Should this slow runner get an Apple Watch?

I’d appreciate any advice about whether I would enjoy moving from my current Garmin running watch to an Apple Watch – either an SE or a Series 8, both probably in the smaller (40/41 mm) size.

Features of the Garmin that I would want on an Apple Watch are:

  1. Simple, clear displays (my eyesight isn’t great).
  2. Customisable displays with easy switching between them (I mostly use distance, average pace, current pace, and heart rate zone).
  3. Fumble-free starts when running in a group, especially on the rare occasions that I enter a race.
  4. Automatic splits (with alerts) while I’m running
  5. Customisable heart rate zones.
  6. Simple customisable training sessions, for instance if I want to do a bunch of repeats.
  7. Live tracking, so my wife can keep tabs on me.
  8. Automatic fall detection.

Can an Apple Watch with watchOS 9 do all of those? I hope this isn’t an RTFM question, but I haven’t found it easy to discover information about how well the sports features work in practice. Are there third-party watchOS apps that do a better job than the stock Fitness app?

Up till now I’ve been happy with my basic Garmin Forerunner 45, but it’s not very elegant, and suffers from a design flaw that has caused the strap mount to break. Now I have the option of buying a Forerunner 55, which seems to have a better mechanical design, upgrading to something like a Forerunner 265, or moving to an Apple Watch. Here in the UK the Forerunner 265 costs about as much as an Apple Watch Series 8, and I’m thinking that even the cheaper SE would be fine as long as it would work OK for running.

Recreational running is a big part of my life, but I take a relaxed attitude to training and I rarely race. I’m not interested in sleep tracking, nutrition or heart rate variability – although some of the running dynamics information in watchOS 9 does look interesting.

Any hints or suggestions would be very much appreciated!

I’d give a qualified yes. (It’s been a while since I have cared about performance running; for me, these days, it’s just getting in the miles.) For brightness, I’ve never had an issue, and the new Ultra, though expensive, is extremely bright.

Yes, you can customize displays, and switch between them with a roll of the crown or a swipe up and down.

Fumble free starts - the Ultra, yes - you can set the watch to use the new action button to start the workout. Otherwise, the watch does this 3…2…1… countdown when you start a workout. I always hated that. (I believe that other watches other than the Ultra can turn on the new “Precision Start” option, but on the other watches you need to swipe left and then tap “Start” to start the workout.) Honestly, I wish you could configure the hardware button to start/stop and pause, but there is no such option.

Splits, yes, plus you can mark segments of a run by double-tapping the display, or pressing the action button on the Ultra. Yes, they can be set to alert; I get a haptic with each mile. (There is likely a sound, but I never have sound on.) If you are wearing BT earbuds/headphones connected to the watch, Siri will also announce the split.

Heart rate zone, and they are customizable.

Training sessions, yes; I do intervals twice a week. It works pretty well. You can set an optional warm up and cool down, then repeatable work and recovery sessions, either by time or distance.

Live tracking, yes, that’s part of Find My, but if you are going to run without your phone with you, you will need the cellular model. If you do carry your phone (I usually do, except when it rains), obviously it can use the phone for Find My location.

Automatic fall detection, absolutely, and I can confirm that it works.

Are there third-party watchOS apps that do a better job than the stock Fitness app?

You may find one that does. I never use them myself. Lots of people recommend WorkOutDoors, particularly for its mapping - I’ve never used it. There are lots of third party apps that will work - Nike Running Club is a pretty stable app. I’ve used Strava only a couple of times; I’m not a fan, but if you use the social part of Strava (I don’t), you may want to try it. (I used Strava back in the pandemic when I ran a 5k and 10k virtual “races”; they used Strava to have you submit your times.)

My first Apple Watch was a Series 2, which did not have the Always On Display (capitalized Apple’s way.) The SE watches also do not have it. I always hated lacking AOD when I was running, because I would often glance down at my wrist having failed to do enough of what the watch wanted for a wrist-raise for the display to light up. My second watch was the Series 5, the first with AOD, and, boy, was that a huge improvement. That may not be worth the extra money for the Series 8 compared with the SE 2 for you, though.

DCRainmaker does really good reviews of fitness devices, including Apple Watch. These are what he released with the current lineup of models (Series 8, Ultra, and SE 2), and they include what you can do with watchOS 9.

The updates that came with watchOS 9.2:

And updates with the latest watchOS 9.4:

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Now that I’ve got one (series 5 44mm)…I’m really glad I got it and would want it even if I wasn’t an exerciser and would never not have one. Used to use a Timex Ironman and kept it on 24x7x365 but here’s what I think about it…although TBH I would pay for Cyclometer or Runmeter from the App Store…much better app and no matter which one you get it’s pretty much the same app with a different name so cyclometer works just fine for running, hiking, walking, skiing, intervals, swimming, treadmill, and skating.

You’re easily covered on al your desired features with a couple of notes.
Splits you need to click the lap button.
Live tracking you’ll have to enable Find My on your iPhone (or have the cellular capable watch if you want to carry the watch only and leave the iPhone behind.
Customizable training sessions…you can create as many of these as you want.

As I said…I tried the Fitness app and pretty quickly bought Cyclemeter instead…it’s like 10 bucks a year or so.

And…like you I did not think that most things the watch does for you would be interesting or needed…but once you have one your opinion will likely change just like mine did.

Doug has given the links to DC Rainmaker, so you should definitely look there. But you should also look at the reviews there of the latest Forerunners; Garmin just released the 265 and 965.

For me, the Ultra currently on my wrist and that’s there about 16 hours a day is not a fitness device and can not replace my two Garmins. I’m a cyclist (Garmin Edge 1040) and, when there’s snow (so not this winter) a cross country skier (Garmin Fenix 5+). No watch can replace an Edge, and the 5+ is very good for cross country skiing. For one thing, I don’t have to jump through hoops to wear my 5+ over clothing on my wrist so it can be seen while I’m skiing. I’d have to track down where wrist detection is in the Ultra’s settings and turn it off if I wanted to use the Ultra that way. The 5+ supports many more types of external sensor than the Ultra. Apple’s Workout app looks pathetic for xc skiing, and while WorkOutDoors looks acceptable (it’s on my Ultra and iPhone), I’d only use it if my 5+ were unavailable, and in that case, I’d quickly be ordering my next Garmin watch. Having had an AW since series 0, it’s still not an acceptable fitness device for me. For running it might be different, but not for anything I do.

Maybe Tonya and Adam can chime in. Tonya is using an SE for her latest Strava entry, while Adam is using his Forerunner 645.

Thank you so much, @neil1, @ddmiller and @schinder, for this detailed and excellent advice.

That’s a really interesting point. I’ve never had trouble with my Garmin not lighting up as required, but I can see that it could be a real pain. I’ll get my local Apple Store to demonstrate.

I was afraid someone would say that! I’d already read DC Rainmaker on the Series 8 (though I missed his review of the SE – thanks @ddmiller), so I knew that even for serious runners the Apple Watch has its merits. But the question: “Will you trade off some clear disadvantages for the plus points of a smartwatch that’s more capable in other ways?” Is harder to answer!

I’d really welcome input from @ace and Tonya. My impression from what Adam wrote previously is that he thinks the Ultra might be okay for running… but that’s too pricey for me, and too large for my skinny wrist.

Same here. These days even the very cheapest Garmin will stay lit up all the time, even with backlight constantly on if you want.

Like this one I bought for $80 a couple years ago. Was with me on several half marathons and even on a full marathon. Display always on. Still had ample battery life left over when I crossed the finish line 4 hrs later (you’re not the only slow runner around here). :laughing:

Personally, I can’t see myself getting an Apple Watch despite my daily running. The few folks around my work who have one show this incredibly rude and obnoxious habit of immediately diverting attention away from everybody and all else as soon as their gadget vibrates. I’m sure in theory you can have an Apple Watch and remain a polite and responsible coworker, it’s just that I haven’t yet met those who practice this theory in everyday life. So I’m not risking becoming the type of coworker I don’t appreciate myself. I’ll put on my Garmin when I go for a run. I’ve got an iPhone (that I certainly don’t take along for running) for everything else. That’s more than enough gadgets for this dinosaur. I’d rather have more actual human interaction than more tech these days. Just my 2¢ of course.

As for the SE 2 and the display, it may be that the newer device is just more reliable about lighting up with a wrist raise. I’d say trying it out at an Apple Store is a good idea. It should be pretty easy to simulate, though I would suggest actually starting a workout on the watch (even a walk should do it) and see what happens.

I came from a Forerunner 220 and still used that for my runs for several months after buying the AW in 2017. However, I finally had enough of Garmin Connect not syncing with the watch when I was done with my run. More times than not I’d look at the Connect app and my last run would not be showing. It was incredibly frustrating. That’s one thing that I never worry about with the Apple Watch - it syncs 100% reliably with the iPhone.

As you call yourself “this slow runner” - I’d say that the Apple Watch should be fine. It is for me as a slow runner. I’d agree with @schinder if I was a serious cyclist and/or cross-country skier, but the only cycling I do are indoor stationary bike workouts, and the Apple Watch is fine for that for me, and I haven’t done xc skiing for over a decade.

Yes, @tonya uses the Workout app on her Apple Watch SE for tracking her runs (and then loading into Strava) because she’s participating in one of the heart health studies. She likes it well enough, I believe, but when we’re doing track workouts, she also uses her Garmin because it’s much, much better at tracking laps.

I’ve been injured for a while now so my running is minimal, but I prefer the Garmin 645. The Apple Watch Strava app has gotten better, and I downloaded but haven’t configured Workoutdoors, which is highly recommended. The Always-On Display on my Series 5 is essential for workouts, but since the watch is getting old and weak, I turn that off generally now. I find controlling the Apple Watch from the screen to be annoying at best—one of the big wins of the Apple Watch Ultra would be a physical button.

I think my overall advice would be that if you’re a casual runner and only want one watch, you could be happy with an Apple Watch. I’d get the Series 8 or the Ultra. If you’re a serious runner and do a lot of track work, the Ultra might work, but I’m still dubious. Or do what @Simon suggests and get a cheap Garmin to supplement an Apple Watch SE.

I had trouble with syncing just this morning. After I got back from today’s eMTB ride, I looked in Garmin Connect and saw nothing there. Usually the 1040 just syncs automatically over WiFi when I get home, but not today. I actually had to manually upload the FIT file this time using the GC web site. But it usually works automatically, and then automatically gets passed on to Strava from GC. There’s no point in comparing the AW with a Garmin watch for this, though, since Apple has nothing like GC. My ride is in Health, but no map, no stats, no nothing except the bare minimum of distance and time. (It’s possible if you record the activity on an AW you get more than the minimum in Health, but I’ve never done that.) And getting something from an AW to Strava, while not impossible (Tonya does it) is not the automatic thing it is on a Garmin.

Can’t navigate while recording an activity. (Well, maybe WorkOutDoors can do it, but not Apple’s software. One or the other.) No ClimbPro, no light networks, no radar display. High enough end Garmin watches can do those things, but an AW probably never will. And no ANT+; the vast majority of remote sports sensors support ANT+. Most these days do Bluetooth as well, but for this kind of thing Bluetooth is simply inferior.

On the other hand, no Garmin watch remotely matches an AW as a smart watch, which is why an Ultra is on my wrist right now, and there’s been an AW there since the series 0 came out.

That’s interesting, because the reason I didn’t join the Heart & Movement study is precisely because they wanted data from an Apple Watch. I have no interest in recording on two devices. If they wanted to grab my FIT files from my Strava feed or from GC, I’d gladly give them permission.

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So I’m now the proud owner of a basic Series 8 that I think will do me nicely, besides being pleasant to wear for the 95% of the time I’m not running. I also had a chance to inspect an Ultra in the store. That’s a beast!

Quite! I have a pulse, apparently, and my blood contains oxygen. I also have a dodgy ankle, so I’m looking forward to the running dynamics stuff in watchOS 9.

I really liked my Forerunner 35 and 45, but both of them broke – the strap attachment is poorly designed, and I see the Forerunner 55 has changed to a more conventional design. I also was annoyed at the time it took them to work the bugs out of the firmware for the 45 (not to mention the bugs in Garmin’s interpretation of Coach Jeff’s 10K plan). I like the look of the Forerunner 265, too, but neither that or even the 55 are exactly cheap.

Thanks again, everyone, for your advice. It was very helpful in my decision to go ahead with the Apple Watch. Wishing @ace a speedy recovery.

My problem exactly. (Well, one of them. A particularly achy knee and a sometimes achy other knee, too.) I turned the ankle severely in a pothole last summer; no fracture, “it should get better”, it’s getting better very slowly. It also was one proof that fall detection works. (The running I’m doing now is Galloway running, three times a week, repeat intervals of 0.05 miles with 0.05 recovery walking, 20 repeats for 2 miles. watchOS 9 is fine for this.)

Good luck with your S8. I hope it works out well for you.

Thank you. After a couple of weeks with the Apple Watch I’m predictably delighted with most of its features, including some I hadn’t anticipated. For running, getting a heart rate lock is unreliable compared to my previous Gamins, but with a tight strap it’s mostly OK (I have pale skin and no tattoos, and I see some other people have lots of trouble here). I don’t find the shortage of buttons too much of a pain.

I do find the Workout displays somewhat hard to read, though. I’d imagined that removing some metrics from the stock displays would free up space for bigger digits, but that’s not the case. I’d also like more control over the text (I don’t really need “BPM” as well as the red heart icon, nor tenths of a second for elapsed time) and more options (time of day, for instance, when I’m out for a walk).

@jeffc Your fine Take Control book might have space to discuss Workout displays in more detail, though I guess it’s hard to get screenshots in this case. Garmin’s two- or three-slot displays are simpler and easier to read. I hope Apple can improve theirs in future watchOS versions. If the data is there, more flexible formatting can’t be that hard.

find the Workout displays somewhat hard to read, though

Get yourself a copy of Runmeter from Abvio…much better displays than the stock workout app and the subscription if you want elite mode for all the additional features it’s just a few bucks a year…

Thank you Neil. Clearly a case of “be careful what you wish for”, since Runmeter looks too complicated for me, though highly customisable and excellent value. I’ve installed it, but for the moment I’ll see if I can manage with the Strava app, which has big text.

Thanks for reminding me that other apps are available, though I do hope Apple’s offerings can keep pace, if you’ll forgive the pun.

I have the Strava app as well and find Abvio’s stuff better for me…although I use Cyclemeter rather than Runmeter.They’re all the same basic app with different UI a little…and Cycle does running and hiking and cross country skiing and a bunch of other modes…I presume that Runmeter does the same but if not Cyclemeter might be a better option since it’s more versatile. I’ve not found it (Cyclemeter) overly complicated and as you say you can customize it to get what you want and then just not worry about the rest of the possible watch screens. I carry both the watch and iPhone when I go for a ride and only look at the first watch screen while I’m out…it shows me time, current and average speed, distance, and pedal cadence which is plenty for me…but you can easily swap the pedal cadence for heart rate if needed. I’ve found that for a lot of Apple’s apps they only provide the basics to leave room for 3rd party developers and they generally don’t try to Sherlock too many apps these days…although they did do so to Dark Sky which is a shame.