Apple Watch Series 3 for the serious runner
I was in need of a new GPS watch, and it so worked out that Apple was releasing a new version of the Apple Watch, the Series 3. As a runner first, whatever watch I get (and this review is centered around running first) will support my running career first and foremost. If I can’t-do workouts with the right data on my watch, or long runs, or feel confident the information I receive is correct, then all the other bells and whistles are not worth it for me. So, when writing this review that is what I am focusing on, is the Apple Watch Series 3 a good watch for a runner like myself? Interestingly enough the answer may surprise you (apparently that means it is).
I received the Apple Watch on release day and setup was quite the breeze. Having never used an Apple Watch (AW) or smartwatch before I loved how easy Apple was able to take all the data from my years of using my iPhone and get it onto the watch. Since the series three allows for cellular data, it was very simple to set up that portion of the watch, link it to my data plan (AT&T waives many of the initial fees so I can just get going immediately) and have everything ready to go. The longest part was the downloading of all the apps I have on my phone that also work on the watch. After playing around with what apps to keep and not (not sure I need my Chipotle app on my watch, but I might regret this decision if I end up hungry on the run) I ran through some of the settings and got into the important stuff for me. I quickly downloaded the Strava app and looked into the Workouts app. I was immediately disappointed that the Strava app lacked all customization and after reading online I am not the only one. It currently allows for three fields, time, current time and distance. Nope, sorry for a runner those are not even the three most relevant fields, let alone, not enough fields. Outside of a workout and even then not so much I rarely care about what my pace is for the current second during my run, average pace yes, please. So immediately the Strava App would not support my running, however workouts app did allow for five fields to be available and had many choices. I ended up on Total Time, Heart Rate, Distance, Avg Pace, Current Pace(although like I said how about making the last lap an option). With everything figured out I charged my watch up and was ready for my first run, a 22-24 mile long run(Go big or go home Apple Watch).
I heard all the negatives of the Apple Watch, like how your battery life won’t last your long runs or how the GPS will be so far off it would frustrate you to no end, or how because of the screen you can’t read it in the bright sun. So my first run I took off at the crack of dawn for 24 miles with a watch on both wrist(Garmin on the right, AW on the left) on a run that would see my progress down to faster than marathon pace. I was going to give the AW and the 3+ hours I’d be out running all it could handle. I left so early it was still dark out and immediately I loved how when you turn the watch towards your face it illuminates in the dark and is clear (Garmin obviously has a light you just have to hit a button). I was doing a point to point run, and my wife was going to meet me at the end point and she was delighted to be able to pull me up on “find my friends” and see where I was (thank you cellular data without phone!) and also text me to update me (which I ignored because I was running but nice to have). Ten miles into my run I was happy to see that both watches had similar distances (off by .05) as I started to do some loops around a lake. As I knew the distance was 1.4 miles around, I was happy to see AW get that every time around as did, of course, the Garmin. I headed to my final destination, a local track for some faster stuff at the end. At this point, the watches seemed to disagree, and after 6 miles running on the track they ended up .6 miles off. It would be easy to say the AW was the culprit but the splits the Garmin had me running were way outside what I felt capable for myself and off from the split a friend had for the 5k timer I ran so who knows. I finished my 24 miles and spent some time hanging around afterward noticed that even with cellular data running the whole time, and heart rate data that 3.5 hours from when I started my battery life was still at 45% when finished. Honestly, that’s pretty solid all things considered in my opinion and a far cry from what everyone told me.
After that run, I began to try my AW out on many different terrains and runs for the rest of the week, and stopped wearing two watches because man, was that not fun(also I got called a dork a bunch on my first run). I took it on the run through the trails on Sunday and got a very similar distance to my friend who was wearing a newer Garmin Watch (however she started it late, so I’ll never know!). I took it out for a morning run with a friend that I ran twice a week and got the same exact distance I got every week when I used my Garmin. I even took it through some of my lunch runs and a workout. A solid week throwing everything I could at it and the AW continued to shine and handle most everything I needed to perform my running, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about some bad things that might matter to you.
First off the lackluster Strava app aside, which I don’t necessarily hold the watch responsible for since I enjoy the workout app, the synchronization between Garmin Connect, Strava and Health App (which is where everything is store on the iPhone) is lacking currently. Strava being the main place most of us runners store our data it’s important that one way or another our runs get into Strava so we can get the Kudos’s from our friends(really it’s my main training log these days). Currently to do that I needed to download a $1.99 app called RunGap which shares my data from Health to Strava but it shouldn’t be needed. From what I read the new WatchOS should allow this to occur automatically in the future when app developers make updates but until that does happen it’s not my favorite. Secondly, the only way to take splits is to double tap the screen which sounds beautiful and easy except during my workout many times it did not take the first couple tries. It’s nice that it does vibrate your wrist when you hit a segment so I get some feedback but it was not responsive enough for me doing a workout and wanting a split. Some segments took 7 seconds of double tapping, maybe my hands were too sweaty(How about letting me split a segment clicking the side buttons?)? Also along these lines, I don’t know what other runners do, but on my Garmin, I have a second screen I use for workouts because I want different information for intervals then I do for runs. It would be nice if I could slide to the right and create a different interface for when I do workouts (also add the Last Lap and Current Lap field please). Pausing is also not my favorite, hitting the two side buttons to pause when one button could work seems silly. Although it’s better than having to slide the screen to the left and hitting pause(nope).
So, onto the good, I love the heart rate data. For once I can trust heart rate data as run after run I watch it progress normally as I’d expect. No more seeing 200 heart rates on 8-minute mile easy days or giant spikes for no reason on runs. For my 24 miler, I saw a constant increase the entire time and that makes me feel confident in the data. The display whether sunny or dark out I love it, it’s crystal clear and displays my information in an easy to read format. The GPS data has been excellent, the slight vibration for a split is nice/subtle and not an annoying beep I turned off on my Garmin. It has helped to meet all the expectations I would want from a GPS watch.
And lastly, the bells and whistles which factor into this for me, as I said if the watch can perform its primary function the rest only helps me as a runner. Having the ability to receive/send texts and make phones calls without my phone (which I never bring on a run, and therefore why my Instagram suffers #PhotosFromTheRun) is amazing. The phone quality from the watch is excellent as I’ve tested it out calling my wife. Do I need to send texts while I am out on a 20-mile long run? Nope. But if something happens to me and I need something or assistance having that safety net can’t be ignored. Heck through applepay you can technically make purchases from my watch if I need a mid-run fuel. I didn’t get to test it but with WatchOS 4.1 the ability to stream on LTE is coming and I can’t express how nice it will be to be able to stream music or other things on my runs to Bluetooth speakers without needing a phone. Many days I’d love to just get out on the run and listen to something and relax, but I don’t want to bring my phone, so this will be a game changer for me, although I do recognize it will probably destroy my battery life of the watch. I’d imagine a runner might not want to run cellular data while streaming music to their Bluetooth headset for a marathon if they want the watch to make it. Lastly, while this isn’t something I crave having notifications on my wrist has been a nice addition to my GPS watch.
I got the watch because I do enjoy apple products but also because I knew if I hated it I could just return it and get a GPS watch. I went in knowing this watch HAD to perform as a GPS watch otherwise none of this other stuff mattered and once it proved it can meet my needs(with some minor hiccups, honestly I think a new Strava app will fix most of them) all these other nice to haves put this watch over the top for me. I have a watch that can meet all my running and now day to day needs all for around the same price some of the top end GPS watches cost. If you are up for a new GPS watch and don’t hate Apple just because I’d highly recommend you give it a try and see what you think. You might be surprised at how it performs and if you don’t like it take advantage of Apple’s return policy. However, I think most serious runners might be surprised that this watch can work for our needs.
If you have any questions hit Nick up, and he’ll be happy to give you any impressions or feedback you want.