Time to feel like a real runner with a Garmin Forerunner

As anyone that’s been following my blog for a while will know, I’ve been a passionate supporter of the RunKeeper iPhone app since shortly after starting to run.

However, a couple of months ago, I decided to invest in a Garmin Forerunner GPS Sports watch. Given the difference in cost and similar level of functionality, this was a very considered purchase decision.

RunKeeper is an excellent app, particularly now that it’s free! For 100s of thousands of runners, cyclists, etc, it motivates them to get out and exercise. However, using the app on a smartphone has some drawbacks which led me to consider an alternative.

The size of the iPhone means that wearing it in an armband during a run makes it very visible. Although very unlikely, theft during a run could happen. Some also complain that the iPhone is too bulky to run with.

Although I’ve done it on many occasions, taking an iPhone out in the rain (even in a ziplock bag) still carries a risk of water damage.

When pacing a run, at times it’s necessary to have data instantly. Although this is possible by keeping the iphone’s screen on, this drains the battery considerably faster than when it’s locked. The other alternative is audio stats set to 1 minute. However, for some, this is too infrequent.

If heading out for a long run, you need to ensure you have adequate battery life. As a smartphone serves many purposes, charging it prior to the run may not be convenient or possible.

When training using heart rate or pace, the app currently doesn’t provide enough support. For example, average heart rate isn’t available as part of the audio stat announcements.

The Garmin Forerunner has a number of benefits:

* it’s small and inconspicuous
* stats such as average heart rate (for whole activity, per ‘lap’ etc) are available at anytime
– on the FR305, 405 and 410, the stats displays are configurable with lots of stats to choose from. Also, viewing these stats is easy
– it’s not necessary to unlock the device to view stats. They’re there on the watch-screen at any moment
* it’s waterproof which means that there are no worries when taking it out in the rain
* you don’t need an additional dongle (such as Wahoo Fitness’ Fisica Sensor Key) to capture heart rate data
* as a single purpose device (other than a watch), keeping it charged is easier
* GPS tracking is a little more accurate than the RunKeeper/iPhone combination

I don’t think that the Garmin Forerunner is a perfect solution for the following reasons:

* the cost – from £100 to £240, this is a very expensive solution compared to RunKeeper’s free app

* it takes a little longer for the FR to lock onto satellites than an iPhone 4. Not much longer and a little hard to believe

* although stats are instantly visible on the FR, the audio stats on RunKeeper are useful

* setting up interval training programmes on the FR isn’t as straightforward as on RunKeeper. However, the FR allows intervals to be set up based on pace and heart rate zones

* the battery life of the Garmin (405/410) is potentially shorter than an iPhone 4 8 hours vs 10)

Purchasing a Garmin Forerunner isn’t a decision any cost-conscious runner should take lightly. However, I’m reelly glad I did make this decision for the following reasons:

– the Forerunner has really helped me with Heart Rate Zone training – not really possible with RunKeeper

– the ForeRunner helps me pace races much better as I can see pace information instantaneously and adjust my speed accordingly. At the Eastleigh 10K last weekend, I had a goal pace of 5 minutes per km. I was able to keep to this pace (on average) throughout the whole runner

– my data is available in a number of different fitness sites and applications including FetchEveryone

– the Forerunner makes me feel like a ‘real runner’!

So, does this mean I’m ditching RunKeeper completely? No, not at all!!

I often still run with my iPhone to listen to music and use RunKeeper to track my activity during those runs.

When I need to do an interval programme, I’ll often use RunKeeper with its audio announcements to talk me through each transition.

I’m still a beta-tester for RunKeeper and think the app will become more useful for heart rate and paced-based training in the future. I look forward to seeing these developments!!

Also, as Jason Jacobs (founder of FitnessKeeper) will tell you, the RunKeeper app is the tip of the iceberg. RunKeeper is a platform and a powerful one at that. Although my Garmin tracked activities are automatically uploaded to Garmin Connect, I import them to my RunKeeper account at runkeeper.com too. As an Elite member, this gives me the power of being able to dig deeper into my stats using FitnessReports.

Note that I also upload to FetchEveryone which I find very useful as, although it’s not as pretty as the RunKeeper portal, it allows me to tag activities with weather information, terrain info as well as keep an eye on interesting stats such as one if my favourites; heart beats per mile. It also allows me to track running shoe usage.

I’ve only really covered some of the differences between RunKeeper and a Garmin Forerunner in this post. However, I hope it proves useful.

One thought on “Time to feel like a real runner with a Garmin Forerunner

  1. Hi James,

    I’m thinking about getting a Garmin as well for many of the same reasons you did. I was wondering which Garmin you bought? As I am also an avid RunKeeper user: any chance you could write up a small comparison of the same run tracked by both devices?

    BTW: nice PB on the 10K


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