Apple Watch for Running–Is It Worth It?

When the Apple Watch was first announced, I was not particularly impressed.  I had a Jawbone tracking my steps, a Garmin GPS watch for long runs, and an iPhone for everything else.  I had recently started using Strava on my iPhone for my runs, and I liked how nicely it stored my data and automatically split splits, so the clunky Garmin was getting phased out.  I definitely didn’t need a new watch, right?

But then I had dinner with someone who had just bought an Apple Watch, and he was talking about how nice it was, especially how it provided notifications right on your wrist.  He wasn’t talking about using it for running necessarily–but he liked it for his daily life.  I was intrigued, so the next day we went to the Apple Store, where I found out that the Watch is pretty cool AND most importantly, it works with Strava.  So I could control and view Strava from my wrist during my runs, without having to pull out my phone.  Yes, I would have to carry my phone with me, but I had already started doing that to use Strava.  I bought one on the spot and now really love my Apple Watch.  Here are the best things I’ve identified about it:

(1) The TIME!  OK, this is obvious, but I never wore a watch regularly, and it is amazing to have the date and time right there on my wrist.

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(2) The WEATHER!  The main screen of the Apple Watch is customizable, and I have mine set up to show the outdoor temperature (along with the time, date, calendar, battery life, and activity).  This is great for getting ready in the morning, or for choosing my outfit before I head out for a run.  No need to open an app on my phone, or worse, open up my laptop and navigate to a website.  Love it.

(3) Texts and email notifications.  Still not directly related to running, but perhaps the BEST feature/appeal of the Apple Watch.  You can set it up to push notifications to your watch, so it gives you an alert when you get a new text message or, in my case, a new work email.  You can quickly determine if the message is something you need to worry about, or something you can quickly dismiss.  This is great for life but also for running.  I used to sometimes sneak out for a mid-day run, but I was always paranoid that I would get some important email summoning me back to my desk.  If I heard the dreaded chime from my phone during a run, I had to pull out my phone from where ever I had it buried, open the mail app, wait for the email to come through, and assess whether it was important.  With the watch, I get a little tap telling me to glance at the subject line.  I can read the whole email if I want, but often the subject and sender is all I need to know.  No fumbling.  It is easy to “dismiss” or “clear” messages and alerts that don’t need immediate attention.  You can respond to texts right in the Watch (although the functionality of this is limited).  For emails, you need to open the phone.  But the key is the first triage–the evaluation of “Is this just a routine mass-email from the IT department?  Or is this an urgent request from my boss?”

(4) Steps and standing.  Like a FitBit or Jawbone Up, the Apple Watch tracks your steps throughout the day.  It does not track sleep (it gets charged at night), but it does have a cool feature that alerts you each hour and tells you to stand for at least a minute.  I have a “goal” set on the Watch to stand for at least 1 minute for each of 12 hours during the day, to engage in 30 minutes of “Activity” and to burn 530 calories (“Move”).  My Apple Watch gives me periodic updates of where I stand on those goals, or I can check them in the Activity app on my phone or directly in the Watch.  Steps and activity recorded through the Watch can be automatically shared with other apps such as My Fitness Pal.

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(5) Finally, THE RUNNING.  There are a few ways to track running and workouts with the Apple Watch.  My favorite is to sync the Watch to the Strava app.  I can open Strava on my Watch, start my run, change activities, monitor my (current) pace, monitor my total time and distance, monitor the time of day (something I couldn’t do easily on my Garmin), and pause or end a workout all on the Apple Watch.  You get all the benefits of Strava, including a map of where you went, your splits, your pace, etc. etc.  All of the data is viewable in the Strava app.  When using the Watch for running, I usually keep my phone either in my FlipBelt or tucked away in a backpack or hydration pack. I have not tried Map My Run or any other running apps on the Watch.

Here is the starting Strava screen on the watch with my runs from the week (I hit the shoe icon to start a new run):

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Apple did build in a native Workout app, which is housed in “Activity” on your phone (the same app that tracks your steps, standing, etc. with the Apple Watch).  I don’t use this for running, and I think there are MANY better tools for tracking runs.  And there are some serious gaps–I don’t think Apple Workout would be great for yoga or pilates, for instance.  However, the Workout app can be nice for some other activities, such as spinning or Orangetheory.  You select the type of activity and then either a goal time, goal distance, or an “open” workout (I choose the latter).  The Watch basically uses your heart rate to estimate your calories while you engage in these activities.  I do not think it is especially accurate (compared to, say a chest monitor), but it is one way to track that activity and check your exertion in a general way.  I just keep the “Heart Rate” window open during the exercises.

You can also open and control music apps such as Pandora through the Watch.  But if you have Strava open, you need to navigate to Pandora and then go back to Strava to have that as the open screen.

Other Notes

The Watch is not waterproof so you can’t take it swimming.  (Although the woman at the Apple Store told me that Tim Cook showers with his…) It and its apps are sometimes buggy–for instance, failing to re-connect via Bluetooth when I come within range of my phone, or clearly mis-counting my mileage on Strava (which had only happened a few times and is very obvious; I have found Strava with the Watch to generally be very accurate).  If you haven’t tried on an Apple Watch, you should, and notice how it senses when you are flipping it up to look at it.  Very cool, people.  The Apple Watch only works with an iPhone.   The Watch starts at $350 and I highly recommend getting the least expensive model.  The smaller screen fits best on my tiny girl wrist and is not so small that I can’t see what I am doing, although men might try on the larger size to see what they prefer.

Does anyone else have an Apple Watch that they use for running?  Have you considered getting one?  I’m happy to answer any (not-super-technical) questions!

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6 thoughts on “Apple Watch for Running–Is It Worth It?

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