Review: GPS running watches offer improvements
Wednesday, March 16, 2011; 3:32 PM
NEW ORLEANS -- My accessories for last month's Mardi Gras Marathon in New Orleans included a pair of bead necklaces and three watches.
No, I wasn't seeking a triple reminder that I was sluggish. Rather, these watches had GPS receivers and gave me information continuously on how fast and how far I was going. That allowed me to adjust my pace along the way in the hope of hitting my target finish time (emphasis on hope).
All three models showed a lot of improvement over the first GPS running devices I tried in 2003.
Although many frustrations remain, especially when using them in New York and other cities where tall buildings block the GPS signals, the devices have come down enough in price that they ought to be part of every runner's arsenal, as the days get longer and warmer for outdoor running.
As for the beads, my advice is to leave them in the hotel.
Garmin Forerunner 110 ($200, $250 with heart-rate monitor).
Consider this GPS lite. The device is small, with limited functionality, but you get value for the price. It's a good choice if you want something really simple to use.
Furthermore, it was consistently the best of the three I tried at locating a GPS signal. That's because it remembers where the GPS satellites were the last time you used it. Presuming you haven't switched cities since then, the 110 doesn't have to start from scratch each time it starts trying to find a signal.
Even in New York, where GPS devices have more trouble locking in signals because of the buildings, I sometimes get a reading as soon as I'm out the door.
The watch gives you your time, distance and either average pace or speed, and that's it.
The device does store all your data, including the exact route of your run and mile-by-mile splits if you've turned the auto-lap feature on. But you need to connect the watch to a computer with the provided cable in order to read them, something relatively easy to do. The other two units I tried let you review your splits right from the device, in addition to the computer option.
The 110 also triggers its power-save mode rather quickly. I turn on all three units several minutes before the start of my races to ensure that the devices have enough time to locate GPS signals. But at Mardi Gras and other races before it, the 110 often turned itself off before the race began.