When it comes to improving your running, knowledge is power – and thanks to the tech that can be wrapped around the wrist of anyone with a bit of disposable income, amateur athletes now have more insight into their training than ever before. Whereas in the past even the elites would get by with a stopwatch and a reasonable idea of how far they were going, nowadays every runner can track their exact distance, pace, cadence, heart rate and much more.
A good running watch is far more than an everyday fitness tracker. To be worthy of the name a device should contain built-in GPS, enable you to analyse run-specific metrics and include or be able to assess training programmes.
This means that even the cheapest options cost north of £100, and the fanciest well over £400. However, for keen runners it’s undoubtedly a worthy investment and one that will add a new dimension to your training.
Here are our five favourite running watches of 2017.
Best Budget Running Watch: TomTom Runner 3
The waterproof Runner 3 has built-in GPS and route exploration, so you can view a basic map of your run on your wrist to help avoid getting lost. It also has a range of useful training modes, which includes interval sessions and the option of setting a target pace zone so the Runner 3 buzzes at you every time you’re running too fast or slow. The latter is a great way to get used to a planned race pace.
TomTom offer pricier options of the Runner 3 with either a heart rate monitor or space for music, or both, but the standard tracker’s incredibly well priced given the wealth of features it offers. TomTom Runner 3 £119.99, TomTom Runner 3 Cardio + Music £219.99, buy on tomtom.com
RECOMMENDED: TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music Review
Best For Inexperienced Runners: Polar M430
The trouble with choosing a running watch is that all their bells and whistles are useless if you don’t know how to use them. The Polar M430 does an excellent job of showing how all the data it collects can have a real impact on your running, mainly by connecting with the Polar Flow web app to create an adaptive training plan. This schedules your sessions, guides you through your workouts in real time and gives feedback afterwards. For runners who are keen on improving but don’t have the knowledge required or access to coaching, this is an excellent alternative. £199.50, pre-order on polar.com
Best Mid-Range Running Watch: Garmin Forerunner 235
The Garmin Forerunner range is running watch royalty and the 235 hits the sweet spot of features and price to make it the best all-round option for amateur runners. As well as displaying all the essential running metrics (pace, distance, time, calories and cadence) the 235 has a dedicated screen broken into coloured zones for keeping tabs on your heart rate mid-run and will estimate the effect of your training on your aerobic fitness after the session finishes. You can also load and follow running workouts from the Garmin Connect app.
The 235 doesn’t match the battery life or have as many features as Garmin’s top-end options (such as the Forerunner 935, below) but it does more than the average runner really needs. If you don’t care about heart rate or are happy to wear a separate chest strap, the cheaper Forerunner 230 (£219.99) is a worthy alternative. Apart from an integrated heart rate monitor, it more or less matches the 235’s feature set. £299.99, buy on garmin.com
Best Smartwatch For Running: Apple Watch Series 2
Apple cracked the fitness smartwatch game with its second offering. The waterproof Series 2 has its own GPS, can store music, and plays nice with almost all of the most popular fitness apps, including Strava and Nike+ Run Club. The clear screen also makes it easier than ever to keep an eye on your vital stats during your runs. You will need to use apps to get the most from the Apple Watch because the standard tracking metrics on it are little sub-par for dedicated runners, but the massive amount of free and cheap apps available cover everything you could want. From £369, buy on apple.com/uk
Best If Money Is No Object: Garmin Forerunner 935
We’re heading into serious athlete territory here with Garmin’s top-end Forerunner, which boasts an excellent 24 hours of GPS battery life and a huge array of features to improve your training. For runners (it covers all the bases for triathletes) the best of these includes a detailed look at the effect of your training on your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, as well as recommendations on how long your recovery should be and whether your overall regime is too demanding, not demanding enough, or just right.
The 935 also estimates your best times for 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon distances (although in our experience these estimates feel incredibly optimistic). This is just a snapshot of the 935’s capabilities, though, and even if you used one for years it will probably still find new ways to surprise and delight you. As you’d expect, all this comes at a hefty cost. £469.99, buy on garmin.com