Choosing the right GPS running watch

The GPS running watch has evolved into a crucial tool for runners, enhancing the management and efficiency of their training. This device not only assists in maintaining the appropriate pace but also enables runners to monitor their progress and adhere to predetermined routes. With a plethora of models available on the market, selecting the right one can be challenging. In this guide, we aim to assist you in finding a GPS watch that aligns perfectly with your running practice.

Is my GPS watch accurate?

A GPS watch calculates a runner’s position several times a minute by receiving signals from at least three different satellites. However, this process isn’t foolproof. The accuracy of these signals can be compromised in urban areas with dense buildings, in forests, or under certain weather conditions, leading to potential errors.

Another source of error lies in how the GPS watch processes these signals to determine distance and speed. Each model uses its unique internal software and settings, which can often be customized. This means that the way each watch interprets the data can vary.

While GPS watches are quite accurate in measuring straight-line distances, they tend to be less precise when it comes to tracking turns, particularly on a track. This is why instantaneous speed readings can be unreliable. A more accurate approach is to use an average speed calculated over approximately ten seconds.

On average, the accuracy of a GPS watch is about 1%, which translates to a deviation of around 10 meters per kilometer, or 2 to 3 seconds per kilometer. Over the course of a marathon (26.2 miles), this could result in a cumulative error of approximately 0.5 kilometers.

Configure your GPS watch according to your practice

To maximize the functionality of your GPS watch, it’s advisable to adjust its settings based on your specific running activities. As a general guideline, set your GPS watch to record a location point every second. However, for sessions exceeding six hours, consider adjusting this setting to conserve battery life, as frequent recording can deplete the battery more quickly.

Be aware that the real-time speed displayed by your GPS watch may not always be highly accurate. This is because it’s calculated based on the most recent data points, typically gathered over the last five seconds. For a more reliable speed measurement, it’s advisable to refer to the average speed calculated over a complete lap or a longer period.

GPS watches come equipped with various modes tailored to different sports, such as running, trail running, triathlon, and more. Each mode is designed to optimize the watch’s performance for the specific activity, including more efficient battery usage. By selecting the mode that best aligns with your activity, you can ensure that your watch operates more effectively and preserves battery life.

The GPS on my smartphone

If you only need to know the distance covered and the number of calories burned (which is not always reliable data), a mobile app like Strava may be sufficient. If you’re not comfortable running with your phone, there are entry-level GPS options available for around $100, such as the Geonaute Onmove 500 (Decathlon).

Multi-Sport GPS watches

Multi-sport GPS watches are the perfect choice for people engaged in various sports activities, such as running and cycling. These versatile timepieces offer a range of statistics tailored to each sport and often boast waterproof capabilities. Among the data they capture are metrics like the number of ski descents or rowing strokes during rowing sessions.

For outdoor enthusiasts, watches equipped with a barometer, compass, altimeter, and live route tracking prove invaluable, particularly in trail running and hiking scenarios. In some cases, these features are mandatory for tackling technical trails and navigating medium mountain environments safely.

Here are some notable high-end multi-sport GPS watch models to consider:

  • Garmin ForeRunner 935
  • Suunto Spartan Ultra
  • Polar Vantage V2
  • Wahoo Elemnt Rival

If your primary focus is running, there are dedicated GPS watch models designed specifically for runners. Some popular options include:

  • Suunto Ambit 3 Run
  • Garmin ForeRunner 245
  • Polar M430

GPS Watches with Heart Rate Monitor

The data from heart rate monitors can be useful for training or racing, and our article on using a heart rate monitor will give you more insights. Just to let you know right away, the reliability of optical sensors on the wrist is questionable. Even on the latest high-end Garmin GPS watch, the ForeRunner 935, although the accuracy is improving.

Nothing beats the traditional chest strap heart rate monitor. Especially during interval training sessions where the optical sensor proves ineffective with rapid fluctuations. Additionally, the texture of heart rate monitor straps has greatly improved and no longer causes much skin discomfort.

In practice, be careful to connect the correct strap to your GPS watch via the watch settings, so you don’t end up recording your running mate’s heart rate.

Heart rate monitor straps are either separate accessories or integrated into packs (indicated by ‘HR’ in the reference). For example, the Suunto Ambit 3 Run doesn’t come with a heart rate monitor in the pack, but the Suunto Ambit 3 Run HR does.

If you want to easily follow your data live, you might consider getting equipped with smart glasses. This way, you can monitor your heart rate or speed without having to turn your wrist.

GPS MP3 watches for music

Since 2016, some GPS watch models have integrated an MP3 player to allow running with music without needing to carry a phone. They are often easy to use and compatible with Bluetooth earbuds.

Some might prefer the Apple Watch or smartwatches with WearOS, which generally have a more urban look.

Some references include: Polar M600, FitBit Ionic, Apple Watch 3 Nike+.

How to sync my GPS watch to my computer?

The process of syncing your GPS watch to your computer or smartphone may vary depending on the watch model, but it generally involves USB, Bluetooth LE, infrared, or Wi-Fi connectivity options. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections are often the most convenient as they allow seamless integration with your smartphone.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to syncing your GPS watch:

  • Check Your Watch’s Connectivity: Consult the technical specifications of your GPS watch to determine its available wireless connectivity options. Most modern GPS watches offer Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • Download the Brand’s App: Visit your GPS watch brand’s app store and download the official app for your watch model. Ensure it’s compatible with your smartphone’s operating system.
  • Initial Setup: Open the app and follow the initial setup instructions. This usually involves creating an account, pairing your watch with your smartphone, and configuring basic settings.
  • Sync Automatically: Once the initial setup is complete, your GPS watch will automatically sync the results of your activities with the app on your smartphone. This includes data like distance, speed, heart rate, and more.
  • Third-Party Integration: Many GPS watch apps allow you to connect your account to popular fitness platforms like Strava, a social network for runners and cyclists. This enables you to share your workout data and achievements with the fitness community.

Reliability of analysis features: VO2max and fitness level

Many high-end GPS watches offer estimates of your fitness level, VO2max, and even predictions of future performance after several uses. While these features provide a useful general idea of your progress, it’s important to understand their limitations. Laboratory tests remain the gold standard for accurately determining your VO2max since it involves precise measurement of oxygen consumption.

It’s crucial to note that GPS watches do not take into account certain variables, such as the type of surface you’re running on or prevailing weather conditions. For example, if you train on unstable terrain like muddy or snowy trails, your watch might incorrectly indicate a decrease in fitness level, even when you’re in excellent physical shape.

As a friendly reminder, you have the option to sync your activities from various GPS watch brands, including Garmin, Polar, Suunto, Coros, Wahoo, Decathlon, and Apple Watch, to your RunMotion Coach app. This integration allows for more comprehensive analysis of your workouts and enables the creation of tailored training plans. Ultimately, the key is to choose a GPS watch that aligns with your specific needs and goals. Happy training! 🚀