For this test, I was tempted to reiterate my feat of comparing the Altra One 2 with the iPhone, and to stack up the performances of the Garmin Forerunner 225 against those of an artichoke or those of chair. But gadgets are serious stuff, so I’ll try to be serious here.
I didn’t like running with my phone, be it in my pocket, in an armband, or attached to my waist, it’s just cumbersome. And I don’t use my phone for listening to music while running either because running is entertaining enough by itself except on a firkin’ treadmill (and if I were listening to music while running, I’d probably use something like the Sony NWZ-W273S, which comes highly recommended by Brainy Owl). So buying a running watch was my best option.
I wanted something:
- Light and convenient
- Thought and made for running
- Possibly with GPS tracking
- Possibly with a heart-rate monitor but not attached to my chest
I had to exclude two very good watches: the Garmin Forerunner 620 (best features on the market then) and the Polar M400 (very good and very cheap), which both required a separate chest monitor. I also excluded activity trackers like the Fitbit Surge and the Withings Activité, even though the latter is a beautiful product, both of them lack a GPS and running-specific features.
My list came down to the TomTom Multi Sport and the Garmin Forerunner 225. Eventually I chose the Garmin, thanks to DC Rainmaker’s very comprehensive test. Even though the TomTom caters for running, cycling and swimming while the Garmin is only for running, the Garmin can also do some all-day activity tracking and seemed more reliable (better heart rate sensor, faster GPS).
Using the watch every day
I don’t regret my choice at all. I use this watch every time I go out running, although I don’t use the activity tracking and sleep tracking features (I like wearing my good old mechanical watch). You can connect it to your phone, but it also works completely independently, allowing me to rid of my phone when I run.
One of the great things of having this watch is that it helps me find my pace during races. It has been very beneficial so far since I have beaten my PB every time I’ve ran a 10K!
But it also really helps my daily running. Something I found extremely useful was the possibility to upload free training plans directly to the watch. The process isn’t very natural and the UX could be improved, but it’s OK once you understand that everything is done through the website (just don’t forget to “push” whenever you update your calendar, or at least every 45 workouts otherwise your calendar will be empty) and the app is just here for synchronising.
I chose a heart-rate based training plan, which is what you should really do, but the beginning was a catastrophe because I hadn’t configured my heart rate zone properly. My piece of advice is to set it to %HRR (percentage of heart rate reserve) rather than %HR Max (percentage of maximum heart rate), but you have to spend a bit of time figuring your max heart rate (usually 220 – age) and your resting heart rate (lie still for 20 minutes, then measure). This is really important and I lost 4 weeks of training for being too lazy to try and understand this.
Note: your Max HR doesn’t change that much over time (it slightly decreases over the years) but your rest heart rate will decrease if you train a lot, so keep these numbers updated.
Once your training is on the watch, you just have to follow what it says: “run for 10 minute at this pace/HR”, “rest for 2 minutes”. That’s really convenient for intervals for example, it will beep & vibrate if you run too fast or too slow and it will tell you when to start/finish your intervals.
Another feature I really like is the tracking of the cadence. This can really improve you running technique (aim for 180 to 200 strides per minutes). I wish it could measure oscillation and impact time, but you’d need the Garmin Forerunner 630, and that’s a hefty price to pay, knowing that you need to buy the chest HR sensor as well.
The downside is that the HR sensor can fail sometimes, you just have to re-adjust your strap (not easy to do while running) and the GPS is sometimes jumpy, so the instant pace isn’t always reliable, but it’s the case for all running watches.
I definitely recommend that you buy this watch. Alternatively, you can go for the new Garmin Forerunner 235, which is basically its replacement with cool new stuff (larger display, VO2 max estimation, race predictor, cycling-specific features, etc) but more expensive.
I also recommend that you take the time to run without a Garmin. Well, not literally, because you’re a data freak like me and you want to keep all this good data in Strava or Runkeeper, but sometime, try to run without glancing at your watch or even without thinking about it. Now, every time I go for an easy run or a long run, I don’t use the training plan feature, just the basic tracking, and I run following my feelings: I just want to run at an enjoyable pace without having to care whether it’s too slow or too fast. In short: to be free!