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How to Choose the Right Running Watch For You…

Jul 24, 2018 | Kit, Running | 7 comments

How to choose a running watch

One of the questions I get most on Instagram is ‘what running watch do you use?

Well, I just bought myself an expensive 30th birthday gift of a new Garmin Fenix 5S rose gold and white version. I’ve lusted after it for years and since my old loyal Garmin 220 was coming to the end of its life, I decided to treat myself!

The thought process of buying the Garmin Fenix 5S

  • its pretty! Meaning I can wear it all day without feeling like I’m wearing a sports watch
  • It works as a fitness tracker as well as running watch
  • You can use it for triathlon/ironman 🙂
  • The battery life is amazing, in particular the GPS lasts for 14 hours
  • Did I mention that it looks pretty?…

I’m a Garmin girl (although this post is in no way sponsored). Mostly because I find them the most intuitive to use, and I am a total technophobe. If you saw my insta stories on Sunday, you’ll know that I even accidentally changed the distance to KM without realising and had to finish my long run after brunch. FAIL.

I’ve tested out TomToms, the Apple Watch, SUUNTO (although not comprehensively), and FitBit in the past, and I can say that for me…Garmin has been my favourite. However, there are more and more watches coming on to the market and so the best brand for me might not be what’s best for you…

choosing the right watch for you

How to choose the right running watch for YOU

When looking at watches, ask yourself what data do you look for when running? What is your budget? What are you hoping to get out of your watch?

The features I compare are;

GPS – I want a watch that will show me, pretty accurately, my distance, pace (both current and average), and I have now started looking at my cadence and heart rate. I don’t set up my intervals on my watch, but know a lot of people do so this feature can be handy for speed/tempo workouts.

Price – I’ve never spent more than £200 on a watch before (and this time it is because I had birthday money to put towards the watch)

Battery life – the new Garmin Forerunner 645M only has 5 hours of GPS battery (this in my opinion is more important than total battery life…who cares if your watch has 9 days charge if it doesn’t even track your full marathon/ultra!)

Size/weight – I don’t think about weight too much but I don’t love huge watches (my first one was a beast!) and I quite like the slightly smaller more feminine watches for comfort. Also I want to be able to release it from multiple layers of clothing in the winter with ease.

But most importantly is EASE OF USE. If i can’t use it, what’s the point in having it?! I don’t like a watch with too many buttons or the need for an app for it to work.

how to choose the right running watch for you

First off, do you need a running watch? 

The answer is no. If you don’t care about your pace too much, do most of your runs on a treadmill or are happy to use a free app, then you absolutely do not need a watch. However, if you like the post-run data, want to more accurately work out your distance/pace or want to be able to leave the phone at home, then I would recommend getting one.

I bought my first Garmin years ago, back in 2011, in the sales from Sweat Shop and went halves with my then-boyfriend. We would take it in turns to wear the watch during our long runs. (I got the watch in the break up!) and I used it until 2014 and my Berlin Marathon PB where Kerry threw it in the bin at the end of the race! It would take SO long to get a signal and was enormous but it did the job for 3+ years.

Best watch for beginners…

This will depend on how much you want to spend. But the key features I think you want are GPS to work out your distance and pace, with the ability to pause and stop without losing all of your data.

Beginner watches I like are;

Garmin Forerunner 30 (£99)  – with wrist HR, pace, distance, time, cadence, calories, VO2 max and the Garmin Connect feature, this could be one of the best entry-level running watches around (I haven’t tested it but my experience with Garmin has always been good!). Up to 8 hours in GPS mode should get you to the end of that marathon too.

Garmin Forerunner 220 (£159) – the purple watch that you’ve seen on my wrist thousands of times is the basic Forerunner 220 and I still use it. It has all the features I need (with the exception of wrist HR, you can buy the premium HR version for £189), and does a great job. If it’s the HR you’re after, then the Forerunner 35 (£169) could be the entry level offering for you.

Apple Watch (£329)- if you want a watch that tracks everything and has the bonus of the Nike running app. (You can read my full review of the Apple Watch for runners here). 

TomTom Runner 3 £119- I found this watch took a while to work out how to use it, however, it has all the info you need on it once you do get your head around the functionality and since rumour has it, that TomTom have stopped making running watches, you can get them at a great price!

Most valuable feature on the watch… 

Er GPS?! I’ve been sent watches to try that are basically just stopwatches and that need extra accessories to track distance and pace. For me, that’s just not worth it!

In reality, I use distance and pace the most.

Worst feature… 

Personally, I don’t think the sleep tracker is that useful as the watch is pretty bulky and I accidentally punched Tom in the eye with my new Garmin trying to wear it in bed. It also tracked me as sleeping for 2hours 20 mins on Friday night which I just cannot believe.

I also always ignore the suggested recovery time…it can give some ridiculously unrealistic goals. Or when the MOVE feature comes up on the day you’ve run 20 miles!

Cheapest place to buy a new Running Watch

I think the best thing to do is shop around and wait for sales. I know that Amazon Prime had some great discounts on fitness trackers and running watches on Prime Day, similarly most running/outdoor stores do major reductions during their sales. Black Friday and the January sales are a great time to shop for a new watch, and keep an eye out for when the newest style/model drops as often the previous (but no worse) watch will have a significant price reduction. You can also buy secondhand running watches online – try Amazon, Ebay and running groups!

how to chooose a running watch

Heart Rate Monitors…Yay or Nay? 

I have never run with a chest HR strap, mostly because I have enough going on in the chest area (and enough fear of chafing). I have only just upgraded to a watch with a wrist HR function and have managed perfectly well over 6 years of running without one.

However, if you want to try Heart Rate training, or you are working with a coach to keep your heart rate within certain zones then it can be an extremely useful feature. Personally, I find it most useful when I’ve borrowed watches with HR features in before to give me an indication of how my body is responding on a certain day, for example if my HR is really high at an easy pace or I’m really pushing it but just cannot hit the right pace, then I know that my body is probably fatigued, I didn’t sleep that well or the weather is affecting my running ability (HR increases with heat). It can be a good indicator of how hard to run without total reliance on pace which can flutter all over the place.

Wrist heart rate is never going to be as accurate as a chest monitor, however I think it does a good job at giving you a good indication. If you really want a heart rate watch, then I think it’s a nice extra bit of data to have, however I don’t actually use it all that often.

how to choose a running watch

I am not that techy so I rely on DC Rainmaker when buying a new watch. His reviews are ridiculously informative and in-depth.

Setting up your watch…

Garmins can do all sorts of fancy things if you know how to program them…which I don’t. However, a quick google or read of the manual/website and you can set it up to have your tempos or intervals pre-set (for all of you asking how I measure my 800m, I stare at my watch until it hits 0.5 miles, but you can have the watch beep at you when you hit the distance, and then after your recovery distance/time is over too!). I just use the lap button…

Furthermore, you can also set up a pacer on your watch to show you if you’re behind or ahead of your target pace. I used to use this quite a lot on my first Garmin (when I didn’t have to set it up!).

Paces/Training Zones 

I use the Garmin Connect app and the VO2 function on my watch to see what my pace/effort should be like for each of the 5 training zones. Zone 1 is EASY – like walking breaks to keep your HR right down. Zone 5 is ‘balls to the wall’ effort. Apparently most of us run our zone 1 runs too hard and our zone 5 too easy. But that’s another story for another day…

Last reminder… your watch is a guide. Please do NOT become obsessed with the figures. Run without your watch sometimes, look up from the pace/distance calculator and enjoy your surroundings. And remember that sometimes the GPS signal goes a bit haywire, it’s life!

Got any other questions? What watch, if any, do you use? 


  1. nga76

    Tom tom adventurer : it has a mapping option, you can upload any gpx for your favourite running routes and the watch will guide you to the destination: of particular good use when on holidays in new places or if you are like me not so much an orienteering type of person ( I would get easily lost !)

  2. knitnrun4sanity

    I too am a garmin girl and have the same watch as you. Intervals are really easy, press run, then the middle button on the left-training -intervals. You then scroll through and edit as you want. Time or distance or even a mixture. It is a great watch and I love it.

  3. runninginnc

    I use the Garmin Forerunner 15. It’s a great watch if all you really want is the GPS feature. I bought it so I wouldn’t have to map out every run before I went to hit a certain distance or carry my phone to make the GPS work. It does have pace, laps, auto-pause as well. There are optional heart rate chest bands and foot pods you can buy with it. It costs around $120 (USD).

  4. Cari

    I have a hand me down TomTom Cardio, which I love. Best feature — on board music so I don’t need another source
    I on’y wear it for running as it’s way too large for daily use, for which I use a fitbit

    • charlotte

      Ooh that is great! However, i always want to have my phone for pics on the run!

      • Cari

        Oh me too, but that doesn’t require data or space hogging iTunes

  5. Wilfred Moses

    That’s a great article for running watches.. My friend was in search of it!


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