Running is one of the most addictive sports in the world so you’re going to want to know what the best running watches are. Once you’ve run your first mile, you soon find yourself signed up to a 10km race. Then it’s the half marathon. And if you survive that, it’s onto the full 26.2 miles. For the truly addicted, the ultramarathon follows!
It’s great that running is so addictive, but this can cause problems. Some beginners do too much too soon and end up with an injury. Others become demoralised with their seemingly slow progress and hang up the towel in frustration.
With a running watch, you can design a manageable training plan and stick to it. Also, you can also learn how much recovery time your body needs. In fact, running watches can add a lot of value to your training programme…
What are the benefits of running watches?
How do running watches help you become a better runner? Well, most watches have the following features:
- Distance tracking – great for tracking your runs and motivating you to run further.
- Elevation tracking – great for trail and fell runners.
- Pace – As well as monitoring your overall pace and going for a PB (personal best), you can see which mile you ran the fastest. This information can be used to set meaningful training goals.
- Heart rate – great for monitoring fitness, tracking progress and estimating Vo2 capacity.
- Cadence (strides per minute) – this information is useful for improving speed.
- Recovery guidance – great for preventing injuries.
- Pre-programmed workouts/ Pre-set your own workouts – helps you improve your running.
- Music/podcast storage – to motivate you on longer runs!
When buying a running watch, you should look for these features. To get you started, here are 5 fantastic running watches that offer all the above.
1. Garmin Forerunner 745
The Forerunner 745 is the watch for triathletes You can swim, bike and run with this watch. Plus, it uses multiple satellite systems to measure your workouts with accuracy.
It holds pre-loaded activities for running, cycling, swimming, triathlons and multisport. If you need support, it’ll offer you daily workout suggestions tailored to your training load and VO2 max. If not, it’ll sync with beloved apps such as TrainerRoad and TrainingPeaks.
What’s more, it’ll stream music from popular services like Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music. Or, use your 500 song capacity to play music from your device. Which is no issues for the 1 week battery life (or 6 hours in GPS mode).
Finally, it has Garmin Pay for contactless payments on the go, if you need to stop for a light snack.
2. Garmin Fenix 6X Pro
The Garmin Fenix 6X Pro is a powerhouse. It is particularly good for fell runners because it tracks elevation very accurately. It also has a great battery life, so you can take it on long runs and hikes. It’s one of our top picks for a luxury watch for men.
This Garmin Watch is quite bulky and heavy due to the amount of hardware it contains. However, this does mean it can give you great insights into your running. Also, the sturdy design makes it durable in all weathers.
In addition to the basic features, it offers:
- Advanced running dynamics – it offers an incredibly detailed amount of information.
- Full-colour onboard maps, points of interest and storm alerts.
- Inbuilt GPS that lasts for 60 hours and tracks elevation with precision. If GPS is switched off, this watch has a 21-day battery life.
- Multi-sport functions – this is the best thing about the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro. It works seamlessly for many different sports so it’s great for people with lots of hobbies. If you get this watch, you might just be tempted to sign up to a triathlon!
The Garmin Fenix 6X Plus is built to satisfy the outdoor runner, so if you tend to stick to treadmills or inner-city roads, you might be wasting your money.
Due to its rugged design, it is one of the most popular smartwatches for men.
3. Coros Apex
The best thing about this running watch is its battery life. It can last up to 40 hours in GPS mode and up to 30 days in regular mode. This beats the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus!
It is a serious competitor to any Garmin offering. Heart Rate Monitor, round the clock blood oxygen monitoring, barometer, sapphire glass and compatibility with Strava and Training Peaks.
Also, some people say that the output data is easier to understand on the Coros Apex Pro compared to Garmin. So, if you are new to fitness tracking, this could be the ideal choice for you.
To learn more about this watch, check out our review, here.
4. Polar Vantage V2
Polar watches are particularly good at measuring heart rate. Heart rate data is useful for runners because it allows you to design personalised training programmes. It also tells you how much recovery time you need.
You should choose this watch if you want accurate heart rate monitoring, but you don’t want to wear a chest strap.
This is also a multisport watch so you can use it for triathlons and everyday fitness tracking. The battery life is just as good as some other watches; 7 days in watch mode and 40 in training mode. Even better, you can get 100 hours in power-saving mode.
If you’re willing to spend a bit more, you could opt for the Polar Vantage V Titan; this has a longer battery life and is a bit lighter than the original Vantage V2.
5. Suunto Ambit 3 Peak GPS
Suunto offers many great running watches, ranging from $150 to $700+. Their technology is extremely reliable.
The Suunto Ambit 3 Peak GPS should be worn with a chest strap for accurate HR readings. That might sound a bit basic, but a chest strap is still the most effective way to measure HR (no matter what some watch companies tell you). Suunto products are popular with athletes because they offer true precision. They do not pretend to offer things they cannot deliver.
Suunto watches offer excellent battery life. You can also charge them using a smartphone power cable.
The output data is very impressive and is geared towards serious athletes.
So, if you want to take your running-game from mediocre to competitive, the Suunto Ambit 3 Peak will help you achieve this!
To help you decide between Suunto and Garmin, check out our review, here.
6. Garmin Forerunner 945
The Garmin Forerunner 945 has everything a runner could want and more. It has precise location tracking and biometric data, plus a handful of genuinely useful fitness apps to optimise your runs.
The Training Load Indicator monitors your training over the preceding seven days and informs you if you should ease up to prevent overtraining or push harder to improve. This, combined with the Body Battery function, determines how well recovered you are from the previous day’s exertions, allows you to significantly increase the effectiveness of a run.
The full-colour on-screen maps make navigation is easy on the large display. And the vast level of customisation available is impressive. It is extremely simple to create your own interval sessions based on time or distance, for example.
The Garmin Fenix 6 has a sleeker design, but the Forerunner 945 compensates with a much lower price and is an excellent fitness tool for serious athletes.
7. Fitbit Charge 4
The Fitbit Charge 4 is a great option for someone who wants to start running as part of a healthier lifestyle but doesn’t require the advanced tracking metrics of a multi-sports watch.
The major difference between the Charge 4 and its predecessor is onboard GPS, which allows you to track your runs without needing to bring your phone. It isn’t as precise as a Garmin but it will suffice for novice runners.. You can see all of your fitness results clearly on the Fitbit app, and you’ll get a weekly roundup to keep you motivated.
If you have a Fitbit Premium account, you can also access a variety of at-home strength and stamina workouts to supplement your running training (an optional but valuable extra). The device itself has all the necessary features, making it an excellent running watch for those on a tight budget.
The Fitbit Charge 4’s only shortcoming is that it’s primarily controlled by tapping and swiping on its small display. It’s great for everyday use, but when you’re racing, a physical button is easier to press.
8. Apple Watch 6
While the Apple Watch 6 won’t offer as much training data as the dedicated running watches on this lineup, its sports tracking features will satisfy if you’d like to exercise run for fun rather than competition.
Athletes will be interested in the new SpO2 tracking feature because it provides guidance on potential breathing issues overnight and metric for analysing overall cardiovascular health. Even if it isn’t as precise as VO2 max, it’s still useful.
We like the always-on view because it lets you see your workout stats while running without needing to tinker with the touchscreen or Digital Crown.
The Apple Watch 6 is the best running watch if you need a smartwatch for everyday use. It won’t replace a dedicated sports watch for intensive exercise, but its good heart rate monitoring and support for third-party running apps (such as Strava, Endomondo, and Nike+ Run Club) make it incredibly versatile.
9. Garmin Vivoactive 4
Is it a sexy smartwatch or a GPS running watch? It’s a hybrid! Garmin’s first device to compete with Apple Watch and Android Wear watches is aimed squarely at the design-conscious athlete.
It has all of the Garmin brainpower, including absolute GPS and heart rate tracking, multi-sport support, and music streaming for Deezer and Spotify, as do all of the best running watches.
All of this, plus a battery life of around five days (18 hours of GPS training and only 6 if you’re still listening to music, though). This running watch has a stainless steel bezel and an accommodating rubber band that can be changed if needed or wanted.
Polar Grit X
The Polar Grit X is intended for extreme athletes who like to venture off the beaten path. If you want a less expensive version of the Garmin Fenix 6, this could be the perfect running watch for you.
Polar is best known for its heart-rate monitoring technology, which the Grit X includes. The knowledge is put to good use, with advanced fueling tips to keep you hydrated and avoid dehydration and overtraining on long runs, as well as recovery insights to help you determine how long to rest and when to return to the race.
For training sessions, intervals, clocks, and race pace options are available, as well as Strava Live section assistance if you’re feeling particularly optimistic.
Both of these features are shared by the Polar Vantage V2, which also has some more advanced training equipment, but if those aren’t important to you and you prefer a more rugged look, the Polar Grit X is a good choice.
Which is the best of the best running watches?
Running is a popular sport so there’s no shortage of running watches out there. This means you need to be very selective.
If you want a watch that can accurately measure heart rate, choose the Polar Vantage V2 or Suunto Ambit 3 Peak (with chest strap). Remember, accurate heart rate data can help you plan effective workouts and tell you how long to recover for.
Finding a running watch that’s lightweight and feminine (but still offers plenty of hardware) can be a challenge. However, the Garmin Forerunner Music 245 fits this brief nicely.
If you are a running geek with an analytical brain, then choose a Garmin device. The data insights provided by the Garmin App are unrivalled.
Finally, if you want a watch that can track running and other activities, opt for a multisport fitness tracker such as the Garmin Fenix 5X Plus or Coros Apex.
Last Updated on May 25, 2021
A highly experienced writer, with expertise in health and technology.
Rachael had a masters degree in psychology (with distinction) and a bachelors degree in English literature (with first-class honours) from reputable UK universities. Rachael has worked for two years as a research associate and reporter for a high-profile UK media company.