When it comes to improving your running, knowledge is power – and thanks to the tech that can be wrapped around the wrist of anyone with a bit of disposable income, amateur athletes now have more insight into their training than ever before. Whereas in the past even the elites had to get by with just a stopwatch and a reasonable idea of how far they were going, nowadays every runner can track their exact distance, pace, cadence, heart rate and much more.
A good running watch is far more than an everyday fitness tracker. To be worthy of the name a device should contain built-in GPS, enable you to analyse run-specific metrics and include or be able to assess training programmes.
This used to mean that even the cheapest options cost north of £100, but as you’ll see below there are now a few GPS-ready options under that mark. However, you’ll probably still need to spend over a ton to get a decent set of features, and for fancier stuff like training and running form analysis you’ll be looking at £400-plus.
Here are our seven favourite running watches to consider.
Best Running Tracker Under £100: Huawei Band Pro 2
It’s not a fully-fledged running watch because the small screen makes it tricky to view your stats on the hoof, but nothing else under £100 comes close to matching its rich feature set, which includes a built-in GPS and heart rate tracking.
The Band Pro 2 also combines with the Huawei Wear app to offer training plans for standard races like 10Ks or a marathon, which will be personalised to your levels of fitness and target time for the event.
If you’re looking for a basic GPS tracker to record all the details on your runs to check later, you won’t go wrong with the Band Pro 2. £79.99, buy on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Huawei Band Pro 2 Review
Best Budget Running Watch: TomTom Runner 3
The waterproof Runner 3 has built-in GPS and route exploration, so you can view a basic map of your run on your wrist to help avoid getting lost. It also has a range of useful training modes, which includes interval sessions and the option of setting a target pace zone so the Runner 3 buzzes at you every time you’re running too fast or slow. The latter is a great way to get used to a planned race pace.
TomTom offer pricier options of the Runner 3 with either a heart rate monitor or space for music, or both, but the standard tracker’s incredibly well priced given the wealth of features it offers. TomTom Runner 3 £119.99, TomTom Runner 3 Cardio + Music £219.99, buy on tomtom.com
RECOMMENDED: TomTom Spark 3 Cardio + Music Review
Best For Inexperienced Runners: Polar M430
The trouble with choosing a running watch is that all their bells and whistles are useless if you don’t know how to use them. The Polar M430 does an excellent job of showing how all the data it collects can have a real impact on your running, mainly by connecting with the Polar Flow web app to create an adaptive training plan. This schedules your sessions, guides you through your workouts in real time and gives feedback afterwards. For runners who are keen on improving but don’t have the knowledge required or access to coaching, this is an excellent alternative. £199.50, buy on polar.com
RECOMMENDED: Polar M430 Fitness Tracker Review
Best Mid-Range Running Watch: Garmin Forerunner 235
The Garmin Forerunner range is running watch royalty and the 235 hits the sweet spot of features and price to make it the best all-round option for amateur runners. As well as displaying all the essential running metrics (pace, distance, time, calories and cadence) the 235 has a dedicated screen broken into coloured zones for keeping tabs on your heart rate mid-run and will estimate the effect of your training on your aerobic fitness after the session finishes. You can also load and follow running workouts from the Garmin Connect app.
The 235 doesn’t match the battery life or have as many features as Garmin’s top-end options (such as the Forerunner 935, below) but it does more than the average runner really needs. If you don’t care about heart rate or are happy to wear a separate chest strap, the cheaper Forerunner 230 (£219.99) is a worthy alternative. Apart from an integrated heart rate monitor, it more or less matches the 235’s feature set. £299.99, buy on garmin.com
Best Smartwatch For Running: Apple Watch Series 3
The Apple Watch’s great strength when it comes to running is the unrivalled variety of apps it offers. All the most popular run-tracking apps have a dedicated watch version, including Strava, Runkeeper and Nike+ Run Club, so if you’re already locked in with an app you can use it seamlessly on the Apple Watch. You can also match most of the features of a dedicated running watch with more in-depth apps like iSmoothRun.
If you opt for the 4G version of the Apple Watch 3 you can also receive calls, send texts and emails and stream music through the watch while you run without your phone. Even if you never intend on answering a call while knocking out 5K, the ability to stream the extensive catalogue of songs on Apple Music feels almost magical. From £399, Apple Watch 3 GPS + Cellular, buy on apple.com/uk
RECOMMENDED: Apple Watch Series 3 Review
Best Android Smartwatch For Running: Fitbit Ionic
The Apple Watch 3 is mighty impressive, but completely useless for Android users. Fortunately there are several great options to consider, including the Samsung Gear Sport and Garmin Vivoactive 3. However, we fancy the Fitbit Ionic as the best running smartwatch on Android for three main reasons. The first is its sensational screen, which is incredibly clear and can be set to be always on during runs (please take note of that Apple). The second is its smartwatch credentials, which include the ability to store music and podcasts, and Fitbit Pay, although the latter is still not fully implemented in the UK.
Finally there’s Fitbit’s nifty Run Detect feature, which allows you to simply start running without pressing a button, safe in the knowledge that the Ionic will fire up the GPS and start recording automatically. £299.99, buy on fitbit.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
Best If Money Is No Object: Garmin Forerunner 935
We’re heading into serious athlete territory here with Garmin’s top-end Forerunner, which boasts an excellent 24 hours of GPS battery life and a huge array of features to improve your training. For runners (it covers all the bases for triathletes) the best of these includes a detailed look at the effect of your training on your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, as well as recommendations on how long your recovery should be and whether your overall regime is too demanding, not demanding enough, or just right.
The 935 also estimates your best times for 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon distances (although in our experience these estimates feel incredibly optimistic). This is just a snapshot of the 935’s capabilities, though, and even if you used one for years it will probably still find new ways to surprise and delight you. As you’d expect, all this comes at a hefty cost. £469.99, buy on garmin.com