Are you a runner and considering buying a GPS running watch? Chances are, you’ve noticed tonnes of runners wearing these handy wrist machines. If you’re like me, when I started running, you might be wondering ‘what is all the hype about?’ What are the benefits and disadvantages of these watches? Are GPS running watches really worth the cost, time invested and effort?
In this article, I’ll aim to help you conclude whether GPS running watches are really worth it. I hope it helps.
My experience before a GPS Running Watch
When I started running, I waited an entire year before getting a GPS running watch. Every single runner around me, it seemed, had one of these beeping contraptions on their wrist and I started to wonder what I was missing out on.
I thought about getting a watch for ages, but kept putting it off. My phone seemed to be doing the trick as to recording my distance travelled; why would I need a GPS running watch too?
Eventually, I decided to research these apparent ‘must have’ devices to find out what was so good about them. After a bit of research, I ended up buying a Garmin Forerunner 735XT and my running experience has improved drastically ever since.
What research did I carry out buying my first GPS Running Watch?
Before deciding to buy my first GPS running watch, I made a list of all the benefits and drawbacks of these devices that I could think of. This list of benefits and drawbacks was crucial to me making the final decision. I’ll share it below to help you come to a decision!
What are the benefits of GPS Running Watches?
1. Record lots of useful data with ease
GPS watches are designed with the main purpose of recording data during sporting activity. Data sets collected are varied and can be incredibly useful.
Most GPS running watches can record your heart rate, pace, distance travelled, elevation, location, how hard you are pushing yourself and so on. Once the run is finished, the recorded data can easily be accessed using the watch screen itself or even by uploading the data to useful apps like Garmin Connect & Strava.
Why is recording data so important? Runners love knowing how fast they are, how far they run and whether they’ve beaten a personal best for a specific distance. GPS running watches record all of this information so you can analyse your performance, helping you to workout whether you’re getting better, staying the same or (hopefully not) getting worse!
For runners interested in conditioning their bodies for long distance races, the ability to measure heart rate (whilst running and afterwards) is a true game changer. Long distance runners can adapt their efforts to keep the heart rate in a set intensity zone, allowing the body to gradually adapt to the increased distances without accidentally pushing too hard.
2. Not having to hold your phone
One of the main reasons I wanted a GPS running watch was because I was getting sick of holding my phone in my hand. I used running apps on my phone to record the data so needed to manually press ‘go’ on the record button at the start of each run. Carrying a phone whilst running can be annoying and distracting.
When I carried my phone, I was tempted to look at incoming texts and notifications whilst running. Not only was this dangerous due to me not being aware of my surroundings, it also meant a decline in performance because I was focused on my phone rather than being focused on my form.
A GPS running watch is a perfect remedy for holding your phone when running. Like an everyday watch, GPS watches sit comfortably on your wrist so you don’t need to worry about holding a phone to record data. This means you can focus all your energy on running rather than the burden of having to hold a phone, which – as we discussed – can be a hindrance and a safety risk.
3. Some watches offer recovery time advice
Brilliant for runners who are training for an event, some GPS watches offer recovery time advice.
How does this work? The watch measures your pace throughout a run, elevation climbed and your average heart rate, to calculate an optimal recovery time. The recovery time recommendation will usually be given immediately after the workout i.e. a quick display of how many hours are required to rest before running again.
This is a fantastic function for runners because it means you know how long your body needs to recover and you reduce the risk of injuring yourself through over training.
Say you run 10 miles and had a particularly high heart rate throughout the workout, your watch will recommend that you take longer than usual to rest before running again i.e. 44 hours. This is so you can recover properly and don’t injure yourself, particularly helpful whilst training for an event.
You don’t have to follow the recovery recommendation advice to a tee. If you’re feel good the next day, you might be up for running much sooner. Sometimes, it’s just helpful to have some advice!
If you ever struggle judging how long you need to recover after each run, a GPS running watch could be for you.
4. Long battery life & fast charging
When I first got my Garmin Forerunner 735XT, I was blown away at how long the battery lasts for. If I complete no physical activity and wear it as an everyday watch, the battery lasts 11-12 days. If I run 4 miles every day of the week, alongside everyday use, it lasts an impressive 8 days.
The long battery life of GPS running watches comes as a relief for most people, who regularly battle the short battery life of their iPhone or Samsung. It’s nice knowing you don’t have to remember to charge your GPS watch every single day.
Also, these GPS watches charge extremely quickly. For example, my watch can go from 10% to a full charge in as little as 35 minutes! Brilliant if forgot to charge it before a run and need power quickly! Compare that to most mobile phones which tend to take 1.5 – 2 hours to charge. This means you don’t have to wait around for hours before having a charged device, capable of tracking your running data.
5. GPS Running Watches Are Stylish
Human beings like style. The clothing we feel comfortable and good about wearing is fundamental to boosting our confidence and self-esteem. Style helps us to express ourselves as individuals, explore different aspects of our personality, and have a unique way of presenting ourselves in public.
Ever felt a rush of excitement when you make a purchase for a top you just had to have? What about the glow of pride you had when a friend complimented your choice of shoes at that time? Style is important to humans, there’s no denying it. Wearing a running watch can be an integral part of any runner’s style, which is why they’re such a good accessory to invest in.
Manufacturers understand style is important for runners, so they focus on making the watches slick and cool. Watches often look sporty, trendy and help runners feel confident whilst they’re pounding the pavement. There’s a tonne of watch styles out there to choose from so there is bound to be a style that gels with your unique taste.
6. Some are waterproof
One of the best things about GPS running watches is that some are waterproof. If you can, I’d strongly recommend going for a GPS watch that has waterproof functionality. You never know when it might come in handy.
A waterproof watch can be great for loads of reasons. Running in the pouring rain, swimming, showering and washing hands, are all scenarios you don’t need to worry about your watch getting wet for. After all, it’s waterproof!
Even though running is my main sport, every now and then I love a good swim. I don’t have to take my GPS off whilst I swim; I can simply jump into the pool or lake with it still on without having to worry about water damage. All I need to do is select the ‘swim’ activity before the swim takes place and I’m good to go. Waterproof functionality is a true benefit of GPS running watches.
7. Sleep Analysis
Lots of GPS Running Watches offer a sleep analysis function. This function automatically detects when you fall asleep and records various data sets. The watch records what time you fall asleep and wake up, heart rate whilst asleep, time spent in each sleep cycle, movement whilst sleeping and how many times you wake up during the night.
Why is sleep analysis important? Sleep is crucial for our well-being as human beings, with most adults needing between 7-9 hours of shut eye before waking up in the morning. Sleep improves your overall health, mood, well-being and makes you more alert.
Having a watch capable of recording sleep data can help you to measure whether you’re getting enough quality sleep. Often, the results are shocking because many of us don’t realise that we are not getting enough sleep.
Once you have used your GPS watch to measure the quality of sleep you get, you can then set about taking action to resolve any unhealthy sleep habits you have. For example, it might be that you need to go to bed at 10PM rather than 11PM and place your smart phone in another room so you can get sleep for the recommended 7-9 hours which you might not be getting.
8. Track your heart rate
Lots of running watches offer inbuilt heart rate monitoring. This is known as the optical heart rate sensor and sits underneath the watch face. If you’re serious about training, having a way to measure your heart rate can be effective.
Your heart rate is measured by the number of times your heart beats per minute. During rest, the heart will beat considerably low compared to when you’re in a running session. Your heart rate, whilst stationery, is what is known as the ‘resting’ heart rate. As you become fitter and your heart strengthens, you will find your resting heart rate becomes lower and lower over time.
When you condition your body, the heart gets stronger and becomes more efficient at pumping blood around the body. Having a running watch that can accurately gauge your heart rate means you can track the trajectory of your training, keeping an eye on how fit you’re getting and whether you’re on track to achieving your running goals.
Monitoring how effective your body is at pumping blood around itself as you come up against certain obstacles like hills or long stretches of road, can be important for creating and altering training plans. If your heart rate is ridiculously higher than normal when climbing up a hill, it might be a good idea to cut hills out of your regime for now or tackle them at a much slower pace!
When I first got my GPS running watch, I found it motivating to see my resting heart rate gradually decline over time from 60 right down to 38 at the moment. This decline in heart rate indicated a stronger heart as my body became more efficient at pumping oxygen around my body.
The heart rate function of GPS Running Watches is handy both whilst running and whilst ‘resting.’ In my opinion, it’s one of the biggest benefits to these wrist contraptions.
9. There are watches for every budget
It’d be nice if we could buy the watch we most desired, but this isn’t possible for a lot of runners. Not everyone has stacks of money to buy whatever running GPS watch we fancy. That’s fair enough and totally understandable.
Just like every other product you’ve bought in your life, there are expensive watches and cheaper watches. Of course, the more expensive watches tend to have a wider range of functions and are built to a higher quality than their cheaper counterparts.
However, there’s a lot to be said for the simplicity of purchasing a cheaper running watch. Watches on the lower end of the budget spectrum tend to focus on just the important things like speed and distance. Cheaper watches don’t force you to spend lots of time in different menus looking at various data sets you never knew existed!
On the other hand, if you like the idea of getting your hands on as much running data as physically possible then a more expensive watch will be more suitable. A Garmin Phoenix or Forerunner 735XT would be brilliant options.
The most important thing to remember is that, whatever your budget, there’ll be a GPS running watch out there for you. Don’t let a perceived lack of funds put you off a GPS running watch if you know you want one.
What are the drawbacks of GPS Running Watches?
If you’ve been diligent enough to type in ‘GPS Running Watch’ into your browser search bar, you’ll have learnt that these watches can be expensive. Ranging from a meagre £30 all the way up to a whopping £500, you can spend lots of money on a GPS running watch.
However, most people don’t like the idea of spending money; some even feel guilty when parting ways with their hard earned cash! Sound familiar?
Money spent on a watch means less money can be spent socialising, on clothes, on savings and so on. Also, lots of people feel like they don’t deserve to treat themselves to a GPS running watch because they deem it as a ‘non-essential’ item. I experienced both of these money issues which contributed to me putting off buying a watch.
If you’re concerned about cost, it’s important to remember the phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ is 100% true with GPS running watches. I have a friend who spent £30 on a watch, only to find it had broken after a month. On the other hand, my Garmin Forerunner 735XT has lasted me well over a year and I’m confident it will last me another year!
To change a negative mind-set about the cost of GPS running watches, think of the spend as an ‘investment’ rather than a ‘purchase.’
2. Remembering to wear it
If you’re forgetful, a possible drawback could be forgetting wear your GPS running watch before running. Prior to use, they need to be strapped to the wrist the same was as any other watch would be. Though this doesn’t present a major challenge for most people, remembering to always wear the watch be perceived as a hassle by some runners.
If you wear a fashionable everyday watch for work and leisure, like a Movado, Skagen or Nixon, it can be easy to forget to swap it for your GPS running watch before running. Forgetting to wear your GPS watch presents two issues.
Not only does it mean missing out on all the workout data (heart rate, location, pace, calories burnt etc) but you also risk damaging your everyday watch as these do not tend to be built for sporting activity. Your everyday watch could get damaged, not good! Let’s hope it’s not a Rolex…
The best way to overcome the potential drawback of remembering to wear the GPS running watch (in my opinion) is to wear the watch as your everyday watch.
This means there’ll be virtually no chance of you forgetting to wear the watch before a run because you’ll be wearing it all day anyway. Of course, remember to clean your watch using appropriate micro-fibre screen cleaning cloth. Hygiene is important after all!
If you don’t like the idea of wearing a GPS running watch as your everyday watch, you can make it easy for you to remember to wear it. Place the watch by your running clothes when setting them out the night before. Come time to run in the morning, there’ll be no way you’ll forget to wear the watch.
You could even get creative by writing ‘wear your running watch’ on your calendar for each day you have a scheduled run. There are ways you can remember to wear your running watch so it doesn’t have to be perceived as a drawback to owning one!
3. Temptation to run hard during recovery runs
Having a GPS watch means you have access to lots of live data whilst you run. Your pace, heart rate, distance travelled and elevation climbed are all examples of data you can access on your wrist whilst on a run.
With this information readily available it can be easy to always try and perform better, pushing yourself to run faster and further.
Whilst pushing yourself is brilliant on training runs, it can be problem for easy recovery runs. For these easier runs, your aim should be to jog at a slow pace to get nutrient rich blood flowing around the body so the muscles can be repaired and the cells rejuvenated.
Pushing yourself on a recovery run means you risk injury as you’re placing strenuous demands on an already worn out body from a hard run a day or two before. Also, running hard during a recovery run means preventing your body from healing optimally as it is focused on maintaining performance rather than gently repairing itself.
To avoid running too hard during a recovery run, remove the temptation to look at live data by switching the watch screen to the ‘time’ function. By doing this, a glance at your watch will tell you what time it is rather than provide you with live running data.
Therefore, you won’t be tempted to push yourself to strenuously during the recovery run and remove the risk of injury. This is handy because you can still save the run and access the data after the run has finished. The time function basically removes temptation to become addicted to glancing at your wrist whilst on the move.
It’s also handy to mentally tell yourself (before the run) that you’re going to be running at a comfortable pace. Promise yourself that the run will be for recovery and not for training. Making a quick promise with yourself before the run means won’t push yourself during the easy run.
If you need to, you are allowed to glance at your GPS running watch for practicality purposes (to see distance travelled for instance) but for nothing else. The moment you notice yourself starting to run harder, switch the watch back to the time setting and remove the temptation (as you clearly can’t trust yourself!).
4. Perceived lack of style
Style is important in everyday life. What we choose to wear represents our personality, ideas and can help us stand out in the world.
Unfortunately, some runners view GPS running watches as unstylish. No matter how many models or different varieties this group of runners look at, they can never seem to find a watch they like the look of. The sporty look isn’t for everybody!
Though a perceived lack of style in GPS running watches is a drawback limited only to a select group, there are ways to overcome this.
One way is to accept that you are taking part in a physical activity and are not going to be looking your most stylish, anyway. Sweat, the weather, flushed skin, huffing and puffing are all to be expected during a run, and can make you look a little worse for wear. Needless to say, you won’t be looking your most stylish. With this in mind, what difference is wearing a small device around your wrist going to make? Virtually none!
You can also choose to only wear the GPS running watch exclusively for time spent running. Immediately after each run, swap the watch for a more stylish alternative and store the GPS watch for the next run. All you have to do before taking it off is ensure that the data has synced across to your mobile phone for uploading to apps like Garmin & Strava to analyse your performance.
If perceived lack of style is a perceived drawback putting you off purchasing a GPS Running Watch, try implementing some of the steps above and you will be fine.
5. Time spent during the purchase process
When purchasing A GPS running watch, there will always be a need for you to spend some time during the purchase process.
Researching watch specifications, reading reviews, watching videos of watches in action and actually making the purchase itself, can all take up some of your time. Some people don’t like spending their time on seemingly boring tasks, like purchasing accessories, and would rather spend their time on other things like work, relationships, music and so on.
However, it’s important to remember that investing time during the purchase process can actually save you time and money in the long run. Imagine just buying the first GPS watch you set eyes on, parting with £200 in an instant.
The watch would probably not suit your needs and it might end up costing you too much i.e. having a tonne of advanced features you don’t need. If you purchase the wrong watch, you may end up having to replace it with another watch would only cost you more time and more money. Not good.
If you perceive the time spent during the purchasing process as a drawback of purchasing a GPS running watch, try to shift your mindset and see this as time invested.
The more time you spend researching and understanding watches, the more likely you’ll purchase a quality watch with functions relevant to your unique needs as a runner. Seeing the time needed as necessary investment during the purchase process will help you overcome this perceived drawback of buying a GPS running watch.
Of course, you don’t have to carry out lots of research and can go straight to purchase itself. You can spend as long or as little as you like during the purchase process, but it’fs wise to know that some time will always be involved when making a GPS running watch purchase.
There you have it. The benefits and drawbacks of GPS Running Watches. Now you have enough information to know if they are really worth it.
Personally, my GPS watch is the best investment I have ever made for enhancing my running. After wearing it for a few runs, my performance increased rapidly and I couldn’t imagine running without it!
Now, it’s up to you. Only you can make the decision to take the plunge and buy a GPS running watch. Whatever you do, good luck and happy running!