I use a Garmin 310xt to track my runs, and I upload my run info to Garmin Connect and Strava. Once you get serious about running, a GPS watch gets very useful. Not only can it track your progress as you (hopefully!) improve, it also allows you to train at a specific pace or heart rate, allows you to run a set distance, allows you to compare your performance against previous runs on the same course, and lots of other useful stuff.
GPS watches aren’t cheap – the latest models from Garmin, Suunto, Polar etc. can cost over €500, and for that kind of money, you need to get a lot of value from it – like most runners, I look at the price of a piece of gear in marathon terms – and €500 would pay the entry fees for 12 or more marathons!
There is an alternative – instead of splashing out on the latest (and most expensive) top of the line watch, you could buy one of the cheaper models in the lineup – for instance, a Garmin FR15 is about 25% of the price of a 920xt, and for many runners, a lower-end watch is just what they need. Okay, you won’t have the fancy stuff like swim stroke measuring, live tracking, vertical oscillation etc. etc., but chances are most runners neither need these features, nor will ever figure out how to use them!
The problem is battery life – with pretty much all GPS watches, the higher up the model line you go, the better battery life you get. A 4 hour battery life is great if you never run for longer than 4 hours, but not much good if you do a 4:30 marathon, or want to run an ultra.
This is where the other alternative comes in – buying an older model that used to be the top of the line model. This is what I did. I bought a Garmin 310xt, which used to be Garmin’s flagship triathlon watch. It has a 20 hour battery life (unlike some watches, which never give anywhere near the claimed battery life in the real world, I find the 310xt will actually go for more than 20 hours), it can be used for swimming and cycling, and it has all the features I need. At a price point of around €100 at the moment, pound for pound, I believe the 310xt is probably the best value GPS watch at right now.
However, even a 20 hour battery isn’t enough sometimes – and this is where the first tip comes in.
The 310xt can be charged on the go – although the screen will go to the charging symbol, meaning you can’t read the info, it will still record, and, as soon as you remove the charger, the screen goes back to your info again. I use a small portable charger pack, like the one pictured, into which the Garmin USB charging cable can be plugged. you can then either tape (or Velcro) the charger to your arm, or stick the whole lot (charger and watch) on top of a backpack if you carry one. These charger packs can be purchased very cheaply online.
Another useful tip involves using the 310xt for swimming – if you wear it on your wrist, it loses GPS signal every time your arm goes in the water, and gives you a very inaccurate reading. Some people put the unit in their swim hat to get around this problem – there are a couple of issues with this approach however – firstly, it is difficult to switch the unit on and off at the start and end of the swim, and, if you swim with your head in the water, you can still lose signal. It can also be fiddly to avoid dropping the unit when you remove your hat after the swim. You can buy a quick release kit for the 310xt so you can quickly remove it from your wrist, and attach it to your bike during a triathlon. You can use cable ties to attach one of the bike mounting bases to the straps of your swimming goggles, at the back of your head, and then clip the garmin to this when you swim, keeping the unit out of the water so it never loses signal. Works a treat.