Running Fitness Trackers Ready to Match Your Pace
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Today, we live in a super-connected world. It’s hard to go for more than 20 minutes without some sort of a notification popping up, whether it be on your smartwatch, smartphone, tablet, or computer. More and more adults are leaning into wearables for everything from their text message correspondence to fitness needs (at least 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. reportedly sport one of these smart devices on their wrist, currently, and analysts are projecting shipments will only increase in the coming years). All that being said, if you’re a runner hunting for the right pick to track your regular activity, well, there’s no shortage of options out there.
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“The right wearable can be a total game-changer for a runner,” says Lindsey Clayton, RRCA-certified run coach and co-founder of Brave Body Project, based in New York City. “It’s great to be able to do everything from track your routes and check out accurate readings like mileage, splits, and heart rate, whether you’re trying to PR your next marathon or you’re more of a recreational runner.”
Clayton makes a great point: wearables do a lot more than just count steps and calories. Here, we break down what to look for in a fitness tracker for runners, and offer up some of our go-to picks, whether you’re a morning pavement warrior or a hobby jogger.
What to Look for in a Running Fitness Tracker
Just like hunting for your next go-to pair of sneakers, it’s super easy to shop based on looks and looks alone. It’s totally understandable that you want a tracker that’s pleasing to the eye. If you like the way it looks, then you’ll want to rock it regularly. However, there are some other factors to take into consideration when purchasing your next fitness tracker:
Battery life: Typically speaking, most devices will last you at least three to five days on a single charge. But, keep in mind: Most of the time, the more features that your pick has, the faster the battery will drain. So, if you’re someone who wants to go into the mountains for a week at a time, no electricity available, that’s definitely a consideration to make. For example: The newest Apple Watch has an 18-hour battery life while the WHOOP strap can go on for about five days fully charged.
Built-In GPS: If you are an avid outdoor runner, then GPS will be important to you when it comes to tracking factors like pace and distance. If you’re getting up and out to log a workout, you want to make sure you’re getting reliable data. Great GPS watches (like Garmin and Suunto) will also have app-backed software that empowers you to plan a route before you lace up.
Display: Opt for a tracker with an OLED screen to monitor daily metrics and even mobile notifications, or settle on an LED display for a less-distractive approach.
Design: Fancy something that provides the comfort of a G-Shock, with the durability of an outdoor timer.
Heart Rate Monitor: Depending on where you’re at with your training, keeping an eye on your heart rate zones can be super helpful for everything from overall fitness gains to health and safety.
Mobile App: While it’s nice to be able to track things like pace and distance, it’s even better to see how those things vary over time. Using a wearable with a connected mobile app will empower you to think bigger picture and compare data day-to-day, year-to-year.
Water Resistant: Be it H2O or sweat, take into account a device that can sustain water damage.
At the end of the day, it can be helpful to make a priority list of what it is that you’re looking for in your perfect fitness tracker. Do you want a face on it, for example, or are you OK at getting most of your data and insights from an app? Are you looking for something that you can wear with both a suit and your workout gear, or are you OK ditching it post-sweat? By identifying what you really want in your wearable, you’ll be able to shop smarter.
Also, keep in mind — sometimes it’s not a bad idea to leave the wearable at home every once in a while. “You have to make sure you’re listening to your body just like you’re listening to the wearable,” says Clayton. “Too much data might hold you back, making you a little too obsessed with the numbers. Always remember why you’re running in the first place, and hopefully, that’s because it brings you joy.”
Best Fitness Trackers for Runners
Ready to get running? Here is our guide to the best fitness trackers for runners:
For The Runner Who Wants The Most Data
Garmin Forerunner 745
If you’re someone who is really ready to get serious about an activity-specific smartwatch and you want a few stellar bells and whistles, this Garmin is a great place to start. It’s got a battery life that lasts up to seven days, and tracks everything from outdoor and indoor treadmill running to strength, cardio, elliptical, Pilates, and yoga (to name a few). Plus, if you splurge for the foot pod, you can get other obscenely run centric, helpful measures like running dynamics, vertical oscillation and ratio, ground contact time, and stride length.
Promising review: “It shows a lot on the watch face during a run, and is “always on” (or mostly so). This makes keeping a pace for a long run, or checking avg. HR really simple. Love the watch. At this point, I don’t run with music, so can’t comment on that… The watch overall is awesome to run with. It syncs quickly after the run. I have it paired with a Garmin HRM. If you want a running watch, this is a fantastic pick.” – Boston Suburban Dweller
To Wear Constantly
Apple Watch Series 6
This is the go-to pick for the guy that never wants to take his fitness tracker off. Not only does it look super sleek, but it also comes complete with a blood oxygen sensor and app, the ECG app, and an Always-On Retina display. Other perks: A gazillion (OK, a lot of) different bands to customize its appearance, making it super simple to take from workout to work meeting. Not to mention, with the newer launch of Apple Fitness+ – a fitness service built entirely around Apple Watch bringing studio-style workouts to iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV – you’ve got a team of trainers at the ready for whenever you want a coach on the move.
Promising review: “Comfort, ease of use, and the fact that I can go for a run without my phone and still keep up with emergency calls, texts, and emails is awesome.” – Frederick Lifsitz
The Golden Ticket of Running Watches
Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar
As you can tell by the price, this is really the king of all fitness trackers for running, offering everything any runner could literally ever want. Starting with the PacePro feature, which is like a built-in running coach, advanced training metrics like heat- and altitude-adjusted V02 max and recovery advisor, and up to 21 days of battery life (including three days bonus thanks to solar charging). It’s also got a ton of other great app integrations, like music (Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music), Garmin Pay, and more.
Promising review: “I find the features pretty amazing, especially all of the feedback data I receive. It’s really motivating to have that real-time data on your runs. However, I primarily chose this device because I’m training toward running ultras and wanted to have the best battery life and the best tracking capabilities on trail runs.” – Tim B
An Instant Classic
Suunto 9 Baro
The Suunto is a classic runner’s watch, offering all of the necessary metrics plus a few bonuses that make it a perfect pick in our book. We dig the “Loop” feature, which automatically offers location-based insights to analyze stats for each loop, an ideal tool to have when running on a track (these loops can be analyzed after you’re done with the effort in the app).
Promising review: “I’ve used this item for both running and trail running and I’m very satisfied. The watch information helps me a lot.” – Anonymous
A Great Jumping Off Point
Fitbit Versa 3
With an estimated six-day battery life, the Versa has got you covered for almost a week’s worth of wear. If your mind is in a thousand places at once (been there), the automatic workout detection for some exercise types (including running) is a huge life-saver, should you forget to start a session. And while you’re mid-stride, the watch can be set up to give you heart rate zone notifications that can be used to help you determine your level of exertion.
Promising review: “Love the bright screen and comfortable band. Amazing battery life… six-day battery life feels like it goes forever. GPS means I can leave my phone at home to track my runs. Great new health and fitness features on the device and in the mobile app. Looking forward to the software updates that unlock even more.” – LY
The Date Geek’s BFF
Whoop is unlike any other wearable on this list, as it is the only one without a face. That’s right: The band is meant to be used in harmony with the app, which may be a turn-off for some — but it shouldn’t be. The band tracks strain, sleep, and recovery, providing customized, easy-to-navigate insights into how your body is performing day-in and day-out. Runners can choose to turn on the GPS pre-effort by using the app to track specifics about an outdoor workout. We love it for getting into the nitty-gritty of our everyday habits (eating, drinking, sleeping habits) to see how they are affecting training.
Promising review: “I love the WHOOP. The data provided and the logic behind Whoop allows me to respond to the changing conditions of my body so I can avoid injury and push my limits.” – Dave T
Polar Vantage V2 With Heart Rate Sensor
At only 52 grams, this is a lightweight option that definitely gets the job done. The Vantage has a lot of perks, but we love the recovery pro feature, which tells you whether your body is ready for training and offers up best-practice recovery feedback right on your wrist (you’ll need the heart rate sensor for this). Also, kickstart your wear with the running performance test, which helps you track your progress over time, as well as analyze speed, power zones, and heart rate.
Promising review: “It is the lightest and most comfortable running watch I’ve owned. I’ve really enjoyed some of the newer features like seeing the expected GPS battery life when I start a run. The running test was also great to set my appropriate training zones for my future runs. The run test really pushes you to the max effort and feels like a fun game at times, trying to keep within the pace ranges the watch is giving you. I’m looking forward to trying the other features like the turn by turn directions and strava live segments.” – D Hanlon
Good Budget Find
The best thing about this wearable is the battery life lasts for nearly a month — seriously. If you’re someone who is constantly frustrated about the fact that your watch is somehow never charged, this can alleviate those frustrations. It’s got a really sleek design, and gets the job done without extras like a touch screen (although it does look similar in style to the Apple Watch, it only uses a button for functionality).
Promising review: “Battery life is insane, Mine’s been on for two weeks and is currently at 81 percent. I run six days a week and use the watch to track every time. Very comfortable, I’ve slept in it a few times and had no issue. I just don’t like sleeping in a watch. Not going to shower with it, I’m sure the waterproofing would work, but I have no reason to risk it.” – Sean
For the Person Who Hates Wearing Something on Their Wrist
Coros Pace 2
If you’re the kind of person who wants to be wearing a fitness tracker but really despises the feeling of something on your wrist, this is the pick for you. That’s because at-release, this is the lightest wearable on the market at 29 grams. The watch offers 20 days of daily use (and 30 hours in constant GPS mode).
Promising review: “After two months of running with the watch, I’m convinced this is the best watch I’ve run with. It has incredible battery life, advanced stats like power, and a really quick sync speed. The distances and elevations recorded are extremely accurate.” – R Wright
Garmin Venu Sq Music Edition
New within the last year to the Garmin lineup, this is a great watch for someone who wants a lot of the great classic features that the brand is known for but a different watch style that doesn’t scream “who wants to go for a run after work?” There are a bunch of different features to love on, but big highlights are the Garmin Coach, offering runners a coach on their wrist to train for popular distances like 5K, 10K, or half-marathon as well as advanced sleep monitoring and respiration tracking.
Promising review: “Garmin continues to please runners! I spent months researching watches… This is the watch. It’s a great size, is good looking and has a nice screen. I don’t have ‘always on’ or notification settings turned on because I get enough stimulation in my life otherwise. The battery life has been a surprising benefit, too! For any athlete considering this watches competitors, stop here and make the right choice.” – David Ludwig
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