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GPS Watches Explained

Plus a closer look at the Garmin Forerunner series.

Running is the unique sport in which all you need is a good pair of running shoes…and I’ll argue a good GPS running watch…to get started! The only two pieces of running equipment I own where I didn’t hesitate spending the extra cash were my running shoes and my Garmin 220 watch. Why? Because they are the building blocks of my marathon training. At $299 the way I see it is that the Garmin 220 costs me less than a dollar a day as it helps me maximize my running and health potential.

The vast majority of recreational runners run too fast, too often. Their good intentions to adequately prepare for races by adding in extra speed work drills, intervals and hard runs often yields lackluster results over the length of the training cycle as the athlete’s body is in a constant state of fatigue. Many of these runners get injured, physically burnout and/or lose interest/enjoyment in the sport. Author Matt Fitzgerald shares some insight in this vicious cycle in his new book 80/20 Running,

They [The vast majority of runners] push themselves a little day after day, often without realizing it. If the typical elite runner does four easy runs for every hard run, the average recreationally competitive runner- and odds are, you’re one of them- does just one easy run for every hard run. Simply put: Running too hard too often is the single most common and detrimental mistake in the sport…. Nobody denies that running fast in training is important, but as I will show you in this book [80/20], runners who strictly limit their faster running in workouts derive more benefit from these sessions and perform better in races, whereas those who go overboard end up training in a state of constant fatigue that limits their progress.”

A GPS running watch won’t lie about your pace. Even more, a GPS watch with heart rate capabilities won’t lie about your body’s effort when on the run! Your heart rate while running is related to several variables including but not limited to: your level of fitness, amount of sleep, the elevation profile of your run and even the humidity/heat outside. For example, your body will have to worker harder to run the same pace on a day where it is 85 degrees and humid than on a day when it is 55 degrees and crisp. Makes sense, right? Heart rate training (and more importantly being equipped with a good training watch!) helps break down these barriers as it serves as a critical training tool for endurance athletes.

Your 26.2 and QT2 Systems’ training methodologies are built on the core concept of utilizing heart rate training to safely maximize their athletes’ potential in their target races. Their “big picture” approach to training uses heart rate training at the crux of their training plans to: (1) build athlete durability, (2) minimizing injury/burnout, (3) and maximize athletic potential season after season.

Listed below are common FAQ about GPS watches, as well as a basic chart comparing many of the Garmin Forerunner models.


Why would my running benefit from a GPS watch? A watch can help you increase your awareness of your pace and heart rate. It can be a helpful training tool to learn when your heart rate and perceived effort align… as well as misalign. See article above! 

Can I just use an app on my iPhone? Yes, technically you can use your phone (and even purchase a heart rate strap separately) to log your workout and HR. However, using your phone is not completely “training friendly”. Some limitations to using your phone on the run are: (1) You will quickly drain the battery, (2) If your phone is dead it is difficult to make a call in case of emergency, (3) a heavy phone on your arm WILL impact your stride, (4) you may strain your neck to look at the phone on your arm. Bottom line: your phone WILL work, but a GPS watch is a much more training-friendly tool for endurance events.

There are SO many watches available. How do I know which one to choose?! It really depends on your personal needs. Are you a triathlete? Recreationally competitive runner? New to either sports? Check out the table below on many Garmin models as well as for thorough reviews on all GPS watches.

Do all GPS watches require the use of a chest strap to monitor heart rate? No. The TomTom Multisport Watch and Garmin 225 (July 2015 release date) both have HR capabilities build into the watch strap.


Garmin Forerunner GPS Models







Who buys this watch

A basic watch for a casual runner

The casual runner who wants to track his/her steps or heart rate.

An avid runner looking for a training tool to fine tune marathon training.


The triathlete who wants a supplementary watch.

An avid runner looking for a training tool who keeps putting their HR monitor through the wash or losing the clip…

Marathon training tool with touch screen AND data for bike workouts. (speed)

Triathlete specific training tool that can be used across all 3 disciplines.

Price Point


$139 and up

$249 and up


$399 and up.

$449 and up

Primary watch features

*Tracks pace, distance, duration of workout.

*Can track intervals/lap pace.

*Activity tracker that tracks steps taken/calories burned.

*HR enabled.

*Displays 2 items on screen at once (pace

*Larger watch face with customizable 3 tiered display

*Pace, distance, HR, cadence, calories and more…

*Pace/heart rate alerts to get you moving or slow you down!

*FR220 features plus HR capabilities built into watch strap

*FR220 features plus touchscreen and color display

*Estimates VO2 max

*Vertical oscillations

*Triathlete specific technology: run cadence, bike speed, VO2 max estimate, swim pace, stroke count and the list goes on…

Battery life in GPS mode

5 hrs

8 hrs

10 hrs

10 hrs

10 hrs

24 hrs

Heart Rate


Yes- chest strap

Yes – chest strap

Yes. Built into watch strap *7/2015 launch*

Yes- chest strap

Yes- chest strap

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