Is the Apple Watch a device for runners?

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You’re thinking about buying an Apple Watch but you don’t know if it can also replace your current running watch? As an Apple geek (not the kind of religious “everything else is bad” type of geek) I asked myself the same question when I read that the Apple device sports a heart rate monitor. I used several watches from different brands throughout the years and bought the Apple Watch a year ago to test if it can be my new sports watch.

Before I had the Apple Watch two things were the case with my sports watches:

1. I just put it on during exercise and not all day long

2. I always thought the chest strap to measure the heart rate is disturbing

So my mission was to buy a smartwatch that I would wear all day and that can also check my pulse right on my wrist and Apple made that promise with the release of their first wearable.

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Apple Watch out of the box

If you buy an Apple Watch (for me it’s the black Apple Watch Sport) you need an iPhone to pair the watch with. Without an iPhone you can’t do much so my statements here relate to the team of the phone together with the watch.

Apple really focused on fitness with their device with an activity app as well as a workout app. The activity app measures your daily movements in three dimensions: Calories burned, minutes in exercise and hours with at least a minute of standing.

For most regular runners reflecting your weeks activity goals show that on training days you easily achieve good values but on recovery days you don’t so it’s kind of hard to set a calorie goal that works for each day.

More interesting for runners is the workout app. You can choose from several different activities like running, cycling, hiking and some more and set a specific workout goal like burning a certain amount of calories or work out for a specific distance or time. The app motivates you throughout the workout for example by letting you know when you achieved half of your workout. It also stores your best times, distances and energy burned so you can try to break your own record. So basically it’s an easy, user-friendly and playful approach to your exercise. But you don’t have any options to analyze your training, no heart rate curves for a workout or weekly mileage development. But as always there’s an app for that 🙂

Get the right app

Since the Apple Watch and the iPhone work together, third-party apps can benefit from the sensors and technologies of both devices. With the watchOS 2.0 (newest operating system for the watch) Apple allows native apps on the phone and made it easier for developers to measure for example the heart rate. A huge advantage with this second OS version is that your running app remains “open”. Before that every time you checked your watch you had to reopen the app and wait a couple of seconds for the data to load. To be honest before watchOS 2.0 the Apple Watch wasn’t a useful running device at all if you didn’t want to use the built-in workout app.

So now that these early limitations are resolved, I’d like to list some third-party software with a native app for the Apple Watch

1. Strava
This is my favorite and the app that I use for my training. Originally Strava was made for cycling but is as useful now for running and even swimming. I noticed Strava because it was the first with a native app for the Apple Watch to measure the heart rate and it also uses the iPhone’s altimeter and shows the altitude profile.

2. Runtastic

3. RunKeeper

4. Nike+ Running

As you can see you have plenty of options to choose from and it’s pretty sure there are more great apps to come in the future. You can find most of the usual features in all of these apps and the one that suits you best is probably just a matter of taste. They all have some social features so you might try the one that your friends are already using.

Apple Watch performance

I wanna focus on two things here that I think are important benchmarks for the Apple Watch regarding running.

1. Heart rate measurement
The accuracy of the heart rate monitor has been doubted by several sources before Apple unveiled its first wearable device. But surprisingly this feature seems to work much better as expected as 9to5Mac stated in their article. My personal experience is also pretty good in most cases but I suggest that you tighten the wrist band when measuring your heart rate during sports to get better results.

2. Battery life
This is THE big issue in my opinion with the Apple Watch. Most days I have no problem coming back from work with the battery still charged up to 60%. So a workout of about one and a half hours isn’t a problem. But if you go for runs or bike tours for several hours it is almost impossible to use the Watch for measuring heart rate. Also the GPS functionality of the iPhone that most apps use sucks the phone’s battery empty.

Another issue is rain or humidity. I had no problem to use the Apple Watch when showering or even go for a swim, it doesn’t break. But I had issues on several occasions when running in the rain. It seemed that the raindrops acted like touches on the display making the running app go crazy which was very annoying.


So at the bottom line I think it’s save to say that for most hobby runners not running more than an hour at a time the Apple Watch together with the iPhone is a great training partner to measure and analyze your workouts and improvements. However if you are more serious and train in every weather condition and for a couple of hours straight you might consider a dedicated sports watch.

The Apple Watch is also pretty expensive but comes with an endless amount of features and apps not only for fitness and workout tracking. Below you find some (affiliate) links to the Amazon store where you can buy the Apple Watch:

Apple Watch 42mm Stainless Steel Case with Black Sport Band

Apple Watch Sports 42mm Silver Aluminum Case (White)

Apple Watch Sport 38mm Gold Aluminum Case with Antique White Sport Band

Apple Watch 38mm Aluminum Case Sport with Black Sport Band (Certified Refurbished)

I wanna note that the Apple Watch is still a pretty new device and is available in its first version. I’m confident that Apple has much more to come in future releases of the watch. If there are any solid updates come back here to read about it!

What is your experience with the Apple Watch or why do you think it’s great or not so good for runners? Let us know in the comment section.

Happy running

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