Although I’ve been a runner for over 15 years now, I must admit that I only kept a running log for less than 4 of them. Before I had a running watch that saved more than a single run, I had no problem keeping a log – it was an ingrained habit.
As soon as I got a watch that kept 100 runs, I would put off transferring them to my log until the watch was full. By that time there was no way I was going to be able to remember where I ran or what I did each day. These watches were my running log downfall. I gave into laziness and besides, who has time to maintain a running log? It seems like a luxury to have the time to do that.
What I needed was an automated way to keep a log using a computer. My requirements were simple. I needed a watch that could transfer its runs to a computer, preferably in an automated way. I also needed a watch that would track the distance and speed of my runs.
There are basically 2 types of watches that fulfilled these requirements. The Garmin Forerunner line of watches uses GPS to track where you’ve run. These watches were coming down in price, so it seemed like a good time to put it through the paces. There are other watches that use a “footpod” – a small battery powered device that you attach to the laces on your shoe. It uses an accelerometer to take samples at about 100 times a second and transfers them to the watch which displays pace, distance, etc.
I took two such devices through the paces (so to speak) to see which one would take me to the running log utopia that I sought.
The first device I tried was the Garmin Forerunner 201. It is a nice watch that uses GPS to determine your current speed and distance travelled. Since it uses GPS, there is no customization that you have to do to tailor it to your needs – you just put it on and go.
The Garmin lets you upload your runs to a computer and use software to track and map them. GPS is mature technology that has plenty of tools for processing coordinate data. I created a process to upload my running logs to my web site automatically, all using free and open source software.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the Garmin Forerunner. I quickly became accustomed to the larger size. Although the watch does get spotty reception in the woods, the benefit of being able to view where you run on a map is fantastic. I’m happy to sacrifice a little accuracy to have that functionality.
In my mind here are the plusses of using the Garmin:
- Uses GPS to determine distance and speed with acceptable accuracy
- No customization required for each runner
- Displays a map with your running route on the watch
- Displays running time, pace, and distance all on one screen
- Not only does it track speed and distance, but you can determine where you ran, too
- Easily process the data in familiar GPS formats
- Automatically upload your running logs to your web site
- Rechargable battery – no replacing batteries every so often
- It’s a full fledged GPS device, so you can Geocache with it
- Reception can be poor in wooded areas
- The watch is pretty bulky and takes some getting used to
I also tried the Nike Triax Elite – a watch that uses a “footpod” to track your distance and speed. This watch is more sleek than the Garmin, but it is still quite heavy as far as watches go. The tilted face of the watch is definitely a nice feature. During workouts, the buttons of this watch are easier to locate and press. If you do a lot of workouts and time yourself, this is something to look out for. (Imagine running full speed through the finish line and then trying to press the right button among the 6 buttons right in a row on the Garmin!)
The Triax Elite syncs up with a computer using a fancy looking glowing orb that connects to your computer via a USB cable. Then the watch syncs with the computer wirelessly (which is pretty cool!). When you sync the watch with your computer, it uploads all your runs that you have stored and it downloads any workouts that you’ve set up using the software that comes with the device.
Here are some images of the footpod on my shoe:
I found the footpod to need an adjustment to become more accurate for my running style. To calibrate it, you press a few buttons and run an 800m on the track. After calibration, I found it to be far more accurate than it was out of the box. I did find it to still be inaccurate on hilly trails in the woods.
The Triax Elite comes with a heartrate monitor, which I’ve never used before (I’ve never been a “HRM” kind of guy, I guess). I went ahead and started using it and found that I liked seeing the heartrate every once in a while.
The reports you can produce with the software that comes with the watch are pretty nice. Here is an example of an 8.5 mile run I do from my home.
Here are the plusses and minuses for the Nike Triax Elite:
- Overall accuracy is a little better at this point than GPS watches
- Nice software that keeps track of your logs
- Software can be run on Windows or Mac OSX
- Like most Nike watches, it has a sleek design that makes it very usable
- Still inaccurate on very hilly trails
- Fairly heavy for a watch its size
- Switching shoes is a pain with the footpod
Overall, both watches are really nice and much better than any watch I’d ever used before. However, being a GPS geek keeps me using the Garmin – I think it’s great to be able to see your runs on a map. You might even discover a new path by going back and looking at your runs!