Why buy a GPS running watch?

If you're new to running but you're hooked and really enjoy it. There may come a point where you want to understand more about your training.

  • You may want to log your miles and possibly other metrics accurately.
  • You may want to use your heart rate as a tool to train efficiently.
  • Or you may be looking for a device that you can use to better pace yourself in races or your local park run.

A GPS running watch can tick off all of the above and depending on your budget, how much of a tech-geek you are - there are plenty of options available that have a whole host of other features and capabilities as well. Like:

  • Measuring cadence
  • Stride length
  • Vertical oscillation
  • Play music
  • Measure elevation
  • Record temperature 
  • Estimate your VO2 Max
  • Display time spent in different training zones
  • Sleep tracking
  • Advise on recovery time
  • Self evaluation
  • Step counting
  • Track calories burnt
  • Sync to mobile phone apps and receive/send text messages & emails
  • Help you find you mobile phone if you misplace it
  • Provide weather forecasts
  • Predict your race performances

GPS Watch v General Fitness Tracker v Mobile Apps

General fitness trackers will help you track things like: Daily step count, sleep quantity/quality & heart rate. But they can't track things like speed, distance and pace. Which are very important metrics for helping runners improve. 

Mobile Apps (e.g. STRAVA, Nike Run Club)  can track your distance, speed and pace. But as they rely on mobile phone masts and WiFi hotspots for location/positioning data, they're less accurate than GPS. Especially in rural settings, which tend to have patchy mobile coverage.

GPS watches use satellites for location data and are therefore more accurate and function much better in rural areas. So you can track how fast, how far and where you run. All Garmin Forerunner watches also have activity tracking built in, so they will count your steps and monitor your sleep too. Many now have a built in heart rate monitor (HRM) as well. Plus they can be linked to most mobile apps. So they offer much better accuracy, flexibility and all round value for money.

Why chose a Garmin Forerunner?

In my opinion Garmin produce the best GPS running watches available on the market. I've been using Garmin Forerunner watches for quite some time. In fact, I bought my first Garmin GPS running watch over 18 years ago! 

Garmin Forerunner 301

It was the forerunner 301 and it was a rather chunky and clunky beast by today's standards. But still groundbreaking and very desirable at the time. Not to mention expensive!

It was also pig-ugly and looked nothing like a watch! Plus I had to wait up to 15 minutes for it to find satellites before I could start running. The battery life wasn't great and it was not as accurate as current models.

The current forerunner range are all eons ahead of the FR301, with some fantastic features. They also look good and can happily be worn as an everyday watch.

In the two decades since I bought my first Garmin, there have been many iterations of the forerunner range.

Garmin have produced a plethora of GPS watches and there are now more Garmin forerunners available to choose from than you can shake a stick at...

So how do you choose the best Garmin Forerunner for you?

Well, it really just depends on your budget and what features that you need, really want or like the sound of. But, if you choose a Garmin from the forerunner range you can't go far wrong - as they're specifically designed with runners in mind. I've listed my favourite "beginner friendly" options available this year (2021) later in this article.

If running isn't your only sport or fitness activity, there are other options too, so I've included a few of Garmin's general fitness/tracker watches as well. All of these do a good job in tracking and logging running activities. Though that isn't necessarily their main focus or selling point.

My selections and recommendations are also all on the lower end of the price range. Simply because most beginner runners I've worked with tend not to want to splash-the-cash on gadgetry - until they're absolutely sure that they'll get good use out of it.

However, if money is no object for you, and you always like the flashiest, most feature-rich gizmos, then feel free to ignore my budget recommendations and dive straight in and get a FR 945, Enduro, or Fenix.

Older or Second Hand models

If you're strapped for cash, but really in need of a decent GPS running watch. One way to save some money and still get a functional piece of kit is to shop around online for older models. Anything in the Garmin Forerunner range previous/discontinued or current models should provide you everything you need to get started.

These could be brand new or reconditioned from a retailer. Or second hand on sites like eBay or Gumtree. There are even a few FaceBook groups that are dedicated to individuals selling their running gear - you could pick up a bargain or three in these places.

But it's obviously luck of the draw and there's no guarantee you'll get what you want when you want it. Plus it's unlikely to come with a warranty. So if it malfunctions or stops working - you'll have to pay to get it fixed or buy another one.

Ok - that's enough about potentially cheaper options, let's get to my main beginner friendly recommendations for 2021...

Coach D's Top Rated Garmin Watches for Beginners

My Forerunner Recommendations:

All of the following have these listed features in common, so I've not mentioned them in the watch specifics.

  • Built in Heart Rate Monitor
  • Waterproof to 5 ATM
  • Smart notifications (get text/email alerts when paired to a smart phone)
  • Activity tracking
  • ANT+
  • Bluetooth
  • GPS
  • Garmin Connect compatibility

You can also change watch faces with apps and widgets from Connect IQ store - for all selections except for the FR 30/35

Garmin Forerunner 30

Click the button above to visit Garmin

Garmin Forerunner 35


Click the button above to visit Garmin

#Cheapest

Forerunner 30/35

The FR30 is the simplest and most basic in the Forerunner range. Ideal as an entry level running watch.

It does not have multiple modes for other sports - the FR30 is just about running. But it is a great GPS running watch and offers good value for money. 


  • Weight 37.3g
  • Very clear screen
  • Easy to use
  • 5 day battery life
RRP £129.99

The FR35 is basically the same as the FR30, but with extra modes for cycling and cardio. 

As the price of the FR35 is the same as the FR30 - I'd opt for the FR35 if I had to choose. Simply as you get slightly more functionality for the same price.

Available on Amazon and other online retailers for less than £90 (at the time of publication)

#Best Value

Forerunner 45/45s

The FR45 is a smart looking GPS running watch. Available with a 39mm diameter face for the 45S or 42mm for the 45 to suit different wrist sizes. You can also choose one of 4 different strap colours.


  • Weight 32g: FR45s or 36g: FR45
  • Very clear screen
  • Sports apps
  • Garmin coach
  • VO2Max estimates
  • Race time predictor
  • Recovery Advisor
  • Custom workouts
  • Self evaluation
  • Incident detection & assistance (needs to be connected to a smart phone to work. But a great, potentially life-saving safety feature)
  • Stress tracking
  • Body Battery
  • Control music on your phone
  • 7 day battery life

RRP 159.99

Available on Amazon and other online retailers from about £135 to £145

#Newest

Forerunner 55

The newest addition to the Forerunner range. It's an 'entry level+' watch with some decent additional capabilities and fantastic battery life for the price. A single charge could last 2 weeks in basic smartwatch mode or up to 20 hours of GPS tracking.


  • Weight 37g
  • Very clear screen
  • Self evaluation
  • Pacepro (to assist race pace/strategy)
  • Race time predictor
  • Garmin Coach
  • VO2Max estimate
  • Fitness age
  • Track run mode (for workouts on a running track)
  • Sports apps
  • Stress tracking
  • Respiration tracking
  • Women's health tracking (menstrual cycle/pregnancy)
  • Body battery
  • Incident detection & assistance
  • 14 day battery life

RRP 179.99

Available on Amazon and other online retailers from £159.99

#Best Overall

Forerunner 245/245 Music

The FR245 is a feature rich GPS running watch that offers great flexibility and outstanding value for money. It's a great training tool for runners, looks good and works well as an everyday watch with good battery life. What's not to like...


  • Very clear screen
  • Self evaluation
  • Sports apps
  • Garmin Coach
  • Daily suggested workouts
  • VO2Max estimate
  • Pulse Ox sensor (for blood oxygen saturation)
  • Training - Status/Effect/Load
  • Recovery time advisor
  • Body battery
  • Women's health tracking
  • Incident detection & assistance
  • 7 day battery life
  • Music (Music version only)

Also available with additional footpod or HRM-Run or HRM-Tri chest strap:

  • Running Dynamics
  • Vertical Oscillation
  • Real Time Stride Length

So if you really want to geek-out on metrics - this is the Garmin for you. There are 2 versions of the FR245 available. They both offer the same functions - except the "Music" version, as the name suggests offers the ability to store and listen to music and adds another £50 to the price tag.  


RRP £249.99/£299.99

Available on Amazon and other online retailers from £175 (refurbished) for the non-music version.

If you want some help getting the most out of your Garmin, I've created a series of short video tutorials - which you can watch on my YouTube Channel.

Garmin Tutorials on YouTube

Other Potential Garmin Watches

These watches are debatably better looking, though that's obviously a matter of personal taste. They're all more fitness tracker than running focused. But they all have running metric capabilities with the inbuilt sports apps.

Vivoactive 3/3 Music

  • Sports apps (inc running, yoga & swimming)
  • Touch screen
  • Change watch face with apps and widgets from Connect IQ store
  • VO2Max estimates
  • Stress level monitoring
  • Fitness tracking
  • Custom workouts
  • Women's health tracking
  • Music (Music version only)
  • Garmin Pay
  • 7 day battery life

RRP 199.99 / £249.99 (with Music)

Personally - I'm not very keen on the touch screens. As they can be fiddly if you have big sausage fingers. And wearing gloves in winter or having sweaty digits can make it difficult to use them too. I much prefer just buttons.

Available on Amazon and other online retailers from £137


Vivoactive 4 / 4S

  • Body battery - energy monitoring
  • Stress tracking
  • Pulse Oxygen sensor
  • Women's health tracking
  • Hydration tracking
  • Respiration tracking/Mindful breathing
  • Sports apps
  • Garmin coach
  • Animated workouts
  • Custom workouts
  • Music
  • Garmin pay
  • 8 day battery life

As with other models the 4 and 4S are the same except for the size of the watch face being 40mm for the Vivoactive 4S and 45mm for the 4. I guess S stands for Small...

RRP £259.99

Venue series

  • Body battery
  • Pulse ox
  • Stress tracking
  • Women's health tracking
  • Hydration tracking
  • Respiration tracking / mindful breathing
  • Sports apps
  • Garmin coach
  • Custom workouts
  • Fitness tracking
  • Garmin pay
  • Battery life varies from 5/6 days (Venu/Sq) to 12 days (Venu 2) 

There are several watches in this series they all have the above features and prices vary from the Venue Sq at £179.99 to the Venue 2/2s at £349.99


If you want to have a look at what some of these watches look like the following video is a good place to start:

Conclusion

So there you have it. If you've decided that you're definitely a runner and want to get the most out of your running and log your runs. Then I highly recommend getting one of Garmin's Forerunner series watches. Just get the one that suits your budget and has the must have features that you want.

Alternatively, if you want more of a general fitness tracker and arguably more stylish/every day watch. Then opt for a Vivoactive or Venue.

That's it in a nutshell. Happy shopping and enjoy...

Coach D

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 I do NOT accept financial compensation from any brand for any product mentions or reviews. I only ever endorse products or services that I believe, based on my personal experience or expertise, are worthy of such an endorsement.

About the author 

Coach D

Hi, I'm Dave. I'm a UK Athletics qualified and licensed Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF), Endurance Event Group Coach and Certified Running Technique Coach. I coach groups and individuals of all abilities both online and in person.I particularly enjoy coaching beginner and improver runners in the 40+ age range.I'm also a regular recreational runner and I've been competing in races from 5k to marathon distance for over 30 years.

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