Progression of the Running Watch 2007-2015

We are all hyper aware of the fact that technology changes so fast that its difficult to keep up or even stay in the game. This has always been an issue for me, particularly with our beloved running watches.  While I WANT the latest & greatest run watch, I don’t want to pay for it.  And I usually don’t need all the bells and whistles that come standard on the high end models.  What to do?


I tend to buy based on price and my budget.  I also try to keep it real.  I’m not going to spend hours looking over the data from my latest run, so it’s not necessary for me to have a watch that records everything from my heart rate to my breathing.  What do I need?  Pace and distance.   Splits.  I like to look at my splits, briefly, like in the car after I finish a run, for maybe 2 seconds.  Never on the computer.  Never.  So I usually keep things simple with my run watches.  Let’s look at the progression of my technology since 2007.  And let’s hope my hubby isn’t reading today cuz I’m also going to tell you what I’ve spent over the years on my quest for the perfect run watch.  Yikes.  Let’s get started before I lose my nerve!

It was in 2007 that I first became interested in actually tracking my runs and knowing my distance/pace while out on the road or trail.  I was training for my first marathon and it wasn’t always convenient to plan my route with the car before I ran.  We weren’t too far out from the release of the very first Garmin Global Positioning System (GPS) running watch that dropped in 2003.  Those initial watches were big and bulky, overhung the wrist of most women, but all the cool kids had one, maybe you did too?  It was a Garmin Forerunner 205.  I never bought one but I think it’s important to drop a pic to remember this oldie but goodie.  I believe the original price of this bad boy was $149 in 2003.  Stock photo.

first garmin watch_03

My very first run watch was the Polar RS200SD with Heart Rate Monitor & an S1 Foot Pod.  No GPS technology on this watch, everything was measured via the foot pod.  And EVERYONE asked me “what that thing was that was on my shoe”.  Everyone.  The watch was small enough that it actually fit my wrist.  While I have a large body, I have a dainty wrist, so this was a good option for me.  It was comfortable.  Normal watch battery so it stayed charged forever.  Foot pod had a AAA battery and would hold a charge for about 20 hours of continuous activity.  I could swim with the watch but it would only record my time.  I never used the heart rate strap and eventually lost it.  The majority of the info the watch recorded was about heart rate.  That’s what Polar does best, heart rate.  I could see my pace, distance and pull up my mile splits via the watch.  However, I if I wanted to transfer the info to the computer & connect with other Polar users, I had to do so via a special microphone that worked sporadically.  It was a pain, so I didn’t upload my data often.  Overall, this was definitely a good device at the time.  It was always ready to run while the runners with the “original” GPS watches were waiting for a signal, which they would promptly lose if we ran in the city or thru the woods.  Original Price:  $220 – with 10% discount at Running For Kicks, my cost was $198 + tax.  Mel D. even set the watch up for me and handed it to me ready to run.  Thanks, Mel.  Stock photo on the left, my package on the right as I was putting it on eBay last year sans HR Chest Strap.

polar  polar w foot pod

From the Polar, I moved to the Nike+ GPS Sportwatch (powered by TomTom) with shoe sensor.  Since I don’t run in Nike shoes, I always had to cut a spot out of the sole of my run shoes (under the insole) for my sensor.  There was a little pouch I could have bought to tie the sensor/pouch to my laces but after years of having a huge Foot Pod on my shoe, I didn’t want to tie the Nike+ Sensor to my laces.  Sensor was optional anyhow, not needed when GPS was available.  The watch was fun.  It popped messages if I didn’t run within a couple days. Always acknowledged new PRs.  Sent me motivational messages.  And the display numbers were HUGE.  I could always see it while I was running, even when I was running really fast.  Cuz I could run fast when I owned this watch.  But it was big, with a long face that overhung my wrist.  The face of the watch was hard and stretched across my entire wrist bone.  It slid around when I was sweaty and I never knew if I wanted to wear it atop or on the inside of my wrist.  It was either too tight or too loose and never just right.  The end of the watch band actually revealed a USB plug and would plug right into the computer.  Super easy charge, manage and upload info.  I liked this watch a lot.  It was $199 from  I had a $50 gift card, so my cost was $149 + tax.  Free shipping.

nike  gps     nike  gps2 

From the Nike+ GPS Sportwatch, I moved to the Garmin Forerunner 10.  I really wanted a watch for triathlons but was too cheap to spend the $$.  The Forerunner 10 fit my wrist.  Holy Heck, a watch that I could run with that would sit on my wrist and not overhang.  What a concept.  It was comfortable.  Cute, came in multiple fun colors.  Focused on pace, distance & time.  I could pull my history, past workouts and/or mile splits directly from my watch.  I was IN LOVE.  Perfect watch for me.  Not too fancy.  Not too complicated.  But it didn’t link up to GP S satellites very quickly when I was in a new location (or even at a regular hang out) and the battery didn’t last long.  I was starting to run a lot of marathons and my max battery life on the Forerunner 10 was 5 to 5.5 hours.   Sometimes I run marathons slow.  Sometimes I run marathons in the woods.  Sometimes I run longer than a marathon.  My perfect watch slowly became somewhat imperfect for me.  It was easy to use, easy to charge with a USB on the computer/laptop or via the USB charger for the car or wall outlet.  Easy to link up to Garmin Connect.  Great beginner watch.  So great that I bought one for Aby.  All in all, we’ve had 3 of these Forerunner 10s (green, pink & a purple which replaced the pink after repairs from Garmin).  I bought both mine & Aby’s from REI.  I used EBates to get 5% cash back, plus I got 10% back on REI dividends at year end.  EBates referral code HERE if you want to save $$ shopping online but don’t yet have an account. Original price:  $129, my cost $109.65 + tax.  Free Shipping.

Polar-Nike-Garmin   IMG_0510 

I loved the Forerunner 10 so much that I moved over to the Forerunner 15 when it was released.  Longer battery life, plus a few more bells and whistles.  It counted steps and mileage indoors, even when the GPS wasn’t activated.  This came in super handy as I ran lap after lap on the indoor track at the YMCA when the temps and wind-chill plummeted in the winter months.  But it didn’t help me in the TRI world.  The GPS would work on the bike but not for outdoor swimming.  The watch still took a bit to sync up with a satellite & I was still  having issues with running out of battery life while running & biking.  It was advertised to have 8 hours of GPS battery life but I rarely got that.  But the watch looked good.  I love all things aqua so we’ll probably never part with this baby.  Aby is using it now.  Original retail was $169, I got this “New with Tags”, in the box, on eBay for $129, free shipping, no tax. 


I still needed a TRI watch, are you beginning to see a theme?  I also was interested in monitoring my heart rate and possibly starting some heart rate based training.  But I didn’t want to wear the chest strap.  Very few watches monitor heart rates off of a sensor in the watch (vs a strap).  Plus if I was going to buy ANOTHER watch, then I wanted to make sure that it would measure my swim distance, if nothing else.  Enter the TomTom  Multi-Sport Cardio.  Wireless heart rate.  Counts swim laps.  Records biking.  But doesn’t do swim/bike/run all at once in a Triathlon mode like most multisport watches.  Battery life is only good for 8-10 hours.  However, this baby must be downloaded frequently because if you are out on a run and it reaches the max amount of data that it can record, it doesn’t overwrite old data/workouts, it just shuts down.  Really.  I mean, REALLY?  It also struggles to link up to a satellite.  It is hard/stiff and big due to HR sensors being in the watch. Overhung my wrist.  Moved around on my wrist and it wasn’t very comfortable.    Lots of bells and whistles with this watch.  It’s cute.  It charges easily, workouts can easily be downloaded but you must stay on top of the downloading to have space to run, bike & swim. Oh, and it does NOT record outdoor swimming, only pool laps.  Good bye, TomTom.  Original price was $249, but TomTom was offering a $40 race rebate after purchase.  My cost:  $209, free shipping, free tax.

tomtom  tomtom2

Last but definitely not least.  The Garmin Forerunner 920XT.  It’s a real TRI watch.  First, the satellite signal is so strong that it will link up as I sit at my desk, here in the house.  It records indoor & outdoor running, indoor & outdoor swimming, indoor & outdoor biking.  It links up to my phone via Bluetooth and I can review my workout via the watch, my phone or Garmin Connect on the computer.  It uploads automatically, wirelessly when I’m within range of my network.  It vibrates and notifies me of text messages, Facebook messages/notifications, Instagram notifications, events, etc. all on my wrist. I’m a little drop jawed over all this.  I never knew that a watch that wasn’t an “i-thing” could so much.  Plus it will seamlessly record all aspects of a triathlon. From swim, T1, bike, T2 & run.  One time.  Lots of splits.  Battery life with GPS is 40 hours.  Yes, 40 hours.  May I never do any activity where I need to record data for 40 hours. Please. And Thank you.  This watch is big but I strap it on my wrist and it doesn’t move.  That’s right, it does not slide around.  I wore it for almost 7 hours of running at the Huff 50K last week and it didn’t bother me in the least.  Its comfortable.  I’ve even been totally geeking out and wearing it during the day while I work.  The face is bigger than I’m used to but it is lighter and thinner than the Forerunner 15.  And smart.  So freaking smart.  I’ll probably never know everything this watch knows but I’m slowly figuring things out.  Thanks to YouTube videos.  So if you need a watch to do it all, including count your steps and your 02 intake (why do we need to know this?!?!) and your movement/non-movement and your sleep pattern, then this is your watch.  I think I’ll just use it the way that I use most fitness watches & let it record my data, which I like to review from my watch screen.  I’m so happy that I can once again see my splits from my watch.  Big win! 

While most will consider it a waste of technology if I choose not to use all those glorious bells & whistles, I do fitness for fun and stress relief.  If I take myself and my numbers too seriously, that’s not fun.  And then it produces stress trying to figure out what my watch wants to tell me.   So there you have it.  I now have a big fancy watch that does big fancy things but I’ll just be reading my text messages on it and recording normal swim, bike, run data.  Smile  This baby has a monster price tag at $449 sans HR Monitor, $499 with HR.  However, I purchased it Thanksgiving week when it was temporarily discounted to $329 (no HR).  Then I used a deal at Running Warehouse where if I purchased a $200 gift card, I got a $50 card for free.  Then I purchased a $50 gift card and got a $10 gift card for free. Complicated, right?  That was $250 spent for $310 worth of merchandise $$, then I tossed in the extra $20 to bring that $310 up to $330.  Free Shipping.  Free Tax.  Plus I had sold the TomTom above so had $100 credit toward my new device.  Bottom line, I only have $170 into this beast.  A couple pics below of my 920 XT compared to the Garmin 15 (which is Aby’s watch now).  

  IMG_9103     IMG_9104 


If you made it this far, you’ve probably come to the realization that I would have saved $$ from the start had I just bought what I wanted verses hopping around and trying to settle for subpar devices.  Story of my life.  One that hopefully you can learn from cuz it’s too late for me.  I must say that I’m VERY happy I made the upgrade to the Garmin Forerunner 920XT.  I’ll try not to geek out and learn all the things and be THAT crazy TRI person in 2016.  Maybe.  Smile

** Run & TRI Happy, My Friends ** Amanda – TooTallFritz

1 thought on “Progression of the Running Watch 2007-2015

  1. Wow…you really went “long” on this review of run watches – impressed! I go back to even earlier version of Garmin…think it was called a 101…a big, not comfortable beast that was oblong shaped and I nicknamed it the “Kidney Bean.” It died and forced me to upgrade to 205….then when that one died…went to the 305 that served me well many, many years, but when that one finally died for good…went to Garmin 310XT….which is still working for me. And I don’t upgrade as long as the current watch works!

    The Garmin 310XT is a triatholon watch and it has charge capacity up to 15-hrs or more before requiring recharge. I don’t do triatholons, but it was waterproof. I only got it cause I wanted the extended charge life just to make sure in marathons, but back then when I got the 310XT…plan was to tackle some more ultra-distance races. It’s worked well for several years now…so probably another year or so before I be having to replace it to a newer generation watch.

    Like you….don’t need all the bells and whistles…just basics. In fact….I rarely upload data and just manually review run totals and splits (if applicable) and enter it manually in my spreadsheet training log.

    Although I may be more of a “data-miner” than you….I still share your characteristic to prefer simple approaches to use of a run watch. But my coaching training and my run/self-coaching training experience leads me to offer you what I think the “basic” functions you need a watch to do. So here goes….

    First…you want a GPS watch that has enough internal power dedicated to lock-on those satellites as quickly as possible. Should take less than 5-min to get logged on…often less…unless you move and run somewhere far outside your current region…takes longer for watch to figure that out. You want a run watch that is water-proof to handle the rain or sweat pouring off you in hot weather….and that is why I prefer the triatholon-designed models….cause they are meant to work in the water while swimming!

    You should always have a HR function….HR training is the “heart of it all” when it comes to tuning into run intensity…and if you learn how to interpret HR…becomes invaluable for adjusting your training objectives. The wireless versions today that work off of impulses detected in the wrist region are good in the sense of no chest strap, but I never have a problem resorting to the older technology and strapping on the HR chest-strap. I don’t wear that strap all that often….only on high-intensity workouts….and 2nd half phase of marathon training on long runs to start seeing where I fall in therms of “threshold” speed.

    Back in 2010-2011…leading up to that 2011 Boston Marathon where I ran my marathon PR that still holds to this date (3:24:56, age 57)…HR monitoring and that data made a big difference in achieving that ability to run that kind of performance. In 2010 I developed a “poor-mans” way to use HR monitor while running progressively faster intervals on a treadmill..starting from fast walking thru slow running, to easy running, to mod-aerobic running, to high-intensity running all the way to total exhaustion. Plot treadmill speed (converted to pace) for each of those intervals relative to HRmax at end of that interval…look at the graph and find the “point-of-deflexion” where HR shifts from “straight-line” to “curvilinear” and that represents lactate threshold (LT)….the point at which lactate in blood is accumulating faster than it can be processed. Generally marathon pace will be somewhere 1-2% slower than threshold speed.

    The beauty in doing that “threshold” interval HR test and spending the time graphing the data for the lap splits…is I was able to document a “shift” in LT in the sense my training was all set on running the 8-flat pace or 3:30 marathon finish, but that last of 3 LT tests I conducted during that 18-wks of training cycle…the LT breakpoint…adjusted 2% slower…ended up being 7:48/mi. In other words….the test indicated LT had shifted the curve to the right…indicating that I was in far better condition and could run marathon at faster pace. I didn’t start out that marathon running faster….just as usual first mile by feel and then segue into that 8-min race pace. But at times…based on feel…ran some “surges” here and there…especially when there were downhills to gain time on. And after running through Newton Hills and still feeling strong and past 21-mi at Boston College…only then did I “open-it-up” and start running more consistently sub-8 speed.

    The confidence hit home a little past 21-mi at Boston College when Yankee Runner, Rob Held came out of crowd (he was waiting for friend to come by and run or pace him in), and ran alongside me for a few tenths of mile. I wanted him to run me in, but when he said he had to turn back and wait for his friend, he said…”Frogger…your doing great….just hold this pace!” And when I asked him what “that pace” was….he said ca 7:50! And when it was all finished….cross the line in 3:24:56….a 7:48 average pace…precisely what threshold tests using HR monitor suggested!

    OK…don’t want to be mis-interpreted in fililng up Amanda’s most awesome blog and review of run watches with my personal stories. Amanda is not going to do what I do with the watch that “mining” the data…showed me I had the conditioning to run faster than my training goal and schedule of workouts was based on. But Amanda or others…can always find someone or a coach that will take that kind of burden off your mind….just look at the data and tell you what it says. But the point of all this…even if you like Amanda and not gonna use the data the watch is capable of recording…you buy a watch has capacity to measure HR intensity and have a “manual” ability to “lap” splits and you can gather the data necessary to assess just how well your training is going and just what performance condition you are in that represents how fast you can run over designated race distance. So don’t get me wrong don’t need a lot of bells and whistles…but capacity to record HR and manually lap splits….is essential.

    You can also go to professionals that will put you on a treadmill, likely have you wear a mask that measures oxygen consumption and carbon-dioxide output and very precisely pin down your LT. that’s going to cost you several hundred dollars for a single test session…and in the course of a training cycle…need a baseline….and one or more tests later near end of training cycle to gauge where and how much change or shift has occurred. But if you have a GPS watch or even non-GPS watch that has HR monitor capability….you can collect the necessary data to “approximate” that LT that the oxygen consumption test on treadmill will do. Related to this…you can buy hand-held meters that will calculate LT based on a little blood sample obtained by a “finger prick”….that will also pin down that threshold point….just requires someone to do the “pricking” at various points in a progressively faster treadmill test. I was going to buy that LT tester equipment….but never got around to it….cause I can simply approximate that same threshold point using the HR monitor.

    So if none of this is of use or interesting to others monitoring TTF’s blog, you at least know Amanda has one “friend and fan” that knows a lot about that “bells and whistles” run watches can be useful for the competitive or other runner that really wants to build maximum performance. And don’t get me wrong….absolutely awesome to go the other way and just run more basic by feel and at times check the watch and be completely satisfied….that you just cover the distance and finish in whatever time. But if Amanda ever wants to assess that kind of “geeky” data watch has capacity to record….rest assured….I will be willing to do it for her…no cost…then it is just a matter if willing to do the “tests” and/or learn the functions of watch to record the necessary data.

    But all running is relative to distance and intensity….and HR is the best “surrogate” measure of where you are in terms of maximum intensity.

    Merry X-mas Amanda and Abby and hubby and little-Mikey and doggies! Merry X-mas to all you TTF blog fans!

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