Sunday, January 6, 2013
GPS Watches...I want YOUR reviews!
I am seeking some input just because I feel like a lot of the reviews out there are pretty stale old "one run and review" kinds of posts, except for DC Rainmaker, who goes so in-depth it is amazing. That said, he has such enormous experience and expectations with many of the pieces he tests, and I am more interested in those of us who can only afford one piece of kit.
Given that I am training for a 50-mile ultra, I have had it in my mind that I need a Suunto Ambit or a Garmin Fenix. My reasoning is that they have a huge battery potential and are geared towards epic outdoor activity, even multi-day adventures in the wilderness. I keep telling Moira that they have many useful features for work, etc.
Well, that is just plain ridiculous because those watches cost $400 for Fenix without heart rate ($40 with), and $500 for an Ambit without heart rate ($550 with). As you may or may not recall, I work for a non-profit environmental outfit. My many pairs of running shoes belie my relative poverty! Yeah...$500 for a running watch is not happening.
After all, people have been running ultras for decades without 30-hour battery life in their high-zoot GPS. I actually had sworn off GPS for a full year before now. In 2012 I did not use a GPS watch for a single run. As of this week, though, I had enough of the data-free life. If I am going to legitimately reclaim my ultramarathon swagger, I need to drop some weight and start logging hard miles. No shortcuts to a 50-mile finish.
I have 8 months, so I have plenty of time. I will probably run a few marathons this summer on trails (maybe one that is a an actual sanctioned race, the rest will just be 26-30 mile long runs on camping weekends in Michigan). January, February, and March are all about base-building, weight loss, strength, and general diet/fitness. I need data to know I am actually doing well. I need motivation.
In short, I do actually need a GPS watch, and even Moira agrees. I trained for all my other distance races using GPS watches and I love the data. I love logging in and seeing all my hard work on glowing graphs and stuff. All that said, I really don't need massive info broken down in microscopic bits. I don't NEED an Ambit or a Fenix. What I need is distance, average pace, elapsed time, and that's about it. I can get by with one of the $100-$150 jobs out there.
In reading many reviews and obsessing over my purchase, I had it down to several watches in that price range, a range I can actually almost afford. As I have not had a watch in a year, I have been carrying my iPhone on runs. That is easy in winter in Michigan, as I usually run with a Nike Element jacket, which has a perfect iPhone cubby. When it warms up, I hate carrying anything at all, though.
Using the iPhone, I have tried several apps, Strava and the latest Nike+ apps made the final cut. The Strava app is OK, but I don't care for the community stuff...it is always pushing you to participate in their community online. I just want a pretty place to look at my data and maps! And I don't think it is all that pretty, honestly.
Given that I am a solo runner now, though, I do like some encouragement. Maybe that is why I gravitated towards the newest Nike+ app. I actually smile at the cheesy "attaboys" it gives you, and I think they have come along way in terms of reliability, provision of useful data, and user-interface. I used Nike+ when I started running, but soon found the world of Garmin and used that for two years. In 2011 I used a Suunto t6c all year (not a GPS, but it has a footpod for distance) mostly because I was exclusively running trail races and typical pace and distance were sort of meaningless...I cared about heart rate, duration, and elevation.
Anyway, lately I have ten using the new Nike+ app and I like it, so I went ahead and bought a Nike+ GPS watch. These have been out a while now, and they were both loved and loathed when they were first on the scene. Most reviews you will find are old, old, old...and not very relevant to the product as it stands now. It has has dozens of firmware upgrades, and the website is great in my opinion, in a basics-only-perfect-for-Average-Guy kind of way. I like the animated maps, the colorful interface, the goal setting stuff, and the way it translates between the watch the iPhone app, and the internet...it is all seamless and "computing-cloudy."
The Nike+ watch is also found far, far cheaper now than when it came out, and it has a backup shoe pod for when GPS signals cut out or you hit a tunnel or tree cover. I like that, even though it isn't very accurate, it at least records SOMEthing to keep the run going. My Garmin Forerunner lost signal in the first mile of the Chicago Marathon in 2010 and I never got it back until mile 3...so basically I was doing mental math the entire race...which was a nightmare.
Anyway, the Nike+ watch works great for me, and it isn't a half bad looking watch either. Plus it can be found for under $150. I feel like if the reliability, price, and software were as good as they are now when it first came out, this would have been a big hit right off the bat. As it stands, it is seen as sort of older tech, and people have quite moved on. That is too bad because in my experience, Nike+ is sort of like the third or fourth year a car model is on the road...the bugs have been worked out quite a bit. It isn't perfect, but none of these GPS watches are, and after all it is somewhat affordable, and is fun for an average mid-packer.
Getting all bent out of shape over the exact precision and features of a GPS watch are sort of funny anyway. To me, I think the fact that a watch can talk to satellites in outer space to track your every move and beam info into computer servers around the world and that you can pick up your telephone an instant later and see all your data and all the data for every run you have ever tracked...well, it is pretty ridiculous and we are pretty damn spoiled. It reminds me of the Louis C.K. routine to that effect where he makes fun of people who are upset that it takes a few seconds for the smartphone to update Facebook.
I was able to buy this watch at Target for cheap and now I can use an easy internet interface and my smartphone to keep a good log of my runs to see my basic progress. That is plenty of tech for me. When rubber meets the trail I really don't care what my watch says anyway, I will be going with my guts.
So tell me your stories of GPS highs and lows. What are your favorites? Your nightmares? Leave a comment, I want to get some personal experiences out there from my readers!