There are many different types of running watches to help you stay on track with your training. Whether you are looking for a simple watch that will just tell you the duration of your run, or one that uses satellites to keep track of your movements along the planet's surface, there is a running watch for your needs.

Running Watches – Basic Features and Beyond

Every running watch should have at least these basic features.

  • Time
  • Stopwatch
  • Lap storage (Split time)
  • Multiple lap memory
  • Countdown timer

Optional features that a running watch could have include the following.

  • Split display
  • Interval timer
  • Multiple run storage
  • Heart Rate monitor
  • GPS features

Running Watches – Time Functions

The different time functions of a running watch vary in purpose, but they are all about keeping track of the time you are engaged in an activity. On the most basic level, you can look at your watch when you start a run and when you finish. The time spent on the run can be calculated from there. But most runners want more information than that.

Timex Ironman TriathlonStopwatch features include starting or stopping the running time and keeping track of laps. A stopwatch counts from zero up to the amount of time for the entire workout. The lap feature within the stopwatch keeps track of shorter segments of the run. For example, if you are doing a track workout you may be interested in hitting the lap timer each time you complete a lap around the track. On the race course you can hit the lap timer each time you cross a mile or kilometer marker so you can know your split times for each point in the race.

Some running watches will show a split screen with two times in the stopwatch area of the watch. This allows you to see your split time for the current split and the total time of the run.

The countdown timer of a running watch allows you to set a time that you want to spend on a particular activity. If you are interested in doing a 1 hour run (as opposed to running a certain distance) you can set the countdown timer for 1 hour and start it at the start of your run. Then when you look at your running watch you will know how many minutes are left to complete the run.

Interval timing features of a running watch let you set various intervals that are also like countdown timers, but they cycle from one to the next. Therefore, if you were doing an interval run you might want to run hard for 2 minutes and easy for 1 minute. The alarm can be set to go off each time you complete a 2 minute and 1 minute interval.

Running Watches – Memories

Multiple lap memory and multiple run storage are helpful features on a running watch and are sometimes the hardest to know if the watch includes them. At least, not without getting your hands on the watch before purchase. The multiple lap memory is the ability to store your split times and then go back and review them later after the run. Many running watches will show you your fastest and slowest split along with average time for each split.

The multiple run memory is the ability to save the run so that you can review it later. There is a limit to the number of laps a running watch will keep. If it has a multiple run memory then the number of laps that the watch says it will track is the sum of all the laps in memory, not just for each run. For example, if you have a 100-lap memory watch, then you can store 10 runs of 10 laps each, not 10 runs of 100 laps each.

The problem with these features is that sometimes they are not well advertised on running watch promotional material. It is important to get a recommendation from someone who has actually used the watch or test it yourself. Amazon can be a big help in the user reviews to learn how a watch handles its memories.

Specific Recommendation: Most watches in the Timex Ironman series are good running watches. However, the lower priced ones are lower priced for a reason; many don't have the multiple run memory feature. For some reason Timex has not determined a single best interface to use on their running watches. This gives you a choice on which interface works best for you. But it also means that if you had a Timex Ironman watch in the past and were comfortable with the way it worked, that does not mean your next one will work the same.

Timex Ironman Road TrainerRunning Watches – Heart Rate Monitoring

If you want to have a running watch that also does heart rate monitoring, you usually have to make a compromise. Many heart rate monitoring running watches do not have the extensive features that runners have come to expect in a watch. More than a few runner's I know run with their good running watch and a separate watch for their heart rate monitor.

There are actually several different kinds of heart rate monitors available in running watches. The best kind are the ones with the chest strap. Others require you to press certain monitoring points on the watch, which may be difficult to do while running.

Specific Recommendation: Timex Ironman Men's Road Trainer

Running Watches – GPS

GPS running watches have been around for several years. They are getting more accurate and smaller. You no longer look like you are carrying a small computer on your wrist. These are the ultimate in running watches. You can manually keep track of splits, or allow the watch to do it for you. When uploading the information from the watch to your computer you are able to analyze the data in different ways and get split times for certain distance intervals. Some will even let you compete with yourself on a previously run course by telling you how much ahead, or behind you are compared to the last time you ran there.

Garmin Forerunner 305Sometimes these running watches have trouble connecting with a satellite signal. That is important to know if you are one who regularly runs surrounded by tall buildings or through heavily wooded forests.

Garmin seems to own this category right now. Even though they have had the Forerunner 405 ($240) out for a while and have just released the 410 ($375), there is still quite a bit of demand for the older 305 model. This older watch seems to acquire the satellite connection better for some people and the price of the Garmin 305 is very attractive at just over $100. Though Garmin could have phased out the 305 with the release of the newer models, they have continued to sell it probably because of its reliability and popularity.

Specific Recommendation: Garmin Forerunner 305 With Heart Rate Monitor

Whichever running watch you choose it will take a while to learn all its features. Because watches have so few buttons, it is sometimes hard to navigate all of the menus. Take your time learning the functions well and you will get much better use, and greater enjoyment out of your new running watch.