Running Watches Buying Guide. How to Buy a Runners Watch


How to Buy a Running Watch
The Best Running Watches Compared
GPS Running Watches
Session History Running Watches
Timex Interval Timer Running Watches
Interval Timer Running Watches
Polar RS300XVisit your local sports store or browse online and you'll soon realize there are so many stylish watches to choose from it's hard to keep track! But the majority of cheap sports watches fail in short order and lack the features we, as serious runners require to keep track of and accomodate our training programs. This guide shares tips and resources to help you find the best running watch that can accomodate your most basic needs.

How To Buy A Running Watch
Photo Credits: Daniel Williams

Running Watches Guide

If you visit your local sports store or search online, you will soon realize that there are a multitude of sports running watches to choose from, in a variety of different shapes and styles. But don’t be fooled by cheap looking sports watches, as runners we have special requirements that not just any sports watches will satisfy. We also require a runners watch that is solid enough to endure the many miles of runs that accumulate over a period of time. Most cheap jogging watches are simply stop watches for running. In other words they are a simple stopwatch chronograph in a cheap case that will most likely wear out in short order. While we all try and save money, if you are getting serious about your sport, it is well worth spending a bit extra in order to ensure a product that is of higher quality and contains the features you need.

To understand and address, a runner’s unique requirements, it first helps to establish how runners, or at least serious runners differ from the casual jogger who runs for the benefits of exercise alone.

We consider a serious runner as an individual who strives to achieve fast times in competitive events. The level or standard of the runner does not matter, the serious runner has one goal and one goal alone: To achieve their maximum performance. They might seek to set a new personal best time in a local 5 kilometer fun run event, or they may be attempting to gain selection in the Olympic marathon trials. Each of these individuals is a serious runner… as far as we’re concerned anyway.

Runners who are serious about their sport, tend to partake in certain activities that are not done by the average jogger. Both however, do numerous long runs to prop up their base level of aerobic fitness. The difference is that the serious runner may care more about what times they are running and what kilometer or mile page they are doing at any given moement. Serious runners are also more concerned about keeping track of their long runs over a long period of time. Most keep a training diary and record the details of their training on a daily basis.

The most obvious difference between a serious runner and a joggers is that (as mentioned), serious runners are regular competitors. Running events can range from fun runs, or track meets held on an Olympic standard 400 meter running track, road events or cross country races and trail runs. This is not to say that joggers never compete in events, but competitive runners compete on a more regular basis and are more serious about improving on their times or placings.

Competitive runners also usually do some form of regular training once or twice or even three times a week. This often comprises of some form of regular high intensity interval training, but can also take other training forms such as runs at tempo pace, or fartlek runs over a varied course.

So we have defined a serious runner is defined as someone who:

  • Does some form of interval training as part of their program
  • Competes regularly in competitions, whether that be in fun runs, on an Olympic standard 400 meter running track, cross country or road events.
  • Runs longer, slower training runs and usually keeps track of them
  • Keeps a record of their progress by keeping a regular training diary that they update regularly.

Features of Good Running Watches

So while the average jogger can get by quite happily with a cheap runners watch in the $20 price range, a serious runner should probably avoid cheap running watches and focus on models that provide, at least the basic features almost ever runner needs.

The four most essential attributes of sports watches for running that are required, or at least can be useful to a serious runner are:

  1. A clear, easily readable digital LCD display
  2. The ability to record splits segments in their runs
  3. The ability to store session history; and
  4. A countdown timer; preferably a variable-length, sequential interval timer

While it is true, not all runners will necessarily demand all of these features in a digital runners watch. Not all runners will care if they can’t record their lap splits, nor will every runner wish to store their session history in their watch’s memory and many runners may not care about a countdown timer. But for serious runners engaging in regular, structured interval training and competitive races, the features listed here can be utilized to accomodate many common runners requirements.

The most obvious of these is a large, LCD display with numbers that are large enough to be read at an arm’s length while running. If competiting in a track race or performing long repetition intervals, some runners will like to keep an eye on their lap individual times or even record them. Most standard runner watches feature a chronograph timer that can calculate the lap split segment time since the last lap split was taken. For example each lap of a 5 lap repetition. This way an athlete can keep track of how fast they ran their last 400m lap and whether they are slowing down, or running faster.

A feature that is not supported by all watches for runners is the ability to store multiple laps in the watch’s memory or multiple sessions. The Timex Ironman Watch range for example, includes watches that maintains a date-sorted log of running sessions. Each session comprises of multiple laps in that session. The runner can scroll back to a particular date and review their times in a particular session. More expensive watches like various Polar running watch models can show a weekly summary of a runner’s workouts including total cumulative mileage and heart rate information over a period of weeks.

Another feature that is useful for competitive runners in support for a countdown or interval timer. A countdown timer is simply a timer that counts down from a specified number of seconds to zero, sounding an alarm when it’s done. The timer can usually be programmed to repeat once it has finished. An interval timer is a sequence of two or more countdown timers that runs in sequence. Once the first timer has reached zero, the second one kicks off until each timer in the series has run its course. Once that happens the sequence stops or can be programmed to repeat an infinite number of times, or can be set to repeat a fixed number of times. An interval timer can be a great way of setting up structured, high-intensity interval sessions. For example, one could set the first timer to 3 minutes for three minutes of high-intensity running and then the second timer to 2 minutes for two minutes of rest. Once could then set the sequence to repeat five times and you have your session. Your watch will sound an alarm whenever a stage of the session is over. Some running stop watches can be set to vibrate or display a visual signal upon completion.

See Also:

Advanced Running Watches

There are many watches that satisfy the requirements listed above and should be quite adequate for the needs runners who are seeking better performances, yet there are runners and coaches who demand that little bit extra from their training tools or simply want to experient with the most sophisticated features available. There is no shortage of running watches with advanced features on top of those basic once listed above. Certain brands also tend to specialise in certain areas. For example a Polar runners watch tends to have superior heart rate monitoring capabilities, an area in which the Polar company is famous. Garmin watches are popular for their GPS tracking abilities, Suunto for EPOC and Training Effect, two scientifically advaned measures of fitness that are exclusive to Suunto running watches. We list here some of the more advanced running features that are available to runners who seek to cover every detail imaginable.

See Also:

Running Watches Heart Rate Monitors

Many running watches are capable of measuring and displaying a runner’s continuous heart beat. It is quite popular for athletes to base their workouts on percentages of their maximum heart rate. For example if an athlete is seeking to do a long slow recovery run, they can utilize a heart rate monitor watch to ensure that the beats per minute (BPM) of their heart remains in the right zone – a lower and upper band. Likewise in their high intensity sessions they will attempt to keep their heart rate in a higher zone for maximum intensity. Heart rate monitors can also measure a runner’s recovery rate. Recovery is a measure of over-training and if a runner’s heart rate recoverers too slow from a workout, it may be a sign that they are over-doing it.

See Also:

Running Watches That Measure Distance

Running watches with distance tracking have become much popular in recent times. A distance running watch is capable of measuring how far an athlete has run in a session. There are various types of running watches that track distance. Running watches with gps tracking are the most accurate (and expensive) followed by watches that utilize an accelerometer foot pod device. On the lower end of the accuracy scale are pedometer watches that estimate your cumulative miles based on number of steps and step length. Running watches distance measuring is closely related to running watches that measure pace or instantaneous speed. A running pace watch displays your current mileage pace, a statistic that is always nice for competitive athletes to know.

See Also:

Womens Running Watches vs Mens Running Watches

Whether to look for ladies running watches (if you are a lady) or a unisex watch is a choice that must be made on an individual level. Serious runners should note that women’s running watches, while usually a nicer fit on a female wrist and more feminine looking, will tend to have fewer useful running features than a man’s sports running watch or unisex watch. Still there are running watches for women like the New Balance Vent Mini that offer plenty of feminine charm, while retaining useful features, but in general when shopping for a women’s running watch you should expect to compromise on features, while gaining all that a womens running watch has to offer in terms of fit, comfort and style.

See Also:

A runner has several options when purchasing a watch for runners. There are plenty of watches with the basic features runners need, but you often have to check the product description to distinguish them from the typical cheap sports watches, that are so numerous.

If you are looking for a more advanced watch, you’ll have to consider each watch on it’s merits. Almost all of these advanced sports watches has several advantages and disadvantages compared to its competitors, so be prepared to spend some time weighing up the pros and cons of each watch you are considering.

But in terms of basic feature, here are some watches that deliver on the essential features listed above:

We review running watch models from a variety of different manufacturers on this website and for further information you can check out Amazon for running watches reviews. Customer reviews are a great way to get some insight into the experiences of others who have purchased and used a product. If you have used a particular running watch, you might also like to write your own running watches review. Running watch reviews can be particularly helpful to others who don’t yet know what’s what, so why not share your experiences with others.


There are certainly some fantastic running watch options available to competitive runners who are striving for performance and not just fitness, however when purchasing a running watch you must ensure that it delivers on many of the features that will be useful in your regular training regime. Such features include a larage, easily readable digital LCD display, split segment recording, session and lap storage and a countdown or preferably interval timer feature. There are many advanced options available such as running watches with heart rate monitor, running watches with gps and analytical running watches like the advanced Polar and Suunto watches that can record and display a variety of sophisticated fitness readings. You will need to compare these advanced watches on an individual basis as each advanced running watch has it’s own unique set of pros and cons.