe that’s just me).
Can GPS watches really help you move your running to the next level?
You can only improve what you can measure. Running watches with GPS will be a great help in collecting your running data and check important parameters during exercise and race:
Monitor and control your target pace during training and races
Set up and follow your pace-based running programs
Get motivation to work out harder
Track the physiological impact of your running workload
Follow improvements in your performance
Analyze and evaluate your training and race results
The good news is your running GPS experience doesn’t stop here.
There are online services (most of them free) that will allow you to compute your data and :
This is real value added to the tool and will really help you to spot the bigger picture pattern in your running no matter what level your at. Being able to share and compare your data with your running partners or other runners online is a great motivator. Many experience runners in those online communities will be more than pleased to help you understand your stats based on the data collected.
Lets review in more details what GPS for running really are:
How accurate is the information collected?
The devices are spot on as far as distance, pace and HR are concerned but don’t expect runner GPS to be great topo devices, that’s not what they have been designed for. Still very handy to get back to where you started from in case you lost your way.
There are in fact a bad news and a good news about running GPS accuracy. It is a fact that watch GPS are not good with elevation data. However, this can be adjusted once you have uploaded the data. Online analysis websites have an elevation plug-in that will correct elevation to give more accurate readings.
How good is the satellite signal acquisition?
It might take several minutes on start to lock in the sat signals. Newer running watch with GPS have a technology that allows to shorten acquisition to below a minute. Once locked in signal is very stable even under heavy tree cover or tall buildings. You will temporally loose signals under bridges or dense forest. The solution to signal loss is to add a foot-pod that connects to your GPS watch and will record data when satellite signal is missing.
How waterproof are they?
GPS watches for running aren’t diving gear but fine and water resistant enough for your outdoor training. Check with the limitation of the models you are looking at. You either find models that are waterproof to IPX7 standard which means it can withstand immersion in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes meaning water-resistant not waterproof, or 50 m waterproof watches which are more suitable to swimmers and triathletes.
How long will the battery last?
GPS function is energy greedy but they are not more of a hassle to recharge than your cell phone. Full load with GPS and trainer on will last 15 hours non stop. A fully depleted battery will take 3 hours to recharge on average. You can plug it to any power source or to the USB port of your computer. If used as a regular watch the battery will last a week.
What are the running GPS software available?
As previously mentioned online GPS data analysis services unleash the true power of your running GPS and are a great extension. On side of helping you crunch the numbers they are helpful meeting places where you can share and compare your stats with other users as well as ask questions and learn from experienced runners.
Here is a quick list of the best websites and description of services offered:
Running GPS softwares and web applications provided by GPS watch manufacturers
Mapping and analysis website allows to import GPS data from the GARMIN GPS units. It offers the most comprehensive mapping options and features of any GPS watch manufacturers. It is free to sign up and use.
POLAR PERSONAL TRAINER
Among the best brand web app available. Allows you to create complete training program and download it to your running watch to follow during your workout on a daily basis.
TIMEX TRAINER ONLINE
Timex has made the choice to team up with one of the best 3rd party multi-brand online analysis website to offer analysis tools to its customers. It partners with TRAININGPEAKS that I describe below.
SUUNTO TREK MANAGER
SUUNTO integrated GPS watches are sold as trail running devices. They come with a free analysis and mapping software the TREK MANAGER specifically designed to map and analyze your trail runs and treks.
Third party running gps websites and services
There are many websites and analysis softwares you can compute and analyze your data with. They offer great tools to analyze and share your data for the most part free. We would like to mention the two that are coming out of the pack and that have been around long enough to develop the tools for running GPS owners of all running levels.
Training Peaks software and website are compatible with all GPS runners watches. I strongly recommend that you use training Peaks tools whether or not you are using your GPS watch specific training management tools. It is capable of a lot more in depth analysis and mapping than the GPS watch manufacturer tools. On side of the many analysis planning and mapping options available it is capable of instant elevation correction of your GPS data. It also has a unique nutrition feature based on your uploaded workout data that help you maintain your optimal race weight.
Worth your consideration is SPORTTRACKS free software. It is GARMIN oriented but also works well with other brands through plugins. Although it lacks the running community aspects TRAININGPEAKS offers, if you are a data junkie you are going to be a fan. SPORTTRACKS will crunch any kind of data your running watch with GPS can spit.
So what are the options available to you?
Who can do more can do less, also true with GPS watch for running but what can do more will also cost you more. If budget is not a concern to you go with top of the notch GARMIN FORERUNNER 405CX or 310XT, however if you are budget savvy and still want the best running GPS for your training goals here is a little guidance.
2 things to consider:
• Your running goals
• Your budget
4 brands share the runners GPS market. GARMIN, TIMEX, SUUNTO and POLAR. GARMIN dominates the market and has been an early entrant on the stand-alone wristwatch GPS niche. They master the technology derived from their car and handled GPS units. I had to deal with their customer service on 2 occasions and they were very efficient.
This said SUUNTO and TIMEX also are some serious pretenders. Both brands have differentiated their products from the GARMIN offer by positioning on a different angle than the GARMIN watch range. TIMEX running GPS are strongly ironman – multi sports oriented when SUUNTO looks at wrist GPS from a trail running and outdoor perspective as compared to GARMIN running GPS products which are more on the pure running side of things. Regarding POLAR they have some great heart rate monitor units but as far as POLAR running GPS are concerned they are a little behind. Their running watches do not integer the GPS receiver, it is a separate unit that you need to carry around so not as handy as the other brand products.
In my experience GARMIN makes the most reliable and best running GPS in terms of accuracy and satellite signal acquisition. It has been 98% accurate measuring distances on roads. It is less accurate on tracks therefore if you do a lots of track runs I recommend that you also get the footpod. It will turn your watch into a GPS pedometer that wirelessly transmit data to the watch and compensate on inaccurate GPS readings. GARMIN products can also be mounted on bikes as bicycle GPS which also connects to speed and cadence sensors.
Timex is a newer entrant on the GPS watch market than GARMIN and only recently launched its first GPS integrated running wristwatch the TIMEX IRONMAN GLOBAL TRAINER. Timex positioned its best running GPS watch on the multi-sports triathlon running watches segment. I don’t have enough feedback yet to give a definite opinion about the Global Trainer but at a very reasonable price it integers some very nice features for multi-sporting, very functional with the waterproofness required by triathletes.
POLAR has been the heart rate monitor company for many years. They have integrated very advanced features in there running units. they have made the choice to keep their POLAR GPS receiver separate from the running watch, worn on the upper arm. It is as accurate as the GARMIN FORERUNNER watch technology but less convenient.
I’ve classified the products available to you in all four brands by athlete profiles:
You are a casual runner or want to get active:
You are a recreational exerciser or want an easy start into running and benefit from the latest tools available :
GARMIN FORERUNNER 305 GPS
The time tested 305 bulkier and older model but with a lot more options for the price. If you go through running GPS reviews from users this is the product that gets the more positive votes as the best GPS for running. It has its limitations (satellite signal acquisition can be slow) but its drop in price due to launch of the new GARMIN FORERUNNER 405 GPS watch makes it a great deal.
GARMIN FORERUNNER 110 GPS
Or slicker newer more stylish 110 more expensive (about $50 more than 305) with less bang for the buck. Its smaller size and girlie color options make it a nice women’s GPS running watch.
You want to improve your fitness and performances
Running is an important part of your life and you now want to go a step further to get fitter, control your weight or have the satisfaction to improve your performance:
GARMIN FORERUNNER 405 GPS
Same look and feel than the top of the range 405 CX but under $300 heart rate sensor is optional and doesn’t have the built in new advance calories count formula based on heart rate.
POLAR Running GPS RS300X G1
The GPS sensor has to be bought separately as an external unit worn on the forearm adding $150 to the $230 of the RS300.
You are a hardcore runner you compete and maximize your performances
GARMIN FORERUNNER 405CX GPS
This the top of the range of the FORERUNNER GPS and also my favorite, not cheap but the best in this category in my opinion.
GARMIN FORERUNNER 310XT GPS
It is the latest multi sport fully waterproof GARMIN GPS watch it has longer battery life than the Global Trainer with similar latest technology GPS chipset.
TIMEX GPS WATCH IRONMAN GLOBAL TRAINER
The newest on the market and first GPS receiver integrated running watch from Timex. Fully waterproof. Slightly slower to lock in satellite signal than the 310XT. About $100 cheaper than the 310XT so if price is an issue, that’s the right choice in this category. Downside is it doesn’t support footpod for indoor or track training.
POLAR RS800 CX MULTISPORT
POLAR GPS running watch have not integrated GPS receiver, it is a separate unit that you need to carry strapped to your forearm. The good side is that the watch has more battery life in GPS mode than the other brand models. It is also $100 more expensive than the GARMIN 310XT and nor its good looks or its powerful fitness GPS features justifies the price difference.
SUUNTO X10 GPS with altimeter and barometer
This is the only specific trail running GPS watch I could research. Even though the previously mentioned would perfectly do the trick on a trail the Suunto X10 has the advantage to incorporate an altimeter which compensates on the field the poor elevation reading given by the GPS signal alone. A barometer also alerts you when a sudden change of atmospheric pressure comes in before a storm. Those extra features have a price tag that puts the SUUNTO above the $400 ticket.
Accelerate Your Running With the
GARMIN FORERUNNER 405 CX
I have been a very happy owner and user of the GARMIN 305 for the past 3 years, so I long hesitated upgrading to the 405 unit.
The first time I saw the 405, I didn’t think it looked like a running GPS watch, I mean the bulky type. In fact it looks more like a regular digital sport watch. It actually weights 20% less than the 305.
So where have they put all the nice features we’ve been used to with the previous models?
The answer is in the bezel (outer ring of the watch). A digital touch control bezel for that matter. It actually feels like using your Iphone. Drag scroll and tap that’s how you control it.
As you are running hard and not used to this new way of displaying data, using the bezel can get a bit frustrating at first but once you are used to it it works fine. Sensitivity can be adjusted and bezel locked during use to avoid modifying settings inadvertently.
The Garmin 405 is designed for all runners, running purist and gear phobic included. A simple functional user friendly concentrate of technology. OK yes I am a fan, can you tell?
What’s in the box?
Right out of it the 405 is simple to set up. 2 training screens you can choose from and parameter with 3 functions. This set up allows you to check 6 different fields at once. Here is how I set mine:
For my tempo runs: I have my heart rate, lap distance and time.
For my endurance runs: I choose overall time, distance and average km pace.
Switching from one screen to the next while running is a bit of a challenge at first with the digital bezel locked. I still think GARMIN should have thought of the possibility to do that by the press of a button. Same remark for the retro lighting of the screen during night runs.
Spotting GPS signals is fast, most of the time less than 30 seconds in fact the fastest I have seen in equivalent models included the Timex Ironman Global Trainer.
As I have mentioned before, elevation data accuracy is tricky with running GPS. That also goes for the 405. Luckily once you’ve uploaded the data onto the online analysis websites GARMIN CONNECT or TRAINING PEAKS, elevation readings plugin adjust the data.
Still not getting enough out of your 405?
You can wirelessly synchronize it with extra accessories:
• The foot pod:
Useful addition to your 405 arsenal if you run indoor or on tracks. While indoor use of footpod on treadmills is obvious, the use in tracks is to get a better distance reading since most GPS watch overestimate distance on 400 meter tracks. The other usefulness of a footpod combined to your 405 is in case of a temporary lost of sat signal while running under a bridge or too heavy tree cover.
• Bike speed and cadence censors:
The speed and cadence sensor allows you to enhance the biking features of the 405 and give you a reading of your pedaling strokes per minute. Sensor easily mounts on bike frame and is quickly aligned with crank and spike magnets to record pedaling cadence as you ride.
Once your training is over this is when the 405 starts unleashing its true power. After you have wirelessly transfered your training data to your computer, online analysis website like GARMIN CONNECT (free service) will help you analyze your workouts, you can then plot your run onto a Google GPS map and after comparing it with your previous trainings, share it with your running partners.
The 405 unit includes:
With the purchase of the 405 unit you receive the USB wireless transfer stick, the heart rate monitor strap, 3 different sizes wristbands provided to fit most wrists including wrist straps for the comfort of smaller wrists, charging clip with the A/C charger and the user guide on DVD.
Watch your Results
A new and accurate calorie-consumption function that computes the calories used during training with a lot more precision than previous formulas, based on small heart rate changes during effort.
Sensitive GPS receiver precisely calculates information about pace distance and speed. Locking satellite signals is under 30 seconds even under cloud and tree cover.
Navigation tool allows you to get back to your stating point as well as mark your location or find one.
Bike speed and cadence sensor linked to your 405 will track your cycling workouts.
Improve your times and motivate yourself during training by competing against the Virtual Partner®, a runner icon displayed on your watch with preset speed goals time and distance.
405 is water-resistant and can be submerse up to 1m deep.
Record your indoor training on a treadmill with the optional footpod to measure speed and distance without the GPS signal.
Digital touch bezel around display allows to select functions and set up training screens with the touch of a finger.
8 hours of battery life in GPS mode before recharging with the included A/C charger.
Track your Heart Rate
Control and optimize your training heart rate target zone by using the chest-strap heart rate monitor wirelessly connected to your Forerunner 405.
Sync Store and Share your Workouts Wirelessly
Wirelessly and automatically transfer data from Forerunner to your computer with ANT+ technology now MAC compatible.
Analyze compare and share your data with free GARMIN CONNECT website and software
Set up functions on your 405 before training by wirelessly transferring parameters from your computer
Wirelessly transfer data between 405 units and train with other users workout parameters.
Store up to 20 hours of training data before transfer to your computer at any time.