The Ultimate Runner's Watch

The ultimate runner's watch will provide functionality, reliability, simplicity, comfort and, in case you want to wear it to the office, style too! Whether you are a beginner looking for a reliable starter running watch or a veteran runner who is looking to upgrade or replace a previously owned watch, following is summary of what you should look for in a good runner's watch. I’ll also recommend what I, and most other runners that I know, consider to be the ultimate running watch. Hopefully this information will point you to the right watch and save you much time, money and grief not to mention provide you with years of reliable training feedback!

It wasn’t too long ago when it was difficult to come by a running watch that would record 42 splits to race a marathon by kilometers. Now there are so many makes and models (and sizes!) of running watches with more bells and whistles than you’ll have time to learn let alone use. Many have not only heart rate monitoring capabilities but also, for a few extra dollars, fairly accurate pace and distance measurements via built-in GPS units. However, before you jump on the gadget bandwagon and strap one of these behemoths to your wrist, I do urge you to consider the following features and functions.

Stopwatch and Split Functions

Most digital running watches come with stop watch functionality but a truly functional runners watch has the ability to easily store splits or laps. These will be needed during training to record your intervals and during racing to adjust your pace. Any good runner's watch should record at least 50 splits. Unless you are running ultras, this will meet your running training needs.

Ease of Use

The split button should be large and accessible but not too sensitive to be prone to accidental activation. Track sessions and racing is hard enough, you shouldn’t have to worry about lifting your wrist to fumble with your watch in order to easily record a split. This is a common deficiency amongst many of my early running watches.

Heart Rate Monitoring

Over the years I have had no less than 7 different makes and models of running watches. In the beginning, I did not train by heart rate and so this was not a consideration that made the list of requirements. However, as I soon found to be true, a good majority of runners eventually tap into the great and many benefits of training by heart rate and so acquiring a running watch armed with this capability is simply basic forward thinking.


You can probably put up with any annoying piece of gear for 5k but if you plan on training and racing for more than a half an hour, comfort becomes extremely important in a running watch. Not all watches will fit your wrist properly and some bands will cut into your wrist bone or feel chunky. The band should be thin enough to be smooth where it lies against your skin including under the buckle. Runners watches with heart rate transmitter straps require that they be firmly secured on your chest. It’s important that the straps are made of soft pliable and washable material that is easy to adjust on the fly.

This leads me to a few words about the current GPS running watches on the market. Do you really need to know how fast, how far, how high and how low you are going on any given running route? How often do you really run in places where you don’t know how far you’ve gone? Perhaps if you run trails, but then trail running by its very nature is a minimalist sport not to mention laden with satellite blocking trees! So while they may be coming down in size compared to the breadbox units of 5 years ago, they are still half the size of a Walkman (does anyone remember those?).

Waterproof ability

Not because runners are necessarily swimmers, but rather because a runner’s watch will get soaked with sweat and will be used in all kinds of conditions. Add to this, the need for regular washing. After long runs, I routinely wear mine in the shower where it gets a good scrubbing with mild soap followed by a good hot water soak.

Style and Versatility

Why own two watches when you can do it all with one? While I’m no fashion guru, it doesn’t take one to know that you want a runner’s watch that is not too loud in color or size so that it can’t be easily worn in a blue or white collar situation.

Old faithful

Here is my favorite running watch of all time - the Polar S120.
Not only is it a great heart rate monitor made by the very pioneers of monitoring technology, when it comes to all of the categories above, this runner’s watch ranks at the top of my list. It is a series that has since been replaced with the RS100 model but I liked this one so much I hunted down another when I foolishly broke my last two on door frames. I have had higher models in the past but found that for the extra money I didn’t need or use the majority of the extra features provided. As you’ll no doubt discover for yourself, the acquisition of an RS series running watch is one of the best training gear investments you’ll ever make.

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