Modern running watches are like wearable coaches. They track your routes, give you split times and exertion data mid-run, and teach you how to pace yourself so you don’t embarrass yourself on the 5K you’ve signed up for. If yours has a GPS function it will also smugly tell your Facebook friends how many miles you’ve clocked on Saturday morning before they’ve even switched the kettle on.
Serious runners also want to know how well their recovery periods are going, so watches that track your sleep can help you manage your energy supplies. Some running watches are now even able to estimate your V02 max: the measurement of how well your body is able to use oxygen while working hard, i.e. your capacity for endurance. It’s another tool in a long line of functions that can show you how best to chase down your next PB.
Garmin has the widest-ranging portfolio of running watches on this list, and are kings of the sector when it comes to wearable GPS systems. “Asking if you run with a Garmin is like saying you’re going to Google something,” says Barwick. The American company was founded in the 1980s when satellite navigation was just starting to break into the mass market, and its first client was the U.S. Army during the Gulf War. It’s little wonder, then, that Garmin watches are sought after by running aficionados for their military precision.
Another name that has become synonymous with the human race’s quest for 24-hour fitness monitoring, Fitbit started out with simple activity trackers. Now it produces sophisticated running watches that do the hard miles with you.
Founded in Finland, hence the Arctic name, Polar is a podium choice if you want to make it to the finish (or should that be Finnish) line first. The company filed the first patent for wireless heart-rate measurement in 1979 and three years later launched the first ever wire-free wearable heart-rate monitor – now a vital gadget in any runner’s arsenal.
Unsatisfied with dominating the world of laptops and mobile phones, Apple decided that it also fancied taking a bite out of Garmin and Polar’s, erm, apple. Anyway, it’s providing stern competition, with the Apple Watch having the easy-to-use capabilities of its other products, while not forgetting that with Apple stores popping up in most cities it’s hardly difficult to get one fixed.
Another of the sat nav manufacturers that jogged into the fitness industry, TomTom is a Dutch company just a little younger than Garmin but no less dominant in the GPS world. The company made its foray into the running watch market in 2017, launching its first solo watch offering – the TomTom Runner. Its lightweight and comfortable fit was applauded by those in the running community, as was its relatively affordable price point when compared to Garmin.
While the Swiss have dominated traditional watchmaking for the past two centuries, it’s the Finnish that are bringing the industry kicking and screaming into the modern day, as Suunto has proven. The company started life out at the forefront of compass technology in the 1930s, when its founder Tuomas Vohlonen invented a way to fill a compass with liquid so as to prevent wear from excessive motion.
Billed not just as a fitness watch, but as a ‘lifestyle’ one, the Wellograph watch links up to an app that monitors your runs, quality of recovering sleep, heart rate and general movement.
The watch boasts a 9-axis accelerometer to more accurately count your steps as well as to prevent you from cheating with a quick shake to make up for a disappointing effort. It also has the ability to save data for up to four months of running sessions so you can track your progress in the build-up to a race. With a watch this painfully attentive there is no room for slacking.
Anything Apple can do, Samsung can do better. Or so they must be saying in the board meetings at the South Korean conglomerate, as they follow Apple from the smartphone to the smartwatch.
If you’re an iPhone fan then the Samsung won’t be for you. Although not as runner specific as Garmin, Samsung is ideal if you run with music, offering online Spotify capabilities and a rotating bezel and touchscreen on its Gear Sport model, meaning that sweaty fingerprints won’t get in the way of you finding how much you beasted that last sprint.
Timex is the oldest company on this list, having formed in 1853, back when wristwatches measuring every calorie and time-split were still in the distant dystopian future. The company was on its last legs in the 1970s before it made a new name for itself in the realm of sports watches. This was thanks to the Timex Ironman, which was first produced in 1986 with the help of Ironman Triathlon timekeepers.