How to Choose the Perfect Running Watch

Table of Contents

One of the first questions new runners have when getting started is how to find a good running watch. There are many different things to consider when choosing a watch. We are going to go over some of the must-have features, and a few different models that we recommend.


Chronograph (stopwatch)

A chronograph will tell you how long you have been running. This is the most important feature a running watch should have. If your watch can’t tell you how long you have been running, then it is not a running watch.


Lap/Split with Recall 

A good running watch gives you the ability to take splits during your run and recall those times at the conclusion. For those who are new to the sport, you would use this feature during track workouts or on interval days. An example of how this works would be during a 12 x 400 m session with a 2:00 recovery. Instead of restarting your watch and losing your time in between each 400, you would simply split it keeping track of both the workout and the recovery. You would do this by starting the watch at the beginning of the workout, after coming through the first 400 you would split it, the watch would then keep a running time of the recovery you split it again on the next 400 and repeat until the end of the workout. After the workout, you can then go back into the memory of the watch and recall all of the times you ran per 400.


Interval Timer

An interval timer is one that will count down for a set period and then beep to alert that that period has passed. Some watches will repeat at the end of the timer others will stop. The best watches will allow you to run two timers simultaneously helping keep track of work and recovery. These are useful during fartlek workouts where the goal is speed for a certain amount of time with moving recovery built in. A good example workout would be a 21-minute fartlek alternating between 2 minutes of hard running followed by 1 minute at a recovery pace.


Computer/ Cell Phone Companion Software

When you get away from using the most basic of running watches, you’ll start to see creature features that will track anything from distance run to your VO2 max improvement. Most of these higher-end watches will give features that can be tracked using companion software on a cell phone or on a computer. These interfaces become the storage of your past workouts. They also have the ability to talk to outside platforms such as Strava or Map My Run. These outside platforms tend to be social media sites for endurance athletes.



Some of the more fancy watches will have a distance-tracking feature. Some will do it using a separate foot pod that needs to be calibrated on a 400 m track while others will use a built-in GPS. The most popular of these types of watches are made by Garmin.


Heart Rate

Much like the distance feature, the ability to track heart rate is something you will also see in the more premium brands of running watches. Some watches have a built-in heart rate reader it will use a special light to record your heart rate directly from your wrist others will have a separate heart rate strap that syncs with the watch. The most popular brand with heart rate tracking is Polar.



This is another popular feature of the more premium watches. Cadence will track how many steps are being taken per minute. This is especially useful to know if a runner is over-striding.



The elevation feature will tell a runner how much they’ve climbed or descended during a particular run. 



The Vertical Oscillation will tell you how much you moved vertically per step while running. The lower the number the more efficient you are believed to be.


Some running watches have a built-in mapping feature that will help you run a certain route without getting lost. Think Google Maps for your wrist.


The newer running watches allow you to download your favorite music tracks directly to your watch and have Bluetooth connectivity. This means you can listen to your favorite songs without having to worry about running with your phone.

Live Tracking and Safety Alerts

Some of the newer watches allow your loved ones to track you while you are out on a run. These watches can even send reports to your emergency contacts if they sense that an emergency has occurred. 

Some Of Our Suggestions

Timex Ironman

The Timex Ironman is a popular first watch for runners. It comes in sizes that are appropriate for both big and small wrists. The watch comes with the basic necessities. Chronograph, Lap Splits, and Timers. Nothing fancy, just a great tool for keeping track of time.

Larger Wrist

Smaller Wrist

Garmin Forerunner 35

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The Garmin 35 is an entry-level GPS running watch that tracks how far, how fast and where you run. It uses Garmin Elevate wrist heart rate technology to estimate your heart rate. It also has connected features such as smart notifications, automatic uploads to Garmin Connect, live tracking, and music controls (when paired with a compatible smartphone). All-day activity tracking estimates steps, calories, and intensity minutes and reminds you when to move. The data from your watch is automatically uploaded to Garmin Connect, the free online fitness community where you can join challenges, receive insights, and share your progress as you meet your goals.

Garmin Forerunner 55

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The Garmin 55 is another entry-level running watch that tracks how far, how fast and where you run. It has a built-in heart rate monitor, cadence alerts, a recovery advisor, a pace predictor, and a slew of built-in sports apps. The watch will also pair with your cell phone to give smart notifications, music controls, as well as athlete tracking and safety alerts. The watch is also affordable and easy to use, making it a great choice for beginner runners.

Garmin Forerunner 255

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The Garmin 255 is a GPS watch for the more serious runner. It has a whole range of features not included on the entry-level Garmins such as Sleep Monitoring, Health Reporting through the Heart Rate Variability Status, Multisport profiles, Pulse Oxygen Sensor, Stress tracking and more. Paired with a phone it will give live tracking, safety tracking, smart notifications, as well as contactless payments. This is a great choice for someone wanting a watch for more than just running.

Polar Pacer Pro

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The Polar Pacer Pro GPS Running Watch is perfect for any runner who wants to monitor and optimize their progress.outfitted with a built-in GPS, this watch records your time, distance, pace, as well as heart rate allowing you to assess how effective your run was. The vibrant color touchscreen display makes it easy checkProgress mid-run. Other key features include the barometric power monitor that tracks energy output and connection capabilities to many popular running apps!