I first stumbled onto GPS watches for running when I was deployed to Iraq in 2006. A lieutenant colonel and I started discussing running and he recommended a Timex GPS watch. It came in two pieces. The GPS was worn on an arm band and communicated wirelessly with the watch which looked like a normal sports watch. The GPS unit was powered by a AA battery. In order to look at your data on the computer you had to purchase a third piece that also recorded the data from the GPS.
In spite of the multi-piece set-up, it worked well and it was good to be able to measure my runs. I trained for Ft. Campbell’s Army 10-Miler team doing 800 repeats and tempo runs measured out with this GPS watch on the dirt path around Camp Striker in Iraq.
The Gamin Forerunner 205
I’ve moved on from my first GPS watch and at this point in my running I use the Garmin Forerunner 205. There are more advanced GPS watches out there; however, they tend to cost upwards of $400. If you are willing to go for a less advanced model like the Forerunner 205 you can still get most of the features for under $150.
The big display makes for easy viewing of your time and splits while running (although this will not be doubling as your time piece – if you even wear one anymore). You can also easily view the breadcrumb trail of where you have been. I have found this feature useful for getting home sometimes when running on unfamiliar trails or in new areas. It can charge from a USB port on your computer. The free software (Garmin Training Center) allows you to download and views runs from the watch.
But my favorite feature is that once you have downloaded your run you can view the route on Google Earth. I have often gone on trail runs before and come back wondering where I had gone, especially when I ended up on some game trail that was probably not on any map. In order to view the runs on Google Earth you need to download Garmin’s communicator (free) in addition to the Training Center Software.
Drawbacks of the Forerunner 205
One issue that I have noticed with using the GPS watch for trail running though is that I have found that its elevation gain / loss numbers always seem a bit high. I have generally found my actual elevation gains (based on mapping the route in Google Earth and the estimates of other gunners) are about 70-90% of what the watch tells me.
Another slightly annoying feature is that it is easy to accidentally turn the watch on. Sometimes I have done this when putting the watch in my running bag. A few hours later I have pulled out the watch and found that there battery is almost dead.
These annoyances are small though and I recommend a the Forerunner 205 or any other GPS watch for any runner who enjoys stats or just seeing where they have gone. Happy exploring.