One of the best things about being a runner is you don't need much to get your workout on. All you really need is to lace up a quality pair of running sneakers, step outside and go.
Whether you hate to run with a phone in hand or attached to you (raises hand), or you want to level up your old Casio, smart watch technology for runners is now next level. Dare we say, the right running watch can absolutely help you decrease times, train better, focus longer and become a more efficient athlete.
What every runner should look for in a smart watch
Ask most runners what they like about running, aside from the 30-minutes-later endorphin rush, they'll often say they love the freedom of being unencumbered when they hit the ground running. First and foremost, remember whatever smart watch you choose is going to be with you for hours and hours of runs, whether you're a sprinter or an ultramarathoner. So look for a smart watch that isn't bulky or heavy, won't bog you down and won't get in the way when you're trying to perform.
What sets running smart watches apart from regular digital watches is the ability to connect to a mobile device, get smart notifications if desired, get health and wellness feedback in hopes of improving your time and efficiency, as well as GPS tracking that tracks your route (and can even track you back if you get lost), and keeps you in touch with text and email notifications if so desired.
Running smart watches help you track your time, pace and efficiency, play music so you don't have carry a phone and store payment information so you can stay wallet-free on the go.
We like to think of a running smart watch as a tiny on-arm track coach, who can give you interval feedback time, tell you if your heart rate is too high or too low and keep you connected so you don't have to miss a day of training when someone needs to get ahold of you.
Top choice for long distance runners: Garmin Enduro
One of the bestselling smart watches for runners, Garmin Enduro is both rugged and lightweight and is a top choice with distance runners and competitors who like this watch's ability to track rest as well as work while on the run or in a race.
Top features of Garmin Enduro:
- Screen size: 1.4 inches
- Power Glass solar charging gives you more power in between charges
- Extend battery charge with Power Manager and Battery Saver modes
- Always-on display
- Activity timer with rest timers allows long distance racers to log time at aid stations
- Climb Pro trail enhancements gives additional safety info for descents and flats
- Use run/walk detection for post-race or training session review where you walked or slowed down
Designed by runners for runners: Coros Pace 2
An ultra-lightweight smart watch that's terrific for runners, Coros Pace is one of the lightest GPS watches in the world. It's designed to help you transform data into insights.
Top features of Coros Pace 2:
- Screen size: 1.2 inches
- Battery life of up to 30 hours with activity tracking and full GPS
- 20 days of battery life with regular use with daily sleep and recovery training
- Designed to be easy and intuitive, operates with a two-button layout
- Digital dial allows easy navigation while you're in motion
- Offers recovery timer, workout builder and training status
- Activity tracking designed for accurate sports metrics
- Offers detailed breakdown of sleep stages
- Earns 4.5 stars
Long battery life and detailed tracking: Apple Watch Series 8
Apple Watch Series 8 features advanced health sensors and apps. You can take an ECG, measure heart rate and blood oxygen and track temperature changes for advanced insights into your menstrual cycle. The Apple Watch 8 is available in four colors and two sizes (41mm and 45mm).
Top features of Apple Watch Series 8:
- Easily customizable with a range of band sizes and colors
- Temperature sensing gives advanced metrics into women's health including menstrual cycle
- Tracks blood oxygen
- Take an ECG anytime
- Sends notifications whenever user has an irregular heart rhythm
- Gives advanced sleep metrics to improve sleep and recovery time
- Incredibly durable
- Apple Fitness + app (three months free) offers new ways to train and gives deeper metrics into your body's performance
- Use Apple Wallet on the go so you can step out for a run without anything more than your Apple Watch
- Largely incompatible with Android
- Rated 4.7 stars
Slim design, plus daily suggested workouts: Garmin Forerunner 255
One of the top runner's watches on the market, Garmin Forerunner 255 is lightweight, features a long battery life and offers predicted workout completion times based on your own metrics and the course you choose. Its slim design is perfect for runners who don't want a bulky watch.
Top features of Garmin 255:
- Always-on, full-color display is easy to read even in direct sunlight
- Up to 14 days of battery life in smart watch mode; 30 hours battery life in GPS mode
- Tracks sleep and training efficiency
- Offers daily workout suggestions and training tips
- Gives workout completion time estimates based on course, weather, your performance
- HRV status tracks heart rate while you sleep, giving great insight into recovery and training performance
- Rated 4.6 stars
Built for long runs: Garmin Forerunner 965
Extended battery life, training readiness scores and personalized workout suggest based on users' own metrics makes Garmin 965 a terrific choice for long-distance runners.
Top features of Garmin 965:
- Amoled touchscreen display with tradition controls
- Lightweight, perfect for long runs
- Battery life up to 23 days in smart watch mode; 31 hours battery life in GPS mode
- Offers train readiness score based on sleep quality and recovery, training lode and HRV sttaus
- Offers insight into training productivity
- Delivers personalized daily workout suggestions user inputs into Garmin connect app
- Daily suggested workouts adapt after every run
- Morning report offers an overview of sleep and recovery
- Play music from your smart watch; earbuds included
- Rated 4.5 stars
The trail runners watch: Polar Grit X
A lightweight watch with extended battery life, deep training planning and analytics and ascent and descent anticipation makes Polar Grit X a trail runners' dream.
Top features of Polar Grit X:
- Battery life up to 7 days in smart watch mode; 40 hours using full GPS and HR tracking
- Battery life up to 100 hours in power save mode
- Lightweight, weighs 20-30% less than most outdoor watches
- Highly durable
- Real-time navigation gives turn-by-turn route guidance
- Watch has compass
- Automatically detects uphill and downhill, stats from Hill Splitter will tell you how you performed on ascent and descent
- Tracks overnight recovery
- Sport profile helps plan and analyze training sessions
- Rated 4.4 stars
Android alternative: Samsung Galaxy Watch Pro
Samsung has really stepped up its Android alternative with the Samsung Galaxy Watch Pro, which offers up to 80 hours of battery life and detailed body composition analysis.
Top features of Samsung Galaxy Watch Pro:
- Advanced sleep tracker helps improve quality of sleep and recovery with sleep stage analysis and feedback
- Up to 80 hours battery life
- Sleep coaching helps user develop better sleep habits
- Body composition analysis including bodyfat, skeletal muscle, body water and basal metabolic rate
- Accurate heart rate measurement
- Workout tracking including complete HIIT or running workouts
- GPS route tracking
- Route track back helps you get back to the place you started
- Voice or vibration navigation helpful for distance and trail runners
- Requires smartphone with Android 8.0 or later
- Rated 4.6 stars
More running smart watches to consider
- Triathalon runners consider: Apple Watch Ultra (GPS + Cellular 49mm), $780 (reduced from $800)
- Inexpensive Android alternative: Amazfit GTS 2 Mini Smart Watch, $70 (reduced from $100)
- Garmin alternative for long-distance and trail runners: Coros Apex 2 GPS Outdoor Watch, $349 (reduced from $399)