Posted in Run and tagged run, run training

Running watches and fitness trackers have exploded in popularity in these days of digital connectedness. After all, what good is running a 5K on a damp Monday night if you can’t parade the evidence in front of your partner or upload diagrams of it onto social media?

Well, a lot, as you probably know. But using a smartwatch to track your progress is valuable not only for kudos but also for taking a serious and structured approach to your training.


Do you need a running watch?

The most successful fitness regimes have goals and, in order to know if you’ve accomplished these goals, you need to track your progress.

This is where the running smartwatch and fitness tracker has made a significant contribution to modern training methods.

Not only are they conveniently small and lightweight but even the most basic watches open the door to a world of visualisation and data analysis that was once the preserve of Formula 1 teams.

With a running watch you can dive into the data, helping you monitor your progress, make adjustments, and see what methods are paying off and where you’ve been wasting your time.

Plus, you get to plaster your achievements over the entire internet, which is a bonus. Having said that, it's not as self indulgent as it sounds. Have access to data means you can compare accurately with your peers or on social groups, and take part in online challenges and more. A fitness-tracking smartwatch is a gateway to a huge online community, and that can be huge for motivation. 

So, to help you get started, we've assembled some of 2020's best running watches and fitness trackers, ranking them from basic models for those new to the technology, alongside intermediate and advanced models for those who want to dive into the data headfirst. 


Basic running watches

Basic running watches have pretty much everything you need to get your journey into fitness data started. Typically they’ll track the number of steps you’ve taken and use GPS to record your distance and route. And as the technology becomes cheaper, even some basic models now come with heart rate monitors and text message notifications. The data can also be used to monitor your improvements and tightly track your gains against your goals.


running watch, running gps, garmin forerunner, forerunner45Garmin Forerunner 45 GPS Running Watch

What has it got? 

Integrated heart rate monitor, sleep tracking, mobile notifications, water-resistant, GPS, Bluetooth enabled, incident detection

Battery life?

Seven days (depending on usage)

What's the top-line feature? 

Garmin Coach

The Garmin Forerunner 45 is a lot of tech for a small price. You get the same safety and tracking features that you would find on the higher-priced models, such as incident detection and assistance.

Garmin Coach allows you to create your own training plans and sync them to your watch. Get real-time feedback as you train thanks to the integrated heart-rate monitor, which also helps you to monitor your stress levels in day-to-day life. 


running watch, running gps, garmin, polar, polar ignitePolar Ignite GPS Watch

What has it got? 

Integrated heart rate monitor, sleep tracking, mobile notifications, water-resistant, GPS, Bluetooth enabled, smart calories, breathing exercises

Battery life?

Five days (depending on usage)

What's the top-line feature? 

FitSpark Daily Training Guide

The Polar Ignite has 100 different sport profiles and can even track advanced swimming data such as stroke, pace and heart rate.

Pair it with your smartphone and the watch automatically syncs to Polar Flow for a huge array of insights into your training.

The FitSpark Daily Training Guide uses your recovery, fitness levels and training history data to create ready-made daily workouts. 


Intermediate

The tech integrated into intermediate running watches can vary considerably, so it’s worth finding out what tech you’re interested in and checking the descriptions carefully before you buy. You should expect to see GPS capabilities and integrated smart training apps.


COROS APEX Premium Multisport GPS Watch (46mm)COROS APEX Premium Multisport GPS Watch (46mm)

What has it got? 

Extensive battery life of up to 30 days, digital dial for easy navigation, integrated heart rate monitor, GPS, durable design, intelligent stride algorithm

Battery life?

100 hours in ULtraMax mode and 30 days in regular mode

What's the top line feature?

The most attractive feature of the Coros Apex range is the market-leading battery life, offering 40 hours in full GPS mode, 100 hours in UltraMax GPS mode and an astonishing 30 days in regular modes. 

It's also one of the lightest of the top tier sportswatches and offers many of the same topline features such as a touchscreen and advanced training aids like 24/7 blood oxygen monitoring with altitude acclimation assistance. It's a very clever watch at a great price. 


running watch, running gps, garmin forerunner, forerunner 245Garmin Forerunner 245 Music GPS Running Watch

What has it got? 

Integrated heart rate, music via Bluetooth headphones, sleep tracking, mobile notifications, safety tracking. 

Battery life?

Up to 7 days in smartwatch mode and 6 hours in GPS mode with music.

What's the top-line feature? 

Advanced running dynamics.

A perfect choice for the stats-obsessed runner. VO2 max, aerobic and anaerobic effort, ground contact time balance, stride length, vertical ratio. It will even tell you when you're over-working and need to rest.

With all this data, plus adaptive training plans from Garmin Coach, you'll be smashing those PBs in no time.  


running watch, running gps, garmin, polar, polar vantage, vantage mPolar Vantage M GPS Watch

What has it got? 

GPS, optical HR sensor, water-resistant, swimming metrics, changeable wristbands

Battery life?

Up to 30 hours in training mode with GPS

What's the top-line feature? 

Polar Flow and Polar Flow for Coach service

The Vantage M features Polar's latest optical heart rate sensor fusion technology for a more accurate reading and Polar Flow will help you to make sense of all your work-out metrics.

There are over 130 sport profiles loaded onto this little device - great for those who like to try everything.

If you're over-doing it, Training Load Pro will give you a full report on the impact you've been putting on your body and a friendly reminder to schedule some rest and recovery.


Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL MultiSport GPS Watch

What has it got? 

GPS, heart rate monitor, barometric altimeter, multisport/triathlon mode, high contrast screen, easy zoom to see specific data, supports running power meters like Stryd.

Battery life?

Up to 14 days in smartwatch mode or 24 hours in smart watch/GPS

What's the top-line feature? 

Touchless transition for multi-sport events, seamless connectivity within the Wahoo ecosystem

Wahooligans (or Wahoo fans to you and me) already love the easy setup and reliable functionality of their KICKR turbo trainers and ELEMNT bike computers. The RIVAL is the brand's first foray into the world of multi-sport watches and, for duathletes or triathletes who love no-nonsense tech that lets them concentrate on performance, it's a wearable wonder.

The watch not only records all the data you need but it also automatically switches between activity profiles as you transition between swimming, cycling and running. Furthermore, the watch can exchange data with your Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer so that multi-sport activities are synced rather than duplicated and all your data is in one place. Not only that, but it can even talk to your Wahoo KICKR to switch between different modes as you train.


Advanced

Top-of-the-range running watches come loaded with tons of top tech that’ll take the totality of your training to travails to task. Expect to find turn-by-turn route navigation, progress metrics, extra-long battery life, and multi-sport support.


running watch, running gps, garmin forerunner, garmin fenix, fenix 6Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Solar GPS Watch

What has it got? 

GPS, heart rate monitor, Pulse OX blood oxygen saturation analysis, preloaded maps including ski maps, routing and navigation, Garmin Pay, music storage and streaming, altimeter, barometer, electronic compass, smartphone alerts

Battery life?

9 days in smartwatch mode or 10.5 days when Solar charging

What's the top-line feature? 

Power Glass™ solar charging, Surfline Sessions™, routing, turn-by-turn navigation and more

Ruggedly handsome, the Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Solar GPS Watch is stuffed with advanced hardware and software. Built-in navigation sensors include GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellite positioning, using a 3-axis compass, gyroscope and barometric altimeter to create one of the most accurate sports watches available. 

You'll find all the metrics and analysis you'd expect and lots you wouldn't - ski resort and golf-course mapping, an ascent planner for climbing, a blood oxygen saturation sensor to monitor your altitude acclimatisation...we could go on.

Don't worry about draining your battery with all these features - Power Glass ™ solar charging technology keeps the watch charged via the power of the sun.

What has it got? 

GPS, heart rate monitor, navigation, mineral glass watch face, stainless steel bezel, water-resistant up to 100m, smartphone alerts

Battery life?

Intelligent battery-saving modes give you between 25 and 120 hours of recording time with GPS tracking.

What's the top-line feature? 

 FusedTrack to minimise level of GPS needed, further conserving battery life 

The Suunto 9 Baro Titanium GPS Multisport Watch was built for endurance adventures. The rugged construction is finished with a super-rugged mineral glass anti-abrasive watch face and stainless-steel bezel so you can be sure it can withstand the harshest conditions. 

Over 80 built-in sport modes provide metrics specific to each sport. Open-water swimmers will love the swim mode which tracks pace and distance, as well as heart rate, stroke count and type and much more. 


Garmin Forerunner 745 GPS WatchGarmin Forerunner 745 GPS Watch

What has it got? 

GPS, multisport profiles, run and cycling daily workout suggestions based on your current training load and VO2 max, stores up to 500 songs, Garmin Pay™ for contactless payments.

Battery life?

Up to 1 week of battery life, six hours in GPS mode with music, and 21 hours in UltraTrac™mode.

What's the top-line feature? 

An all in one watch, the 745's ability to carry music, perform contactless payments, and navigate by GPS means you no longer need your phone.  

The Garmin Forerunner® 745 is an advanced watch for runners and triathletes which delivers detailed training stats and on-device workouts plus smartwatch functions such as music, contactless payments and more.

About the author

Damien Whinnery's picture
Damien Whinnery
Published on: 05 Aug 2020

Fascinated by fitness, serious about sport, and joyous about the gym