Do You Really Need a Running Watch? Is It Worth It!

So you’ve conquered your couch to 5k program and you want some tech to fit your new running lifestyle. But one quick internet search pulls up endless options with different perks and features.

While it’s ultimately down to personal preference, getting a running watch is most likely to be worth it if one wants to accurately track his/her running metrics. Running watches can broadly be split into three different types: GPS Watches, Fitness Tracker, and Smart Watches. Having a good watch means they do not have to worry about carrying their phone on the runs. It will help you track your progress and can be a great reward for completing a run streak or program.

So how do you choose? And how do you know if a running watch is really what you’re looking for? We’ll look into the benefits and drawbacks of running watches and what you should expect from your new purchase.

Advantages of Running Watch Over IPhone / Smart Phone?

The primary advantage of a running watch over using your phone is metric tracking. You can see your heart rate in real-time and make adjustments accordingly. It’s also much less clunky than having to pull out your phone to pause a session or to see how much distance you have covered.

There are plenty of other benefits, too, including:

Greater Accuracy

Your watch will likely provide more accurate metrics than your phone can. This can help you better track and analyze your progress over time. You’ll also have more accurate data to use during the run; if your heart rate is high, you’ll know to ease back.

Also, check out our post on “How Much Do GPS Sports Watches Weigh? Does It Even Matter!

GPS Capabilities

The GPS in your watch can be an incredible resource when you’re out on a run, and it helps that it’s hands-free. This can be especially useful if you’re doing some trail running and are worried about getting lost.

Track Multiple Sports

Running likely isn’t the only activity you’ll be doing, so having a watch that can track multiple sports is super useful. Many watches have different sport activities pre-loaded, with the option of making custom screen and metric tracking.

For more on this, check out our post “What Matters In A Triathlon Watch ?! How Much Does It Usually Cost !

What Does a Running Watch Do?

A running watch can help you track all facets of your run, including heart rate, distance, speed, and time. It can even estimate your overall performance and the time you may need to recover (though the accuracy of these claims can be questionable). Additional functions depend on the type of running watch you get.

Running watches can broadly be split into three different types: GPS Watches, Fitness Tracker, and Smart Watches .


GPS Watch

A GPS watch is your best bet if you want to accurately track pace and distance. Another benefit of the GPS watch is the interface; these watches often have buttons that are designated for specific purposes (like start and stop).

That way you’re not fiddling with a touch screen, especially when you’re sweating or if it’s raining.

However, this functionality comes at the cost of style: they tend to have large screens and come in bright colors, making them clash with many outfits. If you’re willing to embrace the sporty style, though, this is likely your best choice.

On a side note, check out Why Do Runners Wear Necklaces? Should You Wear One!

Fitness Tracker

Fitness trackers are great for recording overall daily fitness like climbing stairs, counting steps, and gym sessions. They aren’t as accurate as GPS watches, so if you really want accuracy, you’re better off opting for a GPS watch.

But if you’re looking for a motivational watch to remind you to get up and move, styled in a sleek profile, these can be a great option. These are usually less expensive than the other choices, too.

Smart Watch

Some people will opt to use their smartwatch as their run tracker. These tend to be a more stylish option than a fitness tracker or GPS watch, and also offer more everyday functionality (they’ll basically replicate what your phone can do).

The fitness tracking in these watches isn’t as accurate as it is with the other two options, so if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty metrics, you’re likely better off choosing a GPS watch or fitness tracker.

Are GPS Watches Useful for Beginners?

It can be easy to think a GPS watch is only for dedicated or elite athletes, but the functions can be super useful for beginners, too.

Having accurate heart rate monitoring metrics can keep you from pushing yourself too hard.

Going too hard, too soon, is a very common mistake beginning runners make. It’s better to do most of your runs in a Zone 2 heart rate, which may be closer to a walking pace than a running pace. For more on this, we highly recommend that you check out our post “How to Run in Zone 2 ? Why Do It !

Some GPS watches can be configured to alert you if you’re going over that threshold, which can be a helpful (if annoying) reminder to slow it down – or, in some cases, speed it up.

GPS watches are also useful in tracking progress over time. If you get a GPS watch early in your running journey, you’ll be able to compare your beginning stages with your later stages. This can be really fun to track, and it’s especially useful when you know the data you’re comparing is accurate.

Is Getting a Running Watch Worth It?

While it’s ultimately down to personal preference, getting a running watch can be worth it if you want to accurately track your running metrics. Having a good watch means you don’t have to worry about carrying your phone on your runs (or if you do still bring your phone, you can leave it in a secure pocket). It will help you track your progress and can be a great reward for completing a run streak or program.

However, it’s important to understand the limitations of running watches.

Heart rate data may be accurate on average, but can be misleading in real-time (this is why a lot of athletes will wear a chest strap heart rate monitor in addition to their watch). It can be harmful to rely on the coaching metrics provided by the watch, as these tend to be generalized and may not accurately reflect what you need.

This is especially true for watches that claim to monitor your VO2 Max; that’s a complicated calculation that often requires very specific tools to measure (Source).

Also, not all watches are created equal. There’s a reason why some of the more accurate watches cost hundreds of dollars.

Be sure to do your research on any watch you’re looking to buy. Online running forums or the local running community tend to provide the most accurate reviews and referrals, so don’t hesitate to reach out to anyone you know.

Things to Keep in Mind

Buying a running watch can be a costly investment, but it’s often worth it if you want to accurately track your performance and progress.

If you find yourself obsessing too much about the numbers, though, it can help to build in breaks.

Go on some runs without the watch to remind yourself what it’s like to listen to your body, rather than relying entirely on a watch to tell you how you’re feeling.

Aprill Emig

Based out of Duluth, MN Aprill loves to write about the outdoors, education, and all forms of adventure. You can find her mountain biking, running, or playing roller derby.

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