Best Running Watches for Beginners

Running tech has come a long way over the past few years. Does anyone else remember standing outside with their arm in the air, waiting for satellites to load? 

or back in the day when running watches were enormous and definitely couldn’t be worn with athleisure/casual wear? Luckily times have changed and now not only do watches find GPS much more quickly, but there are some very functional yet fashionable options available.

how to choose a running watch

At the more basic end of the spectrum, a running watch should be able to tell you how far you have run and how long it has taken. More advanced models can be like having your own coach on your wrist, guiding you through different workouts in real time, telling you when to start and stop, speed up or slow down, and analysing your performance afterwards.

Personally, I am a Garmin girl. I bought my first Garmin running watch in 2011 and upgraded as needed. 

I thought today would be a good day to share this with some Amazon Prime discounts for some wallet friendly options if you’re looking to get your first running watch or upgrade your current version…

Best Running Watch for Beginners

Best Running Watch For Beginners: What To Look For 

The amount of choice when it comes to running watches can be overwhelming, especially if you’re just getting started. Which features will you actually use? How much tech is too much tech? Is it worth paying extra for a nicer strap colour?! Lots of big decisions to be made…

GPS tracking

The biggest difference to look out for is between general fitness trackers, and specific sport watches. Fitness trackers will usually track your steps and time spent moving. They may be able to estimate distance covered during an activity based on your steps, but they won’t support your training in the way a GPS running watch can.

GPS devices will be able to more accurately record your distance and pace on a run, and show you this in real time on the screen. Some watches will also let you upload a route and use the in-built GPS to follow it from your wrist. This is great for trail runs and races if you don’t want to stop and look at a map or your phone.

Battery life

There’s nothing more frustrating than being halfway through a run and seeing the battery icon flashing at you. Improved battery life is a key feature of some of the more advanced models out there. However, even at the lower end you should get a good few hours while using GPS, at least enough to take you up to marathon distance for most runners. 

If you’re planning to start tackling ultramarathons then you will want to pay closer attention to the battery life when buying a new watch, or if you’ll also be using it to track longer hikes or bike rides. 

Multisport watches

As well as straight running watches, you can also get multi-sport devices like the Garmin Fenix 6s that I wear (read my review here). These watches have a variety of sport modes and let you track different activities. This could include the basics like cycling, walking or swimming through to stand up paddleboarding, cross-country skiing and rollerblading… 

If you regularly take part in other sports now, or think you might in the future, it’s potentially worth paying a bit more up front to avoid outgrowing your watch too quickly. 

Heart rate tracking

Lots of watches either come with an in-built heart-rate sensor or can sync up with a chest strap. Chest straps generally provide more accurate readings than the optical heart rate monitors used on your wrist, but both can provide useful extra data.

Some runners swear by heart rate training, where you complete sessions according to your HR zone, rather than pace. A big benefit of this is that it allows you to keep your effort consistent despite changing conditions. This is useful if where you run is particularly hilly, or it’s a hot day, for instance. They can also be great to keep you in check on easy run days, when it’s tempting to go a little bit too fast just so your splits look better on Strava.

Water resistance

You’ll want a watch that’s water resistant at least to the extent that it’s sweatproof and able to withstand a rainy day. If you are looking for a multisport watch you can use for swimming or other water sports, then you’ll need something fully waterproof.

How to choose a running watch

The Best Beginner Runner Watch: Garmin Forerunner 45S

Garmin as a brand has become synonymous with running watches in general. And for good  reason – I’ve been team Garmin for as long as I’ve been running! I currently wear a Garmin Fenix 6S however I bought a new Garmin Forerunner 45S to test it out. 

As far as beginners running watches go, the Garmin Forerunner 45S hits the sweet spot of having an impressive amount of features, without completely breaking the bank. 

The basics

Price: £169.99 RRP (the Garmin website list price – I’ve just had a quick look and found it available for under £140 on some other sites, so worth shopping around) It’s also on sale on Amazon Prime for £109 today! 

Key features: GPS tracking, waterproof, inbuilt wrist heart rate monitor, multisport modes, daily activity tracking, syncs via Garmin Connect App

Battery life: 7 days in smartwatch mode, up to 13 hours in GPS mode

More features

Training plans: You can sync training plans, for instance for a 10km or half marathon, with the 45S and let the watch guide you through sessions. You can also set your own sessions, such as an interval workout, and follow that from your watch. 

Everyday fitness tracking: As well as everyday step tracking, the 45S’s ‘Body Battery’ logs your everyday movement and predicts how much energy you have left, recovery time and your stress levels.

Sport modes: While primarily an outdoor running watch, the Forerunner 45S also lets you track cycling, indoor track, treadmill, elliptical, general cardio and yoga. Sadly no swimming though, despite being water resistant to 50 metres.

Full Guide To Beginner Watches For Runners

Best fitness tracker: Fitbit Versa 3

Fitbit are the go-to brand for fitness tracking wearables. Not just watches – I’ve also seen some you can wear as a pendant or bangle! As well as the more basic trackers, they also have a collection of smart watches like the Fitbit Versa 3. The Versa 3 has inbuilt GPS, perfect for recording your runs, alongside all the fitness tracking features you’d expect from Fitbit.

The Fitbit app almost acts like a dashboard showing your overall health. You can see your cardio fitness level, your daily Sleep Score (the sleep tracking is particularly addictive!), track your menstrual cycle and see how your resting heart rate fluctuates. Sidenote: it can be really useful to piece together a night out using a combination of the tracked ‘aerobic activity’ (dancing) and the time you went to sleep. 

There are also some really useful non-fitness features including a Find My Phone app, Fitbit pay (perfect if you need a mid-run pick me up and haven’t got your card with you!) and Spotify syncing.

Price: £199.99 RRP

Key features: GPS tracking, waterproof, in-built heart rate monitor, daily activity tracking, 20+ multisport modes, interchangeable straps and accessories

Battery life: 6 days in smartwatch mode, up to 12 hours in GPS mode

The Versa 2 is on Amazon Prime today for £129.99

Best Running Watch for Beginners

Best budget watch: Garmin Forerunner 35

The second Garmin watch on the list, the Garmin Forerunner 35 is the perfect no-frills option for any recreational runner. It doesn’t come with a huge long list of features, but it does have all the things you actually need. 

You’ll be able to head out for a run and track it with the in-built GPS, see your distance and speed, set and follow an interval session and check your HR zone using Garmin Elevate. It even has the LiveTrack safety feature (also available with other Garmin watches like the Fenix 6S and Forerunner 45S we’ve already mentioned) which lets chosen friends and family track you during your activity, in real time.

If you do find you want more features at any point, the Forerunner 35 acts as a great base watch. It syncs easily with accessories like a chest strap heart rate monitor, a foot pod and a cycling speed and cadence sensor, meaning you don’t need to buy a new watch when you want more data.

Price: £129.99 RRP (but I’ve also seen it available online for less than £100!)

Key features: GPS tracking, in-built heart rate monitor, daily activity tracking, cycling mode

Battery life: 9 days in watch mode, up to 13 hours in GPS mode

Best for serious runners: Polar Vantage V

If we’re being really honest, Polar watches have sometimes tended to be a bit ugly. More and more you see people wearing their running watches all day every day (try playing ‘spot the runner’ at a dinner party), so it’s great to see that Polar have upped their game with the Vantage V. It’s definitely not all style and no substance though. The Vantage V is a high-end multisport watch, with all the features and the price tag to match.

Something that sets the Polar Vantage V apart is its ability to measure running power from the wrist, which no other watch currently does. The running power reading responds to changes in intensity faster than heart rate does, making it a great guide for interval sessions or a measure by which to maintain a consistent effort, such as in races. The Vantage V also uses this data to calculate your training load during a session, showing the stress put on your joints and your muscular and skeletal systems.

The running power metre sits along all the other features you’d expect from a top of the range watch: GPS tracking, great battery life, multisport modes, sleep tracking, a huge wealth of data and insights to tap into via the training platform, military-grade durability, fitness testing, 40 hour GPS battery life… and the list goes on.

Price: £439 RRP although its £279.99 on Amazon Prime today

Key features: GPS tracking, in-built heart rate monitor, running power monitor, access to Polar Flow, multisport modes, waterproof.

Battery life: 9 days in watch mode, up to 40 hours in GPS mode

Is the Apple Watch actually any good for runners?

Is the Apple Watch actually any good for runners?

Best smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 6

While most newer sports watches offer smart notifications of some kind, if you’re first and foremost looking for a smart watch that also offers run tracking features, then the Apple watch series might be worth a look.

The newest model, the Apple Series 6, offers improvements for runners compared to some past models. One of these is the always-on display, meaning you no longer need to lift your wrist to activate the screen while running. Another new feature is the blood oxygen sensor. This sounds fancy but, if we’re being completely honest, I’m not sure how useful that data is.

One of the biggest bonuses in my eyes is the ability to get a cell model, which lets you use make and receive calls and send messages from your watch without having your phone on you. This provides an added layer of reassuring if you’re out running by yourself. It’s smartwatch features like this which probably hold the most appeal for runners, rather than specific sports tracking capabilities which are likely to always be a bit lacking compared to running-specific brands. 

Price: £379 RRP

Key features: GPS tracking, in-built heart rate monitor, blood oxygen tracking, multisport modes, activity tracking, cellular data option

Battery life: 18 hours in watch mode, up to 7 hours in GPS mode

What watch do you use? Long time runners, do you remember back to your first watch? For those that are new to running – what are you considering in a watch? 

2 Comments

  1. Eleanor Bassett
    13th October 2020 / 7:51 am

    I currently wear a Garmin Fenix 5s (bought on sale, far too expensive brand new and full price…); and converted from my old polar watch!

  2. Bronwen
    13th October 2020 / 11:04 pm

    Charlie have you compared the Apple smart watch to the Garmin range? I really don’t like the look of sports watches and trying to reduce how many things I have. While I have an iPhone I don’t like the look of the Apple watches.
    Thanks so much for pulling this together,

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