Are Running Watches Worth It For Casual Runners?

I was on the fence about buying a running watch, but six months ago I took the plunge.

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Photo by Bogdan Glisik on Unsplash

I was on the fence for quite a while about whether to buy a running watch: On one hand, I’m a casual runner, not going particularly quickly or entering races. On the other hand, I was having trouble with my pace, and using a phone to track my runs was becoming cumbersome.

Also, I knew that if I was going to get a running watch, built-in GPS would be an essential feature for me, which meant I’d be spending at least $100 on the watch.

Last December, I finally decided to get one after they went on sale for Christmas. After six months of running with it, my only regret is that I didn’t buy one sooner.

Even as a casual runner, the benefits of a running watch have been huge for me.

Run More Comfortably

The first thing that I noticed was that my runs were much more comfortable without lugging around my cellphone.

I’ve always liked tracking my runs, but before getting a running watch, this meant carrying my cellphone with me at all times so that I could use a tracking app.

I hated the feeling of a cellphone bouncing around in my pocket. Slap, slap, slap, with every other step.

I had tried buying an arm strap for the phone but found that even more uncomfortable.

The running watch is barely even noticeable. It fits comfortably on my wrist, and if I’m not looking at it, I don’t even notice that it’s there.

For safety reasons, I still bring my cellphone along if I’m running somewhere less populated. For my normal runs on the crowded greenway though, I’m relieved to be able to leave it in the car.

Stay on Pace

Phone apps can display real-time pace, but it’s a bit of a pain.

Every time I wanted to see my pace on my phone, I’d have to take it out of my pocket, try not to let it slip from my bouncing hands, and fumble around with a screen that wouldn’t respond to my sweaty fingers.

It worked well enough for checking my pace every mile or so, but it was too much of a hassle to check much more often than that.

I also had a few close calls where I dropped the phone. Luckily it didn’t break.

In contrast, now that I have a running watch, checking my pace is as easy as just looking at my wrist. I don’t even have to press a button.

This has done wonders for my ability to stick to a pace.

When I compare the tracking data for my runs before and after getting the running watch, I can see a clear improvement in my consistency.

With a more consistent pace, I’ve been able to set new best times on runs at a variety of distances.

This alone has made the watch “worth it” to me.

Check Your Heart Rate

I went with a watch that had a built-in heart rate monitor, but I wasn’t sure whether I’d actually get much use out of this function.

It’s actually turned out to be surprisingly helpful.

The monitor helped me realize that even some of the runs that I thought I was doing “easily” were actually taking a lot of effort out of me.

It was a bit of a humbling experience, but ultimately a helpful one.

The only downside to the monitor is that it is a little finicky, sometimes locking onto my cadence instead of my heart rate. I’ve read that this is a common problem with heart rate monitors on watches.

Fortunately, this issue doesn’t happen too often, and I’ve found that I can normally adjust the positioning of the watch to fix it.

The Verdict: A Great Buy

I felt a little silly buying a running watch when I’m not a competitive or serious runner, but I now think it’s the single best thing I could have purchased to improve my running.

The only major downside to running watches is the cost. I ended up spending about $140, which is actually on the cheaper side as far as these watches go.

It’s still a lot to spend on running equipment, but I’ve used it on every run since I got it, and it’s showing no sign of wear after hundreds of miles. Many watches even come with warranties that last for a year or more.

Compared to other running items that I could have spent that money on, I think the watch has much more value to me. It’s helped me to improve my pace, learn about my running abilities, and run more comfortably.

I know that I’m never going back to using phone apps for tracking.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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